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The St Louis Contrarian

Providing Independent and Intelligent Insight on St. Louis Public Policy Issues

Archive for the category “st. louis”

Historic Preservation

I recognize the importance of historic preservation in cities. Nevertheless here are my criticisms of how it works in St. Louis:

1. Virtually every neighborhood in St. Louis is considered historic. There seems to be a feeling that if a property is old, it is historic. This is not true.

2., Historic rehab adds 10% or more to the cost of construction. This can be significant.

3. It locks communities into doing what they have already done. Varied architectural styles are not welcome. Frank Loyd Wright would not have been able to build his buildings in St. Louis unless he followed the tried and true architectural style. A preservation yesterday said streets should have the feel of 1910. Is that what we want?

Written by Paul Dribin

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Customer Service in St. Louis

A good article in the Post about how the City of St. Louis is attempting to provide better customer service. This is a major step in the right direction. Equally important are the cumbersome processes the city requires for developers and businesses. Customer service is more than complaint processing. Written by Paul Dribin

Vacancies in St. Louis

As you may know, there has been a collaborative formed to address the huge vacancy problem in St. Louis. Various task forces are meeting and I participate in two of them. Most of the people at the meetings appear to be community activists with a smattering of developers.

The discussions have generally been good but rather general in nature. We do not seem to want to address the key problems which I see as:

1. Outmoded methods of management and sales by LRA.

2. The higher cost of doing business in St. Louis.

3. Historical preservation

4. Crime

5. The overall oversupply of housing and undersupply of population in the region.

6. The unwillingness of the group to accept demolition.

Written by Paul Dribin

St.Louis County Economic Development Council

This has been one of my favorite topics, one that unfortunately I have been correct about. Sheila Sweeney who made the ridiculous salary of $500,000 a year.(I could have run the organization into the ground for a lot less), resigned under pressure last week.

As I have previously written, the agency involved itself in many shady if not illegal transactions tied to friends of County Executive Stenger. Furthermore, the staff is bloated and the salaries of these individuals is quite high, with many making in the six figures.

I hope the county now gets a handle on the situation and that criminal proceedings occur. A bigger question is what do these Economic Development Agencies accomplish for the money spent on them? Written by Paul Dribin

Metro Link

Another recent story in the Post wrote that Metrolink ridership is down 20% in the last few years. That is a huge decrease. The article insightfully pointed out that crime alone is not the issue. Changes in the work climate including working at home, more part time jobs etc.also account for the drop. As I have pointed out numerous times, fixed route rapid transit is a thing of the past. We should be investing in ride sharing services instead of rail. Written by Paul Dribin

Green lining in St. Louis

I heard a talk today at one of the many marginally useful meetings on vacancies in St.Louis. The discussion was about green lining, an effort to artificially prop up property sales by financing the gap between appraised value and total development costs on single family houses.

The issue as presented seems dubious; that tons of people are waiting to do major rehab to houses on the north side who can’t get the appraisal they would need. The green lining program would put together a pool of institutional funding that would provide second mortgages to fund the appraisal gap.

There are several problems with this approach. The first problem is that the homebuyers would immediately be under water. What if they want to sell the property and cannot pay off the mortgage. Second, the proposal does not address credit issues which I think are a bigger problem than appraisals. The program should go all the way and guarantee the purchaser’s equity. But the real issue is creating demand in an area with high crime and poor schools. Written by Paul Dribin

McKee Again

The Paul McKee effort on the north side of St. Louis appears to be going nowhere. I have been a fan of Mr. McKee and was impressed with his work at Winghaven in St. Charles County. I still believe him to be a sincere person.

The project he tried to undertake in St. Louis may have been too big for anyone to handle and he faced obstacles of community and political resistance. He certainly made his share of mistakes, especially in not engaging the community in a better manner. Nevertheless, he has not lived up to his commitment, has rehabbed almost no houses, and has needed the Geospatial Project buying out his properties to save him. Too bad. Written by Paul Dribin

Economic Development Agencies in the St. Louis Region

The Business Journal published an important but superficial article this week on the plethora of development agencies in the St. Louis area, the large amount of dollars they spend, and the poor results they achieve. Sounds like a recipe for madness, but we go on our merry way. I give the Economic Development Council of St. Charles County some high marks, but that is the only agency I would give that mark to. The St. Louis County group is especially suspect. In the end, development agencies don’t bring business, overall government policies and the desire of business owners is what matters. Written by Paul Dribin

Deconstruction

I am not writing about the obtuse literary theory known as deconstruction. Instead, I am writing about a redevelopment tool St. Louis is experimenting with using in lieu of demolition. In the case of deconstruction, a qualified contractor takes apart and in some case refurbishes construction material from vacant houses. The idea is to have these materials reused by contractors, home builders, etc. It is a good idea that warrants attention. It is not a large scale program that will eliminate the need for demolition, but it will help. written by Paul Dribin

The Real Cause of Vacancies in St. Louis

At the suggestion of Todd Swanstrom, I read a book by his colleague titled Housing Dynamics in Northeast Ohio by Thomas E. Bier. The book written about the Cleveland area is also applicable to St. Louis and many other cities.

The argument in the book backed by data is that vacancies occur when there is an oversupply of housing in the region. This oversupply of housing occurs because developers are looking to profit by building more housing, and land is cheaper in the suburbs. The author points out that when there is an oversupply the oldest, most worn out housing loses all market desirability and becomes vacant. The problem is made worse because developers can more economically build in the suburbs and the infrastructure in the suburbs is stronger.

This plays out when we look at the north side of St. Louis. There will only be a turnaround if the city figures out how to streamline its development requirements, crime is controlled, and schools turn around. In addition a marketing campaign to young people around the company would help. We could offer free housing and lots of land. Written by Paul Dribin

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