Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Destruction of the Urban Environment

I am generally a fan of The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs - except for that comment that the water towers in St. Louis "no longer hold water tanks" -- they never did! They're standpipes for pressure relief.

In any event, I was walking in South City today and saw a number of things that reminded me of the warnings Ms. Jacobs gave us all in the 1950s. I was walking, specifically, through parts of Fox Park, the Gate District, and Compton Heights.

First, I strolled up Oregon Ave. from my house to Geyer Ave. -- not to be confused with Geyer Rd. in the Kirkwood/Des Peres/Frontenac area. (I did have a detour to Nebraska Ave. for a while, because for two blocks between Sidney St. and Magnolia Ave., Oregon disappears).

Geyer Ave. is an east-west street in Compton Heights, Fox Park, and McKinley Heights that practically serves as a south outer road to Interstate 44. Jacobs fought against highway construction in Manhattan; in St. Louis, though, I-44 was built (and indeed, only opened in the mid-1970s!) straight through neighborhoods.

I-44 and its grassy right-of-way take up a nearly one-block wide path, and since there are no sound walls in the City of St. Louis along interstates, much of the adjacent property is not especially appealing for its original use -- residential. As a result, large swaths of property on the north side of Geyer, and some spots on the south side of Geyer, are either long-vacant buildings or just occasionally mowed vacant lots. It was particularly evident that where houses once stood, there is now just traffic, because at the time (about 1:45 PM today), traffic was backed up for miles on I-44 eastbound and the highways it feeds, I-55 northbound and the Poplar Street Bridge, because of construction and probably an accident or two caused by the construction traffic.

This destruction of the urban fabric is particularly true of the section in Fox Park, from Nebraska to Jefferson. Indeed, it is perhaps telling that on the Nebraska end, adjacent to Compton Heights, Geyer no longer exists for a half-block. Not only was the street closed, it was grassed over from Nebraska to the alley between Nebraska and Oregon.

And, at the Jefferson end, Geyer also no longer exits the neighborhood. Instead, where Geyer once entered Jefferson is the base of the I-44 eastbound exit ramp, and a tiny little stretch of sidewalk to allow neighborhood residents to access the McDonald's located adjacent to the ramp.

Ok, I have to confess, my luncheon destination was that very McDonald's. Yes, I realize McDonald's is a beneficiary of the suburbanization of America, and its products are far from health food. But, sometimes I just get a craving for a Filet O' Fish!

From my window seat at Mickey-D's, I had a strategic vantage point to observe:
1) The incredibly slow and heavy traffic making its way east on I-44 atop the Jefferson underpass. The primary congestion was clearly in the middle two lanes of the five that exist in that stretch (the far left lane ends unceremoniously between Jefferson and 18th Street; the next one over exits at 18th (er, um, Truman Parkway; the middle two lanes go onto I-55 north and the PSB; the far right lane goes to I-55 south).
2) Several police cars exiting I-44 east at Jefferson to pull over two tractor-trailers which somehow had an accident, or something. Since the tractor-trailers took up the entire curbline from the McD's entrance to Allen Ave., one of the officers parked awkwardly - with all lights flashing, at least - in that
little space between the bottom of the I-44 exit right turn lane, and the McD's entrance.
3) The many pictures of old St. Louis inside the restaurant dining room. I thought - Wow. It is entirely possible that this place, being adjacent to the highway and near downtown, could be a traveler's first or even only impression of 'downtown' St. Louis. Now isn't that a scary thought!

Anyway, after dining I headed out under the scary highway to the amazingly lovely Carnegie-endowed, Theodore Link-designed Barr Branch Library. Although the shelves seemed less well-stocked than when I was there last, the computers were hopping, and there was a little performance area in the children's area I hadn't noticed before. I had a little conversation with an elderly lady about Joseph Cotten; the lady was there for the 3:30 movie show downstairs. Indeed, the downstairs space is quite nice and modern, with a large auditorium and a meeting room with a sink and counter space.

After thumbing through the newspaper and a few other things, I decided to go exploring in the Gate District; specifically the Eads Park area, which is part of the Gate District East. This is when I saw some of the greatest affronts to urban design and respect for our heritage. I wasn't entirely surprised, but these were areas through which I had never walked, because they are kind of cordoned off and isolated from the surrounding community.

Some observations:
1) Once you turn off Lafayette Ave. onto Ohio Ave. north of Lafayette, you're pretty much in the suburbs, at least after you pass the old commercial/warehouse buildings on both corners occupied by Bob Cassilly's shop. From the rather confusing map on the neighborhood website, I believe this is the approximate entry to the Eads Park district.

2) I was shocked and confused to discover that Henrietta St. directly in front of the old Hodgen Elementary School has been closed, and made part of the new Hodgen Elementary School schoolyard - but still entirely asphalt-paved, of course. This makes the old building, which I believe was for sale, significantly less marketable, since its original front entrance no longer has street access.

Between this and the adjacent low-rise group home called Lafayette Habilitation Center and the four or five story section-8 Eads Park Apartments across the way, this block of Henrietta is pretty much just a cul-de-sac to serve institutional parking lots.

3) But I wanted to find the actual park in Eads Park. To do so, I cut through the side of the new Hodgen school property to access the "California Ave. entrance" to the park (an obvious former section of Eads Ave.). I was disappointed, to say the least. While there is new playground equipment, it is located as far from any homes as humanly possible, near the back of the now-closed Foodland Warehouse Foods (formerly National Supermarkets; then Schnucks for a few months) on Jefferson Ave. It's also been vandalized a little bit already.

The other access route into the park from the neighborhood is another obvious former street, a section of Ohio Ave. leading to St. Vincent Ave. At this 'corner' we can also see what seemingly was a community pool, but which is currently closed-up. Perhaps the subdivision association couldn't afford the liability insurance anymore? I'm not sure, but the service building sits boarded up on St. Vincent, and the pool tightly fenced in, adjacent to the park but with "No Trespassing" signs.

