by Michael R. Allen
As a dry heat settled across the downtown streets yesterday, cloaked by lilting cloud cover, workers from Spirtas Wrecking Company descended upon the Cupples Station warehouse known as Cupples 7. At the end of the business day, two red trucks and a Bobcat were parked behind the fence as workers took the sure steps toward setting up a full-scale demolition site.
The city’s own application for demolition (number 506242; application date, May 22) has not yet been approved by Building Commissioner Frank Oswald. Thus the machine wrecking of Cupples 7 won’t start immediately, but the portent of a start date renders the facts mere trivia. Demolition looms.
On Twitter, a dizzying exchange between a principal of Vertical Realty Advisors, Treasurer Tishaura Jones, Treasurer’s adviser (and father) Virvus Jones and Preservation Board Chairman (and Francis Slay’s campaign manager) Richard Callow was either surface-level shimmer of real negotiations or just a diversion for bored urbanistas at their desk jobs. In a thread on my Facebook wall, Virvus Jones made it clear that any savior of Cupples 7 will have to assume the Treasurer’s contract to buy the building’s mortgage from Montgomery Bank (the pay-it-forward albatross left by former Treasurer Larry Williams). Apparently Vertical Realty Advisors is not offering to do that.
When city officials made the call for last-minute proposals for Cupples 7, they should have clarified that parties would need to buy that note. As I wrote in the St. Louis Beacon last month: “What sort of offer will the city actually entertain now? Without a formal RFP to answer, the anecdotes offered in the mayor’s press release donâ€™t offer developers specific details sought by the city.” And of course, amid the city’s talks of sustainability the fact that $1.7 million in public funds can be used to demolish a building but no public dollar can be found to stabilize one is atrocious. Mayor Francis Slay should take the lead on changing that; his own Sustainability Plan recommends that he do so.
Of course, local preservationists have known that the eleventh hour was coming for this building at least since the Preservation Board denied demolition in 2011. The gap between feasible rehab financing and the full cost of repairing the masonry treasure designed by Eames & Young has been our collective problem. Once upon a time — a time still within some memories even — Landmarks Association of St. Louis had a “Revolving Fund” used to purchase, stabilize and rehab houses in Soulard, Hyde Park and fragile neighborhoods. The fund ended a long time ago, but the need did not. If Cupples 7 falls in the next few weeks, the goal of establishing a new preservation fund could be one thing that rises in the wake. We don’t want to be in this spot again.