James Clemens House North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place

A (Legitimate) Look Inside of the Clemens House

by Michael R. Allen

On Sunday, Landmarks Association of St. Louis wrapped up its annual Preservation Week with a tour of the James Clemens, Jr. House at 1849 Cass Avenue in St. Louis Place. That’s right — Landmarks offered a tour of a vacant building! While there have been many “before” tours of historic St. Louis buildings, none has offered a look at such an early phase of a rehabilitation project.

Landmarks Association Executive Director Jeff Mansell welcomes the crowd along with Dan Holak of Robert Wood Realty and David Lorentz of Klitzing Welsh.

Developers Robert Wood Realty and McEagle along with architects Klitzing Welsh Associates bravely threw open the door (okay, unscrewed the plywood) to the James Clemens House to the public for Landmarks. There was a small charge, a limited number of tour spots and a mandatory liability waiver, but all of those were necessary to make the tour work. Hopefully it can be offered again!

The developers started the tour by explaining the redevelopment plan, which calls for senior apartments in the mansion, dormitory and first floor of the chapel with an educational use in the chapel space. Nothing has been firmed up about the chapel use yet, but the original volume of the space will be restored for the first time in generations. The use of the chapel will allow for public access to the grounds, which will be opened up by removing the brick wall (built in 1887 and somewhat removed now) and building an iron fence similar to the original long lost fence on Cass Avenue. The Clemens House complex will again be easy to locate, and will open up a relationship with its neighborhood once more.

The apartment use precludes public access to the mansion and its lavish interior, and will entail some tricky accommodations like kitchenettes and bathrooms in the first floor parlors. (The dormitory is a perfect fit.) However, the project will follow the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic rehabilitation, and all original fabric will be retained. The extensive cast iron work will be refurbished and missing parts replicated (albeit probably in a fiberglass-based casts). I have yet to thoroughly study the details of the rehabilitation, and will continue to observe.

The tour offered a very limited view inside. Visitors entered at the rear of the dormitory and proceeded about fifteen feet from the front door. Structural problems in the partly-collapsed chapel and the house itself precluded further adventure. Still, what was open was lit up brightly than ever. This photographer was able to re-do some old clandestine photography!

Paul J. McKee, Jr. was prominent in the group, and was freely talking with guests. There is a long road ahead for the developer’s Northside Regeneration project, and many unanswered questions. (This post is not about them.) Yet the one certain fact is that McKee is starting the project with rescuing the James Clemens House, and that has become the early symbol of the project. It’s easy to point out how much this move benefits McKee — but easy to guess that it’s not necessarily the first move he wanted to make.

The truth is that those who benefit the most from the rehabilitation of the Clemens House, however, are residents of surrounding St. Louis Place who have long suffered from the abandonment in the heart of a largely stable area. Oh — and everyone who wants St. Louis to have an indelible, storied historic character benefits from saving this city’s most architecturally significant pre-Civil War mansion. There are eternal essences that make this city what it is, and their defense should be more fiercely and continually waged than momentary battles. After all, brick walls last longer than fleeting political maneuvers.

As an aside, Landmarks Association of St. Louis is at its best when it offers the community the chance to directly interact with historic architecture in unexpected ways. While its board has spent considerable time, effort and money on the Architecture St. Louis space downtown, the organization’s most unique strength remains the ability to forge connections out in the places where we live. Kudos to current Executive Director Jeff Mansell for doing just that with this tour!

Central West End Century Building Downtown North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Update on Preservation-Related Legal Cases

by Michael R. Allen

San Luis Apartments

On May 5, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals will hear the Friends of San Luis, Inc. v. The Archdiocese of St. Louis. (Disclosure: This writer is president of the Friends of the San Luis.) The Friends of the San Luis sought an injunction against demolition of the mid-century modern San Luis Apartments so that it could appeal Preservation Board approval of the demolition.

