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  • One Week to Stop a Parking Lot

    Posted on June 15th, 2009 Toby Weiss No comments

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    On Monday, June 22, a demolition permit for the San Luis goes up for review before the St. Louis Preservation Board.  The owners want to demolish the building at Lindell & Taylor in the Central West End for a surface parking lot.

    If this doesn’t sit right with you, we need you to speak up.
    Here’s your options:

    E-mail the Preservation Board now

    Attend the June 22nd meeting

    E-mail Lyda Krewson, the alderwoman of the ward the San Luis stands in

    E-mail the operations officer at the Archdiocese

    To assist you in speaking up on this matter, we have a form letter you can use to send to any of the people above. Cut and paste it verbatim, or use it as a starting point to express your own views.

    Click for the sample letter

    If you want the Preservation Board to deny a demolition permit, it is important to say so.  It is crucial that the Board and the owners of the building understand that this surface parking lot proposal negatively impacts the potential and the spirit of St. Louis City.

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  • Richard Baron on Missed Opportunities

    Posted on February 28th, 2009 Toby Weiss 2 comments

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    The St. Louis Beacon recently published a conversation with developer Richard Baron, full of illuminating opinions and something I didn’t know previously: Lambert Airport could have been in Waterloo, Illinois.

    I am elated he brought up and elaborated on one ultra important item: Metro Link Stations:

    “There was the situation with Metro. When all of that started back in the ’80s there was no plan to take advantage of these transit stations — to build housing around them, retail around them. To use them as an economic driver, as was done in many other cities around the U.S. when light rail went in. Here was this enormous investment that was made, and look at the stations, and they’re bleak.

    “You reach a point where you get terribly frustrated because the lack of leadership in this town is palpable — both on the public side and the private side. Go to Atlanta or Minneapolis, and the energy level and the effort on the part of the public-private side — partnerships, foundations — everybody is pulling together and have had a much better success than in St. Louis. We’ve had passive leadership, a watering down of the executives of corporations that have left. We have had executives who have no real identification with the city — who came in from out of town and live in the county and don’t relate to the city much. And it’s just a lot of little things that have exacerbated the problem.”

    Read the rest of the article here.

    And if you haven’t already, The Beacon is a must for followers of the STL built environment, along with Building Blocks at the Post-Dispatch.

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  • Central West End "Progress"

    Posted on January 24th, 2009 Toby Weiss 2 comments

    A “Special Progress Section” was included in the May 7, 1961 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. These 3 examples shown boasted about the progress on Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End, like the Optimist building.

    They also touted the new building for the Engineer’s Club, which is by the same architecture firm as the Optimist building, Schwarz & Van Hoefen.

    And then there was the new chancery office for the Catholic Archdiocese, which was under construction at the time of publication. By clicking on the above photo to read the caption, one finds this quote:

    The Catholic Church has been a bulwark in the fight against decay, providing assistance for the Central West End Association and other neighborhood groups.

    Ironically, the same Catholic Church that championed progress on this block of Lindell now wants to tear down one of those progressive buildings they helped usher in.
    Learn more about the push to save the San Luis here.

    It was a sweet justification to find this “Special Progress Section,” because it supports what I’ve been trying to say about the Central West End and Lindell Boulevard, in particular: all chapters of its story are important and vital. And it is highly irresponsible and short- sighted to begin destroying buildings that were considered the desirable solution to older buildings they felt needed to be destroyed. The cycle has got to stop! We can no longer (literally) afford to squander our history and resources. There must be real understanding of past and present, and a practical plan and vision for the future based on the realities and aspirations of the entire community.

    You can see how these 3 buildings look today by clicking here.

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  • St. Louis County Foreclosure Facts

    Posted on January 10th, 2009 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    Below is a Living St. Louis piece about Pagedale, one of many inner-ring suburbs in St. Louis. Within, we learn that if you follow the subprime loans, you find the most foreclosures.

    Of great interest is the profile average of the typical 2007 subprime/foreclosed home:
    Built in 1954
    1,260 square feet
    Appraised value of $116,000

    Also of great interest is the racial make-up of the municipalities hardest hit by subprime foreclosure (see this interactive map). Circumstantial evidence indicates that redlining is still standard practice in St. Louis. It’s very disturbing and very sad.

    On the inspirational side, the ever-mounting number of empty homes in our inner-ring suburbs is a great opportunity for forward-thinking developers interested in the financial and societal advantage of re-using and improving our existing housing stock. As we hit rock bottom, this idea is not as much of a fantasy as previously believed.

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  • St. Louis Foreclosures: Immediate & Future Solutions

    Posted on December 7th, 2008 Toby Weiss 6 comments


    Watching neighbors move and public auction signs multiply is depressing and frustrating. But rather than sink further into feelings of helplessness, now is the time to think of solutions for the present and plan for the future. Optimism is the strongest ally of possibility.

    A CHANGING LANDSCAPE
    ● Economic downturn is preservation’s best friend. When developers lose access to loans, they stop eyeing buildings for demolition. Right now, a threatened building is safely tucked away in a cedar chest under a layer of mothballs.

    ● Look around your neighborhoods and notice that the teardown pandemic has ground to a halt. There is no money or buyers for in-fill McMansions, so there’s no point in continuing this practice. This also means homeowners who have been willing to sell to new home builders now have to stay put and come back to good terms with a home that was perfectly fine before the allure of “easy” money.