4) Eads Park - the park - has no relationship at all with the neighboring properties. They all back to it; none of them face it. This is because the park was cobbled together in the early 1980s by closing some streets and adding a few vacant lots behind a grocery store where nobody would ever buy a house, anyway.

The houses that back to Eads Park are, too, highly suburban in style and incredibly anachronistic given the nearby beautiful Victorians in Lafayette Square, and the similarly amazing homes in Compton Heights. I think they were thrown up in the early 1980s, too, and they look it - several have siding that appears to have mold problems. They all have wide driveways entering directly on the street; most have two-car garages attached; and many are located on two cul-de-sacs attached to the south side of St. Vincent Ave. Most also are situated on tiny, oddly-shaped lots. In short, a replica of Ballwin or Oakville, but located just minutes from downtown.

Meanwhile, across the street are historic replicas built in the past decade by Pyramid Construction. They seem quite odd, across the street from the attempted suburbs. They have much larger lots than the 1980s houses; indeed, I think my house would probably fit into the space between them. Nevertheless, that would certainly appeal to many buyers, and the historic replica look isn't done too badly. Admittedly, many only have fascia brick on the front facade, with all three other sides done in vinyl siding. It's particuarly ugly when you see a right or left facade with all vinyl siding and no windows at all, but a 30-foot wide side yard. I don't understand the rationale for not including any windows on those side facades - energy conservation, perhaps? A few windows would, at least, soften the look a little bit.

Later, I cut through the block of Henrietta Place from California to Nebraska, which was mostly spared from the demolitions in the 1970s. The "Place" thing is kind of cheesy, but I guess the address "10 Henrietta Place" sounds a lot fancier than "2810 Henrietta Avenue", which probably was the same building's old address. The houses on this block are mostly attractive and old; and even some of the recent new construction is well-considered. Some of it isn't, but on balance, it's a pretty nice block.

Then I saw the front facade of the new Hodgen Elementary School - which faces California and takes up the entire space from Eads (or where it used to be, anyway) to Henrietta (or where it used to be, anyway). This is a very suburban-looking building, but at least it is two stories. I'm still troubled by its seemingly adversarial relationship with the building it replaced, but I guess they had to put a play yard somewhere. However, I did notice the old Hodgen play yard, at the corner of Lafayette and California, which I assume now is largely unused.

Later, I strolled past the stately homes, also on very large lots, on Hawthorne and Milton in Compton Heights, which made me feel a lot better about urban architecture. I continued south on Nebraska, admittedly a bit of a dodgy stretch in places, but where most of the architecture is lovely, even if the behaviors evident are not. I stopped at QuikTrip - another modern car-culture icon, but also the most convenient store to my house in this instance - then strolled past St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, where 4:00 mass was about to start.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Remembering The Parishes

Almost a month ago, a number of parishes of the Archdiocese of St. Louis were closed, both in South City and in North County.

But it turns out that a lot more Roman Catholic parishes than that have closed over the years in the City of St. Louis. And not just in the 1990s and early 21st Century, either.

Among them:

Our Lady Help of Christians parish, 1010 Cole St., a Sicilian parish which was at the heart of the old Little Italy district just north of downtown.

Opened 1900; closed 1975 (according to the Archdiocese).

The St. Louis Public Library says 1970 was the church's last known date, and gives information on its previous locations too: "Organized Feb. 1900 at 19th & Morgan in a rented Presbyterian Church, by Father Caesar Spigardi (1900-23?). Moved to 10th and Wash in 1902. 1010 Wash (Cole) (at 10th St) in 1930? Last church built in 1931."

Now located there: the new headquarters of the United Way of Greater St. Louis, which takes up the entire block from 10th to 11th on Cole. The rather non-descript suburban-style office building was built in 1982 as part of the Convention Plaza West redevelopment.

Ironically, I guess, an even older Our Lady Help of Christians parish (est. 1872) still exists in the St. Louis Archdiocese - in the hamlet of Weingarten, on MO Route 32 in central Ste. Genevieve County. Weingarten, MO is perhaps best known for having housed a German POW camp during World War II. It's also near Hawn State Park.

So, it's not exactly Little Italy.

Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish, an Irish church which was located at 917 Sidney St., in Soulard.

Opened 1861; closed 1965.

This church, evidently, had some Archbishop problems too. From the History of St. Louis Neighborhoods: Soulard series by the late Norbury F. Wayman, c. 1977:

"The parish of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded in 1862 by Rev. Bernard O'Reilly. The cornerstone of the church at the northwest corner of Eighth and Sidney Streets was laid in May, 1862. The 40 by 100 foot building was designed by Robert Mitchell and was adjoined by a school and a parsonage. In 1890, the church's pastor sought to move to a new church at Sidney and Salena Streets. After completion in 1891, Archbishop Kenrick changed his mind about abolishing Assumption parish and designated the newer church as St. Agnes. After the dismemberment, Assumption parish still contained about 250 families. The parish has since been merged with that of St. Agatha."

St. Agnes (at Salena and Sidney in Benton Park) closed, too, in 1993. St. Agatha, of course, is the new official home of the Polish community in the Archdiocese. That doesn't necessarily mean it's recognized as such by everyone, however.

Anyway, back to the Assumption parish story:
What's there now: part of the athletic fields for the Boys' Club of St. Louis.

One more parish that's lost to the history books and the bulldozers:

St. Columbkille, a strongly Irish parish located at 8202 Michigan at Davis, in what was once known as "Kelly Patch", because so many families there had the last name Kelly. The neighborhood, perhaps in honor of that largely forgotten heritage, is still called Patch on the official city neighborhood map.

Opened 1872; closed 1952.

