Back in early 2012, then Saint Louis University President Father Lawrence Biondi told the city’s Planning Commission that if the university weren’t allowed to demolish the National Register of Historic Places registered Pevely Dairy complex, “we would have to shut down our medical school and find property in west county”. In response to a question about the project, he stated that financing for a new $75M ambulatory medical center was in place, and groundbreaking could occur in March 2012.
The issue was posited by the local news as a series of false choices: preservationists and a vacant building v. a hospital, surgical center, or doctor’s offices. There was even a laughable rendering released showing a medical-like building. Having noted the desolate nature of this stretch of Chouteau Avenue in the central part of our city, some fingers wagged, “Just wait until you see SLU’s state-of-the-art medical center!” and so on. About six months after being issued demo permits, we learned that the medical center wouldn’t be built at this location.
So now it’s become an annual check up to see what’s happening here. It’s been two and one half years since SLU was allowed to tear down all but the corner building of the complex. The Planning Commission decided that the corner building was more historic than the rest of the complex, and decided to let it stand, at least until the university receives a building permit to replace it. The Pevely sign was simply knocked over onto the building’s roof when the university realized it didn’t need a permit to do so.
If a medical center had broken ground in March 2012 and were completed today, the process pursued by the university would be no less grotesque, but at least someone would be benefiting today. Either there aren’t as many underprivileged children to serve as SLU thought, financing fell through, or perhaps their argument wasn’t fully…factual. There remains no word, no rumors, of a project on the horizon.
The full press by SLU showed clearly that the city can’t and won’t stand up to institutional bullies. It highlighted that lack of a city-wide development plan. It exposed the weakness of our ward system. The alderman for the site testified that if SLU said they needed Pevely demo’d, he supported them. Later he would admit to having been misled.
After demolition, hills of debris sat for more than a year with no violations filed and no fines accrued. Now a blank graded site, there’s a little more green than in previous years, the place is no less desolate. Once more, when a city fails to have a vision for itself, others enforce their own vision on the city.