    ● The energy crisis is organically leading us back to common sense. It now costs far too much to heat and cool a giant house, and do we properly utilize all those extra thousands of square footage in the first place? If the marketplace is an honest indicator, this bit of news from the Associated Press is encouraging:

    Houses have been getting bigger fairly steadily since the Census Bureau began tracking the average size of new U.S. homes three decades ago. But now the economic downturn is likely to turn that trend around, says the Associated Press — particularly as production builders continue to scale back floor-plan sizes. After trimming some of its 3,400-square-foot homes to 2,400 square feet last year, for example, Los Angeles–based KB Home recently rolled out a new line of Southern California homes that start at 1,230 square feet and are priced at just over $200,000.

    ● The cost of living far away from business and retail centers is also taking a toll. Everyone is now acutely aware of how much it costs to drive, and many have voluntarily found ways to reduce that cost. A Center for Neighborhood Technology report shows that people who live in cities and inner ring suburbs spend up to $2,100 less annually on gasoline than residents of outer ring suburbs, who can easily average $4,000 a year on gasoline, alone.

    REVERSE IS NOT NECESSARILY NEGATIVE
    Today’s economic downturn puts many of us in the position of going backwards. When we have to give up the large house that’s an 80-mile round trip from work, it can feel like a failure. But for those who have survived being unemployed or broke, we often learn that less quantity can improve the quality of daily life.

    Being forced to give things up never feels right, but in the long run, accepting the way things are generally works better than fighting for the way we think it should be. Americans have become adverse to the concept of sacrifice, as if it compromises what we’re entitled to. But we now have solid proof that so much of our entitlement was based on shady credit practices, and there really was no there there.

    So, how do we turn lemons into lemonade? We can look backwards to where we originally came from – the city centers and their inner-ring suburbs – and explore the opportunities they present.

    REMODEL THE PAST FOR A BETTER FUTURE
    The empty houses in the city of St. Louis and the original suburbs that surround it are the key to living smarter. All amenities, utilities and infrastructure are already in place and can easily be reshaped to meet our current standards of living. The daily awareness and acceptance of green living now pairs perfectly with financial downturn, and solutions that can benefit us all are right under our noses.

    The greenest buildings are the ones already standing, and retrofitting an older home for energy efficiency is quickly becoming a remodeling industry standard, which means demand reduces the price of doing so. Plus, the state of Missouri is continuing energy efficient tax credits for homes and businesses in 2009. Couple that with the promise of an energy-conscious president, and more tax breaks and incentives for retrofitting existing older homes becomes a real, national possibility.

    Statewide, imagine the positive financial growth that can happen by encouraging people to move back in and remodel existing homes, businesses and retail. There is little debate that historic tax credits are the primary catalyst for the revival of downtown St. Louis; expanding this concept to help private homeowners and small businesses benefits everyone. For instance, sizable pockets of South St. Louis have been revived by recent immigrants buying and remodeling existing storefronts; drive through the now-bustling Bevo Mill area for tangible proof that what once was is also what can be. These Eastern Europeans instinctively understand the thrift of reviving existing density through sweat equity and old-fashioned loans. Throw in usable tax incentives and credits, and we natives can do it, too.

    We can no longer afford to keep reinventing the wheel, especially when the basic concept of the wheel is what made civilized progress possible. If we view a 1,200 s.f. house in Ferguson through the lens of a McMansion, it’s a downwardly mobile downgrade. But if we look at it through the lens of possibility – reconfiguring floorplans, building additions, energy retrofitting – it becomes a potentially rewarding endeavor.

    Even without state or national government intervention, we are already learning (or is that re-learning?) how to better use our resources. We don’t really have much say in the matter, and the survival instinct serves us well. We are constantly being told that things will get much worse before they get better, and this is true. Part of “much worse” is the honest threat of losing what we currently have. But the options we have ahead of us need not be a consolation prize. We have already begun the process of retrofitting our lives, and if all levels of government could work with us on retrofitting our built environment, the opportunity to apply ingenuity and responsibility can create future gains from our current losses.


    AN IMMEDIATE CALL TO ACTION
    Each new empty house on your block is cause for worry: down goes property values, up goes the potential for crime. The bank that foreclosed on that home is not your new neighbor; they are your new problem.

    We often have a tendency to not want to get involved: it’s their problem, not mine. But when there is no there there, it’s in your best interest to get involved. It may not be possible now, but in the future, someone can buy the house next to you if it has been protected. So, protect your investment, your block and your neighborhood with a little extra effort.

    Please keep an eye on the newly empty houses on your block. Act as if they are on a long vacation and make the effort to clear up any obvious signs of abandonment: phone books on the porch, newspapers in the yard, etc. If a sunporch door is flapping in the wind, try to secure it. Try to turn off any neon signs advertising the house as a sitting duck. If this is more than you can or will do, then please let someone else know so they can take care of it.

    Contact the Citizens Service Bureau about any problems with a vacant house. Let them do the research and enact the solution; that’s what they are here for. Call 314.622.4800, or online at this link. It is easy, painless and gets results.

    There are two key factors that turn a block bad: fear and apathy. We tend to apply this to new and unusual additions, but it applies double to this new wave of subtractions on our blocks. A foreclosure devastates the family it happened to and reverberates out to the neighbors who remain. You can ease this sense of helplessness, and pay it forward, by helping out now with a little bravery and concern. Please.

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