Again, quoting Mr. Wayman, in the Carondelet volume of his series:

"St. Columbkille's Church at 8202 Michigan Avenue was organized in 1872 to serve Irish iron workers of the nearby Vulcan Iron Works. The building was dedicated in March, 1873. Its pastor, Father Michael O'Reilly was called a "militant defender of the Church" bnecause of his defense of his parishioners against slurs of character. Before plans for a larger church were consummated, the iron works closed down and the parish population dwindled. The church was razed in 1952, at which time the parish was discontinued."

What's there now: a privately-owned ranch-style duplex, built in 1979.

Most of the rest of the 8200 block of Michigan consists of small houses built around 1955, just a few years after the church closed.

For reference, Carondelet Lions Park is just across Davis St. - it's a small, one-square-block park, not to be confused with the much larger Carondelet Park several blocks northwest; and the old Carondelet Elementary School (opened 1871; closed 1975) is on the same block as the church site, but at 8221 Minnesota.

That building was used by a Christian school, perhaps one formed in response to desegregation, during the 1970s and part of the 1980s, but now seems to be used for storing antiques. It is the lesser-known cousin of Des Peres School, 6303 Michigan Ave., where Susan Blow started the first public school kindergarten, in 1873. Nevertheless, Carondelet School still stands, unlike St. Columbkille's.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Is It Graffiti? ... Or Free Expression?

A few weeks ago, I noticed a bunch of gang graffiti at Pennsylvania and Wyoming, a few blocks from my house. Attributed to a gang from the 3200 block of Iowa, it was in black spray paint.

It was on two buildings and - the nerve! - on the newly placed street barricades (euphemistically called "flower pots", they're really sections of sewer pipe) that make Pennsylvania a dead-end street.

I called my alderman, CSB, and 241-COPS, on that Friday morning (July 15th). By Monday, the graffiti had been removed from a brick wall, and painted over on the barricades. The painting of a wood-paneled former storefront took a little longer, probably because some wires got crossed between my call to CSB and my alderman's service request, but even that was completed by the following Friday (July 22nd). Kudos to Operation Brightside!

Now for my dilemma:

This morning I noticed a bunch of chalk writing on the exterior of a brick two-family at 3223 Texas, across from the Garfield Elementary School playground. I didn't explore what was written on the side of the house, but on the front of the house it said "God is Good! All the Time!!" in huge letters scrawled in white chalk, stark against dark red brick.

I was a bit amused by this, and confused as well. It probably does not warrant a graffiti call, since it would probably come off with soap and warm water. However, doesn't it violate some ordinance or property maintenance code? Or at least the signage regulations?

In any event, it was a surreal sight, indeed. In this era of ascendant fundamentalism, I'd almost expect to see such random displays of religious zealotry more often than I do!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

NST Shuffle

The City of St. Louis Neighborhood Stabilization Team (NST), as most people know, is undergoing a lot of changes.

Effective Monday, July 25, 2005, the Neighborhood Stabilization Officers (NSOs), are assigned by ward. They used to be assigned more-or-less by neighborhood. (The web site referenced here should be updated to reflect these changes sometime in the first week of August.)

Former Tower Grove East/Tower Grove South NSO Joe Thele is now the manager, called a senior NSO. He reports directly to Charles Bryson, neighborhood development exec in the mayor's office.

Many of the other new assignments are far from the areas formerly served by the NSOs: for example, Michelle Boston-David, the former NSO for the Dogtown area (Clayton-Tamm, Franz Park, Hi-Pointe), located largely in the 24th ward, is now the NSO for the 8th ward (mostly Shaw and Southwest Garden plus slices of Tower Grove East and Tower Grove South).

Meanwhile, Dena Hibbard, who used to serve Shaw, as well as Soulard, Kosciusko industrial area, LaSalle Park and Downtown (east of Tucker), will now be the NSO for the 9th ward, an area that sprawls across parts of Tower Grove East, Benton Park West, Benton Park, Gravois Park, Soulard, Kosciusko, Marine Villa, Dutchtown, and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods.

As confusing as all this is, it also appears the NSOs may no longer have field offices at several community education centers, but instead will be based at City Hall, in offices on the 2nd floor (same floor as the Board of Aldermen), rather than the 4th floor (like NST's old main office and the public safety director's office). Of course, CSB is also located on the 2nd floor, right next to the aldermanic offices; but technically, CSB is a subunit of NST.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The "Fleur-de-Lis" Development

UPDATED: My comments to the BPWNA
Hello Eric,

My comments are as follows:

I'm a little concerned about the removal of the five (?) large single-family houses from the project. Do we really need to increase the density of this corner so dramatically? The general idea for BPW, I thought, was to convert two-families to single-families, and four-families to two townhouses. Indeed, that's most of what Millennium's previous projects have been. However, given the quality of Millennium's work, I am sure this will be a high quality condominum development. I just am not sure all of them will sell quickly enough.

Also, I think there are two houses that would be demolished at Texas/Arsenal, as well as two vacant lots; all already owned by LRA.

I'm not entirely sure the demographics of this area will support a "lifestyle center" - but I would be glad to be proven wrong! Likewise, I have some misgivings about the underground parking thing, but I'd rather not see a large surface parking lot, so I think I'll have to support that part of the proposal.

Resale restrictions: I am opposed in general to resale restrictions on residential property, unless the buyer directly receives public financing like a first-time homebuyer grant. These units would be geared toward higher income folks, so that's not an issue. With the retail units, I'm concerned the retail-condo concept may not work well for everybody. Ownership is generally a good thing, but long-term leases are just as good for viable, stable, succesful businesses. So, I would be opposed to resale restrictions for the retail part as well.

Financing: This is exactly the kind of project TIF was intended for! I'm very happy about this aspect of the proposal.

Public improvements: bus shelters of some kind on both Jefferson and Arsenal would be excellent! Also, I would request a bump-out on Jefferson at Arsenal, to make the street a little easier to cross. Arsenal is narrow enough as it is, but Jefferson can be tricky. Plus, we need curb-cuts there too.

