Historic Preservation North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

No Deadline for Building Stabilization in Northside Bill

Tomorrow the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee of the Board of Aldermen will consider Board Bills 199 and 200, which pertain to Paul J. McKee Jr.’s Northside Regeneration project’s tax increment financing request. The committee meeting starts at 10:00 a.m. in Room 208 at City Hall.

One of the bills, Board Bill 199, contains an amendment to the original 2009 redevelopment plan for the project. The amendment contains the following revision to the original plan

The redevelopment agreement shall include: (a) a list identifying any buildings that Developer owns and which Developer proposes for demolition, and, if such demolition is approved by the City, Developer’s agreement to demolish such buildings no later than December 31, 2016; and (b) a list identifying any buildings that Developer owns and
which Developer proposes for rehabilitation, and Developer’s agreement to weather-secure such buildings to preserve them for future rehabilitation by Developer or others.

So: demolition has a target completion date, while stabilization of historic buildings identified for historic renovations does not. How can the city enforce the second provision of this agreement without a deadline?

15 replies on “No Deadline for Building Stabilization in Northside Bill”

Good point, but can we be serious? Historic preservation in the Northside Redevelopment Area is not exactly the top priority for the future of Northside. Historic preservation in functioning, largely intact, historic neighborhoods (places like O’Fallon, Dutchtown, and *maybe* Hyde Park) is much more important than dealing with historic preservation in an abandoned, wiped out, long long dead area. Just ask the former parishioners of St. Liborius parish.

or just ask the new residents of Old North. rehab may not work everywhere in the redevelopment area, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work anywhere. too-broad brush strokes are what got us into this mess in the first place. historic preservation and rehab are proven remedies for abandoned neighborhoods. mega-projects like this have failed this city every single time.

One of the reasons the north side appears to be “abandoned, wiped out, long long dead” is the lack of preservation efforts over the years (lack of demolition review for instance) but if you drive through it today, amidst the desolation there still stand some beautiful buildings that hint of what this place used to be. These need to be preserved to inspire and inform the future of the neighborhood,

The number one reason the N-side redevelopment area is mostly wiped out (and that’s McKee’s area – not all of North City), is due to fifty-plus years of white flight and abandonment. Period. Without question, the area has suffered the worst disinvestment of the entire city. So to think of it as an area for historic preservation is really over the top. Whistle while Rome burns if you like. But if you want to see serious historic preservation in STL, better to work in areas with an intact historic fabric under threat – rather than one where its mostly already gone.

Paul J. McKee, Jr. has stated that historic preservation is an important part of his project, and the language in this bill comes from him. Clearly his company is interested in potential revenue from historic tax credits — and I am glad that it is. There are four National historic districts in his project area, several buildings listed in the National Register or as City Landmarks and other buildings eligible for listing. The area is complicated, but not devoid of historic fabric. I do agree that more resources should be devoted to stabilizing more dense areas — another reason I am very skeptical that the Northside Regeneration project should receive the amount of public subsidy it has received.

Historic preservation happens where people make it happen. One of the biggest success stories is Old North, which lost 70% of its building stock. One of the sharpest declines right now is occurring in Gravois Park, which is mostly intact. Preservation is about people. People in Old North and St. Louis Place inspire me. Other more dense neighborhoods need that level of commitment — just having the building stock does not spur investment or community interest in preservation. Interest comes not from professionals like myself but from the grassroots.

If we’re talking about causative factors, “white flight” and abandonment were merely the results of the sickness. Symptoms, if you will. Federal and City policy were the sickness–urban clearance and renewal, refusal to upgrade so-called ‘cold water’ flats/residences, redlining, and more–were the primary drivers of population loss. As well, with the maturing Interstate system driving industry and residents out of the City, and into heavily subsidized commercial, residential, and industrial zones, abandonment was almost inevitable. If the moneys devoted to sucking business and population out of older cities were assigned to improving urban areas, the opposite may have been just as likely to occur. In addition to the massive direct and indirect subsidies of suburban development, we have the trenchant refusal of the Federal government (well, really, the military contractors) to spend less on so-called defense and more on the citizenry. The military purchased thousands of F4 Phantoms, Hueys, etc., for the war effort in Vietnam, not to mention the billions spent on nuclear devices and chemical weapons stockpiles. This is a major reason why our cities look like they do today. And between the twin job killers of offshoring and automation, the suburbs are going to go the same way: minus investment in ensuring a viable economy in the US, we will begin to see further degradation in suburban locales in the near future.

