North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place

Forestry Division Hard at Work in St. Louis Place

by Michael R. Allen

A worker from the city Forestry Division was out today cutting weeds in front of the house locates at 2004 North Market Street in St. Louis Place. That vacant historic house and the lot to the west are owned by N & G Ventures LC, a holding company controlled by McEagle Properties.

Last summer, McEagle hired Marvin Steele to coordinate maintenance on its inventory of around 1,000 vacant properties in north St. Louis. Steele set up a new company, Urban Solutions, to handle the maintenance work, placed signs around JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place with his company’s hot-line number (946-7333) and promised to handle citizen complaints within 48 hours. After a big initial push to get work done last summer and fall, Urban Solutions seems to have withered like a weed doused with RoundUp.

McEagle and Steele’s actions came after intense complaints from north side residents about McEagle’s inaction on maintenance and reliance on city government services to handle citizen complaints. Also, in August 2007, the Missouri General Assembly revised the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act before passage to forbid use of the credit to cover payments to municipal government for remediation of code violations like high weeds and unboarded windows.

At a public meeting on May 21, McEagle disclosed that the company has spent $1.4 million to date on maintenance of north side holdings. At the same meeting, McEagle revealed that some sections of its proposed “NorthSide” project may not be developed until after 2016 or later, sparking renewed concerns about long-term maintenance problems.

Meanwhile, residents continue to deal with the high weeds and unboarded boards the way that they always have: by calling the Citizens’ Service Bureau, which dispatches the resources of city government. City government fronts the bill, and McEagle pays the city. The city collects a mark-up fee, sure. Yet the cycle is not comforting to residents who have to wait for city codes to be broken and their blocks to look bad before they can get action. These people have every right to be skeptical that McEagle deserves a $400 million tax increment financing package with city backing as well as development rights to an area the developer can’t seem to keep under control.

If the developer and City Hall want to make the deal look better to residents, making the properties look better is a great step. If Urban Solutions cannot handle the job, McEagle should hire a company that can do the job with diligence. Look at the house in the photograph above. Here’s the needed work:

– cut down the trees and woody growth along the side wall
– board up the third floor (at least) and second floor windows
– install temporary plastic cutter trough and elbow on front elevation

Perhaps McEagle considers the installation of temporary guttering to be more than maintenance, but it is needed to keep the house standing. The other items are basic, and would take less than a half-day. (Really, cutting overgrowth and boarding windows are among the first skills a rehabber learns.)

Since maintenance costs incurred privately are covered by the DALATC, then there is no reason at all for McEagle not to spend the necessary money to address maintenance needs. With a project timeline extending to 2030, good maintenance will be needed for a long time — and the sooner it starts, the better. Forestry can’t do it all.