As for what kinds of services I would like to see:
A coffee shop or cafe would be great. Especially since TripleXpresso's closed, there's nothing like that on this section of Arsenal.
Maybe a bookstore, selling all new books or both new and used but with emphasis on new. Granted, Dunaway Books and Hammond's Books are close by, but both specialize almost entirely in used books. No religious bookstores please.
A little grocery store, a la City Grocers, would be really nice.
I wouldn't object to an insurance agency, but I would have a big problem with an H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt etc tax prep agency.

Generally, I hope whatever is developed on this location can help raise the bar for retail and general business in the Benton Park West area. While there are a number of good restaurants in Benton Park (Frazier's, Yemanja Brasil, etc.), that type of attraction hasn't spilled over across Jefferson. If this new construction development can help folks realize the potential of our historic buildings for such uses, I would be very happy indeed.

Thank you,
Joe Frank

Millennium Restoration and Development is planning a major development that will transform the southwest corner of Arsenal at Jefferson, an important entrypoint into Benton Park West. Here is a rendering of the current version.

(Note: this new artwork suggests to me the project profiles and renderings on the Millennium website for 3109 S. Jefferson and 3121 S. Jefferson are now out-of-date. That is, the project no longer includes large single-family homes, but instead a higher density retail/condo development, with parking underneath and adjacent at Texas/Arsenal.)

Among the high-quality previous projects of Millennium are 2701 Wyoming, 2201 Arsenal, 2921 Michigan, and 2648 Russell.

I would note also that Josh Restivo, et al have acquired the building kitty-corner from this location, at the NE corner of the intersection and formerly occupied by "Catch-22 Hair Salon." They plan some kind of retail, coffee shop, or gallery space there as well; probably with apartments above.

With the closure of the once great TripleXpresso's, a coffee shop/cafe on either corner would be a wonderful addition.

More details about the Fleur-de-Lis, courtesy of the Benton Park West Neighborhood Association Google Group:

"For those of you not at the last neighborhood meeting, Alderman Ken
Ortmann presented a few renderings and a little information on the
proposed development at the corner of Arsenal and Jefferson by
Millennium Restoration and Development Corporation. Attached you can
find a rendering of the proposed project, as well as some additional
information that was presented to neighborhood representatives.
Millennium and Ken have both asked for our input as neighborhood
residents into the types of services that we would like to see. Please
reply to me ( and I will compile the comments received
and present them to Millennium.

"(Preface: This project is still in the early planning stages so parts
of this info may change as the project develops.)

"The development (entitled "Fleurs de Lis") is a revision of their
previous concept, and it hopes to bridge the two neighborhoods (Benton
Park and Benton Park West) rather than the original design that
essentially just backed up to BPW. The building will be divided into
three parts connected by skybridges on the upper floors. 31 condo
units will fill the 4-story building, including one bedrooms up to
penthouse suites. Estimated prices will be between $150,000 and
$400,000. Retail will occupy the first floor, with such things as a
possible restaurant on the corner among other services like a dry
cleaner drop off and coffee shop. The retail will open to the street
as well as the plazas between buildings, allowing for outdoor seating
and public areas. Parking will be both underground (62 spaces) and at
the corner of Arsenal and Texas (the building at that corner will be
razed). The alley/Texas facing side will be more contemporary, while
the Jefferson side will be more traditional in design. Balconies will
be in most, if not all, apartments and facing both east and west.
Public artwork is expected along the walkway connecting the parking lot
and the retail areas.

"The plan has been enlarged to provide additional TIF (Tax Increment
Financing) dollars. TIF funding is a popular way of making large-scale
development financially workable while improving the surrounding area.
Essentially, a portion of the taxes collected from a development
(including property tax, sales tax, city earnings tax, etc.) are
redirected to pay off the loans on the project, as well as provide for
area street and public land improvements (think a unique bus stop,
better crosswalks, more streetside plantings, etc.). The TIF must be
approved through the Board of Aldermen. As Ken put it, right now that
land is actually costing the city in mowing and maintenance, so while a
TIF won't bring tremendous taxes to the city, the land is doing nothing
for the city now. Also, the new residents and customers will likely
spend money outside the project at surrounding businesses.

"Alderman Ortmann hopes to present the TIF to the Board of Alderman in
the fall, with anticipated groundbreaking in Spring of 2006.

"To see the project design, go to:

"While my description cannot start to do justice to all the aspects of
this project, I hope it gives you an idea of what is proposed.
Millennium would like to hear your input in order to offer a viable
urban lifestyle center that will enhance community living in the
neighborhood. I will compile the information you send me (just reply
to me at and present it to Millennium. In addition,
the Benton Park West Neighborhood Association Board appreciates your
responses as it will give us an understanding of the association's
thoughts on the project.

"1) What kind of retail services would you like to see in this project?
2) Should their be restrictions on retail and residential condo
resales? If so, what restrictions should apply to each?
3) Do you have ideas regarding the appearance of bus stops or the
installation of bike racks, newsstands, and benches? Please offer
suggestions regarding the placement of these items or any other items
you would like to see implemented into this project.
4) Do you feel that any enhancements should be made at the other three
corners of Jefferson & Arsenal? If so, please list suggestions.
5) If you have any other comments or suggestions, feel free to provide

"Again, just reply to me at and I'll compile everyone's
suggestions. If you have any specific questions or concerns about this
project, please feel free to contact any BPWNA Board Member (though we
many not have all the answers) or Alderman Ortmann (776-0161).
Millennium can be reached at 772-9200.

The BPWNA Board is committed to keeping you informed as this project
develops. Thank you for your input!"

-Eric Winters
Secretary, BPWNA

Monday, July 25, 2005

Hot Town, Summer in the City

It's HOT! And probably won't get much cooler until tomorrow evening, when storms are predicted.

Operation Weather Survival is the program of the St. Louis City Health Department and the local United Way that supports cooling centers and related programs during heat advisory periods like right now.

