Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Opposite

Yesterday we featured an aerial image of a part of north city where most of the original building stock is intact. Today we will examine the opposite situation. Many of the neighborhoods on the north side are well preserved. However, there is no question that parts have seen significant building loss.

The aerial above provides a good example. In this area there are multiple blocks entirely devoid of any buildings, and some with only a few remaining. Of those still standing, frequently they are vacant and substantially deteriorated. In these areas, other than the original street grid, the rest of the historic neighborhood context is lost.

What is unseen is the reality on the ground. Or better put, under the ground. People refer to greenfield and brownfield developments. These areas meet the definition of brownfield.

As described in the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association Roadmap report on Brownfield redevelopment, in the broadest sense, a brownfield is defined as "real estate that has been rendered either underutilized or completely unusable due to the existence - or mere threat - of environmental contamination".

For years, when demolished, abandoned buildings were collapsed into their basements and covered with a thin layer of soil. To redevelop these sites requires thousands of dollars in site excavation and possible environmental remediation. The high cost to return these parcels into buildable sites often results in net negative land value.

However, despite the real costs of redevelopment, landowners aren't likely to pay developers to purchase their lands. As a result, this unworkable economic reality has removed the bottom from the real estate market, leaving, as we have seen, brownfield sites in the heart of our city vacant for years.

Not unlike the historic tax credit for rehabilitating historic buildings, a tax credit program for land assembly, designed to offset some of the upfront costs of returning abandoned properties to productive reuse, has the potential to be one part of an overall community redevelopment program.


Urban Review said...

The trick is to avoid the horrible X-plan project shown in the upper right of the aerial where Pyramid assembled a block and a half, closing off Sullivan St. The entire project turns its back to the surrounding area --- this does not help rebuild the neighborhood.

Giving tax breaks to rebuild areas without any sort of master plan or design codes is a waste of money. We need to figure out what we want first and fund it later.

Rick Bonasch said...

Local government makes the final decisions on neighborhood development projects. The land assembly tax credit proposal is a program being developed at the state level to assist distressed local communities.

When the state of Missouri establishes programs that benefit the revitalization of the city of St. Louis, let's work together to make the most of this partnership effort to rebuild our great city.

GMichaud said...

The point about working together is most salient. That is exactly the problem. The land assembly law you mention, supposedly helping North St. Louis, is being crafted entirely without public input. The 75 acres is clearly designed for Blairmount. As you point out a smaller size would be more flexible. In fact if you look at other tax credit programs, we see they can be successful working in as small of increments as one city parcel only.
So why the 75 acres?, it is an exclusive law, written to benefit one or very few individuals.
Rather than be a cheerleader for working together, it seems to me that it is more appropriate to point out what amounts to criminal acts by legislators and their corporate pals. I hate to use the word criminal, but that is what this law is, pure and simple.
It is yet another giveaway to a few rich individuals at the expense of truly working together.
What you're suggesting Rick, is to ignore these grievous abuses of political power, which is how we have ended up in this situation.
The process does not include communities, their people, their concerns nor does it resemble basic democracy. This is not the country our forefathers intended. America was not meant to be run as a get rich scheme to benefit a few individuals.
Capitalism, talk about capitalism, 75 acres excludes capitalist competition. The idea that The city needs a multmillion dollar developer to succeed is foolish. The role of the government should be to establish a city plan, a framework if you will, that developers follow to create a consistent whole. Then small scale tax credits will benefit the broader community. Money will flow into many hands and recycled within the community instead of being the channeled to a few big political donors who have bought their influence.
Yes let's work together to rebuild our great city, but include the participation total community.

Anonymous said...

If this tax credit is established, development decisions will still be made locally.

In distressed areas, the job of development carries lots of risk. City developers must manage the risk while stretching resources to maximize investment.

A land assembly tax credit does not gurantee profit, it provides incentive.

The idea of a land assebly tax credit has been a long time coming and is only one step in the effort to rebuild deteriorated areas.

