Monday, March 28, 2011

"The Top 100"

The recent "Open/Closed" conference has lots of people talking about the future of St. Louis and the challenges presented by vacancy and abandonment. In St. Louis, a lot of the vacant land and building inventory is held by the city's Land Reutilization Authority (LRA).

LRA acquires these properties at the end of a long process which ultimately leads to a tax foreclosure sale held on the courthouse steps. By the time LRA gets them, the private market has fully rejected any interest in the properties. As you might expect, most of these suffer from serious deferred maintenance.

Out of the 10,000 or so total properties held in the LRA inventory, fewer than 15 percent of them still have buildings. These 1,000 or so buildings are in varying degrees of condition - generally ranging from bad to worse. Still, some are in better shape than others. And while it's true that many of the buildings in the LRA inventory need to be demolished, the best of them are definitely rehab-able. Call them: "The Top 100".

Would it be possible to start a campaign around these "Top 100" LRA properties? A campaign built on sustainable development, job training, and neighborhood revitalization? Put a value on "The Top 100" LRA buildings of say $10,000 apiece, and if the city were to donate these buildings to the initiative, that puts the city's contribution to the program at $1,000,000 (100 X $10,000).

Identify a foundation purposed with sustainability, community and economic development, and job training, and approach them with a proposal to match the city's contribution to the initiative. Then open up the program to individuals and organizations seeking partnerships and collaboration. YouthBuild and Ranken Tech come to mind as groups looking to train people in the construction trades.

Out of the initiative, a new narrative involving vacancy is possible, one of creative partnerships, community reinvestment, wealth building, and job creation. Is this the sort of possibility that might follow on the path of Open/Closed?

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