The San Luis Apartments (originally the DeVille Motor Hotel) in 2007.
Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker, Jr. dismissed the case with prejudice, claiming that citizens who cannot demonstrate financial grievance have no right to appeal actions by the Preservation Board! The building was subsequently demolished but the Friends decided to appeal Dierker’s anti-citizen ruling. The city’s preservation ordinance, after all, was enacted by the Board Aldermen for the general benefit of all citizens.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals will consider oral arguments from both sides on May 5 and issue a ruling at a later date. Jonathan Beck and Ian Simmons represent the Friends of the San Luis, while Edward Goldenhersh and David Niemeier of Greensfelder, Hemke and Gale represent the Archdiocese.

Century Building

A case now five years old, Missouri Development Finance Board vs. Marcia Behrendt and Roger Plackemeier, just took a predictable turn. The cause was set to commence trial on March 15, but the plaintiffs again requested a continuance. Judge Mark Neill granted a continuance, and trial is now set for August 9, 2010.

Vintage postcard view of the Century Building, c. 1910
The plaintiffs — and this writer himself needed a refresher after such a long time — are the Missouri Development Finance Board, Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, NSG Developers LLC, St. Louis Custom and Post Office Building and Associates. Their cause? Even a refresher won’t quite make that clear. The allegation is that by being willing to file suit against the Old Post Office project to stop the Century Building demolition — a Dierkerian filing predicated on injury to personal property value — Marcia Behrendt and Roger Plackemeier somehow were being malicious. Never mind that Behrendt and Plackemeier’s suit was dismissed and had no effect on the outcome of the Old Post Office project (although shoddy construction work did).

The seriousness of the plaintiff’s allegation keeps getting undermined by constant requests for continuance. Is the goal to be vindicated by a jury or to harass citizens for exercising their legal rights? And why are our city and state governmental bodies still enjoined as plaintiffs, wasting taxpayer money at a time when both levels of government need every cent they can get? Time to drop the suit.


Last week Judge Dierker — one tie that binds all three cases — issued the following order extending for one week the deadlines for brief in the suit against the city over the NorthSide redevelopment ordinances:

Upon the request of defendant Northside Regeneration, LLC, and with the consent of the parties, the post-trial briefing schedule is hereby amended to provide as follows: Brief Due Plaintiffs’/Intervenors’ briefs 3/26/10 Defendants’ briefs 4/12/10 Plaintiffs’/Intervenors’ reply briefs 4/22/10.

Plaintiffs can expect a lengthy, colorful ruling from Dierker. Otherwise, speculation is useless. Dierker has a narrow view of citizen rights under development law, so his basis will be whether the plaintiffs have proven that their real estate is harmed or devalued under the blighting enacted by the redevelopment ordinance. Dierker has stated in trial that he is not prepared to consider condemnation that has yet to be authorized, and the ordinance avoids explicit authorization.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Next Wave of NorthSide Ordinances Delayed

by Michael R. Allen

While the thunder of a showy trial on McEagle’s NorthSide project has marched along, the next round of redevelopment ordinances specific to the four phases of the project apparently have not. The Board of Aldermen was supposed to consider those ordinances before April 1, but they may not come for some time longer. At least, that’s what Jerry Berger tells us:

Most City Hall observers expect McKee and his partners will let the date slip by while the McEagle team continues to acquire properties and wait for answers to his requests for federal and state assistance.

Dale Singer has a sold analysis of the trial in the Beacon. Read it here.

On the matter of federal and state assistance, the city lost its bid for a federal TIGER grant to reconfigure the Jefferson/22nd Street exits downtown. McEagle needs that reconfiguration and a land swap with the Missouri Department of Transportation to start one of the first-phase components of the project.

Fire JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Fires Plague JeffVanderLou

by Michael R. Allen

Last week, on the way to a meeting in JeffVanderLou, I noticed a recently — judging by scent — fire-ravaged house on Bacon Street, shown here.

Then, early this week, I learned of a two-night wave of four fires. These fires hit vacant buildings in a small area. The buildings lost to the firebug share two characteristics: all were historic buildings in decent repair and all were vacant and unboarded. Since the location of all but one of these houses is within the footprint of McEagle’s NorthSide project, the press has been quick to report these fires, and the loose tongues of conspiracy have been wagging.

