Demolition Public Policy

We Can’t Outlaw Water or Stupid Men (But We Still Can Preserve Buildings)

by Michael R. Allen

Chicago’s renegade activist Richard Nickel, whose passion inspired a generation of preservationists, once stated: “Great architecture has two natural enemies: water and stupid men.”

Too bad neither can be avoided on this planet.

Even in 2010, the roof of Cupples 7 was not too far gone to be temporarily stabilized. No action was taken.

Whether the onset of actual demolition of the Graham Paper Company Warehouse — known colloquially as “Cupples 7” — supports this theory is a sour-grapes hornet’s nest, but some things are certain. The building’s physical death was due to water. Lots of water over lots of time. And that time, presided over by men ranging from officials at Washington University to developer Kevin McGowan to former Treasurer Larry Williams, was long enough that the water could have been stopped. Ten years ago, a temporary roof may have cost as little as $100,000. Today, stabilization would cost over $5 million and demolition at least $250,000.

“Cupples 7” as the Graham Paper Company Warehouse after its completion in 1907.
Demolition is about to start at “Cupples 7.”

This demolition could have been avoided, and shows the folly of letting city agencies spend tax dollars on land acquisition and demolition. We won’t know the real costs of demolishing the building until later, when the potential profits and revenues generated by an elegant five-story mass will linger only as ethereal presences invisible to most eyes. What will be visible will be a fenced-off patch of grass and the cold hard slab of a parking garage staring out at pedestrians.

Still, this is a teaching moment. This week Mayoral Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford told the St Louis Post-Dispatch that the city was ready to learn lessons from the demolition. Here are a few that this preservation practitioner sees:

1. New ordinances won’t save buildings. There has been talk of a “demolition by neglect” ordinance. While politically the stuff of good theater, such an ordinance is redundant. The building code already makes willful neglect illegal. The Building Division and the City Counselor struggle to enforce the code with limited resources. Instead of a new wrist-slap law that will cost as much to enforce as it would collect (see the city’s dubious “Vacant Building Registration” ordinance), the city needs to do smarter things.

This is already violating city ordinances. The rear wall of St. Mary’s Infirmary at 1536 Papin Street.

2. Code enforcement could be improved. Technically, having a giant hole in the roof of a building – or a collapsing back wall – is illegal. Cities like Baltimore have targeted code enforcement to deal with vacant property. St. Louis can do the same.

3. Existing redevelopment agreements offer the city plenty of leverage, but the city needs to use it. Cupples 7 actually was governed by a redevelopment ordinance for a multi-building project. Nowhere did that ordinance, passed by the Board of Aldermen and signed by the Mayor, spell out any requirements for stabilization of the worst building in the mix. The city can’t force property owners to save their buildings — but when an owner comes to the city looking for incentives and subsidies, the city has the power to set conditions that safeguard buildings. The city has an agency, the Cultural Resources Office, that can consult on these agreements with professional expertise on issues like stabilization and demolition.

Will the city require Northside Regeneration to stabilize the James Clemens, Jr. House before it activates a $390 million tax increment financing package?

4. The city has another chance to prevent another “Cupples 7”: Northside Regeneration. This week the Tax Increment Financing Commission approved a public hearing on August 28 for activation of Paul J. McKee Jr.’s $390 million tax increment financing package for Northside Regeneration. Northside Regeneration owns scores of historic buildings, including the James Clemens Jr. House — the city’s only pre-Civil War mansion to sit vacant. Water is working on the Clemens House. Why won’t City Hall use leverage to get a roof on the building?

The last part of “Fout Place” (1892) sits vacant at 4200 Cook Avenue. Owned by shell company Urban Assets LLC, the historic house is one of those neighborhood anchor buildings that would benefit from a new way of dealing with vacant buildings.

5. The city needs to follow its own Sustainability Plan. The plan itself should have guided a different outcome for Cupples 7. Under “Urban Character, Vitality & Ecology,” Objective F, Strategy 4: “Provide resources to preserve and prevent demolition of key historic structures that do not have parties immediately interested in investing in the building.” The plan lists the time frame for implementation as “short term.” It’s unfortunate that the first test of this part of the new plan leads to a failure by multiple city departments to follow the plan. Yet there are other tests ahead: Crunden-Martin Building 5, St. Mary’s Infirmary and smaller buildings across the city.

Not much has happened with Building 5 at the Crunden-Martin Manufacturing complex south of the Arch since it caught fire in December 2011.

6. Create policies that recognize that there are two options for buildings: Demolish OR repair. While $250,000 might not have saved Cupples 7, it could have helped. The demolition budgets for smaller buildings often are higher than the cost of roof patches, temporary gutters and other short-term repairs. Rainford discussed the possibility of using demolition money to repair buildings and then placing a lien against the owner. Preservationists and neighborhood activists have called on the city to do that for years – what a relief to read that the mayor’s office is on the same page. Whatever that takes, let’s do it.

The Mullanphy Emigrant Home at North 14th Street and West Florissant Avenue in Old North still stands because preservationists and neighborhood leaders raised money and materials to rebuild its collapsed walls in 2007.

