Loop Trolley Corridor Photo Tour: DeBaliviere

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As the Loop Trolley project nears completion let’s look at the changes to the streetscape and the condition and potential of the adjacent land. A goal of the trolley is to encourage development along the route. Neighborhood and TOD plans for the area express a desire to build urbanity. Beyond creating a great walkable neighborhood, more productive land uses are imperative to cover the cost of infrastructure and services in the long term. Public investment should follow private investments so as to minimize the public’s risk. Parts of the trolley route are quite productive, so the route may have a good combination of supporting productive places and “built ti and they will come.”

The trolley operates on a single track from the Missouri History Museum up DeBaliviere alongside the St. Vincent Greenway then heads west at Delmar.

The Missouri History Museum stop. The trolley won’t go this far when the museum is closed. Perhaps a shelter could be an incremental improvement later.

Heading north along DeBaliviere.

At Lindell Blvd. Pedestrian infrastructure has improved, though there are drainage problems on the northeast corner. I would love pedestrian refuges in Lindell. Because DeBaliviere is divided here, there is room since there are no turn lanes in the crosswalks. They would help slow cars and aid crossing Lindel.


The land along DeBaliviere between Lindell and Forest Park Parkway is a part of Forest Park. Inactive grass for many years, it is now getting a landscaping overhaul.

At Forest Park Parkway. The intersection was completely rebuilt. Pedestrian infrastructure has greatly improved.

There’s a development opportunity at the 1.5 acre Metrolink parking lot. Bi-State provides 118 government-subsidized parking spaces. The tax exempt land use generates no revenue for the SLPS, the city, ZMD, MSD, etc. Let’s hope it joins the tax rolls sometime soon.

Vision for Forest Park Parkway and DeBaliviere. H3 Studio

Another development opportunity across the street on another tax-exempt Bi-State-owned lot. It kept its curb cut.

Trolley stop at Pershing. It is shared with the 90 Hampton and 3 Forest Park Trolley buses. Annoying that it’s not closer to the Metrolink station.

The traditional building at DeBaliviere and Pershing has an assessed value per acre of $833k.

The intersection of DeBaliviere and Pershing. Three sides of the intersection are greatly improved.

A crosswalk on the north side is missing. I complained about this to the Trolley Company last year when it became apparent it was missing. The engineer said that the reason it wasn’t put in was that the vast majority of the foot traffic is north-south (a non-sequitur IMO), and that it was too difficult to put an ADA compliant crosswalk there. I suspect no one seeking to cross there will go 3/4 around the intersection as we see at the missing crosswalk at Euclid and Forest Park Avenue. Ignoring reality is regrettable.

Redevelopment opportunity on DeBaliviere between Pershing and Waterman. Unfortunately the traditional buildings here were demolished in the 1980s for this low-productivity auto-oriented land use. It’s assessed value per acre is $249K. I suspect it’s not covering its burden on city services.

DeGiverville and DeBaliviere 1932

Vision for the strip mall redevelopment looking southwest from Waterman and DeBaliviere. H3 Studio

Street Parking was added on the west side of DeBaliviere.

Redevelopment opportunity across the street. This low-productivity auto-oriented land use has an assessed value per acre of $239k.

It and the property next door get to keep their curb cuts. Quite an amenity for such low return.
They could have shared one or used alley access as they did when construction blocked access from DeBaliviere- somehow auto-dependent patrons found their way.

The intersection of Waterman and DeBaliviere looking southeast.
The intersection of Waterman and DeBaliviere looking northwest.
The curb cut at the southwest corner is awkward for north-south travelers.
{#Healthegrid}
This was a missed opportunity to heal the grid, relieving traffic pressure on Pershing and providing quicker access for EMS.

Development opportunity on the absurdly large Busey Bank parking lot. Unfortunately the traditional building at 433 DeBaliviere succumbed to fire in 1970.
400 DeBaliviere from Waterman looking West Northwest400 block of DeBaliviere. What was best exemplifies what should be.


Some parts of the east side of DeBaliviere have a highway feel due to lack of street parking, wide lanes, low-rise land uses, and the grassy strip running next to it. The trees may help as they grow.

McPherson blocked at DeBaliviere

Kingsbury blocked at DeBaliviere

Development opportunity across from Crossroads School. The school owns the parcel, and it is tax-exempt. Hopefully it will join the tax rolls soon.

Crossroads School got to keep both its curb cuts and has a trolley stop, tax-exempt.

Left – This sad-sack building, owned by someone in Frontenac living in a $1,345,000 home, could use some love. Right – A small church, tax-exempt.

KMJM 100.3 transmission tower. Any chance it could move?

Cute fire station No. 30, city-owned and tax-exempt of course.

Tax-exempt car storage with three-lane curb cut for Crossroads School.

The behemoth Metro garage- tax-exempt.

{H3 Studio}
The Skinker DeBaliviere neighborhood plan shows the possibility of the garage being vacated and available to be developed.

