North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Public Policy

Northside Regeneration’s New Scale

by Michael R. Allen

Today the Missouri Court of Appeals filed its ruling in Northside Regeneration and the City of St. Louis’ appeal of Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker’s July 2010 ruling that suspended the redevelopment ordinances for Northside Regeneration’s redevelopment project. Rather than affirm the lower court’s ruling, the Court of Appeals stated that it would affirm the ruling but is instead sending it to the Missouri Supreme Court due to “due to the general interest or importance of questions involved.”

One of those fundamental questions is whether Missouri’s statues on tax increment financing (TIF) permit a municipal government to designate a tax increment financing plan for an area for which a developer has not provided specific redevelopment goals. Northside Regeneration has claimed that a redevelopment agreement for a small part of the larger 1,500 acre project satisfies Dierker’s identification of defects in the TIF and redevelopment ordinances. The Court of Appeals disagrees.

Notably, no citizens have challenged that separate redevelopment ordinance for several discrete projects within a smaller area. Should the developer want to pursue separate ordinances for smaller projects across the rest of the larger area it seeks to redevelop, there is not likely to be serious opposition. In the two years since Dierker’s ruling, Northside Regeneration has been able to acquire city-owned land in its project area, complete the rehabilitation of a warehouse on Delmar Boulevard and continue to pursue development goals. Northside Regneration’s ambitions remain large, but its operational scale has adjusted. The new scale is far less threatening to the urban fabric of the north side than it was during the acquisition phase, when entire blocks of buildings and people disappeared regularly.

The only facet of the project that has been obstructed is access to the $398 million TIF that the Board of Aldermen authorized in 2009. Dierker’s ruling does not preclude the passage of smaller TIF ordinances within the project. By the time the Missouri Supreme Court hears Northside Regeneration’s appeal, the developer may even have completed more projects in the area. What critics stated early on — that the project would have its greatest success block by block, project by project — will have become a deep reality for Northside Regeneration. Even the developer’s own approach, which has been lacking in the early fanfare and focused on obtainable work, reflects that. The 2009 ordinances are effectively dead at this point, and everyone knows it.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Pruitt Igoe

Pruitt-Igoe Belongs to Us

by Michael R. Allen

The St. Louis Development Corporation has proposed initiating a $100,000 two-year option on the 33-acre Pruitt-Igoe site for Paul J. McKee, Jr.’s Northside Regeneration LLC. During that time, the ddeveloper would have exclusive right to purchase the site for $900,000. What does this mean for the future of the site of one of the city’s most important events from the recent past?

For now, it means that the developer will be able to lay claim to the ground, and market the site as the potential location for commercial buildings. Yet the option does not stop public imagination of what could be done with the site. The Pruitt-Igoe parcel is owned by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, a public agency. Thus we are all owners of the site, and its future is a question of public interest. Most sites in the Northside Regeneration footprint are of marginal historic interest, but this one is rich with symbolism. What happens to Pruitt-Igoe’s remaining vacant land reflects our collective regard for the lives of all who lived in the housing project there.

Ahead of Northside Regeneration’s option, last summer I joined my collaborator Nora Wendl in launching the independent ideas competition Pruitt Igoe Now. Pruitt Igoe Now has solicited ideas and designs for the site’s reuse, and has attracted the interest of participants from around the world. We close the competition on March 16, and announce winners in late May. Our purpose is not to block redevelopment but to offer a powerful moment of civic reflection.

A playground at Pruitt-Igoe. Photograph courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

How do we honor the past life of the Pruitt-Igoe site through its renewal? Often historic sites connected with significant African-American experience are lost without deliberation. The list of buildings lost in Mill Creek Valley, JeffVanderLou and The Ville is staggering. The loss of public housing buildings has erased much of the postwar history of struggle and accomplishment. Pruitt-Igoe’s ruins are left as an imperfect marker of a complicated but definitive chapter in the city’s history.

WORTH READING: “Fantastic Pruitt-Igoe Design Workshop: Social Agency Lab and Neighborhood Youth” — an account of a workshop in which Hyde Park youth developed ideas for the Pruitt-Igoe site, written by a young participant.

Historic Preservation James Clemens House Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place

Clemens House Update

by Michael R. Allen

Readers are always asking what is the status of the James Clemens, Jr. House complex, which includes the mansion designed by Patrick Walsh (1860), a dormitory addition (1887) and the chapel wing by Aloysius Gillick (1896). The complex has been owned by Northside Regeneration LLC or its predecessors since 2005, and two years ago was the site where Mayor Francis Slay signed into law the master redevelopment agreement for Northside Regeneration.

Northside Regeneration had partnered with experienced historic rehabilitation developer Robert Wood Realty to redevelop the Clemens House as senior citizen apartments with a small museum component. However, on January 1, the developers failed to make their deadline for selling tax-exempt low-income housing development bonds authorized by the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC). The developers told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that other options for the historic buildings would be explored as well as re-application to MHDC.

