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Fire Heavily Damages Downtown Restaurant

Earlier today an act of arson (per the Post-Dispatch) heavily damaged a downtown restaurant as well as adjacent living spaces. Thankfully, everyone was evacuated safely.


Just past 7:30am this morning a few fire trucks were still on the scene that started after 3am, according to news reports. Police had Washington Ave blocked in both directions. Copia was in the main floor of the lovely two story building in the center, above. The Vangard Lofts are to the left, a narrow building is to the right and finally The Meridian to the far right. Residents of all these buildings were evacuated. Unfortunately, The Vangard suffered some smoke & water damage.


From the back, above, we see the rear patio area. The front dining room seemed to have suffered mostly smoke & water damage, as the tables appear ready for dinner. However, the rear of the building was severely damaged.

The back of these buildings front onto St. Charles St., a narrow alley-like street. I’m not sure if parking is allowed on this section of the street. Still, a silver Mustang was parked at the end of Copia’s ramp at the back. The Fire Dept looks to have cut the railing apart to get access to the back entrance. Good thing they had that practice on Lou Hamilton’s diving board!


Above, St. Louis’ new fire chief Dennis Jenkerson changes shoes at the back of his car before leaving the site.


From the front, with the exception of the broken glass and debris, it doesn’t appear a 4-alarm fire just did the damage that it did. Again, the dining room was damaged by smoke and water, not fire.


Later crews were on the scene to board up the building and deal with damage at the Vangard Lofts as well.

Regular readers will note this is the same restaurant where I had my video-tapped confrontation with owner Eyad “ET” Tammas, over valets consuming too much public parking. Despite that, and the on-going valet problems, I would never wish arson upon anyone. Copia, like many other places, was an important part of the downtown scene. I wish them well in their rebuilding. The valet guys, and their tactics to take up more spaces than is fair, can stay gone as far as I am concerned unless they learn to play well with others.


Restaurant Cuts Dinner Hours Due to Highway 40 Closure

The Southside Journal is reporting that Giuseppe’s Ristorante at Grand & Meremac is axing it’s dinner hours starting next week, in anticipation of a drop in business from it’s largely West County clientele.

When the highway reopens, Giuseppe’s could start its evening hours again.”Sixty percent of our customers live in West County,” said Forrest Miller, who owns the restaurant with Eric Stockmann and Mark Manfrede. “You can’t expect people to go through that aggravation.”

While I think that many people on all sides of the construction zone will spend more time nearer their homes, I still think people will venture out for an evening meal to a well-known place they enjoy. The Fox and Symphony will continue. Life will continue, unless places begin to shutter their doors beforehand.

“When they closed the highway last summer, each time they closed it our weekend business was in the tank,” said Miller, who also owns the popular South County banquet hall Royale Orleans at 2801 Telegraph Road with his wife Donna. “We noticed our business was off like 60 percent every weekend.”

“This is a big restaurant,” Miller said. “If you have a bad day, you go in the hole.”

I appreciate that restaurants cannot have food prepared only to send it home with the staff because their business was down. Still, the temporary shut downs that we had were very temporary — a solitary weekend here and there. People were like, “let’s just go some place close tonight.” Well, that is going to wear off very soon.

In January our roads will be a mess. However, I think folks will get into a routine and before long it will seem rather normal. Someone coming for an 8pm Saturday dinner reservation will still manage. They might do well to consider a weekend only evening schedule, say Thursday-Sunday, starting in February. Still, the Feasting Fox across the intersection might pick up some business from people that arrive for dinner only to find the establishment closed.
Forrest Miller spoke at the stop highway 40 closure meeting last week held by Joe Passanise.


I’ve been to Hell and back Today

This morning when I got up I knew what I had to do today, scoot out to the suburbs. Rock Hill, specifically. Normally I don’t really mind a nice long ride but it was a tad cold this morning. Bundled up, I made my way out Chouteau/Manchester to my destination.

Back on the road I cruised through the new development at Manchester and Rock Hill (McKnight). Wow, and I thought we had some vacant storefronts downtown. I didn’t even stop for pictures. They’ve actually got some good pedestrian connections but they also got some real dumb mistakes. They have a long way to go to get those spaces leased. A little advice to Rock Hill, make sure they get a few more tenants before starting to raze buildings to the North. Look for a review in January ’08.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I decided to head straight for the center of hell — Brentwood and 40. Since I was out this direction I had to stop at Whole Foods and Trader Joes to get a few things I can’t really get elsewhere. Whole Foods is great because of their commitment to the environment. However, I think they may have gone a bit too far:


The urinal in the men’s room has a nice new lever handle designed to conserve water (so does the toilet). Up for liquid and down for solid waste. How nice, but this is a urinal!!!! My dad never pulled me aside to share that solids don’t belong in urinals, this is something we guys just seem to know. I’m all for saving water but people need to think more critically. This might certainly encourage some unintended consequences.

