landbanking North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Larmer LC Rapidly Buying Property in JVL, St. Louis Place

by Michael R. Allen

I had been waiting for the north side holding companies controlled by Paul McKee to make a move in 2008. Surely the lull of autumn would lead to spring purchases in this buyer’s market. None of the companies have made a single purchase since December.

However, a new company has been quite busy buying property in north city. Larmer LC, incorporated on December 3, 2007 by third-party registrars at the CT Corporation System, has purchased at least 45 properties in JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place since its incorporation (see them all here). Readers may recall that CT Corporation System registered McKee’s holding companies before registration was transferred to McEagle Properties.

Larmer LC’s tax bills go to the address of 2854 Keokuk Avenue in south city, a building owned by F & B Properties LLC. That connection seems a coincidence. What may not be coincidental is that Larmer has started buying property after the other companies stopped.

DALATC Illinois landbanking Public Policy Southern Illinois

Illinois Seeks to Get in on the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Action

by Michael R. Allen

On February 14, Illinois State Representative Jay C. Hoffman (D-112th), introduced a bill in the Illinois General Assembly to create a Distressed Area Land Assemblage Tax Credit for Illinois. The bill, HB 5153, takes verbatim the enacted text of the Missouri Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act.

Hoffman represents a district that includes the Metro East cities of Collinsville, Edwardsville, Maryville and Fairview Heights.

Abandonment Detroit Green Space land use landbanking

Detroit Park Sale Plan is Hasty

by Michael R. Allen

The administration of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is proposing selling off 92 of the city’s 367 parks. Most of the parks on the sale list are pocket parks and small playgrounds, many of which are surrounded by vacant lots and some of which are in severe disrepair. Kilpatrick seems to think that some of the park sites would be ripe for new development. The plan raises the issue of public space planning in deindustrialized cities. The amount of park space in Detroit reflects peak density that has not existed in decades. Does the city need so much park space when so much of the city itself is green ghetto land?

Maybe not. Detroit is seeing redevelopment right now. Kilpatrick’s interest in selling the parks shows confidence in their having some market value as lots. The city has shrunk, but as it grows it may need the parks. While there are many of the 92 parks that probably will never be useful, there are some that are useful now and would be useful in neighborhoods where infill construction will lead to higher density. Staking out public space now will ensure that neighborhoods don’t lack amenities that belong to all residents.

Detroit might consider holding off on a massive sale, and releasing the parks one by one after further community input and investigation of development activity. Perhaps some parks should just be mothballed — infrastructure demolished and grass planted. One thing we learn from cities like Detroit is the inherent power of a vacant urban lot. From the vacant lots will spring the development of the future — and public space needs to be part of that.

land use landbanking LRA St. Louis Board of Aldermen

3500 North Grand: One of LRA’s Many Available Buildings

by Michael R. Allen

Photo from Land Reutilization Authority.

This three-story commercial building with a distinctive chamfered corner stands at 3500 N. Grand Boulevard (northeast corner of Grand and Hebert) in the Lindell Park neighborhood. Formerly home to a bank, this building in the Classical Revival style was built in 1909.

This is just one of the thousands of properties owned by the city’s holding agency, the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). LRA seeks $15,000 for this building — a price below market value. A recent sales contract fell through and the building is again on the featured properties section of LRA’s website.

Last September, I published a blog entry entitled “LRA’s Problem With Marketing: It Needs to Start.” I chastised LRA for leaving properties that had sold in the featured properties list without adding new ones. One year later, I am pleased to report that LRA’s website features only available properties on this list. I am not pleased to report that the online list still represents the bulk of LRA’s marketing efforts.

While many blame LRA itself, that’s a cop out. As a municipal authority, LRA is hidebound to funding and operational binds placed on it by those with budgetary and legislative authority. Ultimately, each of us city residents is a stakeholder in LRA. LRA’s staff cannot effect major and necessary policy changes related to the disposition of city-owned buildings and land — but our elected representatives can.