The cooling centers are located all over; however, many are open only to senior citizens. The locations in St. Louis City are:

(Note: There are no cooling centers located in 63101 or 63102, the downtown area.)

63103 (Midtown)
The Salvation Army - Harbor Light Center
3010 Washington Ave.
Open to men 24 hours/7 days. During heat warnings, women will be admitted from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. Capacity of 150 persons.

63104 (Gate District, Lafayette Square, Soulard, Fox Park, etc.)
Southside Wellness Center
3017 Park Avenue
Senior Citizens only. Open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Maximum capacity of 15-20.

(Another note: I'm very surprised there are no cooling centers located in 63106 or 63107, two highly impoverished zip codes on the near North side. Even 63108, the Central West End, could probably use such a place; although there is always the Schlafly Branch Library there.)

63109 (Southampton, Northampton, St. Louis Hills, Lindenwood Park)
Carondelet YWCA
4510 S. Kingshighway
Open from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Monday through Friday; 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Maximum capacity of 300. NOTE: Individual must call in advance.

(No cooling centers in 63110: Shaw, The Hill, Forest Park Southeast, etc.)

63111 (Carondelet)
Carondelet Senior Center
6518 Michigan Ave.
Senior Citizens only. Open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Maximum capacity of 80.

Nibble & Chat/Patch Neighborhood Center
7925 Minnesota
638-0194 after 2:00 p.m.
Open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Maximum capacity of 85.

(No cooling centers in 63112: West End, Wells-Goodfellow, Hamilton Heights, Skinker-DeBaliviere areas.)

63113 (Fountain Park, Lewis Place, the Ville, etc.)
Human Development Corporation
4548 Martin Luther King Dr.
Open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Extended hours as needed. Maximum capacity of 15.

Northside Community Center
4120 Maffit
Open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Maximum capacity of 50.

The Salvation Army - Euclid Corps
2618 North Euclid Ave.
P. O. Box 5362
Open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

63115 (Penrose, O'Fallon, etc.)
Wesley House
4507 Lee Ave.
Open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Maximum capacity of 30.

63116 (Tower Grove South, Bevo, Holly Hills, Dutchtown, etc.)
Grand Oak Hill Community Corporation
4168 Juniata Street
Open from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Maximum capacity of 75.

Bevo 2001 Senior Center
4705 Ridgewood
Senior Citizens only. Open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Capacity of 190. Must make reservation for lunch by 1:00 p.m. the day before - requested donation $1.50

63118 (Benton Park, Benton Park West, Tower Grove East, etc.)
Five Star Senior Center
2832 Arsenal
Senior Citizens only. Open from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Extended hours until 6:00 p.m. during heat warnings. Maximum capacity of 75.

The Salvation Army - Temple Corps (transitional housing)
2740 Arsenal
Open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Extended hours as needed. Maximum capacity of 200.

63120 (Walnut Park)
San Francisco Temple Multiplex Senior Center
5341 Emerson
Senior Citizens only. Open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

63125 (Lemay - but this address IS in St. Louis City!)
The Salvation Army - Carondelet Corps
3601 Weber Rd
Open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Hours will be extended as needed.

63139 (Southwest Garden, Clifton Heights, Dogtown, etc.)
St. Louis Senior Center
5602 Arsenal
Senior Citizens only. Open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Maximum capacity 220.

63147 (Baden and North Pointe)
Badenfest Community Center
8122 North Broadway
Senior Citizens only. Open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Maximum capacity 50.

Friday, July 22, 2005

At Least They're Not Putting Chips Into 'Em ... Yet

KSDK-TV 5 reports that Missouri public schools will soon have a common 10-digit student I.D. number.

For more details, see the MoDESE page for the project, called the Missouri Student Information System (MOSIS).

By St. Louis Public Schools student # 28276371, 1986-1997.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

ID Chip for Bush Next?

Not sure how I missed this, but apparently last October the FDA approved RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips for implantation in humans. The technology is primarily used in retail supply chains, and for identification of lost dogs and cats.

So, now Tommy Thompson is getting tagged.

Many people have concerns about RFID technology because of the fear that privacy rights can be violated; and even when not implanted in humans, there may be security risks because the wireless signal is pretty wide open. Then there's the biblical interpretation.

Of course, this is just a publicity stunt - Thompson is now a board member of Applied Digital, the owner of VeriChip, the primary manufacturer of RFID chips.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Amusement Tax / Entertainment Tax Discussion Points

Some info about the City of St. Louis amusement tax (also called the entertainment tax or the ticket tax), the 5% gross receipts tax on sporting event ticket revenues:

Mayor Slay's Take

License Collector Greg Daly's View

Comptroller Green's Statement about FY05 finances - revenues down due to NHL strike

BOA President Jim Shrewsbury's Commentary

Board Bill #150, exempting pro boxing from the tax (Approved by Board of Aldermen on July 15th 2005 by a 19-4 vote).

Ordinance 65669 (2002), which exempted the St. Louis Cardinals from the tax as part of the new stadium financing package.

Ordinance 62515 (1992), which exempted most arts and music organizations and events from the tax.

Chapter 8.08, City of St. Louis Revised Code, the complete current law regarding the tax.

Supposedly, the St. Louis Rams are also exempt as part of the deal to get them to locate here, but I couldn't locate the relevant provisions in City law, if that is the case.

The FY06 City budget overview has a brief discussion of the tax on p. 35.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Who Am I?

There's an entertaining little web site called Googlism that claims to "find out what thinks of you, your friends or anything!"

(At least as of January 2004, when Google apparently "adopted measures to prevent from querying the Google servers to find new Googlisms.")

Here are some highlights, verbatim from Googlism.

joseph frank is himself an unusual choice to become the dean of dostoevsky scholars in our times (I'd have to agree with that one)

joseph frank is inclined to disparage this at almost every turn
(yeah, I'm kind of pessimistic at times, but sheesh!)

joe frank is ambiguous (no, you're ambiguous!)

joe frank is also a favorite of mine (why, thank you very much)

And finally...

joe frank is god

Monday, July 18, 2005

Urban Explorations

I wish I had taken a camera with me this morning, because I somewhat spontaneously decided to walk from home into downtown St. Louis, to access MetroLink at Union Station.