If one were to look at North County, we can already see this happening. It will come to Chesterfield, Wildwood, O’Fallon (MO and IL) eventually, as the same policies which drove/encouraged people to flee older areas are still in place, ie, the massive investment in highway construction leading ever further outward, low-density development, etc. The current situation is unsustainable, and it’s only a matter of time before the bottom begins to drop out of suburban ‘success’. Retail can only go so far as a means of supporting an economy, and as retail is highly dependent on the fluctuations and whims of the financial sector–itself prone to alternating boom/bust cycles, especially since the First Great Depression safeguards were jettisoned for the dubious reasons of ‘streamlining’ and ‘efficiency’, amongst other falsehoods–this leaves the aforementioned suburbs extremely vulnerable to the vagaries of greed and sociopaths. If one thinks of retail with respect to suburbs as we now associate the car with Detroit, perhaps this may illustrate the potential for disaster the modern suburb faces.

I suppose I could go into how this vulnerability is exploited by the moneyed interests (in addition to its actually being put into place by those interests for their use), but then I’d never be able to step away from the keyboard.

If it’s not white flight, then why did South City keep most of its population through the 90s, while north city (especially the “Northside” area) emptied out?

Thankfully, McKee is really working outside of Old North for the most part. And yes, it has been the people living there that have made the commitment to preservation. In the old St. Liborius parish area, most of those folks left, and we see the vacancy and decay they left behind. McKee did not cause it. He is working in the void left behind.

why do you insist on framing it as an either/or situation? it doesn’t have to be EITHER we apply historic preservation to all of McKee’s area OR we don’t apply it to any. why is it “over the top” to preserve the remaining parts and fill-in the rest? why is it “better” only to focus on the more intact areas? that doesn’t make sense.

For one thing, historic rehab on properties so extremely deteriorated as those in McKee’s footprint, costs a fortune. Historic tax credits do not fill the gap of all required subsidy. So it becomes a policy and planning question.

Does it make sense to subsidize historic preservation in the footprint of Paul McKee’s Northside, or should those scarce resources be directed to those places with more momentum for historic preservation and neighborhood revitalization. Let’s face it. What Paul McKee is doing in not neighborhood “revitalization”.

McKee is for the most part working on a clean slate for an entirely new, completely unrecognizable, new development scheme. And that is pretty much exactly the way the Post Dispatch characterized the area today in its Platform editorial. Historic rehab in that context is, really, *out* of context.

For comparison. Look at the smattering of remaining historic buildings in the Lucas Heights area around the Scott Joplin House. They are surrounded by new construction. What’s the point?

As most of the early clearance was near north, or north side based, it’s likely that those who were cleared were more inclined to move outward towards surrounding neighborhoods. Since most of the ‘cleared’ (the UN would refer to these people as ‘internally displaced’) were black, they remained on the north side. Did white people leave? Yes. But so did black people. And both parties were exploited by real estate agents, and both parties suffered because of Federal and City policy. And let’s not forget the problem of redlining, an issue which wasn’t addressed by Federal statute until the mid-sixties, even though it had been a problem for at least two decades. Even without the “neighborhood getting a little dark” (I’ll swear, on a stack of our Constitution, I heard a former co-worker relate the state of his family home–mom/dad/sibs–in just that way), redlining made it almost impossible to run a business, either to finance improvements or to have a running line of credit. (The absence of the latter is why so many small business either struggled or went under after the ’08 Wall St. collapse). White flight was not exclusively the result of black resettlement, just as the flight of City residents–black, white, etc.–during the last two decades wasn’t exclusively the result of crime, or the threat of crime.

