Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Odds Against the Avalon

It's been maybe ten years since the Avalon Theater on South Kingshighway showed its last movie. Since that time, the building has gone through a slow decline until its demolition which started yesterday. In the meantime, the building and its ownership have played out a long struggle in the court system, the building division, the newspaper, and in plain sight, with many negative impacts visited upon its South St. Louis neighbors.

The building's ultimate demise points to one challenge we face with our decentralized system of community planning and development in St. Louis - that by maintaining local control over the planning and development process, the public loses leverage it would otherwise have through a more centralized system. The challenge gets at a classic St. Louis question: which is better - local control over development decisions or city-wide, centralized planning and redevelopment?

It may seem odd that by maintaining local control over development, all the way down to the neighborhood and ward level, that the public loses leverage, but that is exactly what happened in the case of the Avalon. Communities in the St. Louis region are set up with very divided leadership. Within this framework, it is difficult to maintain sustainable redevelopment strategies. The loss of the Avalon is an outcome of this fragmented system.

Left to rely on the resources of a single neighborhood or ward, the tools available to save one blighted building from loss are few. Outside of Southampton and perhaps the South Kingshighway Business Association, the dilapidated building did not represent much of a concern. And after about a decade of decay, local residents and businesses are mostly happy to see the building come down, regardless of whatever potential it might have once had.

In most cases, STL Rising supports the long-standing St. Louis tradition of local control over planning and development. Neighborhood residents are the people with the greatest stake in the future of their communities so they should have a powerful voice in the process. However, in cases like the Avalon, we see the downside of what happens when neighborhoods are left with little leverage to influence outcomes of problem situations.

Looking to the future, we should consider alternatives that increase opportunities for sustainable redevelopment initiatives while protecting the role of local residents and community organizations in the process.


StLRealEstateGuy said...

Thanks for sharing. The cleared mid-block site at a little over a 1/2 acre isn't a significant development opportunity - even in a healthy economy. Well, at least we've solved the area's surface parking problem.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe the scope of the problem is fully encapsulated by your argument. The owner was holding this building ransom for years, asking nearly a million dollars. Clearly, that is when the building was most threatened: when the asking price was so prohibitively high that vacancy and decay were guaranteed.

Yet just a few short months ago, the price was lowered to $250,000. By all accounts, several interested parties visited the property. If this were LRA-owned, it would have been actively marketed to such parties. Someone in this process--the alderman?--hurried this demolition along unnecessarily. Your post doesn't acknowledge that this was a strange situation--a landmark with parties actively interested that was suddenly demolished with no truly immediate threat to the public...

Seems like someone should dig deeper to me.

Rick Bonasch said...

As a vacant lot, there's greater potential now for land assemblage and further demolitions on this block.

Rick Bonasch said...

To anonymous at 6:55 am...

For the seller to drop the price from $900,000 to $250,000 indicates that they were highly motivated.

The building has been demolition bait for years. When it was priced at $900,000 the owner must have been convinced the building had some value.

With increased pressure from the city, they dropped the price to $250,000. The cost of demolition is probably closer to $50,000-$75,000 than the $20,000+/- on the permit.

Regardless, the net result of the lowered sale price, less the cost of the demolition, the owners will realize far fewer sales proceeds than they would have through a negotiated sale two or three years ago.

The building has been vacant and abandoned for years. Any serious buyer had eons to negotiate with the property owner. Granted, title was screwed up. But those sorts of difficulties can be worked out given motivated parties acting in good faith.

Instead, the building sat idle and decaying with no catalytic lubricant to move it forward it to a more favorable outcome than demolition.

Had it been targeted for reuse years ago under a proactive redevelopment plan with resources behind it, all of this could have been avoided.

Instead we all lived through ten years of a slow death to a one-time neighborhood landmark.

StLRealEstateGuy said...

It appears that at an unrealistic asking price of $900k the owner was holding the alderman/building/neighborhood hostage. I think it was more of an empty promise that he was trying to do "something". IMHO, even the $250k asking price was overly optimistic given the overall condition of the building and its "baggage". This is another example of agents taking an over-priced listing. Why?

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone hurry along demolition of the building if there were viable plans for a sale and rehab?

Unknown said...

Neighborhood control often simply
means a bunch of busybodies telling
people what to do with their own
property--or, more ominous, someone
wanting somethimg in return--a job,
that most of st louis was built by
private developers who built what
they wanted to without anyone second=guessing them.