Mayor Slay

$5.3 Million in Block Grants Coming

A blog entry on reports that the city of St. Louis expects to receive $5.3 million in additional Community Development Block Grant funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and that there is a May 22 deadline for applications. Apparently, the city received a notice from the Department of Housing and Urban Development on May 6. The funds are prioritized for “hard development costs” associated with infrastructure activities that provide basic services to residents or activities that promote energy efficiency through rehabilitation or retrofitting of existing buildings.

The link to the application forms is here.

These funds can do a lot of good for the city, especially because they are expressly available for existing buildings. Hopefully neighborhood organizations are ready to jump at this chance!

Mayor Slay North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Planning

Develop With Dignity

by Michael R. Allen

The rancorous discussion about development on the near north side of St. Louis seems without end. Often, we residents seem stuck between a rock (current conditions, which we do need to overcome) and a hard place (Paul McKee’s clandestine plans). Yet there is a better path than the status quo, which almost everyone will admit is not leading to enough development to transform our area, or a totally privatized plan, which could wipe out large parts of what we call home.

Develop With Dignity is a coalition working to achieve a balanced vision. The group of north side churches, organizations, businesses and individuals have offered a clear set of positive principles for guiding future development:

1. Engage area residents and their elected officials in formulating a redevelopment plan.

2. No use of eminent domain on owner occupied property.

3. Maintain current properties so they do not become a nuisance or a danger to the community.

4. Every consideration must be given to developing diverse communities.

These are simple and direct statements of what residents expect in future development. The principles cut through the mess of what McKee does or does not have planned with a platform for development that does not displace. we will have many heated discussions about the scope and form of new development, but we first need to set base standards for process.

At a community meeting last night, Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin (D-5th) stated that she endorses these principles. Many organizations have already signed on, from Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish to North Grand Neighborhood Services to St. Louis Crisis Nursery. Here is a working coalition for consensus-based decision-making. Some residents who have met privately with Paul McKee have reported that even he has been favorable to the principles, although he has not signed on. What if he did? Or what if Mayor Francis Slay signed on? What kind of dialog about development could we then start?

Please consider signing on yourself:

Historic Preservation Mayor Slay

World Leadership Award Nice, Progress Made Great

by Michael R. Allen

Historic preservation has led to St. Louis winning a World Leadership Award in the category of housing. The award specifically recognizes the heroic efforts of St. Louisans in revitalizing vacant historic buildings. While Mayor Francis Slay and Planning Director Rollin Stanley went to the award ceremony in London to claim the award, it really belongs to everyone working to revitalize the city — residents, rehabbers, developers, preservationists, architects and, I suppose, politicians.

While there are definite reasons to be skeptical about the organization that grants the awards (Steve Patterson has those reasons covered), there is no doubt that the accomplishment is very real. According to Mayor Francis Slay, more than 20,000 housing units have been rehabbed in the city since 2000. The turnaround is dramatic, and the visible results in the city rewarding to generations (including mine) who lived through darker days. While the losses continue, and politicians and urban planners sometimes seem to be the last people to get the news that historic preservation and unique character are fueling our renewal, things haven’t been this good for old buildings in decades. We are making a lot of progress.

The roots of this resurgence go back to 1996 when a group of St. Louisans, with attorney Jerry Schlichter at the forefront, pushed to make historic preservation economically sensible. These folks successfully lobbied the Missouri General Assembly to enact the country’s most progressive state historic rehabilitation tax credit. This credit was a boon to St. Louis and the entire state. Preservation used to be the lonely battle of historians and neighborhood activists. Now it’s the common parlance of developers, realtors and bankers — the people who control the historic buildings. For over a decade, heartbreaks have been healed. Preservationists have gladly seen many of their gloomy predictions proven wrong.

The battles continue, of course. The playing field is different in many ways. Demolition is still a problem, and historic landmark status has become a double-edged sword that cuts historic buildings that won’t ever get it. North city likely will bleed buildings for the next two decades. But a preservationist now has some pretty impressive case examples of the viability of preservation. We don’t need an award to reap the benefits of changed political and economic circumstances, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

Mayor Slay Media North St. Louis Old North People Posts Video on Old North

Carson Minow’s latest video for St. Louis Traffic is about Old North St. Louis. Check it out here.  Thus continues the continued interest in Old North by the editors of Hopefully that is an indication that our current mayor understands a thing or two about the urban character of the near north side.