As far as I know, there has never been a program of clearance in the South Side which was as extensive as that seen on the North Side–Mill Valley, Pruitt-Igoe site, and of course the continued policy of ‘depletion’ (blood-thirsty little policy right there) along the decades after. (Though I have heard on more than one occasion someone relate to me the unofficial City policy of moving, um, ahem, “problems” further and further south; look at a map of murders in this city: nice little arc from northeast City to southeast City). The beast fed on itself: 1. Move thousands of people out of established neighborhoods. 2. Clear buildings for ‘redevelopment’ or ? 3. Displaced persons spread out into surrounding neighborhoods, largely without proper accommodations for housing or employment, creating overcrowded conditions and encouraging destabilization of other established neighborhoods. Add in animosity and racism, and of course the loss of industrial jobs, stir. 4. Add in ethyl lead in gasoline after WWII, and watch over the next thirty or more years as crime rates rise, both as a result of the poison of lead, and the poison of devaluing human life and the sense of place which gives humans a sense of meaning and purpose. 5. Exploitation of these conditions by politicians and others, including bankers, insurers, and real estate brokers. 6. Build more Federal Interstates, literally smashing through neighborhoods, creating yet more instability. As a City, encourage this. (And as a City manager/alderman, playact your outrage) As a Nation, enact policies (including the proliferation of a war economy, ie, unproductive labor) which make these patterns almost impossible to break. 7. Repeat.

Welcome to America, 2013. At least as this industrial worker sees and experiences it. I’m sure I left out a few things, and maybe overstated the importance of others. But it’s probably a good primer.

The buildings are there, so why not? Look, I’m not against the Northside plan per se. I am simply having a problem with envisioning the success of a large-scale plan such as this, especially as it apparently involves a rather protracted timeline. If McKee had a BillionUSD to play with, over the next five years, I might give pretty good odds on the scheme.

But the problem with Northside is that it sees itself as the only game–and I mean ONLY–in town. And while the plan unspools over the next couple of decades (srsly, that’s insane), what to do about the buildings which already exist, and can be reused? The Norhtside plan would be much more successful with both a macro and a micro component: Make plans for what should go into the plan area, including the forms res, com, ind. should take, then invite developers–in addition to those already dedicated to McKee’s employ–to fill in the blanks. And build it like a City should be built: for human traffic, not the automobile, as in the priority shall be for moving humans, not machines: wide sidewalks and narrow streets, curb bulbouts and designated crossings, etc. It’s funny, everyone swoons about walkable and pleasant neighborhoods like Shaw, Tower Grove, Soulard and the like, but when it comes to planning a City, they go for inhuman suburban crap, and say we must make room for cars. This in spite of what appears to be petro dollars being used to buy the most corrupt and dangerous government seen on this continent since the Gilded Age of robber barons and child labor.

Granted, many of those properties are in poor shape (many of which got that because of…ta-da! Mckee). And others are owned by the City itself. It would seem to me that at least attempting to save them should be the first effort in their regard, with demo the tertiary move, after mothballing. The thing that I really worry about though is that what does get built will not be of the highest quality, both in terms of materials and the design standards deployed.

Having said all that, there are a number of very interesting employment initiatives in the central corridor which may aid both the residential and commercial components of the Northside scheme, so who knows, this thing may have a chance. The critical issue will be how it is designed.

Well, Michael, I would say you have done it. I think this might be one of the most thoughtful debates “guest” has seen played out on your blog. Interesting comments by “Samizdat” for sure.

That said, I think he/she and I would continue to disagree on prioritizing historic preservation within the N-Side footprint. Waste of money. Save perhaps the Clemens House, and a couple of tragic mansion losses along STL Avenue.

Beyond that, bring on the D-9s, clear away, remediate, and let’s start anew. Enough delays already! This recovering economy is about the dry up again.

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