DeBaliviere at Delmar is adorned with two really cool buildings and has a trolley stop.

566 DeBaliviere. Numerous pictures at St. Louis Patina.

DeBaliviere and DelmarAcross the street. My dream for this is a micro-brewery. There’s space for the outdoor biergarten already.

Social Security office- tax-exempt.

Ruth Porter Park with the St. Vincent Greenway extends north. I wonder if it would have been better to extend DeBaliviere north.

Another crosswalk is missing on the west side of DeBaliviere at Delmar.

The new Adolescent Behavioral Health Center by People’s Health.

The remake of DeBaliviere with the Loop Trolley and St. Vincent Greenway has greatly improved it. Four driving lanes were too many, and the street diet is welcome. Regrettably only one of the eight private curb cuts crossing the trolley’s path has been removed- a nod to the continued auto-orientation of the corridor. Three public street blockages were maintained. On-street parking has been added on parts of the west side of DeBaliviere. Some parts of DeBaliviere and the greenway have a highway feel.

TOD Vision DeBaliviere{Massing of DeBaliviere from TOD plan. H3 Studio}

With so much tax-exempt and low-productivity land uses along DeBaliviere, this part of the route isn’t pulling its weight. Let’s hope more productive land uses will come soon.

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  • SeenInMaplewood

    I am not convinced that the Loop Trolley is a worthwhile project, BUT I could be convinced if it was extended to serve all the major sites in Forest Park and connect with the Zoo parking structure by Dogtown. Doing so would allow a most, if not all of the ridiculous street parking in the park to be eliminated. Patrons could either take mass transit, park at one of the park’s lots, and either walk to where they are going or take the trolley. It could also boost patronage of U City and Dogtown businesses. If a family from St. Charles drives in to go to the zoo, parks at the Zoo’s structure, a parking site on the U City side, or even the Muni lot, they might hit up either commercial district for dinner afterwards, since they are already there and walking and/or using the trolley. If they park on the roads in the park and walk back to their minivan in the middle of the park, they might as well hit up something closer to home, since they are already in their car. Also, I would imagine if one could drive directly to a lot, where they know there is supply, not have to meander around looking for a spot, get stuck in traffic jams, and use the trolley, it could take the same amount of time. On a really busy day I took my kids to the zoo and the car traffic was a real mess. I quickly gave up, parked at the muni lot, and walked. It was the right choice.

  • Mike P

    Not sure why a non-profit private school should pay taxes considering the many other institutions that do not.

  • miguel2586

    Yep. Definitely open Waterman at DeBaliviere. Chances of Metro leaving its garage/strip mall/MetroLink Park-n-Ride properties are slim to none though. Maybe we could at least encourage more TOD (new bldgs. with storefronts/rear parking). Nothing wrong with NFPs as long as they serve and engage the community. Do the homeowners on Lindell control the “buffer zone” between their properties and DeBaliviere? Maybe make that land active space for Twilight Tuesday concerts, etc.

  • HawkSTL

    Last thought on the curb cuts/parking lots/cars issue. Did anyone notice that the 1930s (ish) picture of the prior building–housing Garavelli’s–on the now-strip mall on DeBaliviere between Pershing & Waterman has . . . wait for it . . . a bunch of cars in front of it? Cuts against the “let’s go back to the good old days”/anti-car argument, doesn’t it? Beautiful photos though. Nice job Richard.

    • rgbose

      My point isn’t a preference between no cars/some cars/lots of cars. It’s that low-productivity and exempt auto-oriented land uses aren’t enough to cover the costs to provide them with infrastructure and services that we’ve promised.

      • HawkSTL

        Almost everyone in the area hates that strip mall. However, saying that the auto-oriented land use of that strip mall is inferior to the prior building(s)? You haven’t supported that. The strip mall houses many businesses (some of which the surrounding residents dislike). How many did the prior building(s) house? Without that statistic, the statement concerning comparatively low-productivity simply reflects bias.

        • rgbose

          The assessed value per acre of the traditional building across the intersection is more than 3x higher than the strip mall. I realize that’s not the whole story on their relative productivity.

          It’s not about hating the businesses there either. The same businesses could be there with a few stories of apts or offices above and the land use would be more productive.

          • HawkSTL

            The general feeling is that some of the businesses, and the mini mart in particular, attract criminals. Taking a wrecking ball to it and re-doing it with residences above would be welcomed. Not because of density per se, but because of the ability to start over and the opportunity to attract different clientele.

          • Imran

            “The general feeling is that some of the businesses, and the mini mart in particular, attract criminals”. Something in this statement does not sit well. What about such businesses do you think caters to criminals?

          • Riggle

            Read black people using metro

          • HawkSTL

            No — read drug deals

          • Imran

            Regardless of the source, it sounds like veiled prejudice against a certain ‘clientele’. And drug deals can (and do) happen anywhere.

          • HawkSTL

            2 blocks down the street from a high school. Yes, they want criminal activity away from there no matter who is engaged in it.