Historic Preservation Northside Regeneration Old North

Northside Regeneration’s Field Office

by Michael R. Allen

The Northside Regeneration field office.

In the United States, historic preservation almost always is a function of property ownership. The agency of an owner to make choices can lead to some puzzling losses and some unlikely saves. Readers know that the historic preservation agenda of Northside Regeneration has been of great interest to this writer for years. Thus I was pleasantly surprised that the company chose to rehabilitate a pretty unremarkable — but solid and attractive — former truck transfer depot at Howard and in Old North as its field office.

NS = Northside.

The office is within the “Area A” of the larger redevelopment plan — an area that has a separate redevelopment ordinance still in effect unlike the vacated master ordinance. This area currently is mounded with a variegated array of crushed materials flowing to and from new river bridge. Here Northside Regeneration proposes a materials recycling center, and just behind the new field office is the landing of the old Illinois Terminal interurban trestle that Great Rivers Greenway will repurpose as a trail.

Will the little transfer depot — one of many built north of downtown in the 1930s in place of rows of tenement houses — survive the changes coming in this area? That is not certain, but for now Northside Regeneration has an unlikely first completed rehabilitation project.

Brick Theft JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Brick Theft Before/After

We recently gave Bill Streeter, director and producer of Brick By Chance and Fortune, some 60 before and after images of north St. Louis buildings struck by brick thieves since 2005. Our photographs illustrate perhaps as little as one third of the buildings in the city destroyed through theft in that period.

Here’s a sample. For the rest, you won’t wait long: Brick by Chance and Fortune will be released this spring.

The building at 3114 Glasgow Avenue in JeffVanderLou, May 2009. Owner: Northside Regeneration LLC.

The building at 3114 Glasgow Avenue, December 2010. The building has collapsed further but the wreckage remains.
James Clemens House North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place

James Clemens, Jr. House Stabilization Underway

by Michael R. Allen

At long last, there has been some stabilization work underway the James Clemens, Jr. House. In the last two months, crews working for Northside Regeneration LLC have removed debris, removed all asbestos, lead and PCBs and undertaken some structural stabilization work. This project unfortunately timed with the year-end announcement that Northside Regeneration’s buyer could not close on purchasing the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC)-issued tax-exempt bonds for the Clemens House. Those bonds were available through stimulus funding and could not carry over to 2011.

The James Clemens, Jr. House could remain at square one — except that the work done now advances it beyond its starting point nearly six years ago when Paul J. McKee Jr.’s Blairmont Associates LLC purchased the historic building. Now, McKee and his partner Robert Wood have invested money into the property, and the condition has started to improve. What comes next is uncertain, but McKee and Wood vow to pursue financing in 2011. Unfortunately that will mean waiting until September to re-apply for MHDC financing.

The most stunning part of the work done to date is the removal of the roof on the wing of the chapel wing, which was built by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1896.  Not only has most of the roof structure been removed, but also five bays of the wall itself above the first floor are now removed as well.  Of course, since a collapse in May 2008, three bays had already collapsed.

The sight of the Clemens House lawn littered with parts of the massive trusses, laden with impressive historic hardware, sent this author looking for answers as to the methodology of the stabilization work.  Lafser & Associates is the consulting firm working on historic preservation issues for Northside Regeneration. Fred Lafser, president of the company, described the work to this author recently.

“Large roof trusses, saturated with water and frozen, weighing 4 tons each, had fallen against the east wall, taking a portion of the roof and wall with them. In recent weeks, the pressure had caused a portion of the east wall on the second floor to separate 12 inches from the south (façade) wall,” said Lafser. “A number of other trusses were likely to fall in the next few weeks due to the expansion during the freezing and thawing cycles.”

According to Lafser, removal of the trusses safely was extremely difficult. The trusses has to be cut out from distances and staged slowly to prevent damage to the rest of the building. Unfortunately the removal of the trusses is the only planned work on the chapel until full financing is in place. The developers are committed to making emergency repairs, however.

Fred Lafser sent photographs that show the chapel work from the interior.  The first photograph  shows that the bowing of the western wall of the chapel is also advanced.  Removal of the trusses will prevent sudden collapse.  Still, part of the wall will have to be dismantled and rebuilt later.

Photograph provided by Lafser & Associates.
Photograph provided by Lafser & Associates.

Other work performed now included insertion of sistering structural members at weak columns and joists and complete board-up of openings.  The photograph below shows that the rear (north) elevation of the chapel remains sound.

