Why is Paul McKee ruining the north side?
September 24, 2008 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Blairmont: The Final Dose. Yesterday Rob Powers of Built St. Louis (prev.) completed a 189-post tour of the North St. Louis properties bought and left to ruin by developer Paul McKee's Blairmont Associates LLC. Residents trying to rebuild in this area have had to deal with nearby Blairmont properties catching fire, collapsing due to brick rustlers, and obstructing their efforts to improve their own homes. Four years this has been going on and still nobody knows what McKee is up to. Much more information at Ecology of Absence.
posted by tss (15 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, this guy sounds like a super-slow-motion invisible Godzilla. The summation at the end of the article in the first link suggests that there's no logical reason for what McKee's doing; I wonder if it's possible that he's simply nuts?
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:47 AM on September 24, 2008

I work in construction, and Paul is the "pa" of Paric, one of the big-hitters in St. Louis. Strangely enough, he's a pretty decent guy to talk to otherwise, but I've never asked him WTF he's doing to the North Side.
posted by notsnot at 11:52 AM on September 24, 2008

St Louis' vacancy rate on commercial property is insane. I was able to rent 4000 sq ft for $600/month, including all utilities, ~10 years ago, in a warehouse that started life as a storage facility for fur traders. Many was the afternoon that I would be sitting at my office in downtown st louis, and see the pillar of fire and smoke from another "mysterious fire", and hope it wasn't a building close enough to endanger my home. The stories I could tell you about living in an area with an 85% vacancy rate.... Blairmont is far from the only absentee landlord in St Louis doing this sort of thing.
posted by nomisxid at 11:53 AM on September 24, 2008

I remember visiting St. Louis in the late 1980s and being amazed at the vacant areas just outside of downtown. It is definitely a failure in urban planning.

Here in Portland, Oregon, a vacant lot or abandoned property is rare. I'm always looking for the right lot to build my Farnsworth House replica.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:04 PM on September 24, 2008

I think what McKee is doing is sitting and waiting for the north side to be popular again. There were more than a few developers that sat on property in the south side, and now that it's becoming a more habitable place to live, they're making a pretty penny on their investment. Where it's a smart business move it doesn't do anything for actually revitalizing a neighborhood. These people have no morals.
posted by noriyori at 12:44 PM on September 24, 2008

I presume you mean ethics, noriyori? In corporate America, what they're doing is the pinnacle of morality and a free market.
posted by ZaneJ. at 1:08 PM on September 24, 2008

Ugh. Poor north St. Louis. This is tragic.
posted by zsazsa at 1:45 PM on September 24, 2008

ah, yes ZaneJ. ethics it is.
posted by noriyori at 2:08 PM on September 24, 2008

FYI, one of the reasons St Louis is in such a pickle is arguably by their own mis-design. It's part of a 2.8 million person metro area, but only 350,000 live in the city limits, and because St Louis city divorced itself from St Louis county, they have to pay for everything that the state and feds don't pick up, themselves. I'm sure it seemed like a brilliant idea back when it was a major manufacturing center, and the city didn't want to share tax revenues with their poor country-bumpkin county-cousins.
posted by nomisxid at 4:38 PM on September 24, 2008

The reason St. Louis is *full* of empty -- empty houses, shuttered schools -- is that at its peak, it had nearly a million people. Then the city leaders decide that they didn't want to pay for the sewers way out in the sticks, so they divorced from the county -- the proper name is the Independent City of St. Louis.

Now, the city is around 300K people, the urban area is close to three million, and most of the money is out there. Clayton, MO, the county seat of St. Louis County, is attracting more and more firms to it's growing downtown.

St. Louis is slowly, but surely, becoming the next Detroit.
posted by eriko at 5:56 PM on September 24, 2008

Heh. I just came back from sitting at the Cards game, looking out over the swath of land currently known as Lake DeWitt (a.k.a. the future site of Ballpark Village) at the convenient slice of city skyline visible from inside the stadium. Such illusions are part and parcel of life here in the Lou...
posted by limeonaire at 9:55 PM on September 24, 2008

The summation at the end of the article in the first link suggests that there's no logical reason for what McKee's doing; I wonder if it's possible that he's simply nuts?

Tax losses.

This is really a big problem for cities. Real estate tax law has many intricacies, but basically gives great privilege to those who would like to hold a property as a way to generate passive Schedule E losses that flow into a 1040 and offset gains and income elsewhere. It's an incentive to let your buildings (and tenants) rot. The only defense is cities able to perform aggressive inspections and code enforcement.

My city never experienced the bubble, and home prices stayed fairly stable, but in just a few months we've caught up with the rest of the country in terms of the N-month supply of properties for sale. There are three signs visible out my front window, all rentals, and a building across the street that last year held nightmare tenants (violence, drugs, crowds of young people milling in the street) will be sold at sheriff's auction next week. Into this environment strolled a realtor from Chicago with a wad of cash, buying up multiple properties and spending almost nothing on them, even the ones that had obvious code violations such as rotted porch steps. When his property manager had to meet with the city she insisted he needed to keep them up, so he fired her. After a few months, using a property manager from the next county, who quit on him, he crawled back to the first one and there has been substantial cleanup. He still rents to crap tenants, though.

But this is only after a multi-year effort to get a nuisance property ordinance enacted that covered both criminal activity and code violations. And the city (we're quite nice despite this) still has too few inspectors to be anything more than responsive to complaints. So a lot of owners are skating by.

St. Louis may have exacerbated or hastened its own predicament, but it is not alone in being a landlocked city surrounded by affluent suburbs whose tax base it is unable to tap. Chicago has charted a course out of the DET/STL quagmire; so has Cleveland. It breaks my heart as an historic preservationist, but part of what they might have to do is knock a lot of the buildings down if there is no one to save them.
posted by dhartung at 11:25 PM on September 24, 2008

In DC there are laws that basically say if a property is deemed vacant (per certain rules), then it's supposed to be taxed at a significantly higher rate than a "normal" property. In theory, that's supposed to avoid stuff like this -- it makes it a lot tougher to just sit on property and wait for the value to appreciate significantly, while doing nothing to attract tenants.

(Of course, in practice everything in DC is corrupt, and this doesn't work at all. But in theory, it's a good plan.)
posted by inigo2 at 6:49 AM on September 25, 2008

The story of North St. Louis is heartbreaking. As part of a uni project, I met with the good people at Old North St Louis Restoration. They are doing truly commendable work to revitalize the old North Side. If you're in doubt, look at their work on the 14th Street Pedestrian Plaza. When I visited the site in '06, it looked like a ghost town. I was there on a beautiful morning at 10AM and the place was truly scary and sad. Only one business remained, a barber shop which kept its doors locked unless a potential customer knocked.

If you're looking for a way to help North St. Louis but you don't live here, you could do worse than to support ONSL in their mission.

On the bright side, St. Louis city's population rose a few years back (instead of falling) for the first time since the 50's. Slowly but surely, the city seems to be coming back. It'll be interesting to see what happens when Highway 40 (the main channel between downtown and midcounty) reopens in a year or so. Will all the new loft-dwellers flee back to the county? I sure hope not. Their tax dollars are the best thing that's happened to St. Louis in a long time. Only time will tell.
posted by Monsters at 8:06 AM on September 25, 2008

Also notable: Restoration St. Louis' work on the Moolah Temple (now St. Louis' best movie theatre/bowling alley) and the former Coronado Hotel (now Coronado Place), among myriad other projects. St. Louis University is a better place to be thanks to their work in the Midtown neighborhood.
posted by Monsters at 8:14 AM on September 25, 2008

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