          • Riggle

            I can’t think of a highschool in st louis that doesnt have regular criminal activity within a two block radius (maybe, maybe slu high)

          • HawkSTL

            Check the tuition at Crossroads and then realize that the student body consists mostly of CWE, U. City, and Clayton residents. The parents and area residents hold it to a different standard and are tired of it.

          • Riggle

            Yoy make me wish the City limits were at Grand

          • HawkSTL

            You would have no services then. So, that would work out wonderfully.

          • HawkSTL

            Funny how those on the far left are the secessionists now. You make me angry that I vote Democrat most of the time.

          • Riggle

            Yes, its about black people, it’s painfully obvious

          • HawkSTL

            In a neighborhood that has a high % of African Americans and is the most diverse in the city. Nice try. Keep defending the drugees.

          • HawkSTL

            For what it is worth, I’m sick of the “veiled prejudice” lingo. Grow up. Skinker-DeBalieviere and the CWE are the most diverse neighborhoods in the City. Yes, there are pockets of bad clientele — low life people that are brown, white, black and whatever skin color that you guys always seem to bring up as a defense mechanism — in places like that strip mall. As residents and parents with children in schools in these parts (my kid isn’t at Crossroads b/c she’s too little), we make note of it and want them out. The Alderman wants them out. The business people want them out. Yet, you go automatically to the comfort of reading something into the word of “clientele” that isn’t there. Shameful.

          • Imran

            I’m going to preach here. I have never seen or met a ‘low life’ person. There are people who are desperate or hopeless or misguided etc. labeling someone a low life is lazy. You might be a series of unfortunate life events away from where they are.
            Maybe if we weren’t so quick to ‘want them out’ we might actually come to see them as equal partners of the community.

          • HawkSTL

            Go give them a hug. I’m sure it will change their lives.

          • Imran

            Probably not as much as displacing them to concentrated poverty would.

          • HawkSTL

            Who’s talking about displacement? Does anyone live at the mini mart or another storefront in the strip mall? No.

            So, apparently you’ve now flip flopped and are supporting an auto oriented strip mall? Because people have the right to endless supplies of $5 chips? Not exactly consistent.

          • Imran

            wow. You really threw a lot out there. Here’s my long reply:
            Part of belonging to a community is having businesses and retail that cater to your needs. For e.g. having only high end retail sends the message that we do not care for people of lesser means.
            Displacement does not have to mean housing. You can displace social support. You can displace affordable retail. You can get rid of bus stops and close off the street grid. The idea is the same. Like saying “We don’t want to cater to your kind here. Even if you can afford to live here we will make it so that you cannot afford groceries at the local store. Eventually you will grow tired of it and move out so more people like us can take your place”.
            I hate auto-centric strip malls but only in terms of their form. Function is what we are talking about here.
            If your goal is to argue about this forever and have no valuable exchange of ideas, we probably should just stop.

          • HawkSTL

            Ok – but I admit that seeing you twist and turn into a pretzel on this issue is amusing. Auto oriented strip malls = bad . . . unless they serve the underprivileged with a much higher % of criminals who actually don’t live in the neighborhood where the strip malls are = then the auto oriented strip mall is vital? Like I said, amusing.

          • Imran

            What was that word you used? Ah, yes… Deflection.

          • HawkSTL

            Pointing out your inconsistency = deflection? Sure, ok.

          • Riggle

            Read black people

          • HawkSTL

            Nice deflection. Black and white people engaged in drug deals/committing crimes. Go hug them though. I’m sure it will help.

          • HawkSTL

            The words are directly from our alderman in a neighborhood meeting. Drug deals.

    • Adam

      Um, there are 5 cars parked at the curb compared to a mostly empty strip mall parking lot that probably accommodates about a hundred (but is never actually anywhere near filled). Far fewer people owned cars in the 30s compared to today, and multiple cars per family didn’t happen. So, no, it doesn’t really cut against anything.

      • HawkSTL

        I don’t think we’re looking at the same photo. The cars are parked bumper to bumper.

        • Riggle

          Tear it all down. We need more parking!

          • HawkSTL

            Not more — just an adequate amount.

        • Nat76

          Pretty sure he’s looking at the same photo. It’s a 1930s photo of Garavelli’s on the corner with 1…2…3…4…5 cars. 3 parallel parked on one side and 2 angle parked, with easily room for 2-3 more on what appears to be a fairly commercial corner. Not a lot of cars at this period of time–especially in cities. c 1929, 22% of passenger vehicles were registered in cities of 100K+.

          http://www.railsandtrails.com/AutoFacts/1930p15-100-8.jpg

  • sam

    I had no idea how much development opportunity there was on DeBalliver. I had no idea there was so much suburban development and un/underutilized property. More density please!