My route is a largely industrial one, but with the decidedly more tranquil Lafayette Square neighborhood included. When I walk this route (about 3 miles), I usually take Gravois east from about Oregon to Mississippi, although with a detour to the Benton Park Post Office today.

Then, I usually take Mississippi past Lafayette Park, then right on Park Avenue, left on 18th, and straight up to the station, more or less.

However, today I discovered a lot of construction vehicles in the area just south of Chouteau, where 18th jogs with a little "cut-off" probably built in the 1930s, but which since sometime in the 1980s has been closed to vehicular through traffic, which instead routed to Dolman to access I-44 from western downtown; and now utilizes Truman Parkway. Likewise, there's a good bit of sidewalk construction on Hickory between 18th and Dolman, and on Dolman just south of Chouteau.

A little digging reveals the Lafayette Square Urban Design Plan which suggests either a new building or a park entrance unifying access into the neighborhood from both 18th and Dolman into one grand entryway. Currently, of course, both streets are closed to traffic at Chouteau; so this would reintroduce access into the neighborhood from Chouteau at that point.

Although it's kind of a suburban idea, anything that can help bring forlorn old Dolman Avenue back into the Lafayette Square fold, is a good thing. Very few houses, and a small church, remain on that stretch of Dolman which became a thoroughfare when I-44 was built and 18th Street barricaded.

Maybe the City would even consider changing the neighborhood boundary to move it 1/2 block east to the Truman Parkway. Right now, the few remaining houses facing Dolman on the east side of the street are assigned to the rather depressingly named "33 - Peabody, Darst, Webbe" neighborhood. It's probably also time to change the name of that neighborhood to reflect its ongoing redevelopment - which for some reason includes putting slanty roofs on the not-quite-historic flat roofed brick Clinton-Peabody public housing complex.

Meanwhile, this construction detour caused me to walk all the way over to Truman Parkway, and try to cross Chouteau at a ridiculously wide intersection. There is a button to push for a crosswalk signal, but there's no crosswalk and the signal itself is "ragged out," in Traffic Division parlance; that is, it's covered by a piece of cloth.

I was confused by what I saw across the street; it appeared the one-story brick buildings at the northeast corner of (what's left of) 17th Street and Chouteau were being demolished; or at least, the paved area was being dug up. And, I noticed a big hole in the wall of the upper floors of the St. Mary's Infirmary, 1536 Papin Street. However, when I walked around to the Papin side, I noticed several men in dress-casual clothes exiting the front door, which was open, despite having had a "Condemned" sign posted across it. I hope this is a good sign for this building, which is supposedly "Under Contract" to somebody.

Meanwhile, at 18th and Singleton on the northeast corner, it looks like AmerenUE is building another office building of some sort, just across from their headquarters. Which reminds me - I owe them about $110 for a month's worth of juice.

However, it looks like it would still be possible to extend the Truman Parkway, in a northwesterly direction across the vacant lots south of Singleton mostly owned by AmerenUE and mostly paved in gravel, so it merges into 18th Street. Indeed, city address records suggest that has already been done; one parcel in each block is now owned by the City, while the remainder of the area is still AmerenUE property. So, now all that needs to happen to connect Truman Parkway into 18th Street roughly at Singleton is for BPS to finish the design and bid out the construction. The construction will not threaten the St. Mary's Infirmary building, and maybe will make it a little easier to find.

Anyway, then I finished my slightly detoured walk by crossing 18th at the strangely signalized intersection of 18th and Gratiot; the sidewalk on the 18th Street Viaduct is only on the west side, where both AmerenUE HQ and Union Station are located, so it's not an unreasonable set-up. Nevertheless, it is not a particularly pleasant walking route, since it passes not only above the railyards but also under Highway 40. It does, however, afford interesting views of downtown, particularly from the space under Highway 40.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Radio City

Speaking of budgets, look for the City of St. Louis to ask voters for a $13 million bond issue this November 8th, to fund a major overhaul of the radio system used by Police, Fire and EMS.

Board Bill #153, which will make this happen, is making its way through the Board of Aldermen.

The sponsor is Terry Kennedy, who also chairs the Public Safety Committee. The committee will discuss the bill tomorrow, in the Leisure Room (Room 230), City Hall, at 1:00 PM.

Some of you may recall that in November 1998, City voters approved three bond issues totaling about $65 million for renovation of fire stations, fire equipment upgrades, the new Police Department crime lab facility and renovations to police headquarters, as well as demolition of some derelict buildings.

Seven years is a long time, and a large percentage of those projects have been completed, and the funds expended. The new crime lab is open and operating, and several fire stations including those at 3500 South Grand, 200 South Vandeventer, and 1229 McCausland, among others, have been extensively renovated.

Since property values in the City are rising, the overall tax rate may be decreased. Offering a relatively small bond issue for an essential service is a smart way to finance such a project, while minimizing the impact on taxpayers.
Follow the Money

The City of St. Louis Fiscal Year 2006 Budget is now available online. This is the budget for the year beginning July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2006.

Likewise, you can take a look at the year end audit, called the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for FY2004. It was posted on the web about a month ago, for the fiscal year running from July 1, 2003 through June 30, 2004.

Also recently, the St. Louis Public Schools approved their budget for this fiscal year that started July 1st. While you can't actually see the document online yet, you can read the press release about the budget, the budget presentation from the June 14th board meeting, and the SLPS CAFR for the year ended June 30, 2004.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Is Crestwood Screwed?

Recently, the Post-Dispatch and Don Corrigan's community paper, the Webster-Kirkwood Times, and the less well-regarded Call Newspapers of South County have spent a fair amount of ink belaboring the point that the City of Crestwood MO seems to be in the throes of a severe fiscal crisis.

