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Loughborough Commons Community Improvement District Meeting Today, 3pm.

lc_cid92007.jpgThe Board of Directors of the Loughborough Commons Community Improvement District are meeting later today at the downtown law firm of Greensfelder, Hemker and Gale, P.C.  This ‘CID’ was set up to use some of the tax revenues collected at Loughorough Commons to fund improvements.  It is a quasi governmental entity and therefore subject to open meetings laws.

At right is the public notice found today at City Hall, click to view PDF copy.


Final Public Open Houses for MetroLink North & South Routes

Earlier today was the first of three open houses regarding routes for the future expansion of our MetroLink light rail system. That meeting was held at the Fifth Missionary Baptist Church on Natural Bridge. Additional open houses will be held on Wednesday & Thursday. From the notice:

We need your opinion! Come to one of the final public open houses in September on expanding MetroLink in the City of St. Louis. You will be able to review the evaluation results of the different routes being considered and tell us what you think.
The same information will be presented at each meeting.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
5:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Meramec Elementary School • Gymnasium
2745 Meramec Street • St. Louis, MO 63118
Presentations at 5:30 & 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, September 20, 2007
3:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Regional Collaboration Center • 12th Floor
One Metropolitan Square • St. Louis, MO 63102
Presentation at 4:00 & 5:00 p.m.

This is the final round of public meetings on the current study. Keep in mind, there is no funding source to actually build anything. For more information see www.northsouthstudy.org


Excise Division to Hold Hearing on Qdoba’s ‘Summer Garden’ & ‘Full Drink’ Request

The Qdoba chain’s latest store in the St. Louis region is open at Loughborough Commons. This afternoon the Excise Division will hold a hearing to determine if they should get a “full drink” liquor license and an outdoor “summer garden” permit. While the poor planning at Loughborough Commons disgusts me and I’m not fond of formula chain places I can’t imagine anyone telling them no at this point.


The place is done, including the patio. The outdoor area will soon be ideal for watching those folks driving around the new strip center to order their latte at the Starbuck’s drive-thru window.

What would happen if immediate neighbors all showed up at 2pm protesting the idea of people buying a bud light to go with their burrito? And further yet, drinking said bud on the patio.

So who is the excise division? Well, they are part of the Department of Public Safety — you know that department now headed by Charles Bryson. The DPS website doesn’t tell us much:

Excise Division

6 Employees
Robert W. Kraiberg, Commissioner
The Excise Division is charged by City Charter with the regulation and control of liquor within the City of St. Louis. The Division is responsible for determining licensing in accordance with the City Liquor code, authorizing issuance of all liquor and non-intoxicating beer licenses, enforcement of City Liquor Laws and Ordinances and initiation of civil action to suspend, cancel or revoke licenses when violations to statutes occur.

That cannot be the extent of information about liquor licenses? So I went back to the main city site and used the search field. This is what I got:

The default is to search stlouis.missouri.org — the “CIN Main Site” or I could search stlcin.missouri.org which is a bit more descriptive. The third option is to the search the internet which we all can easily do from our browsers anyway. I picked the default and basically found press release information — even though press releases are found in the second search option according to the search page. So, I selected the second option and there I found a FAQ page on Liquor licenses. Why this is not linked directly from the Excise Division/Department of Public Safety site I don’t know.


So we see a full drink license “cannot be issued if the surrounding neighborhood disapproves.” Gee, define surrounding. It seems they have a “formal procedure” that can only be obtained via a phone call from 8-5 Monday through Friday. I’d say secret procedure is more like it.  You know I think this whole web thing might actually take off so it would be OK to invest in getting more and more information available to the public via the internet.

People want solutions so here we go.  Explain the types of licenses in greater detail, linking to the appropriate ordinance(s).  Make the necessary forms available online as editable-PDF documents.  Explain the formal procedure so that everyone applying for a license, as well as neighbors, know the same rules.  List who makes the decision and what their criteria is.   Are these people appointed, elected or staff?

Back to Qdoba for some final thoughts.  A chain place can afford to build out a full establishment on the assumption that nobody will object to their having a liquor license and a patio permit.  I know I certainly don’t object — a few beers will likely make Loughborough Commons more tolerable.  But the local person seeking to open an establishment can’t afford such a proposition.  Can they get necessary approvals before spending their life savings on a building or lease space?  Without the finished space the neighbors might have concerns about what is planned.  Without the liquor and/or patio license up front a lender might see the proposition as too risky.
I may need to visit City Hall Room 416 today at 2pm to find out more.


Rehabber’s Club Tour Visits Dutchtown on Saturday

Tomorrow morning, Saturday September 15th, the Rehabber’s Club will hold its monthly tour of rehabbed and yet to be rehabbed properties. Last month was a great look at activities in Forest Park Southeast (aka The Grove). This month it is Dutchtown. Each month the tour and discussions are interesting as you get to see what others have done as well as what typical places look like prior to renovation. Discussion topics that come up can be quite helpful to those considering their own rehab project. The 9:30am starting point is the recently completed Marquette Park Condominiums located at 4056 Minnesota, appropriately across the street from the lovely Marquette Park.


Above, the condos framed by the double row of trees at Marquette Park.


Imagine this as your view!


The building, acquired by the Dutchtown South Community Corporation (DSCC) using federal funds, was in poor condition and has thus been extensively renovated top to bottom. DSCC Executive Director (and SLU Alum) Debbie Irwin will walk us through some of the issues faced during the renovation process. The condos are each one bedroom & one bath. Originally the DSCC was going to attempt to turn this building into two townhouses but as you see it has a single front door with an internal stair serving all four units. When I volunteered on the committee, the plan was changed to retain the four unit configuration. It had been argued there was no market for condos in Dutchtown but I countered that there were zero condos available so that cannot be a justification of the market.