  • HolyFrijoles11

    Still doesn’t have reciprocity with Metro, still doesn’t connect residential neighborhoods to employment centers, and has 20 min headways. Still publicly never released a CBA. Why, WHY do people still think this is a good idea? Who’s going to cover the inevitable operating losses? For how long? And why would any tourist take this when an Uber-pool is cheaper, faster, and weather protected? This is like St. Louis betting big on trains when planes were taking off (pun intended)

    • Riggle

      Will never have reciprocity with Metro, neither side seems interested, which is absolutely insane. The only way to get ridership numbers better than Knoxville or Little Rock is to rely on the college kids in the area, who have U-Passes, that wont work on the tram.

      • HawkSTL

        Well, to be fair, the trolley runs between several MetroLink stations. That was one of the criticisms to begin with. Why would Metro want to cut a deal with a trolley that runs within its route? To increase ridership on a competing system? Metro allowed its engineer to assist with the development of the trolley and believes it has played fair. But, as to teaming up on fairs with competition, it clearly has said “no thanks.” If I were Metro, I’d say “no thanks” too.

        • HolyFrijoles11

          And cannibalizes a bus line that has cheaper operating AND capital costs in this instance. I can’t wait to see the tens of people riding it each day.

          • HawkSTL

            Agreed — I can see it getting off to a fast start. But, where will it be in 5 yrs? I wouldn’t bet on heavy ridership by then. 3 trolleys per hour and duplicating routes of other options does not make it a real transit choice. That being said, it is helping to spur economic growth down Delmar in the East Loop. Lots of cranes there and hopefully more to come.

      • HolyFrijoles11

        Ridership only matters if the riders pay – are those U-passes comped? If so, then WashU has to pick up the tab to pay to the operator. There’s literally no way this thing breaks even, let alone makes money without reciprocity.

        • Riggle

          They already paid when they paid their tuition. Ofcourse ridership matters, if people use it, it will be considered a success, if they don’t, it will be a failure, simple as that

          • HolyFrijoles11

            That’s like saying a retail business is successful because of all the people in the store. If they’re not paying, it’s not successful.

    • STLEnginerd

      I feel like its failure is inevitable and we will have wasted 40 million on one persons vanity project. My greatest fear is that that failure will give ammunition to naysayers who argue transit doesn’t work in St. Louis so don’t waste money on it.

      If as so many have said it is a tourist trolley then it is in the entirely wrong place and has also been over sold as a transit option. It got federal transit moneys after all those aren’t for “tourist attractions” as far as i know.

      Personally if they had proposed this for connecting Laclede’s Landing to the AB Brewery I would have been a huge cheerleader for it. I just don’t see the loop as a big enough tourist draw in and of itself. If I had to guess for the average out of town guest i would think it would be somewhere low end of the top ten must sees. Like #8 or 9, and I doubt the history museum, as fine as it is, would even make it into most peoples top 20.

      • HolyFrijoles11

        The argument is that it’s connecting a neighborhood to Forest Park – but it’s not. It’s duplicating existing Metrolink service, albeit with a bit more connectivity to the West Loop and bit deeper into the park. But it has 20 min headways! What resident is going to want to wait 20 min to ride public transport when uberpool is faster and probably cheaper and more comfortable than waiting in the hot or cold? This will be a boondoggle of epic proportions.

        • Michael B

          I agree with you, but it’s worth mentioning that the Metro has 20 minute headways too if you only live on one line (like the Delmar stop).

          • HolyFrijoles11

            metro has 20 min headways off peak, on peak it’s closer to 12. It’s also HEAPS faster, and connects employment centers to population centers.

        • Imran

          Except its worth remembering that the trolley is more a development catalyst than a transportation project. Its success will be measured not by the revenue from ticket sales but by the number of hereto vacant properties along the route brought back to economic life.

          • HolyFrijoles11

            That’s not the purpose of public transport though. I can think of many ways to better spend $51m, not to mention the ongoing tens of thousands in operational shortfalls each month. What development will it spur if it closes in a year? This is where someone should’ve been screaming OPPORTUNITY COST!

          • Imran

            Already it has lead to two new mixed use buildings as well as the Gotham rehab. Another mixed use rehab coming across from the Trolleybarn and new mixed use construction at Delmar/Skinker. The new businesses that will occupy these spaces will feed more funds into the trolley CID. It could be a virtuous cycle. As for transportation projects in general, even the best examples in the country aren’t profitable. They are subsidized to variable degrees.

          • HolyFrijoles11

            But was it the trolley, or more likely, the general investment in public infrastructure, coupled with larger trends of people wanting to live in more urban areas with high amenity? IMO, the trolley is a red herring, it’s the money!

    • Nat76

      Forget headways, lack of coordination with Metro, etc. Assume you are an average, able bodied Wash U student. Assume you live on the trolley line at a stop and a trolley is always parked and waiting for them. Assume also you want to go to the history museum and riding the trolley costs them zero. That is a scenario which in theory would be the perfect time to take the trolley.