7. Preservationists need to be willing to help the city raise money. This isn’t a lesson for City Hall, but for all of us who are looking to the city to change its ways. We need to change our own. This city lacks a preservation fund for repairing buildings, ever since Landmarks Association of St. Louis killed its Revolving Fund in the early 1980s. Rainford talked about creating a fund administered by the city. That would be great, but preservation advocates need to do their part and building funding mechanisms instead of complaining about city inaction. The same part of the Sustainability Plan quoted above implores the city to “Establish a local funding stream for preservation work which directly contributes to the City’s economic growth.” Such a stream won’t build itself, and if it is not attenuated with private donations, would never be of use on the scale of a building like Cupples 7. We have to help the city build the fund.

We can’t stop the rain, and we can’t keep property owners from making bad decisions. Yet coordinated, strategic vacant building preservation efforts — wiser code enforcement, smarter redevelopment agreements, changes in city demolition funding and preservation community hustle — could send water and stupid men on the run.

Missouri Missouri Legislature Public Policy

Urgent: Missouri House Votes to Cut Historic Tax Credits; Senate Action Ahead Tomorrow?

by Christian Frommelt

Around 5:30 pm this evening the Missouri House passed SB112 (New Markets Credit) that included an amendment to reduce the historic tax credit cap from $140 million to $90 million ($10 million cap on small projects) and another amendment to renew Paul McKee’s Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit. As each of you know, this is legislation that would significantly harm St. Louis’s efforts to continue essential revitalization of historic buildings. This revitalization creates jobs, leverages private investment, broadens the tax base, and preserves the unique historic environment that remains our biggest asset as a region. It’s imperative that we call on advocates in the Senate to speak out against this bill to defeat it.

Paul McKee’s credit has created exactly zero jobs while the historic tax credit has created over 43,000. Paul McKee has torn down irreplaceable historic buildings with no promise of redevelopment while the historic tax credit has had an enormous impact in returning similar historic buildings back to life and property tax rolls. Defeating SB112 and its amendments is the obvious choice for future economic development and historic preservation in St. Louis. Pleas urge our senators to defeat SB112, which will be discussed tonight or tomorrow.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed: 573-751-4415, 314-409-5730 (c) |
Sen. Joe Keaveny: 573-751-3599 |
Sen. Scott Sifton: 573-751-0220, 314-631-0445 (c) |

Public Policy

What the Next Mayor Could Do

by Michael R. Allen

Next week, while the author of this post is safely ensconced on a job site in Oklahoma, St. Louisans will select a Democratic candidate for Mayor. Given tradition and barring mercurial rises in Green Party prospects, the Democrat will go on to win the general election in April.

While the aldermen still hold extraordinary power in our system, the mayor has a fair share. Incumbent Francis Slay has honed that power deftly, more so than most of his recent predecessors. Until the city gets a modern charter, whoever is mayor will have to muster powers of persuasion as much as actual powers of office to get things done.

Missouri Missouri Legislature Public Policy

Missouri Has Historic Tax Credits For a Reason

by Michael R. Allen

Buildings on the 2300 block of St. Louis Avenue in the St. Louis Place Historic District are eligible for Missouri’s rehabilitation tax credit.

Wednesday was a sobering day for historic preservation in St. Louis. Very early Wednesday the Missouri Senate perfected a bill (SCS SB120, passed n voice vote) that would reduce the cap on historic tax credits from $140 million to $45 million, while imposing a $5 million cap on “small” projects. Small projects are defined as those with costs of 1.1 million or less — which is about 55% of projects but last year only about $10 million in allocations. The majority of members of the Missouri Senate would slow down both large and small projects. Some senators aren’t doing this to balance the budget or better focus job creation, because they spent yesterday debating a bill for a giant tax cut. The Missouri House seems to be headed toward a more modest cut inn historic tax credits, while Governor Jay Nixon’s current stance is evanescent.

Missouri Public Policy

Missouri Senate Committee Votes to Slash Historic Tax Credits

by Michael R. Allen

This week the Missouri Senate Committee on Jobs and Economic Development took aim at Missouri’s successful historic rehabilitation tax credit program. By a 9-1 vote, the committee passed to the full Senate a substitute economic development bill (SCS SB120) that would make the following, troubling changes to Missouri’s historic tax credit:

  • Reduction of the cap on historic tax credits to $75 million from $161 million, with a new cap of $10 million imposed on small projects.
  • Reduction of maximum award of historic tax credits for residential properties by 50%.
  • Prohibition of the combination of 9% low income housing tax credits and historic tax credits.
  • Carry back of historic tax credits reduced from ten years to two years.
North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North Public Policy St. Louis Place Uncategorized

The Cost of Northside Regeneration

Compton and Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis shows what the area around 22nd and St. Louis avenues looked like in 1875.