Each of the condos is listed for $100,000 and includes a “write down” program as well as closing cost assistance. Buyer’s must be income qualified meaning they can’t have too high of an income in order to qualify. This, of course, is all based on requirements attached to the funding sources used to renovate the building. Debbie Irwin will explain these programs in more detail at the meeting. The condos are listed with CBG, click here to view the MLS listing for Unit A (all four listings are the same).

Part of the meeting will include a discussion of what is called the “VAL” project — this stands for a triangle of land bounded by Virginia, Alabama, and Liberty streets. There is not much to see in person on site as it is still vacant as environmental cleanup has to be completed before construction can start. I believe the rehabbers club will get a look at the drawings for the proposed project.

Last up is the corner storefront property I have listed at the corner of Itaska and Louisiana. Unlike the condos on Minnesota, this building has yet to be rehabbed. Thankfully it is starting out in much better condition than the condo building did.


Large windows create a pleasant front to the street yet it still works in this predominantly residential area.  Three of the four corners at Itaska & Louisiana have storefronts.

Last week the owner had the remains of two apartment finishes removed from the 1st floor area. This leaves a rough but open space ready to be transformed.  This stage is good for future rehabbers to see — to get a sense of what what things they might be dealing with when they purchase a property for rehab.   For many all the old walls, finishes, dropped ceilings and such as a bit overwhelming — so the lesson here with a rehab project is to carefully remove all the undesirable later additions to buildings — getting back to the original bones.  From this point you can get a better sense of what you have to work with.  Additional information (and photos) on this property can be found at 3463itaska.com.
The monthly Rehabber’s Club meetings are pretty punctual so plan to arrive on or just before 9:30am.  However, if you are running late know that you are welcome — you just might miss some good information.  Again the starting point is 4056 Minnesota and we’ll be headed to 3463 Itaska after that (google map/directions).   If you are running behind you can call Claralyn Bollinger at 314-604-1570 to see where we are at that moment.  For those not interested in the full Rehabber’s Club meeting but curious about 3463 Itaska, I will have it open from 10am to 11:30am so feel free to stop by.


Six Years and Counting

Like the “where were you when Kennedy was shot” question from an earlier generation, we all know what we were doing as we watched on live television the unfolding of events on 9/11/2001. There I was in the living room of a client I had just met, watching that second plane hit the other tower of the World Trade Center. Any doubt about the first plane being lost in the fog was gone. I think what I remember most was the courage of those in the fourth plane, knowingly facing their own deaths, thinking of others on the ground — preventing the deaths of so many more.

In the weeks prior a friend and I had booked an exciting 17-day trip to the east coast — Washington DC, Pennsylvania and New York. Our flight to DC was October 19th. I had been to DC before but this time was obviously different — the Pentagon had a huge hole in the side. Still, people were out and about in the various neighborhoods. The Washington Monument, as you might suspect, was closed to visitors. We had planned a road trip from DC to New York via Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water in rural Pennsylvania and thus had booked a rental car. Getting off the city bus at National Airport was weird — the place was a ghost town as flights were still not being permitted in or out. My first time in New York was surreal. Hotels and restaurants were eager to kick start the local economy so tourists were welcomed. As you approached “ground zero” as it was becoming known, the smell hit you. Neighbors in nearby Battery Park were hosing out the filters on their ventilation systems. The skyline I had seen my entire life in pictures was different, the Statue of Liberty was closed. We walked through the upper east side on the day a person died of anthrax poisoning on the upper east side. Stores had signs indicating they sold the anti-anthrax drug.

I visited New York again in the Fall of 2005. By then the debate about the future of the 16+ acre WTC site was in full swing. It should become a memorial park, it should be rebuilt as it was, and we shouldn’t build targets anymore were among the numerous viewpoints. Others advocated for much needed housing rather than simply replacing vast quantities of office space. Still others sought to return to the long abandoned street grid.

When Minoru Yamasaki was selected to design the World Trade Center his Pruitt-Igoe public housing, designed a decade earlier, was already troubled. When the ribbon was cut for the WTC in 1973 St. Louis had already begun to implode Yamasaki’s insensitive work here. In the 50s and 60s there was little opposition to such large scale projects save for Jane Jacobs. Today the debate over the 16+ acre site in lower Manhattan continues. Such a massive site in NYC is a rarity.

Back in St. Louis 16 acres is nothing to us. The Schnuck’s City Plaza development at Natural Bridge & Union is 20 acres, the Southtown Plaza strip center (former Famous-Barr site) is 11 acres. The old arena site, now called The Highlands, is 26 acres. The remaining Pruitt-Igoe site is roughly 33 acres. At 30 acres, Loughborough Commons, the Schnuck’s/Lowe’s albatross, is nearly twice as big as the WTC site. Yes — Loughborough Commons is 87% larger than the World Trade Center site! Wow, they are debating how many blocks and streets as well as how much office, retail and housing they can squeeze onto their 16 acres while here just getting the ability for an ADA-compliant sidewalk clearly takes more than action by the Board of Aldermen.

Thousands lost their lives six years ago and many more were strongly impacted by the loss of family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and simply a smile from a passing stranger no longer with us on the subway. Decisions made about the future of the WTC site, as well as development sites here in St. Louis and throughout the world, will too have an impact on people’s lives, although in a different way. We must ask ourselves why we are not creating places beyond just the short-term — a place to buy a cordless drill or get a latte at a drive-thru window. Architecture cannot made us better persons but our environment can and does impact how we all engage each other in our daily lives. We must do better. If not, we are simply funding a self-inflicted form of long-term terrorism.