The eastern elevation of the dormitory wing has long had masonry issues.  The dormitory wing itself is a hybrid building, with its original two-story western portion being the Clemens House’s servants wing.  The top two floors and the eastern section were built as dormitory for the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1887, two years after they purchased the property for use as a convent.  The dormitory originally had a two-story gallery porch on the east, set into the wall inside of massive segmental arched openings.  These openings are now infilled with brick.  The wall has some weak spots addressed by the stabilization work.

While the James Clemens, Jr. House is not fully stabilized after this recent work spree, it is definitely in a safer condition than it has been in over a decade. Northside Regeneration is now the first party to spend money on stabilizing the Clemens House since the Universal Vietnamese Buddhist Association abandoned their work in 2004 — a fact that few would have predicted back when talk of “Blairmont” first surfaced. Full rehabilitation also seemed a remote prospect then, but now it seems a logical next step.

Rendering provided by Robert Wood Realty.
DALATC James Clemens House North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

McKee’s Open Letter on the Future of Northside Regeneration

by Michael R. Allen

Before the end of 2010, the Missouri Department of Economic Development awarded $8 million in Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credits (DALATC) to Paul J. McKee, Jr.’s Northside Regeneration LLC. Because of a St. Louis Circuit Court ruling, Northside Regeneration’s redevelopment ordinances currently are invalid pending either refinement addressing the ruling or successful appeal.

DED included the first-ever clawback for the DALATC that requires Northside Regeneration LLC to return the full amount within 30 days of a final court judgment upholding the circuit court ruling. DALATC has no clawback provision, a flaw noticed by many observers when the credits were considered by the Missouri General Assembly in 2007.

In May 2009 at a public meeting, McEagle showed this rendering of the Northside Regeneration project looking southwest toward downtown from Cass Avenue and 13th Street.

With the fate of Northside Regeneration questioned, this Wednesday McKee himself published an open letter to “the people of St. Louis” entitled “A Perspective for the Year 2011.” The St. Louis Business Journal posted that letter here.

Of special interest to readers of this blog is this passage about the James Clemens, Jr. House:

Now in 2011, the structure has been stabilized and our Team along with MHDC will revisit our
original request and restart the renovation. McEagle made a commitment to the people of the
Northside and to the historic preservationists that we will renovate, and reuse the historic and
reinvent salvageable structures in the Northside area. We will stand tall and meet our commitments
even when unforeseen problems occur.

The delay in starting The Clemens House has nothing to do with the approval process for the balance
of the Northside Regeneration. The Northside Regeneration approval process will be finalized in
specific redevelopment agreements with the City, currently under consideration.

In an itemized list of projects underway is the “demolition and environmental cleanup of over 187 buildings” as well as recycling of demolition materials suggesting interest in deconstruction. Other projects mentioned are historic rehabilitation of an unnamed school building for a charter school and rehabilitation of another unnamed historic building for biotech companies.

Brick Theft North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place

Where Stolen Bricks Go

by Michael R. Allen

On December 7th, a resident of the Old North neighborhood caught a man stealing bricks from a stack in front of her house. When she asked him to put them back, instead of complying he hurried into his maroon Jeep Cherokee and drove off.

Police did not have a hard time finding the thief. After the resident called in the crime, officers headed to Unlimited Bricks at 2600 University Avenue where, as if following the directions of a brick rustling script, the thief’s vehicle was parked. The man was selling bricks to the yard, owned by Charles Rosene. After the victim identified the man, he was arrested and taken into custody.

Readers may wonder how Unlimited Bricks was still in business after the Board of Adjustment revoked its occupancy permit on November 17. (A lot of the credit for this action goes to the tireless effort of Fifth Ward Neighborhood Stabilization Officer Kathryn Woodard, supported by Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin.) While the business had a legal time to appeal that ruling, it had to obey the revocation order pending appeal. Unlimited Bricks — a business that is not incorporated in this state — truly was an outlaw operation when it nearly fenced some stolen front yard bricks. No more.

Map of the area around Unlimited Bricks, which is marked by a yellow cross.

Thanks to the Old North resident’s complaint, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police worked quickly to get the Building Division to condemn the property for occupancy on December 8. Rosene has had an active occupancy permit since July 1, 2005. Noncompliance with the revoked occupancy permit will land Rosene with fines of $500 per incident, so if you are in the area please check on 2600 University and see if the yard is running. If it is, call the police. They will know the operation all too well.

Those who are not familiar with the corner of University and North Jefferson, shown in the aerial photograph above, can be excused. The vicinity of the yard is a waste land of wrecker’s yards and unlicensed dumps. Looking at a summer-shot aerial photograph, one can see how accurate the term “brownfield” is in describing certain conditions of battered urban landscape. This is the vortex where near north bricks go for fencing out of the neighborhood. This area is very much like a black hole that consumes area building stock and churns out cash to a handful of harvesters, again and again until there is no more possible destruction.