      How likely would you be to take the trolley vs. drive or bike? It’s still probably a 50-50 proposition even in this completely unrealistic scenario for two reasons: 1) a trolley won’t get you there much more quickly than a bike and 2) once you get to the museum on the trolley, you’re pretty confined in terms of where you can go after the museum. What if you decide to hit up the zoo or the art museum? Most people will realize its a mile walk and change their mind. What if a friend calls you up from Dogtown, Demun, Maplewood or on campus and says, “Hey, a group of us are over here and we are throwing some burgers on the grill, come over.” Or you decide to meet up with people at Dressel’s? You’re now in the middle of a huge park, trying to navigate one of 5 bus lines (and their wait times) to get you somewhere. Or paying for uber.

      Unless you’re there intentionally to take a walk, Forest Park is probably the last place in the area I’d want to be without either a car or bike. And if you’re coming from the park going toward the Loop, 19 times in 20 you’ve already got a car/bike and you don’t want to mess with leaving it and retrieving it later.
      Running this thing down Delmar to Taylor and maybe west to SLU/Grand might (big emphasis on might) have been a justifiable route.

      • HolyFrijoles11

        Oh, you mean like connecting residential populations with employment centers/generators?

        • Nat76

          I get that you mentioned that above. Simply pointing out that things like Metro reciprocity, headways, and stop location with respect to origin/destination are completely irrelevant to the key point you mentioned. Residential area to employment center connectivity is one thing, but this doesn’t even meet an even lower standard of retail commercial area to residential area. It’s a 2.2 mile route terminating in one of the worst places for transit…a huge park. PIck up the CWE and Loop and swap them, keeping the line where it is and it still doesn’t work.

          • HolyFrijoles11

            Right – there’s just so, SO many things wrong with this. Has anyone, literally anyone in the area said they’re excited to ride it as a primary mode of transportation? Anyone? Has ANYONE seen OD couplings, trip generation figures, expected ridership – ANYTHING that would indicate this has a glimmer of hope?

  • HawkSTL

    Lots of complaints about curb cuts and parking lots for schools, businesses, and MetroLink. The curb cuts aren’t going anywhere because, unless they are replaced with comparable access, taking them away is a compensable taking. If the Trolly District destroys access, it must pay big time. The parking lots won’t be developed. The DeBalievere stop is a park and ride. Metro analysis shows it needs more of them, not less. The school needs the overflow lot across the street because it does not have enough (similar to Metro). Don’t get your hopes up.

    • Riggle

      Maybe more parknride in the suburbs, not in a relatively mixed used, dense area.

      • HawkSTL

        Point of the post (besides the curb cuts/compensation issue) was that Metro disagrees, so don’t expect the parking lot to be developed. Metro spent a lot to acquire and construct the parking lot. It isn’t going anywhere. Plus, think about the target audience of the parking lot. It is for more affluent people (i.e. those with cars) from the inner ring suburbs and city who live far enough away from the station that they don’t wish to walk. Those folks aren’t taking the bus. If you want them to use MetroLink, you need a parking lot. So, again, wishful thinking . . .

        • rgbose

          I think Bi-State is open to developing the parking lot.

          The TOD plan shows the parking lot being developed. I don’t think they’d do that if Bi-State said “no way, never.”

          And I don’t think CMT paid a guy from Boston, flew him in to present various pro formas for building on the parking lot and across the street in 2014 if Bi-State said “no way, never.”

          • HawkSTL

            CMT and Metro do not see eye to eye. There is a long history there. CMT was gifted the old railroad right of way. CMT funded itself by gouging Metro on the purchase price of that right of way to create MetroLink. In other words, CMT paid nothing and then got a huge return on a $0 investment. CMT does a lot of things – like hiring a Boston consultant — that have no sway on Metro. The history there makes sure of it.

        • Riggle

          You are insane

          • HawkSTL

            We park there to ride MetroLink even though we can walk to the station. Not close enough to make walking a no brainer. But, close enough that one can do it. Even so, we drive most of the time. Most around us do too. Love you too, buddy.

          • Riggle

            Thats insane

          • HawkSTL

            Needlessly walking a mile or more after a ballgame or concert is insane. If I want to do that, I’m going to the park.

          • Riggle

            No wonder this country is so fat

          • HawkSTL

            Right — exercising in the park or the gym vs. taking an unneeded long walk to public transit? Yes, clearly it is because we’re all fat.

        • Matt

          So true. Rational economic calculations of self interest have little to do with these things.

      • HawkSTL

        For those who live in STL County and support posts on how there should be no city park n rides and the city should promote mixed use development, allow me to give this brief reminder: you live in the suburbs. You are promoting “do as I say, not as I do.” But, you are no different than the folks in St. Charles (other than bearing different political stripes).

        • Riggle

          I don’t live in the suburbs

          • HawkSTL

            People who cheer you on do.

          • Riggle

            Sell then your house and move out there

          • HawkSTL

            No thanks. I’d ask you to do the same, but I’m not sure you actually own property.