The need is there. Our challenge is to establish a workable framework for the program without diluting the incentive to the point of being futile.

Rick Bonasch

Anonymous said...

The starting point to working together is a meaningful process of public input and debate over development priorities and spelling out plans in a clear manner. In my view, the debate for this credit lost this critical moral edge because it has uncritically allowed one developer to lead the agenda for redevelopment of a poorly defined area. Calls to support this credit also cynically support a political process that has allowed McKee to manipulate the annual tax credit legislation, giving the impression to more conservative folks that state revenue is open to the highest buyer. Finally, in the eager cries of developers to access the credit, they have said nothing about the failures of current development efforts that this credit is supposed solve. Contrast the bleating of support for the land assemblage credit with the careful work of Landmarks and others in the lead up to passage of the historic tax credit.

The point is, when you run with teh pigs, you often get muddy.

Anonymous said...

Who are you calling a pig?

Michael R. Allen said...


With all due respect, I think that your arguments gloss over the actual proposal your reference. The Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit was created for the benefit of oen developer for one super-sized project. There was no community input from north St. Louis or even the St. Louis region, aside from the usual collusion of establisment figures looking to cement their easy-answer north side policy (the Team Four Plan, silently in place for over thirty years). The current proposal lacks the sort of public and political support that is needed not only to get stakeholder buy-in on the north side but also widespread recognition that development on the north side is a public good. The current proposal and the scheme that it advances have engendered suspicion and opposition on the northside as well as outside of the city where the tax credits are viewed as favoritism. The real loser is north St. Louis, which even in its resurrection retains a tainted public image.

You state that development decisions will still be made locally if the credit goes into place. Given that the process of creating the credit did not exactly include an open LOCAL political process, what faith should a north side resident like myself have that the LOCAL development decision will be made openly and fairly? NONE.

While I'm sure the backers of the proposal will pull of some publicity stunt of showing local support (perhaps some "neighborhood leaders" will even come to the trough), the people whose lives it impacts the most will not be among those who support it.

That's a huge failure, because the people who live in the area of north St. Louis are pretty much a captive audience for discussion of development. But they ain't stupid!

Anonymous said...

The introduction and discussion of this legislation creates the Sword of Damocles over the area. Does anyone believe that creating a precarious situation for organic growth and a sense of foreboding is good for the area? Well it's good for large developers as it will reduce competition for select properties. If your daily bread is from these guys then you may think positively. For numerous others, it's a deal killer.

Rick Bonasch said...

As stated previously, I am in favor of establishing a program which permits smaller sized projects. How small? Let's think about it.

Reducing the minimum project size still allows us to assemble land, achieve projects of scale, build our various networks, and move forward as a community.

The need for a land assembly tax credit program (or something like it) has been known for a long time. In itself, it's not an innovative idea. It's an old idea. Innovation enters when we work together within our current and expanding networks and establish a powerful resource for our community.

That's the model that worked for establishing our state's historic tax credit program. Missouri didn't invent historic tax credits. We adapted the concept to our local situation.

Can we be similarly innovative in the creation of a land assembly tax credit program?

Michael R. Allen said...


I appreciate your desire to find a workable solution, although if the current proposal passes we won't have any chance to examine what the ideal size would be.

Take as a starting point the remaining vacant Pruitt-Igoe land -- 33 acres. That's huge, and covers enough land that its development alone would generate positive interest in the surrounding area. How about a program limit of 35 acres with a minimum of 15? Those parameters would guarantee diversity in both the type and style of projects.

Some might say that no one is interested in the near north side for large development projects. However, we have a situation where the discussion of creating the incentive tax credit was not even happening until this February. When the tax credit was announced, its backers already had a recipient in mind. That's the wrong way to start. There's no doubt that without McKee's lock on the land and perhaps on the tax credit other developers would be eager to intervene on the near north side. there is momentum and interest, and many unique opportunities.

How do we get there from here? Is there even a chance?