Historic Preservation Mayor Slay

Which Twelve?

St. Louis has sent an application for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2008 List of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations. Read more at

Historic Preservation JeffVanderLou Mayor Slay North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North St. Louis Place

McKee’s Holdings Ready for Development

by Michael R. Allen

In a written statement sent to Riverfront Times reporter Kathleen McLaughlin, developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. remarked of his north side holdings, “what we do own, with a few unremarkable exceptions, is owned in small, undevelopable scattered sites.”

McKee is wrong on several counts:

– The most desirable and sustainable development in any urban area is precisely done in small, scattered sites. Great cities are built through accumulation, not master planning — the same goes for great redevelopment. McKee’s 662+ parcels were each developable, or they never would have been surveyed and divided as parcels. These are not good sites for large buildings or homes with generous front lawns, but they are perfect for dense urban infill construction.

– With property values rising throughout the city, all property in the city is “developable” — especially land as close to downtown as McKee’s holdings are. Even what he owns now could lead to an extremely profitable develoment program.

– McKee owns dozens of historic buildings in the Murphy-Blair, Clemens House-Columbia Brewery and Mullanphy National Historic Districts — many adjacent to rehabilitated buildings or soon-to-be rehabilitated buildings. Obviously, he’s already eligible for an established and proven state development tax credit: the historic rehabilitation tax credit. His Paric Corporation can been seen all over the city serving as general contractor on numerous historic rehabilitation contracts utilizing the tax credit, and that company does good work. He could proceed with rehabilitating all of his holdings eligible for the state historic tax credit and make a huge and qualitative difference in north St. Louis.

– In Old North St. Louis and the eastern side of St. Louis Place, McKee’s holdings fall among rehabbed buildings, maintained houses, businesses and new construction. Large-scale development is not only unfeasible in these areas, it’s not needed. There already is development activity scattered in these areas. On some blocks, everything is in good repair except the holdings of McKee and the city’s Land Reutilization Authority. Surely he can put together development projects on a small scale where they will make such a critical difference.

Overall, McKee’s holdings are a remarkable development opportunity as-is. Rather than wait for big political deals to take shape, the developer is posed to start now on meaningful development based on community needs and sensitivity to the existing urban fabric. In fact, if he only rehabbed every building eligible for the state rehab tax credit the difference on the near north side would be clear. If that statement doesn’t seem true, one need only look at the result of the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance’s CONECT project on North Market and Monroe streets in Old North St. Louis. There, scattered rehabs using the state historic rehab tax credit and other existing financing mechanisms changed the character of some blocks from hopeless to hopeful. Simultaneous construction of new houses helped make the difference bigger. Some of these blocks are unrecognizable in their renewed states.

As such good changes take place, they spread — fast. Private development is at an all-time high in Old North St. Louis. Within a few years, the 14th Street Mall will be reopened and dozens of historic buildings will be rehabilitated as part of that project. In short time, figuring out what to do with all of the vacant land in the neighborhood won’t be a problem; the gaps will fill in. This won’t happen in even ten years, but I’d be surprised if it takes more than thirty. Given the magnitude of the decline of the neighborhood, that is remarkably fast.

With careful planning, McKee could identify other potential historic districts among his holdings and carry that momentum westward into JeffVanderLou. That process seems to coincide with Mayor Slay’s statement that historic preservation is part of what will happen in development of McKee’s holdings.

The large scale on which McKee has operated is hardly visionary any more. We have watched decades of such projects fail. In the meantime, we have seen developers make bigger differences in reversing decay by tackling the city on a parcel-by-parcel basis — the same way the city was first developed. McKee has the chance to do something unique by putting his resources and energy behind smarter urban development projects. No matter what happens, development of his parcels will take decades. Why not start now and work steadily doing something no other developer can do?