The sad fact is that arson claims vacant buildings across north St. Louis every month, and mostly the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and its cloaked comments-section pundits take no notice. The culprits in many of these cases are never caught, let alone charged. Neighborhood residents, who know best, generally suspect brick thieves.

Arson on the near north side also is an old problem. In the 1960s, some white property owners fleeing the near north side torched their own homes to collect insurance money. As time moved on, and buildings went vacant, assorted firebugs, vandals, bored teenagers, firework-launching revelers and brick thieves have done more damage. In 1997, Old North St. Louis suffered a rash of arsons that included a massive fire at the five-story former Peters Shoe Company factory just south of Jackson Park (since demolished).

A building on the 1800 block of Bacon Street lost this week. I could not find a pre-fire photograph.

Then there are the fires that never happened. Neighborhood patrols, starting in the evening and sometimes going to the early morning, have kept many buildings standing. Rarely do neighborhoods get the assistance of owners of the vacant buildings, or the busy police department. Still, many people have taken action to prevent senseless destruction of their neighborhood fabric.

What gets lost through arson are indelible parts of city neighborhoods. The brick piles and half-collapsed buildings are easy picking for brick thieves, and not enticing enough to those who enjoy arson. Most targets are buildings in sound condition, that are stores of community wealth. Negligent ownership is definitely a root cause that must be addressed systematically, but the arsonists aren’t going to be affected by scorn heaped upon McEagle or the Land Reutilization Authority.

Robbing neighborhoods of community wealth is a base crime. The police and the circuit attorney need to step up efforts to send neighborhood arsonists away for as long as statues allow.

Two houses on the 1900 block of Bacon Street before last week.

Two houses on the 1900 block of Bacon Street this week.

The house at 1721 N. Grand Avenue last week.

The house at 1721 N. Grand Avenue this week.
Two row houses at 3508-10 Cozens Avenue in 2007. The configuration is unique — the two houses adjoin at the back with a center gangway leading to secondary entrances.

The two row houses this week. The house hit by fire is owned by McEagle.
North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Who Are the Attorneys Involved in the Northside Trial?

by Michael R. Allen

This week’s Riverfront Times features an excellent feature article by Nicholas Phillips, “North Side Rancor: A quartet of legal eagles aim to shoot down Paul McKee’s grandiose vision to regenerate St. Louis” that is a good primer to this week’s action at the Civil Courts. Phillips focuses on Eric Vickers’ involvement but also gives readers a sense of who D.B. Amon, Bevis shock and Jim Schottel are and why they are involved in one of the most interesting development trials in recent years.

Housing James Clemens House North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place

Clemens House Moves Closer to Rehabilitation

by Michael R. Allen

Rendering courtesy of Robert Wood Realty.

Developer Robert Wood’s $13 million plan to rehabilitate the long-beleaguered James Clemens House at 1849 Cass Avenue, illustrated above, is moving closer to reality. In collaboration with owner McEagle Properties, Wood proposes creating senior apartments in the historic mansion and dormitory wing, and a museum in the chapel wing.

The staff of the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC) has recommended that the Commission approve the project for a combination of a 4% low-income housing tax credit ($828,000), gap financing ($4.5 million) and tax-exempt bonds ($7 million). Wood had sought 9% credits. The MHDC will meet on February 19 to allocate credits. The City of St. Louis made the Clemens House project its #1 priority for the 9% credit.

Strange that the Clemens House, the building that first piqued preservationist outrage at McEagle’s land assemblage, may become the first completed project of the NorthSide project? No. As we have been saying all along, the strongest factor in the NorthSide project is the existing fabric of the near north side.

DALATC Kansas City Missouri Legislature North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Public Policy

Kansas City Seeks Change to Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit

by Michael R. Allen

Once again, state Senator Yvonne Wilson (D-Kansas City) has offered a bill to reduce the acreage ownership requirement of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act from 50 to 30 acres. This bill is SB 682 and was first read on January 6. Wilson’s past attempts to pass this bill have gone nowhere.