  • JZ71

    The current plans have the streetcar not starting to run until 11:00 am! That makes it a tourist attraction, not a viable transit option (for most users), which, in turn, limits its use as a development tool . . .

  • Andrew SJC

    Thanks, good to see the photos. Something is missing however. People! There were only 5 people outside on the day you took photos?

    • rgbose

      There were a lot of people at Lindell and Deb and around the stop at Pershing. North of there, not much. Most of the photos were taken this past Sunday. I usually waited for cars to get out of the way.

  • Greg

    We prefer you don’t refer to our fire stations as “cute”. Thanks.

    • rgbose

      Wondered if anyone would take offense to that descriptor. 🙂

    • Matt

      How about ‘adorable’ or ‘precious’? I just want to pinch their door knobs they’re so adorable.

  • Adam

    The side-by-side of the Waterman-DeBaliviere intersection makes me wanna vomit. People are idiots.

  • Presbyterian

    There is so much potential along DeBaliviere. You have dense, mixed income residential neighborhoods on either side. Opening up some of those intersections would help rebuild what once was a dense urban commercial corridor.

  • MidtownBill

    I might be a bit naive because I’m young and new to all of these urban development perspectives, but what is it with these properties in the city (like the small church you showed above) being bought out by wealthy individuals in the county and being allowed to sit and remain vacant, or eventually rot, without ever being developed? Has there ever been any policy in our city to try to prevent these practices over the years? Or is this simply how it has always been?

    • TimJim

      I’m afraid this is how it’s been for a long time, mostly in the city but also in some parts of the county. People buy property and sit on it, hoping for a million-dollar payday in the future. I’ve always wondered if it would be possible to create tax disincentives for this practice, as opposed to developer tax abatement, which encourages it.

      • MidtownBill

        Thanks. I figured it was something like that because, as a SLU student, I get to walk by the pretty sad state of affairs on Laclede almost every day. Nothing but vacant bars owned by people hoping for a massive payday but with no vision for redevelopment. Which is crazy because you have a campus full of college students right next door. It’s pretty awful. Hopefully the Foundry development changes all of that.

        • Riggle

          I thought both vacant bars were going to be torn down, one replaced with a bar, the other for more housing, did that all die?

          • MidtownBill

            The old Shack (formerly Laclede’s) has been vacant for 3-4 years now. No redevelopment in sight and the owner is asking a fortune for the property. Now Humphreys sits next to campus all boarded up and the owner essentially abandoned the original plans for development that he had back in January.

            I also appreciate the other arguments against the “sitting on a property for future profit” view. For me it’s just frustrating to see the lack of restaurants/bars around campus, imagining what Laclede could/should be. Sorry if this is all off topic!

          • Riggle

            At least ya got a poppa johns…

          • Nick

            That’s sad to hear Humphrey’s plans fell through, I didn’t know that. I think in time that portion of Laclede Ave. will bounce back. Overall, that area south and west of SLU has improved vastly in the past 15 years.

        • PD

          To be fair both lacleades and Humphreys had a grand run until the library and a couple others took their business. Humphreys had been there since 76 and lacledes even longer. Lacleades tried another venue and failed. I dont think that developer can be blamed for trying to monetize his long time investment. Same with Humps, he ran out of money but the property is worth a ton of money and he has every right to make that money. It does suck as you the student wishes it were something for you(during your time) but Ill tell you, when i was a slu we closed both those places down for years. I guess i dont blame them as i think both spots are a bit different from squatters like the guy whom owns the old schnuckes at Clayton and hanley. He sat on that for 15 years and its the most prime spot ever.

      • Nick

        “People buy property and sit on it, hoping for a million-dollar payday in the future. I’ve always wondered if it would be possible to create tax disincentives for this practice, as opposed to developer tax abatement, which encourages it.”

        Not sure why it’s an issue for people to buy property hoping to make money on it in the future. What’s the other alternative? Maybe I’m misreading you, but tax abatements actively encourage putting vacant properties into development, not discourage it.

        • Adam

          “Not sure why it’s an issue for people to buy property hoping to make money on it in the future.”

          It’s fine so long as you ask for *reasonable* compensation and actually make an attempt to market it. Many don’t. I think it boils down to intention.

        • TimJim

          I think tax abatement enables developers to pay more than market rate for under-developed property, thus encouraging owners to wait for a bigger payday. (I’m not an expert and would welcome evidence to the contrary.)

          • Adam

            Have never heard that. Would be easy enough to look up. My impression is that the additional costs of historic rehab (more expensive materials, particular skill sets, etc.) makes projects unprofitable without the tax incentives.

          • Slevin

            Bingo

          • Adam

            The idea being that there is inherent value in saving historic structures–even though it requires some subsidy–rather than replacing them all with cheaper, modern structures.

          • TimJim

            That makes sense. But that is not the case with many tax abatements (e.g., Clayton).

          • Adam

            True. For some reason I was thinking specifically about rehabs.