Mayor Slay North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Good Responses

While the’s attack on the Post-Dispatch coverage of Paul McKee’s north side land assemblage struck a predictable posture, two responses online are worthwhile reads:

Slay Supports McKee, Blasts Post – Antonio D. French (Pub Def)

I Take the Bait – Lisa Selligman (clearview)

Mayor Slay North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

KWMU Runs Story on McKee’s North Side Plans

North siders worry about big tax break plan – Matt Sepic for KWMU (MP3 available)

The story features interviews with Michael Allen, Mayor Francis Slay and Old North St. Louis Restoration Group Exceutive Director Sean Thomas.

Mayor Slay Missouri Legislature North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Urgent: "Blairmont" Tax Credits Pass Missouri House, Headed for Senate Tomorrow

by Michael R. Allen

Here’s some timely news: The Missouri House passed, 146-9, the conference report on HB 327, which includes the tax credit for land assemblage that Paul McKee wants to use in north St. Louis. Apparently the report will be heard in the Senate tomorrow morning, and supposedly St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay will appear in person in support of the bill’s passage.

Basically, senators need to hear from people by the end of today. So if you read this before 4:30 p.m. please email or call your state senator. Contact information for senators is here.

Mayor Slay Missouri Legislature Northside Regeneration

Look in the Mirror

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday, Mayor Francis Slay endorsed the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act in the State of the City address. What do we do today?

First introduced in February, the legislative proposal is just over two months old. In two months, a lot can be done. People can identify problematic legislation, lobby for amendments and work to secure major changes — or defeat. Obviously, though, people working alone or in small groups do not effect such changes. People need lobbies or organizations to catch the attention of elected officials.

With the Distressed Areas tax credit, a whole host of issues was raised. Land use, displacement of low-income owners and renters, historic preservation and the use of government to benefit single developers all came up. There are numerous advocacy groups doing work in these areas, but none took the tax credit proposal or Paul McKee’s north side project seriously enough to invest in a formal position.

Here we see the inherent inaction in the local political culture. Rather than risk losing a political fight, the guardians of the establishment would rather resign themselves to fatalism than make a decent effort to invest in an issue. Fatalism, after all, is intellectually respectful (and profoundly lazy). No one ever lost a bet by promising to do nothing.

Clearly, the location of McKee’s project enables the culture of complacency. The middle and upper classes of the region have long forsaken north St. Louis, or outright supported its annihilation. This attitude has enabled decades of decline then blamed upon stereotypical poor and African-American people willing to hold neglected areas together. These same classes control the organizations that could have provided a voice on the tax credit issue. The apathy is thus not surprising.

Those who have participated in organizations before who might recognize the urgency of the tax credit issue are elsewhere. Leadership in St. Louis is unsustainable, and new voices are quickly recuperated into the morass of complacent inaction or rejected outright. Those who are new to the game find little guidance and support and much cynicism here.

Meanwhile, the failure of political leadership leads to neighborhoods left undefended, people left without advocates, buildings left wrecked and a city ultimately cast into middling status by default. We can blame Mayor Slay or Lewis Reed for bringing us down all we want, but their victories are symptomatic of a culture of apathy everyone seems to cultivate. They are easy scapegoats for the self-righteous, and ascribing to them and their minions unlimited powers helps us feel better about not taking responsibility or aiding our friends who are trying desperately to create change.

If the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act is an inevitable legislative proposal, that means that we have taken the last two months and wasted opportunities to form a coalition to change the proposal into one more appropriate to St. Louis. Of course, accepting the inevitability of the proposal still does not excuse further inaction. However, from the Century Building battle on back to the Gateway Mall we see a string of isolated instances of activism where the leadership on the issues withered away and critical mass was fleeting. The irony is that these battles have reinforced the point that sustainable long-term vision and strong organization is needed to even get a seat at the decision-making table, let alone change the discourse of the establishment so our ideas are truly considered.

What do we do today? A better question may be what can we do? The need to create sustainable organizations related to urban development issues is crucial. The need to foster progressive political leadership is essential. Are these things within our grasp? Do we want them to be?