To the south and southeast of the Rosene property are lots owned by the Hemphill wrecking family. Around those are still more half-used lots. Typically, these lots have tall chain link fencing — often missing in sections — and haphazard gravel paving. The lots have many scrub trees around the fence lines, so that in the summer they are almost forested. In the middle will be some wrecking equipment, salvaged materials or random items.

View north from St. Louis Avenue across the abyss of wrecking yards.

On the south side of St. Louis Avenue on the east side of Elliott Avenue is a grimly comic landscape of a tall slope of of dirt, dumped from wrecking jobs, on a lot so unkempt one wonders how it can possess any legal occupancy permit. Not all of the yards in the area are so unsightly, and wreckers who hold licenses do honest labor for money. Yet the conglomeration of messy yards around St. Louis Avenue and Jefferson, just northwest of the old Pruitt-Igoe site, are a black eye for the north side.

One is not surprised that the Northside Regeneration plan takes aim at this swath of blight.  Yet the fact is that it does not take $8 billion plans to shut down illegal brick yards and clean up vacant lots. Citizen action, not the weight of promised redevelopment, has shut down Unlimited Bricks. What else can it do?

The building at 2629 St. Louis Avenue, owned by Northside Regeneration LLC.

One of the few remaining buildings in the wrecking wasteland is the handsome 19th century commercial building at the northeast corner of St. Louis and Elliott Avenues, owned by Paul J. McKee Jr.’s companies for years now. Its strong form is a vigilant reminder that the dead center can also be a land of urban life, where bricks build community rather than petty fortunes.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place

Northside Regeneration Still Buying

by Michael R. Allen

Make no mistake about the fact that Northside Regeneration LLC continues to buy property. On October 27, the Recorder of Deeds recorded seven purchases by Northside Regeneration (and signed by Eagle Realty’s Harvey Noble) at a Sheriff’s land tax sale held on October 8. All of these properties are vacant lots.

The properties and sales prices are:

  • 1822 N. 22nd Street ($707)
  • 3510 N. Jefferson Avenue ($5,000)
  • 2714 Madison Avenue ($1,456)
  • 2331 Hebert Street ($783)
  • 2323-25 Hebert Street ($717)
  • 2301 Hebert Street ($688)
  • 2329 Hebert Street ($717)
    The amounts paid are whatever bid was needed to win the property. In most cases at the Sheriff’s sale, there is only one bid. In that case, the amount paid is the minimum price equal to the amount of unpaid land tax. Purchasing property at a Sheriff’s sale is much easier for a private citizen than going through the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). All a winning bidder needs to do to secure the property is to have cash on hand to pay on the same day. No aldermanic approval or redevelopment plans are needed.

    The properties on Hebert were owned by the Pyramid Companies for their development of single-family homes east of Sullivan Place. Some of the houses were built. While other Pyramid properties passed to creditors or investors, these simply sat without their taxes paid for three consecutive years. Pyramid had partnered with McEagle Properties to develop housing at WingHaven in O’Fallon, Missouri before the two companies abruptly parted ways.

    Columbus Square North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Signs

    Cass Bank Sign Missing

    by Michael R. Allen

    There have been more than a few changes around the intersection of North Florissant Avenue, 13th Street and Cass Avenue lately. In the past, I have lamented the destruction of the Crunden Library at 14th and Cass and the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings on Cass, noted (with a degree of lament) the fiery loss of an old bus maintenance garage on 14th and recently observed the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the old Cass Bank and Trust Company Building at 13th and Cass. Once upon a time, before a change in plans in 2007, I protested the proposed ramp system feeding the Mississippi River Bridge that would have cut right across the intersection and severed downtown from Old North forever.

    Oh, and then there is the whole matter of Northside Regeneration! A lot can change a small area in five years’ time.  Northside Regeneration, then known as Allston Alliance LC, purchased the old Schnucks store on Cass Avenue and eventually persuaded the Missouri Department of Transportation to route the bridge landing across that site to connect with Tucker Boulevard.  Tucker is now being rebuilt by the removal and infill of the Illinois Traction System cut upon which it was built in 1932.

    All of those big changes entailed removal of a very small thing, the once-shining Cass Bank sign that faced the northbound interurban trains of the Illinois Traction System.  The sign was incandescent, with bulbs placed in channels spelling the bank’s name.

    Deposit with us, the sign beckoned to all those yearning for a place to put their hard-earned money. All others could enjoy its bright lights which would have shone in the fall-winter dusk on their ride home from downtown.

    The lights went out years ago, after the trains stopped running in 1956, but the Cass Bank sign stood amid the jungle growing from the cut.

    Standing behind the current Cass Bank home on North 13th Street, the sign was in the way of the new bridge-to-Tucker connection. And it disappeared earlier this year. Does anyone know what happened to it? Could its pointed wedge have been spared as a reminder of part of the history of a site now flattened into the future?