          • Nick

            If I’m the owner of a property, whatever premium I’d receive due to the existence of abatements would be just as high today as it would tomorrow. There’s no reason for me to “hang on” to the property. In fact, the prospect of abatements going away (and given the current local political climate is not an impossibility) would be all the more reason for me to want to sell to a developer now.

    • Nick

      Development usually occurs if there’s an economically viable use for a particular property. If a building sits vacant it’s most likely because there’s no way to make money off of it. There might be some speculation going on where an owner is waiting for a “payday”, but it’s probably very rare as it’s expensive to sit on vacant properties (still have to pay taxes and maintenance in most cases, plus the longer a building sits the more expensive it becomes to rehab). Everyone likes to vilify the owner of a property, but the problem is usually a lack of demand, not the supplier.

      • Roger Mexico

        Not sure about commercial, but I know of plenty of instances of speculators on residential property in areas/markets that have plenty of demand. Vacant properties drag down the values of adjacent properties, so I have no problem with vigilant citations for exterior violations and even vacant building surcharges. Unfortunately the city spends most of its efforts on inspections just inspecting and reinspecting and reinspecting occupied apartment units as they turn over, and such inspections are usually just expensive smoke detector checks.

        • Nick

          This argument that developers, on a mass scale, buy properties and let them rot just hoping for a future windfall just makes no sense. If I own a vacant property in a “high demand” neighborhood, and I don’t want to sell today because I think the sale price will continue to climb, why wouldn’t I just hang on to the property, develop it now myself, and earn rental income on that property (which is what usually happens) instead of letting it wallow as an expensive asset earning me no money?

          • rgbose

            I’d like to ask the owners of the boarded-up former fast-food building at Delmar and Skinker that qusetion.

          • Nick

            Well, you can’t use the current building for anything, really, because it’s such a POS. Rehabbing the current building and renting it out is probably not an option.

          • rgbose

            POS indeed. Coming up on 4 years vacant. They are trying to lease it. I guess they expect the lessee to make whatever improvements they’d need. I’m not surprised no one has been interested in a 45-year-old fast food building.

          • Tim E

            Rg posted a great link. On one hand, maybe Pace will have success with Northgate at Delmar & Skinker after getting a city agency to use eminent domain on Circle K corporation to force the owner to pay what the developer wants instead of what the owner thinks it worth that it will want to tackle the POS next.

            Think Northgate proposal is the right project at the right time at the right location. Just can’t reconcile my belief in private property rights with the fact that someone else, who is politically connected, somehow can use a public entity to decide what my property is worth for the benefit of another private entity or individual. Yeah it sucks if someone else sits on property but it is in principle the reason that my house is my castle.

          • Alane

            Good question. I own a townhouse in Forest Park Southeast. It’s on one end of a 3-home building. The other end unit is vacant and falling apart, roof is blowing all over the neighborhood, etc etc. It has been sold at least three times in the last five years, and is starting to affect the occupied middle unit. Wonder why they are not developing? Merely sitting on it. And you cannot get hold of these folks to sort things out, it’s some obscure LLC with the address as the vacant building. Very frustrating and hurting my property value.

          • Nick

            That’s unfortunate, and I don’t know the specifics of your current property, but your neighbors’ property could be in such bad shape that it’s not profitable to rehab and re-rent or sell. That’s why most vacant properties are vacant. Or the owner is a poor business-person.

          • Adam

            In such situations, though, where a long-time derelict property is negatively effecting adjacent property values and/or the city should have the authority to force as-is sale or, in extreme cases, confiscate the property (even if taxes are up-to-date). If an absentee owner wants to sit on a property while also maintaining it, then great.

          • Nick

            I think that would be extremely impractical. First, to force someone to sell to a developer, even at a profit, would be a practice ripe for corruption (hey mayor, I don’t want to pay this guy $1 million for his property, will you make him sell it to me for $500,000?). Second, what Politboro would determine the “legitimate sale price” such that it’s time to get the city involved? Third, if we want the city to start confiscating properties and selling them for a profit, way more harm than good would come from a policy like that.

          • rgbose

            I think there’s a process for labeling a property a nuisance and the city taking it. I think it works from a public safety angle. Maybe someone else knows more about that and can comment.

          • Adam

            I think the city can take after X years of unpaid taxes, but I don’t know of any other avenues.

          • Adam

            “First, to force someone to sell to a developer, even at a profit, would be a practice ripe for corruption…”

            Well, weighing the potential for corruption against the current state of things (tens of thousands of vacant properties) I don’t see it as impractical.

            “Second, what Politboro would determine the ‘legitimate sale price’ such that it’s time to get the city involved?”

            As with any other building, legitimate sale price would be determined through an appraisal, taking into account the condition of the property and surrounding property values. When the city gets involved could be determined by the condition of the property, risk to public safety, number of citations, amount of unpaid taxes, etc. etc. etc.

            “Third, if we want the city to start confiscating properties and selling
            them for a profit, way more harm than good would come from a policy like
            that.”