Heading from one strip mall to another I made my way to Trader Joes. Ah, so many items and so little carrying capacity. Good thing about a day like today, my frozen items stay frozen. Looking to the North as I left I saw the I-170/40 interchange and realized that, for all its flaws, I’m so glad I live and work in the city. I walk to destinations now and scooter to those places outside my local environment. I could not imagine living life in that environment amongst highway ramps, huge parking lots and so on. I thought about stuff they had at Trader Joes that I wanted to get — briefly considering a return trip soon or even a venture there on MetroLink but I’m not sure it is worth it.

Traffic was moving slowly on Hwy 40 heading back to the city but not slow enough for my scooter. I took the back ways through some of Maplewood’s lovely residential areas (those that have not been converted into horrible anti-pedestrian big box centers). Returning to the city limits was a relief for me. I was still in an ugly part of town (St. Louis Marketplace) but crossing back over the line was comforting to me.


Approaching Kingshighway on Manchester, however, and we had a preview of what we may see in a few weeks – backed up traffic on a major East-West route. The Water Dept had the two Westbound lanes of Manchester closed so traffic was condensing to one lane. Eastbound traffic was backed up for a considerable distance before noon.

Upon crossing Kingshighway I was back in my element. Ah yes, urban buildings near the street. On-street parking. Mixed uses. Not perfect, by any means. But, home. Got the grub put away and headed out the door on foot to a couple of ribbon cuttings.

First up today was Good Works, a second location for this local store that is a fixture in the Loop. A former bank lobby, the Good Works space at 9th and Washington Ave is impressive. Above is Barb Geisman (Dept Mayor), Ald Phyllis Young, the store manager (sorry, didn’t catch her name), and Jim Cloar from the Downtown Partnership. I wish Good Works the best of luck and hope they do get all the support they need from the city — and some on-street parking out front.

After a brief stop at the AIA Bookstore, next door, I headed to the ribbon cutting at Flamingo Bowl.


Mayor Slay arrived sporting a personalized bowling shirt. Slay got to throw out the first ball, leaving a couple of pins. OK, he admitted he wasn’t a bowler.

The space? In a word, stunning! It is divided into two parts, each with a bar, restrooms, kitchen and lanes (4 on one side, 8 on another). This means groups can reserve a section while the balance is open to the public. Their hours are noon to 3am daily. The noon thing might put a crimp in the early lunch crowd.

They allow smoking so we’ll have to see how well the systems work to remove the smoke and smell. Of course, the toxic pollutants are still in the air. This might keep some of us from going for food, I can handle a drink and bowling around smoking but I just can’t consume food around people smoking.

The Downtown Residents holiday party is this evening so I will be back there later tonight. Unlike so many other great venues downtown, I think we just turned a corner today. Up until now everything seemed like it might slip away any moment. Today this place will do a lot of selling for downtown.


Where Will the Bowlers Park, The Need for On-Street Parking on Washington Ave

IMG_4937.JPGThe sign went up last week and the lanes are nearly complete, we are about to have a new bowling alley on Washington Ave. — Flamingo Bowl! I have little doubt that this new venture of the Loop’s Joe Edwards will be successful. People will likely be coming and going during business hours, whatever those may be. The one thing they will not be doing is parking in front of the building.

You see, in our most pedestrian friendly part of town with thousands of new residents we must keep four lanes of traffic free and clear for the rush four hours. On the North side of the 11xx block of Washington Ave, we must keep it open 24/7.

Yes, it is OK to have the intersection of 11th & Washington blocked for a month so that all Westbound traffic is diverted. And yes, construction crews can block the outside lane as needed. But hey, once those are gone we’ve got to get serious about keeping traffic moving. You regular folks can’t even think about blocking traffic here.

Apparently someone at City Hall, the Downtown Partnership or somewhere thinks we have a huge morning and evening rush — enough to warrant two hours of no parking on the street every weekday morning and evening. Any after work folks that want to stop by a place for a happy hour special had best walk or wait until 6pm to do so.

