by Michael R. Allen
Check out the featured properties list of the city’s real estate agency, the Land Reutilization Authority.
Maybe it looks fine on first glance, if a little short on the number of properties. That number, though, gets even shorter when you look at the little red tags added next to each address. Two of the properties have already sold. One has an offer made on it, although the tag “OFFER” may not be as self-explanatory to a first-time visitor to the website. Another reads “Available,” leading one to question whether or not the other addresses listed are available as well.
Further investigation shows that of the buildings that sold, the sale of 3463 Potomac was recorded December 16, 2005 and the sale of 1919 Agnes was recorded August 1, 2006. The website proclaims its last update as being August 23, 2006, making the presence of the August 1 sale somewhat understandable. Yet there is no good reason why the sale from late last year should still be listed on the Featured Properties pages.
Further investigation reveals that almost all of the current addresses have been on the Featured Properties page since 2004, and that only one or two have been added since that year. In the past, even more “sold” properties cluttered this page.
Are we to believe that the city has no more worthwhile LRA-owned buildings to sell when it gets through with this list?
Of course not; there are thousands more and many of them would sell quickly if one didn’t have to deal with the city to purchase them. The LRA should be constantly rolling in new properties to the Featured Properties page. As soon as one sells, another should replace it. If a sold house needs to remain on the site to show people what kind of properties LRA has sold, it should be moved to an archive page.
Yet even an enhanced Featured Properties page only reaches anyone who can find the page, which isn’t easy to find. What LRA really needs to do is actual marketing.
Here are some suggestions for an LRA marketing plan:
1. Publish the entire LRA property list on the LRA website, complete with a photograph of each building in the inventory and the asking price (which should be $1.00 in every instance).
2. Form partnerships with neighborhood organizations that have proven development ability, such as the partnership being forged between LRA and the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. The neighborhood groups will create marketing strategies and materials.
3. Eliminate the requirement of an alderman’s letter of support for a sale. Why this is even part of LRA policy is beyond comprehension. (For instance, the Third Ward has the highest concentration of LRA buildings in the city. Good luck getting that letter of support there!)
4. Create an attractive for-sale sign to be placed on each LRA building.
5. Explore the possibility of public-private partnerships that would utilize LRA buildings for Habitat for Humanity and other housing efforts.
6. Create a dedicated staff position for the purpose of sales and marketing. Of course, funding is tight at present but I would argue that selling LRA buildings should be a huge priority of city government and worthy of the expenditure. After all, the St. Louis Development Corporation already spends a lot of city money every year contracting to outside parties for appraisal and consulting work. Why not figure out ways to save money on those contracts to fund a position at LRA?
With some effort, LRA could sell much of its inventory in a few years. Of course, aldermen would lose their ability to give favored developers property, and land banking for large projects might become difficult, but rarely is that approach conducive to smart urban planning. Aldermanic control of development has been nothing but a downfall for the city.
I am not suggesting that LRA drop its proof of financial responsibility requirement. However, the agency needs to stop using that requirement as a threat. LRA needs to conduct itself to ultimately completely divest its property. LRA properties have a bad reputation as eyesores that are difficult to purchase. In fact, they could be the raw material of urban homesteading and returned to use.