            Never said the city would sell for profit (would it really even be “profit” if the money were put toward, say, city services?), but “more harm that good” is total speculation on your part. I don’t see how the city confiscating long-neglected properties or forcing owners of long-neglected properties to sell (or, perhaps, “encouraging” them to sell by penalizing neglected-property owners with higher property taxes) could result in a worse situation than we already have.

          • Nick

            If a building becomes so decrepit that it’s condemned, and the owner doesn’t have the resources to fix it up, or doesn’t feel it’s worth the money, eventually that property likely ends up in the city’s land bank anyway. I’m talking about situations where you have a viable property kept up to code but is considered an eye sore to the neighborhood (like the old Church’s Chicken at Skinker and Delmar, for example). For one of a million possible reasons the owner hasn’t done anything with it yet, but it’s likely sometime in the next few years the property will be redeveloped. I’m saying in situations like that, if the city were to confiscate those types of properties, it would be a disaster. One, unless there’s a crime involved, it would be illegal. Two, that’s the kind of policy that happens in third world countries that cause massive disinvestment, making a bad situation worse.

          • rgbose

            Aren’t you describing eminent domain?

          • Nick

            As I know it, eminent domain more applies to buying out mass amounts of properties for, say, highway expansions, new NSA sites, or some other large public works project. A little different than the conversation above.

            Based on a brief Google search, I found some examples of other Rust Belt cities seizing condemned properties from owners mostly on public safety grounds. I haven’t found any examples where a “sound” property was seized just because it was vacant.

          • rgbose

            It’s being used here for NGA, an example like those you mentioned.

            But it’s used in smaller cases too. To get a property for which the owner couldn’t be found. https://nextstl.com/2017/02/blight-tax-abatement-eminent-domain-tax-credits-vision-create-nathaniel-rivers-place-project/

            And possibly to bump out the lease holder at the Shell Station at Delmar and SKinker. http://www.stltoday.com/business/columns/building-blocks/pace-gets-leverage-as-negotiations-for-loop-gas-station-drag/article_9087167c-3cff-56c1-87c3-a283f24a9ff1.html

            IIRC there was a property on Lindbergh that got seized for a McKee project.

            There was a Supreme Court case about this ~12 years ago https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelo_v._City_of_New_London

          • Riggle

            You are misinformed

          • Nick

            As long as Riggle disagrees with me I know I’m on the right track

          • Riggle

            Its not that I disagree, its that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of how eminent domain works, see RG Bose reponse below

          • Nick

            You have a fundamental misunderstanding of my point. RG Bose’s examples apply to private developers using eminent domain for the purpose of furthering their own development projects. My comment about eminent domain was tangential to a separate argument above where someone suggested the city should seize non-condemned vacant properties for the sole reason that it is vacant, not because there’s a new development plan in place.

          • Riggle

            And showed that you don’t understand it

          • HawkSTL

            I read these posts (on this and other articles). None of you really understand MO condemnation law.

          • Adam

            “Above, I’m talking about scenarios where you have a viable property kept
            up to code but is considered an eye sore to the neighborhood (like the
            old Church’s Chicken at Skinker and Delmar, for example).”

            Right, and I said in my first post (above) that as long as the owner maintains the building then great. I’m not talking about seizing/forcing sale of maintained, empty buildings. I’m talking about buildings with absentee owners that allow their properties to decay over many years to the point that they become public safety threats or significantly effect surrounding property values. The idea is to prevent the buildings from reaching such a condition that they become so undesirable, and ideally to prevent them from ever becoming city property. Sorry, but I just don’t buy that there’s no way to implement such a program practically, or that it would inevitably become a 3rd-world level human rights catastrophe. As usual, we’ll just disagree.

          • Roger Mexico

            A more rational course of action would be to rehab and rent temporarily while waiting for further appreciation. However many people (like my next door neighbor on a street with 400k comps) are not entirely rational.
            As to why a person wouldn’t temporarily use as a rental property, one barrier would be the significant capital often required to pass an occupancy inspection. Also your design choices will be very different if rehabbing for rent vs rehabbing for sale. You don’t want to put in a 50k kitchen in a rental, but might do that to get top sale price for an immediate sale. Also many owners (i.e those that inherited a property) may have no experience as a landlord and may find it daunting. So the property sits until the window panes fall out.

          • Nick

            Agree 100%. I’m more arguing against the notion that there exists a cadre of developers who maliciously go around blockbusting neighborhoods on a mass scale. I may have misunderstood your original point.

  • Riggle

    Can’t use my bus pass on the trolley, I’m not paying again, and I would assume the same is true for the thousands of Washu students armed with U-passes; the greatest potential ridership group, SAD!

    • PD

      Come on man, for the love of all thing please stop saying SAD at the end of full sentences. Its already bad enough when 45 uses it. Please…

      • Riggle

        Its a joke, turn that down under frown upside down, please…