Abandonment land use landbanking Rust Belt

The Crisis of Abandonment

by Michael R. Allen

A recent article published on Preservation Online entitled “Winging It in Buffalo” provokes thoughts about the nature of widespread urban abandonment. In the article, writer Stephanie Smith discusses the situation of Buffalo, New York, where city leaders have started a “Five by Five” program to bring its vacant building rate closer to five percent within five years by demolishing 1,000 buildings a year. City planners there estimate that 10,000 buildings should be demolished.

This campaign to “right size” the city makes sensible historic preservation planning next to impossible. The Buffalo preservation board has to consider 1,000 applications a year. There is no way that preservation board members can even begin to make sense of what comes across their desks. At the same time, city leaders at least pay lip service to the idea that massive clearance is ultimately detrimental to neighborhoods.

The larger issue here is relevant to St. Louis and other cities: widespread abandonment creates public safety and land use crises of unprecedented scale. Natural time dooms many historic buildings, while political time expedites that process. Economic time brings solutions slowly, and may not move fast enough for the comfort of residents who remain in areas where abandonment is rampant. While the federal government has spent billions of dollars on supposed crises in nations like Iraq, we have failed to direct it to play a meaningful role to resolve our urban crises. Local problems rely on local solutions — and severely limited local budgets. How and when do we break from this cycle?

Thanks to my colleague Lindsey Derrington for the link.

landbanking North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Blairmont’s Big Money: For Speculation or Development?

by Michael R. Allen

According to deeds of trust filed with the city Recorder of Deeds, the three active Blairmont companies — Sheridan Place LC, MLK 3000 LLC and Dodier Investors LLC — financed $1,102,800 worth of real estate purchases between January 16 and January 23. This total represents only eight transactions in Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou.

Among the properties are the Ackermann Auto Repair building at 1514 N. 13th Street north of the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings, two small houses in the 3000 block of Montgomery Street, a string of vacant lots and one old tenement building in the 3000 block of Thomas Street, a house on the 2600 block of Howard Street and some vacant lots on 25th Street. Besides the Ackermann property, none of these seem to be worth the amounts of the deeds of trust — at least on the current market.

To think that such money would be invested in pure landbanking seems folly. Why would these entities and their backers pay over one million dollars for a week’s worth of purchases including vacant lots in JeffVanderLou and deteriorated flats? Where would the eventual payoff come?

The more likely scenario is that there is a firm master development plan for the near northside and that the people putting money into these acquisitions have confident that their plan will allow them a return, with profit. Selling these properties to other developers on a piecemeal basis seems to offer no real guarantee of a return. Likely, the properties in Old North and on major streets would be cherry-picked, leaving the other properties to be sold at less than the acquisition cost or retained.

While I know nothing of the motives behind Blairmont’s owners, I do think that I am safe to assume that these people would not invest over one million dollars simply to buy property on speculation. Their effort is relentless, as the amount of transactions and capital flow they reported in the last week shows. The companies probably own nearly 500 properties to date, an impressive feat that suggests there is a more serious effort at work than just making money off of money.

landbanking North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Disasters Natural and Man-Made Hit the North Side

by Michael R. Allen

Our exurban buddies at Blairmont Associates LC have another name, Path Enterprise Company LLC, chartered on February 2, 2004.

Let’s review the other names that seem wrapped up in the scheme to acquire hundreds of parcels in the city’s 5th and 19th wards on the near north side:

N & G Ventures LC, chartered on January 28, 2003;

Noble Development Company, chartered on February 4, 2003;

VHS Partners LC, chartered on June 28, 2002;

and, of course, Blairmont Associates LC, chartered on June 14, 2002.

The companies have a two-week registration spacing, with two companies created in each year. Is there another company for 2004? Yes. There is one more with an interesting connection that I will discuss in the future. I have no knowledge of any companies created last year or this year.

The address for some of these companies is at Eagle Realty Company, 721 Olive Street Suite 900 in St. Louis. However, campaign finance disclosure reports list a different address: 1001 Boardwalk Springs Place in O’Fallon, Missouri. This happens to be the office of McEagle Development Company, developers of WingHaven and failed developers of BaratHaven.

Tornados and developers all seem to track from the west through the city. Do they both leave destruction behind?

The answer coming from the tired shells of the Clemens House and the Mullanphy Emigrant Home is yes.