As I’ve indicated before, we do have somewhat of a backlog in the afternoons as drivers head to I-70 and to Illinois. This backlog of cars is caused by poor signal timing as much as anything else. Until the city can manage to time the signals such that cars are not stuck heading Eastbound every afternoon I can see not allowing any parking in that direction. But what about Westbound?

I’ve actually given on-street parking on Washington quite a bit of thought and I want to share this with you. Let’s start over at Memorial Drive and work our way West back to Tucker.

Memorial (3rd) to North Broadway (5th):


In these two blocks, shown above, on-street parking is not currently permitted in either the Westbound or Eastbound direction. Here is what I’d like to see:

  • EB Memorial to 4th: Leave this as a right turn only lane, no parking.
  • WB Memorial to 4th: Wide area with two lanes going straight ahead and a right turn lane for those going northbound on 4th. I say we allow on-street parking in the current right turn only lane and make the center lane go straight while the other lane would become a right? I’m sure the owners of the hotel that have restaurant/retail space in the base of their building would appreciate it. This would also help create separation from those walking along the sidewalk and passing cars.
  • EB 4th to Broadway: Allow parking on this entire side of street, but initially prohibit parking for 4:30pm-5:30pm M-F.
  • WE 4th to Broadway: Make the area in front of the Missouri Athletic Club a combination no parking/bus stop area. Allow on-street parking on the balance of the block. As Broadway is southbound at this point we don’t need the outside lane for drivers turning right. Potentially prohibit parking for an hour weekday mornings.
  • IMG_4946.JPG

North Broadway (5th) to 7th:


  • These two blocks are very easy: make provisions for bus stops to connect with the MetroLink stop and allow parking on the balance.
  • Consider no-parking for an hour in the AM in the WB direction and an hour in the EB direction in the afternoons.
  • Retail space in the buildings on the north side of Washington have not done well. As Pyramid remakes the area into the Mercantile Exchange District we need to think more about the needs of retail business as well as how pedestrians will use the space. On-street parking in these two blocks will help.
  • IMG_4947.JPG

7th to 9th:


  • EB: Allow on-street parking end to end, except for bus stops and drives. Drivers heading east won’t be turning onto 7th (one-way) so keep traffic moving straight. A couple of spaces just West of 8th could be 15 minute spaces for those running inside the Starbucks. As before, consider a M-F rush hour no-parking provision for the afternoons only.
  • WB 7th to 8th: Regular readers know my thoughts on this one. Remove the taxi stand from the sidewalk in front of the convention center and put it on the street, just east of 8th. There is room for a single space between 7th and the circle drive to the convention center — this should be a 15-minute limit “visitor” space for someone wanting to run into the tourist information office on the corner.
  • WB 8th to 9th: Place the bus stop between 8th and the exit for the convention center’s circle drive. The remaining space just prior to 9th should be right turn only onto northbound 9th.
  • IMG_4948.JPG

9th to Tucker:


  • EB 9th to 10th: This is in front of the hotel ballrooms and the retail space at 10th. Put the bus stop anywhere but directly in front of the retail space — in front of the entrance to the ballrooms (seldom used) — just not in front of the retail store. Allow on-street parking here, with the same exception noted about an hour in the afternoon only.
  • IMG_4953.JPG
  • WB 9th to 10th: Here we have the newly opened Good Works store selling nice furnishings and accessories. Next door we have the Lammert building with the AIA bookstore on the ground floor. These retail entities need on-street parking. I don’t believe their is any morning rush at this point. Anyone heading into the CBD will be in the left turn lane to turn onto 10th so the right lane can be used for parking.
  • IMG_4952.JPG
  • EB/WB 10th to 11th: On-street parking is allowed here but it is removed two hours each weekday morning and afternoon. We have zero EB morning rush and zero WB afternoon rush. If folks are going to insist on keeping lanes open rather than fixing the timing on the lights at least limit the no-parking provision to something logical — such as the direction of traffic.
  • EB 11th to Tucker: Aside from getting the valets at Copia to understand that the meter on the west end of their valet zone is not in fact in their valet zone, this block is pretty good. Same thing as above, there is no morning rush in the EB direction so there is really no reason to keep this free.
  • WB 11th to Tucker: Which brings us back to the block with Edwards’ new project, Flamingo Bowl. When parking was permitted from 10th to Tucker they initially put up signs to allow it here as well. That lasted about a week. Construction began on the loft building and once it returned to normal this side of the street was no parking. Hmmm. If you are a retailer would you prefer a space where someone can potentially park in front of your door or a place where traffic speeds by? Much of this lane is marked as right turn only onto Northbound Tucker. Of course, Tucker is now down to one lane up to Cole and then Tucker is closed due to the age of the bridge that creates the underground tunnel. A right turn only lane is not really necessary, especially at this point.

