How to Blight 100 Acres of St. Louis City

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A building, a block, a neighborhood, is blighted in St. Louis on quite a regular basis. To some “blighting” is a simple economic tool. The designation provides access to various local, state, and federal economic development funding. “Blighting” is also more art than science. In common use, a “blighted” area is one that is underperforming economically (generally, not producing enough tax revenue). Just about anything can be “blighted” by citing deferred maintenance and repeating the word “obsolete”.

The state of Missouri defines a “blighted area”, as “an area which, by reason of the predominance of defective or inadequate street layout, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, deterioration of site improvements, improper subdivision or obsolete platting, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors, retards the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability or a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare in its present condition and use.”

Below is the “Blighting Factors” portion of a recent report on the potential National Geospatial Intelligence Agency site in North St. Louis City. Within the development footprint north of Cass Avenue are 138 buildings. Zero are considered be in excellent condition, while 82 (59%) are labeled as dilapidated or in need of major repair.

Blighting Factors for Jefferson/Cass Redevelopment Area for NGA – St. Louis, MO by nextSTL.com

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  • Trojan Iron Works, an active business that pays taxes to the City of St. Louis, is marked as “severely deteriorated.”

    Just as a prosecutor can indict a proverbial ham sandwich, a Board of Aldermen can blight a pile of rocks.

  • Yojimbo

    Quick question: in StL, must an area be declared “blighted” in order for eminent domain to be exercised? Or can eminent domain proceed without an area being so designated? Thanks for the help ~

  • tgeperson

    Blight = smurf, it can mean whatever you want. This is probably the easiest blight study this consultant ever did. Obviously the TIF statute pursuant to which this study was performed is a relic of the slum clearance/urban renewal mentality. There has to be some middle way to prevent a 100 acre redevelopment area from swallowing up good buildings without requiring a structure by structure analysis that could allow one holdout to scuttle an otherwise good plan, but I don’t think anyone has found such a way. The question should be whether this area is blight – clearly, it is – but rather whether this plan is the best way to remediate the blight. It’s just such a policy failure and failure of imagination that we can’t come up with a better redevelopment tool, or in some cases, even know that a better tool is necessary.

    • guest

      The goal here is to keep the Defense Mapping Agency in the city. A finding of blight is necessary to justify the use of eminent domain; however, the question still unanswered remains: how the use of eminent domain in this case represents a public good? If that case can’t be made, then eminent domain is not justified. It’s not like we’re widening a highway or building an airport. This project could go lots of places. Just not lots of places in STL city.

      • tgeperson

        I’m well aware of the purpose of a blight finding and the use of eminent domain; I could be wrong, but I think the thrust of this post is to note how the TIF is being used to mark whole swathes of N City for redevelopment – ie, “100 Acres.” Clearly there is no consideration of individual properties, except as details (photos, etc.) are cherry picked to support the larger conclusion the whole area is blighted and should be redeveloped as a big megaproject. There is definitely a time and place for TIF, and this area is certainly right for it, but just not sure this is the right project for this redevelopment area. Rather than a mega project, it would be good to see a series of small ones. Wishful thinking, I guess.

        • guest

          “A series of small ones” (projects) does not a Defense Mapping Agency federal installation make. The feds want a large, contiguous, *homogeneous*, site (read bare land) for their new buildings, fancy machines, and 3,000+/- employees.

          • tgeperson

            Please pardon my snark, but thank you, Cpt. Obvious. I think anyone informed enough to find and read this site knows that. Also, the TIF statute isn’t concerned with whether a project is a “public good,” but rather the more narrow question of whether it will remedy the conditions that caused the blight. Definitely not the same thing.

          • guest

            So then you agree that we have no choice but to agree with the finding of blight and redevelop?

          • STLEnginerd

            I think the main Point being made was whether owners of properties that are well maintained, should be forced out via imminent domain just because a large number of properties have not. To add insult to injury the plan is to take these properties and give them to one of the more egregious offenders of property neglect.

            There is obviously blight but that doesn’t mean the broad rush approach isn’t up for criticism. Especially since it is worth questioning whether the proposed redevlopment will actually bring any kind of stimulus to the area.

          • guest

            I think you are confusing McNorthside with Geo Spatial Agency relocation. McNorthside benefits in the deal, but the effort here is solely to create a site to locate the defense mapping agency and preserve 3,000-some odd city jobs and the associated earnings taxes.

          • Alex Ihnen

            And the city has stated that if the attempt to keep the NGA in town fails, eminent domain would proceed. This likely means Paul McKee would take possession of the parcels. And if NGA does go forward at this site, a big part of the land will be sold to them by McKee, who was basically handed the land by the city.

          • guest

            “Capt. Obvious” wants to know, what’s the point of eminent domain if no NGA project?

  • guest

    With or without the study, the area is blighted. Per Websters, blight is: a deteriorated condition (urban blight).

    • Blah blah

      Websters is not a reputable source for anything above a fifth grade level.