But perhaps I'm being too sensationalistic. What's happening, according to the June 30th P-D, the July 6th Call and today's Political Fix (the Jo Mannies blog - although Phil Sutin contributed this item), Crestwood is considering "defeasing" a 2002 issue of almost $10 million in bonds intended to finance the expansion and remodeling of its City Hall and Police Department complex. (About a year ago, they dropped an earlier plan to build a completely new Police building, because of dramatic cost overruns in the design phase.)

This topic will be discussed at tomorrow's Crestwood Board of Aldermen meeting. This follows closely on the heels of the Board's unanimous June 28 decision to cancel a temporary lease planned with Crestwood Plaza for the City to occupy space in the mall during the remodeling of the government center. They did this because over 2,000 signatures were gathered to force a referendum on the lease proposal.

Jim Murphy, the former Republican state representative from Crestwood who was a harsh critic of the Busch Stadium public financing proposal, was among the leaders of that petition drive, under the auspices of a group called Crestwood Citizens For Fiscal Responsibility.

Defeasance is not necessarily a bad thing; it pretty much means paying off bonds early. In this case, however, it's being done because the project is apparently being scrapped, and will cost Crestwood several hundred thousand dollars in fees and charges to, among others, their financial advisor, WM Financial Strategies of Creve Coeur.

The lowest bid on the renovation project was about $1 million over the amount of funds available to complete the project. So it seems likely the project will be canceled.

What's happening in Crestwood is a bit surprising, given that it certainly is not an impoverished community. According to 2000 US Census data, Crestwood has:

median household income of $54,185

median housing value of $130,800

unemployment rate 2.8%

This doesn't seem like a prime candidate for fiscal crisis. However, Crestwood has historically provided a lot of expensive municipal services, including:

Police Department

Fire Department (does not serve the far eastern part of the city, annexed in the 1990s and located in the Affton Fire Protection District)

Parks and Recreation Department including the historic 1808 Federal style Thomas Sappington House, a large Aquatic Center located in 85 acre Whitecliff Park, several smaller parks, and its own Animal Control division.

Solid Waste pickup service including a pretty affordable Curbside Recycling program.

For a city of less than 12,000 residents, that's very extensive services. They don't run a library, because they're part of St. Louis County Library district, which has a branch nearby in Oakland. They also have four wards, with eight aldermen total. That suggests each alderman represents about 1,500 people.

So, how is this financed?

Traditionally, by sales taxes. And therein lies the rub.

Most of Crestwood (except for the mentioned late 1990s annexation area east of Grant Road), is a "point-of-sale" city, which means sales tax revenues collected there (through the 1.00% St. Louis County sales tax), stay there. The annexation area is a "pool" city, which means it gets a share of St. Louis County-wide sales tax revenues, based on population.

Also, Crestwood levies several additional sales tax rates: the "local option" for general revenue (0.25%); fire tax (0.25%); parks and storm water (0.50%); and capital improvements (another 0.50%). As a result, with the state and other regional sales taxes added in, the total sales tax rate charged in Crestwood is 7.575%, tied with several other retail-heavy towns for the highest rate in St. Louis County. About 54% of Crestwood's general revenues come from sales tax. Crestwood also levies a relatively small $0.25 per $100 assessed valuation real estate tax on residential, commercial and personal property.

What's happened in the past five years or so is that Crestwood has continued with their traditional ways of getting revenue, but thost revenue sources have started to decline. Crestwood Plaza, among the best malls in town through the early 1990s (remember "The Ultra Mall"?), known now as Westfield Crestwood, has lost a number of prime tenants over the past two years like California Pizza Kitchen, Banana Republic and B. Dalton. The recent mergers and acquisitions involving Sears and Famous-Barr, two of its three anchors, raise further concerns.

(I would note that my grandmother years ago worked in the cafeteria at the Crestwood Stix, Baer & Fuller, retiring about the time it was bought out by Dillard's in the mid-1980s). Further, the AMC Crestwood 10 cinema complex in the mall has an uncertain future given the recent merger of AMC with Lowes cinemas.

Outside the mall, the surrounding strip centers have suffered. A former Service Merchandise store less than one mile west of the mall still sits vacant. Likewise, about 1 1/2 miles east, near the border with Webster Groves, Crestwood Square strip mall is mostly vacant, with a sporting goods store and an office supply store having vacated a couple years ago. And, most ominously, the former Circuit City directly across from the mall is now partly occupied by Aldi, the deep-discount grocery chain.

While a new Kohl's department store was built in 2003, it was a controversial project, because it required demolishing the high-rise Crestwood Office Center, a drive-thru bank branch at the base of the office tower, and a former Schnucks grocery store on Sappington Road; as well as the relocation of the private Crestwood Swim Club. This required the use of Tax Increment Financing, which means the City of Crestwood is sacrificing most of its potential sales tax revenues from the project.

Overall, the Crestwood saga suggests that the typical suburban development patterns and heavy reliance by municipal governments on sales taxes, are unsustainable. Crestwood now needs to seriously consider what its future will be. Will the 1960s ranch houses that dominate the landscape really continue to be marketable in, say, 20 years? What will happen to the mall if Famous-Barr / Macy's, Sears / K-Mart, and AMC / Lowes abandon it, like some of the smaller chains already have? Likewise, what about the proposed mega-development on the site of the Sunset Manor subdivision (and Bob Evans) in Sunset Hills at I-44 and Lindbergh. Karl Bissinger's chocolates, one of the few places that still is a draw (for me, anyway) at Crestwood, has signed on for a larger operation there. A large cinemaplex is also planned there. Will that kill any potential for Crestwood retail revival?

Perhaps Crestwood should consider remaking the mall into something reflecting New Urbanism, which seems to be getting popular in St. Charles and Richmond Heights. It's already well-served by public transit (buses, anyway).