However, the bill certainly has merit. If the courts uphold the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit, and the legislature lacks the will to kill it, the credit should be reformed. Wilson and Kansas City lawmakers would like to use the credit to aid in a Kansas City redevelopment project. Why shouldn’t they be able to get the credit changed, if it is truly a public benefit law under the Missouri Constitution?

Of course, the premise of the tax credit remains as dangerous as it was when first proposed in 2007, and the effect of the type of real estate activity it encourages is terrible for struggling neighborhoods. The tax credit’s main beneficiary has spawned copycat buying across north St. Louis. All we have to show are lost buildings, vacant buildings and neighborhoods caught up in a broadly-drawn development project that may not ultimately include them. It’s bad public policy, plain and simple. It could be a little better, though.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Now That McKee Has His Money, City Should Slow Process

by Michael R. Allen

At the end of 2009, developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. received $19.62 million in Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credits. According to the developer’s application, McKee’s Northside Regeneration LLC claims a little over $25 million in assemblage, interest and maintenance costs to date, and projects an additional $66 million in acquisition costs. Only part of the application has been released publicly, so a breakdown of those figures is not yet available.

The $25 million figure corresponds to the amount of a $25 million Second Mortgage and Deed of Trust filed with the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds by Northside Regeneration LLC on December 10. That second deed of trust is guaranteed by Paric Corporation, the construction company founded by McKee and now headed by his son Joe McKee.

Now that McKee has the tax credits he claimed all last year he needed to proceed, what will the developer do with the proceeds of selling them? Pay down his debt.

That use of the credits may surprise those who put stock in the words of supporters of the tax credit, including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who claimed those credits would enable development of north St. Louis. Those who read the tax credit bill realized that it was in effect remuneration for questionable acquisition activity already underway.

Now that McKee has received his first payment and announced his intended use of the proceeds, we know that he will have paid down most of his claimed debt. Since McKee’s company continues to fail to secure and adequately maintain holdings, his holding costs must be minimal. This payment enables him to sit for another length of time.

More importantly, however, this payment enables city government to look more carefully at the Northside Regeneration project. McKee can no longer claim that the Board of Alderman’s lack of action is keeping him from money he needs to survive. The developer has redevelopment rights and TIF financing secured through the ordinances passed in October 2009. Both sides are even. There are going to be additional bills needed to enable redevelopment of the four areas McKee has divided the project into, and to activate the tax increment financing. This time, the Board of Aldermen and Mayor Francis Slay should not rush the process.

There needs to be a full and open debate of whether or not the project’s boundaries are appropriate, whether eminent domain restrictions need to be stronger, whether historic preservation planning ought to be included in additional ordinances, and what happens to McKee’s holdings outside of his project boundaries in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.

Let’s lay this all on the table before passing more enabling ordinances.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Now It’s Only "Northside Regeneration"

by Michael R. Allen

Blairmont is no more.

At least, Blairmont Associates LC and several other McEagle-controlled holding companies no longer exist. On December 14, Northside Regeneration LLC — the public face of McEagle’s NorthSide project — filed two Notice of Merger statements with the Secretary of State.

The first of these merges all of McEagle’s holding companies into Northside Regeneration: Blairmont, N & G Ventures LC, Noble Development Company LLC, VHS Partners LLC, PATH Enterprise Company LLC, Allston Alliance LC, Sheridan Place LC, Dodier Investors LLC, MLK 3000 LLC, Larmer LC and Union Martin LLC.

The second merges into Northside Regeneration all of the shell limited liability entities used to guarantee deeds of trust to the holding companies. That list is online at the Secretary of State’s website.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

A City Guarantee for Northside Regeneration

by Michael R. Allen

At the November 13 ceremonial signing of the first ordinances related to the Northside Regeneration redevelopment concept, Mayor Francis Slay made statements to St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Tim Logan that indicated his former hard line against a public guarantee of any of the $390 million in tax increment financing bonds authorized by one of the ordinances. Northside Regeneration’s developer, Paul J. McKee, Jr., has told the press on numerous occasions that the project won’t work without a public guarantee of some kind. Slay and Deputy Mayor Barbara Geisman have assured the public that City Hall was not eager to support such a guarantee.