In my latest St. Louis Public Radio commentary, “The Cost of Northside Regeneration”, I contrast the slow development of the St. Louis Place neighborhood after John O’Fallon and others filed the Union Addition plat in 1850 with the lumbering, subsidized Northside Regeneration project. Can government incentives substitute for developer risk and the micro-economics of neighborhoods? – Michael R. Allen

Local Historic District Preservation Board Public Policy

New Solar Panel Standards Proposed for City Historic Districts and Sites

by Michael R. Allen

This afternoon Cultural Resources Office Director Betsy Bradley will recommend that the Preservation Board adopt new standards governing solar collectors installed on City Landmarks and Sites and on buildings within Local Historic Districts. The board’s approval will allow the office to put forth new standards for public comment and then adopt a final version as official city policy. Today’s action could put St. Louis ahead of many other cities with historic districts. Nationwide, the preservation community is debating how to fix local ordinances written before solar panels were widely being installed. Although historic preservation and environmental laws are often compatible — and while historic preservation laws are environmental laws — recently there have been conflicts between new energy policies and practices and old approaches within historic preservation.

Solar panels installed on a historic house in Madison, Wisconsin. Photograph from Flickr by Emily Mills.

Locally, there has been at least one recent case in which the owner of a building within a local historic district initially faced denial by CRO of a permit to install street-facing solar panels, but won a new hearing and later approval from the Preservation Board.

Abandonment North St. Louis Pruitt Igoe Public Policy

Is St. Louis Ready for a “Land Run”?

by Michael R. Allen

On June 25, the Pruitt Igoe Now design competition (staffed by the Preservation Research Office) announced its three winners, selected from its thirty-one finalists. The scope of the initial 346 submissions that envisions a new life for the 33 vacant, forested acres of the Pruitt-Igoe site included many submissions that examined the preponderance of vacant land around the site. These submissions generally tended to look at the southern end of the St. Louis Place neighborhood, just across Cass Avenue from the site, or the eastern end of JeffVanderLou, just across Jefferson.

One of the competition finalists, a video submission entitled “LandRun,” whimsically suggests that the vacant land in and around Pruitt-Igoe be opened to development via an annual “land run” reminiscent of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. That event brought sudden and frenetic development, with the cities of Guthrie and Oklahoma City ending up with over 10,000 residents in one day. The impetus for settlement was the availability of plentiful undeveloped publicly-held land. North St. Louis around Cass and Jefferson remains partially settled, and has been settled through urbanization in the 19th century, but it now has vast acres of unused land. (Admittedly much of what was publicly-owned land when Pruitt Igoe Now opened in 2011 is now owned by one developer, Northside Regeneration LLC.)

“LandRun” envisions a lively and diverse re-settlement effort, and casts its prediction toward hand-tended agriculture instead of dense urban development. With the North Side Regeneration project in the area, there won’t be a land run in the area around the Pruitt-Igoe site. Yet other parts of the city, and East St. Louis, have tracts of non-taxed land currently costing local government money to maintain. Large-scale redevelopment has proven to be a perpetual myth whose pursuit only drains tax dollars and population. The 1889 land run divested the federal government of the costs of long-term land ownership while stimulating economic development and tax revenues. Could St. Louis dream of doing the same through a Land Reutilization Land Run?

“LandRun” was created by Julien Domingue, student in architecture, ENSA – Paris Belleville, Paris; Bernardo Robles Hidalgo; student in architecture, ENSA – Paris Belleville, Paris; Camille Lemeunier; student in architecture, ENSA – Paris Belleville, Paris; Laetitia Anding-Malandin; student in applied arts, visual communication, DSAA Jacques Prévert, Paris.

Historic Preservation Missouri Public Policy

Federal Historic Tax Credit Led to $3.9 Billion in Investment in Last Two Years

by Michael R. Allen

Congress first authorized the federal historic tax credit for fiscal year 1978 in order to provide a return of 20% of the qualified expenditures of rehabilitating historic buildings to developers whose projects produced income. In creating the program, Congress recognized both the needs of older towns and cities with aging historic buildings — passed over by decades of federal mortgage guarantees that sucked wealth out to suburbs — and the demands of a nation facing high costs of energy and the limits of natural resource depletion, which could turn to its existing buildings.

The Historic Tax Credit Coalition’s Third Annual Report on the Economic Impact of the Federal Historic Tax Credit, released this month, reports that the program has been a success. Between fiscal year 1978 and fiscal year 2011, $99.2 billion has been invested in historic buildings. Over 2,200 jobs have been created due to the program’s stimulation of construction work and materials fabrication — not to mention its sustenance of professions including architecture, finance and law. One of the figures from the report shows the huge, positive impact on the program since its creation and just in the last two fiscal years alone.

The federal historic tax credit’s use provided a boost to Missouri’s economy as well. According to the report, in fiscal year 2011 the program led to $368 million of investment in Missouri. That investment created 2,500 jobs and $163.2 million labor income amid a recession that has seen a slowing of new construction. Coupled with Missouri’s model state historic rehabilitation tax credit, the federal historic tax credit is a jobs leader for the state — and a mechanism that has led to resource conservation, historic preservation and retention of sense of place.

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.