Basically the city is losing money because they are not out collecting revenue off mostly unused street real estate. We can provide convenient parking to help out retailers and make the sidewalks more comfortable for pedestrians without screwing up traffic — we simply prohibit the on-street parking in the direction the traffic is going — Eastbound back to Illinois in the afternoon and to a lesser degree Westbound in the AM. Furthering the retail and restaurant operations toward the river will be welcomed to visitors at our convention center who, upon visiting, don’t necessarily know about the great things happening further West — the lack of parking in the immediate area gives a dead impression. Having on-street parking, even if full, gives the impression that downtown doesn’t have a parking problem.

The Downtown St. Louis Residents Association (DSLRA) is holding a holiday event at the new Flamingo Bowl on the evening of Thursday December 13th.


City of St. Louis Says Even Small Landlords Need a Business License

Say you buy that problem house next door to yours so you can do a better job of screening renters. You buy the house in your personal name, just like your own house, and proceed. But wait, even though you’ve got a day job the city license collector’s office says you are operating a business and therefore must obtain a graduated business license — at $200 per year.

At issue is what constitutes a business. Over the last few months this topic is repeatedly raised on the Rehabber’s Club discussion list.

Some argue, presumably in agreement with the city, if you receive money you are operating a business. Others cite the fact they own the property in their personal names, do not have an FIN (Federal Identification Number) and that the IRS considers such income as “passive” as opposed to their “active” income from work in which you typically receive a W-2 or 1099 as reasons why they are not a business.

Here is what I gather from the discussion:

  • The license collector makes no distinction between owning the property in your personal name, an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation), a partnership, or a corporation.
  • The license collectors office does not distinguish between owning one rental unit or hundreds.
  • The city cites ordinances requiring all businesses to have a license unless specifically exempt — a few professionals such as a doctors, engineers, real estate agents, etc. are exempt by state law.
  • The license collector doesn’t consider it a business if you live in the building, say in the case of a two-family.

I do concur that if you establish some sort of legal structure (LLC, corporation, etc..) in which to own property that may well constitute a business even if the income is passive. That said, I once had a stake in an LLC that owned a piece of rental property and we didn’t have a business license — it never occurred to us as we didn’t think this was a “business.” The business license is that thing you post in your place of business for customers to see, right? And for the record, I no longer have an interest in that property and it is no longer held in an LLC.

Ironically, one person posting on the discussion list indicates he was told that the license collector is basically ignoring those hard to find landlords that have LLC’s but are tracking down individual owners of property where the property tax bill is mailed to an address other than the property address.

For ten years I owned a two-family building — living in the first floor unit and renting the 2nd floor unit. From what I gather, such an arrangement would be exempt — that does not constitute a business they say. However, after 10 years I bought another building and moved from that first 2-family so then it apparently would qualify as a business and require a license. I sold that first 2-family in January 2006.

If we look at the issues and policies being tossed around it would appear that owning a single family house that you rent and thus receive passive rental income (possibly at an annual loss on a cash accounting basis) you are operating a business. However, you can own a 20-unit building in which you live in one unit and rent the remaining but that is not a business.   WTF?
The license collector’s office says you need a business license for each location in the city. If you operate a chain of McDonald’s drive-thrus you must have a business license for each location even if all are operated under the name of one entity. Seems pretty logical.  So if you bought several properties on your block to help stabilize it I wonder if they’d require a license for each address? And if so, is it based on address or the assessor’s parcel number? For example, many corner storefront properties have two tax ID numbers — one for the commercial space and one for the residential space. Does each constitute a separate business from a landlord perspective? If so, each address may require more than one $200 business license.

The ordinances on this are not helpful.  Stating any business, except those that are exempt, requires a business license leaves far too much gray area.  Short of an ordinance clarifying how and when property owners must have a business license, I want to see a written policy.  I plan to talk with our License Collector, Mike McMillan, about this issue as I have many questions.  I’m sure you have plenty as well.  And finally, remember that it may be wise to talk to your attorney if you don’t think you should be required to have a business license.