Yet on November 13, Slay told Logan that there “may be some limited participation” from city government. He followed that statement up with an ambiguous one: “To what extent, if any, the city is going to do that hasn’t been determined.”

It should be determined in one word: No.

At least, the City of St. Louis should not pledge its full faith and credit to cover any of the bonds for the Northside Regeneration TIF. For one thing, the city simply cannot afford the liability. In the last two weeks, the press has reported several stories about a $20 million city budget shortfall and mandatory city employee furloughs. It’s not fair to ask city employees to take a hit and then be open to handing a private developer the right to bankrupt the city. Even a $1 million guarantee is too much risk for a city government trying to avoid a giant deficit.

Precedent for city guarantee shows high risk and poor development outcomes. Our first foray was backing the bonds for Midland Group’s $53 million St. Louis Marketplace on Manchester Road, completed in 1991. The developers sold the city on the promise that reclaiming the old Scullin Steel site — a true brownfield — for the sort of retail center found all over St. Louis County would lead to a sales tax boon. That promise rang hollow, and revenue fell short of the projection used to sell the TIF. The city has paid $3 million toward the TIF for the Marketplace, and will pay another $1,3 million before the TIF expires in 2011. The St. Louis Marketplace has high vacancy and low demand for its spaces.

Next, in 2003 the city backed bonds issued for the Renaissance Grand Hotel & Suites on Washington Avenue downtown. This time, developers Historic Restoration, Inc. and a subsidiary of Kimberly-Clark Corporation didn’t sell the vision to the city, but capitalized on the mythic promise that St. Louis desperately needed a giant convention hotel to compete for major conventions. The hotel has never met revenue and occupancy projections, and $13.6 million from federal block grants to St. Louis have been used to cover shortfalls.

Most recent and most irresponsible was the city’s decision to guarantee bonds for Pyramid’s $26 million purchase of One City Centre in 2006. Time will tell how bad the damage to city coffers will be. Currently, the city is trying to work out a plan to keep the office tower profitable by converting the surrounding St. Louis Centre mall into parking to serve tenants. With the prospect of being on the hook for the bonds, the city has no time to wait to consider more creative ideas for reusing the old mall.

Some might argue that Northside Regeneration is too different from past city-guaranteed projects to be compared. However, fundamentally, the project shares a lot in common with the three other projects: the “last great hope” myth surrounding the project, the unrealistic revenue projections and the developer using public process to lure private capital to the project. The truth is that the Northside Regeneration project is so malleable and undefined that any revenue projections created right now are just fancy guesstimates. I write this with some hope, because the malleability of the project makes it more possible to reconcile McKee’s vision with community needs.

The reconciliation of McKee’s private aims and the civic life of north St. Louis is exactly where some help from city government would come in handy. If City Hall and the Board of Aldermen want to commit resources to speed along redevelopment, there are appropriate ways of doing so that are fairly noncontroversial: roads, streets, sidewalks and parks. There are service needs in the footprint of McKee’s Northside project that should be addressed now — especially in those parts of the project McKee has phased as the last areas to get development.

One project that the city could try to fund early on are stabilization and marketing of Land Reutilization Authority buildings in the project area, so that historic buildings are preserved and ready-to-rehab buildings are available for microdevelopers and rehabbers. Another project that would be of great benefit to all citizens is restoration and enhancement of St. Louis Place Park. DeSoto Park and others need improvements as well. And the area’s sidewalk network is badly damaged. These are all improvements that have been needed for a long time, and are promised in the Northside Regeneration presentation. Why not start them now?

Public sector expenditure can be used to make the near north side a better place for current residents. McKee will realize benefits too, of course, but not at the expense of the people his plan is supposed to help. The city guarantee that needs to be on the table is a guarantee that residents of the near north side will benefit from the redevelopment project, enjoy an improved quality of life and have their tax dollars used for true public benefit.