In the immediate future, maybe service cuts will be necessary - i.e., making the Sappington House and the Animal Shelter independent non-profits, or convincing St. Louis County to take them over. And contracting with St. Louis County for police services, and/or merging the fire department with Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Affton FPD, or Mehlville FPD, should be seriously considered. The City of Crestwood can regain its financial footing, but only by making tough choices.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Gassy St. Louis

In the wake of yesterday's horrific attacks on London commuters, many people have been pondering the safety of public transit.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the June 24th fire and explosions at Praxair in the Lafayette Square neighborhood, many people have been pondering just how safe it is to live near industrial facilities that process volatile chemicals and gases.

I am concerned that these two issues could potentially be related, at least indirectly. Very near the Grand Avenue MetroLink station in Midtown St. Louis, is a terminal for a company called Airgas Mid-America (formerly Gateway Airgas). The address is 3500 Bernard Street.

I don't know what sort of gases are processed at Airgas Mid-America, however the Washington University Purchasing Department classifies both Airgas Mid-America and Praxair as preferred vendors for "cylinder gases." More specifically, here are the products they each offer, according to the WashU site.

Airgas Mid-America, 3500 Bernard St.
Argon, carbon dioxide, helium, nitrogen oxygen, etc.

Praxair Distribution, 2210 Chouteau Ave.
Argon, carbon dioxide, helium, nitrogen oxygen, etc.

Sounds pretty similar to me. Of course, the real concern would be if both were distributors of highly flammable gases like acetylene. Airgas Mid-America does distribute acetylene, and the 3500 Bernard St. location is described on their website as the following:

Fill Plant
Specialty Gas Lab - Regional
Equipment Rental
Medical Branch

Sounds pretty similar to the Praxair operation at 2210 Chouteau Ave.

So, what's the concern?

Here's an aerial view of Praxair and vicinity. In the center of the photo is the intersection of Hickory St. and Mackay Pl.

Praxair Distribution, 2210 Chouteau Ave., and vicinity

Here's an aerial view of Airgas Mid-America and vicinity. In the center of the photo is the Grand Avenue MetroLink station platform.

Airgas Mid-America, 3500 Bernard St., and vicinity

The Airgas Mid-America facility, while not near any residences, is nevertheless quite close to the MetroLink platform, and even closer to the bus stops on Scott Ave. that serve the Manchester, Lindenwood, and Sarah MetroBus routes.

A related question is that of zoning. Praxair executives consistently claim their property is zoned for that type of operations. Both the Praxair and Airgas locations are zoned J-Industrial. This means, according to the City zoning code, that "The use regulations are the same as those in the I central business district." This suggests that, among other restrictions, "A building or premises may be used for any purpose except... acetylene gas manufacture; ...gas manufacture or storage" (Section 26.52.020, City of St. Louis Revised Code; emphasis added).

So are these sites REALLY zoned for such usage? They MAY have conditional use permits, but they appear to be questionable in their compliance with the formal zoning restrictions for the J-Industrial zoning district.

Finally, it is worth noting there is a redevelopment plan, approved in 1986 by city ordinance, on file for the Praxair parcel. It calls for the site to be converted to residential and commercial (non-industrial) uses. I can't find the document, but I think it was called the Lafayette Square Northwest plan.

While Airgas Mid-America may not be part of a redevelopment area, it certainly falls within the territory desired by St. Louis University for campus expansion and integration. Perhaps the rebuilding of the Grand Avenue viaduct will provide an opportunity to buyout the Airgas Mid-America property, and replace it with something more appropriate and safe for a location so proximate to a high-volume public transit facility. And, maybe, just maybe, Metro would consider using the property for a park-ride lot that city residents could actually use, instead of parking on narrow Scott Avenue!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Vicissitudes of Globalization Hit Lesotho

This isn't about St. Louis, or urban issues, but it is depressing.

BBC News reports on the precipitous decline of the textile industry in Lesotho, the tiny mountain kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa.

Only three years ago, main concerns were about the rapid expansion of textile making in Lesotho. At that time, textile-making had becoming the number one industry in Lesotho, replacing the long-time tradition of Sotho men working as migrant workers in South African gold and diamond mines, whose fortunes were dwindling.

The blame for this sudden decline of nascent manufacturing, according to BBC, falls heavily on Chinese-American monetary policies, because "the Chinese and Taiwanese [factory] owners have now gone home, after China was given better access to US markets and a fall in the US dollar."

Of course, some blame probably falls on South Africa, too. Essentially, the Central Bank of Lesotho has very limited power, because the Common (Rand) Monetary Area (CMA) and Southern African Customs Union (SACU) ensure there can be no duties on most goods traded between SA and Lesotho, and that the Lesotho loti must trade one-to-one with the SA Rand.

While Lesotho benefits from these arrangements to some extent, South Africa is clearly the senior partner in the arrangement. Lesotho, along with Namibia and Swaziland, all countries with tiny populations, are pretty much along for the ride. Botswana has somewhat more leeway, as its currency is not part of the CMA, but it is part of the SACU. These relationships were established during apartheid, but they haven't really changed dramatically in ten years of multiparty democracy in South Africa.

This should be no surprise - it works out quite well for the SA government! As many readers may know, I spent a semester as an exchange student at the University of the Western Cape, a solidly and proudly leftist institution, almost five years ago. While I love that part of the world and many of its people, I recognize that no country or political system is perfect. While I applaud South African leadership of many beneficial activities for the African continent as a whole, they still wield a great deal of power over their immediate neighbors.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Cynical, Hypocritical -- or Just Stupid?

I just can't figure it out: on the same day that tens of thousands of low-income Missouri adults lose Medicaid coverage and all Missouri adult Medicaid recipients lose dental coverage, Governor Matt Blunt issues a press release entitled "Governor Encourages Participation in Shape Up Missouri."

The best quote from the press release:
"We need to get serious about staying healthy," Governor Matt Blunt said.


By the way, in case you were wondering, the "City in the Best Shape" is Manchester MO.