Wednesday, September 27, 2006

$540,000,000 More or Less...

As part of the original plan for the new Busch Stadium, the St. Louis Cardinals promised to build a $60,000,000, privately financed, "Ballpark Village" next to the new stadium.

The Cardinals have gone back to the drawing board, and come back to the City with a much larger vision for Ballpark Village. The plan they are proposing calls for a ten-fold increase in the size of the project to $600,000,000.

Using big city development cost estimates of $250 per square foot, at $60MM dollars, the project is 240,000 square feet. At $600MM the project is 2,400,000 square feet. Under the expanded project plan, the developer is proposing a project that would alter the skyline of St. Louis, including new towers rivaling the height of the Arch.

The larger project would be financed through a public-private partnership including TIF (Tax Increment Financing). An allocation of the new tax revenues generated by the project would be used to pay for the cost of the project.

So, if you had a choice, which would you rather see? A much smaller scale, fully privately financed project? Or a much larger project, financed through a public private partnership?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

STL Rising: Window Restoration

One of the best things about old city houses are all the windows and natural light they let in.

On the other hand, most city homes come with old, wooden windows that vinyl window sales forces would love to see replaced.

Radio ads talk about the savings you will see from replacing your "drafty old wooden windows" with new "low-e", "dual pane", "tilt-in" vinyl windows.

However, lots of older homes don't look very good with shiny new white vinyl windows. On the other hand, it's fair to say that new vinyl windows can be an improvement in a home where there are no windows at all!

Some neighborhoods require certain types of windows, and there are rehab incentive programs that mandate specific historic replacement windows to qualify for certain program incentives.

The real question I'd like to pose, though, is what about those old, original wood windows? You know the kind, the divided glass ones, often covered with ugly aluminum clad storm windowns?

I was speaking with a friend of mine who restores old windows. She likes them best when the storms are removed. And she maintains that an old window, properly painted and sealed, is not much different than a new double-paned window when it comes to energy efficiency. Maybe yes, maybe no.

Then there are the vinyl window advertisers. They talk about energy savings of up to 30% with new vinyl windows.

Our annual energy bill runs around $3,500. 30% of that is about $1,000, give or take.

Our house has 16 windows. (Our last house had even had 20). There is a wide range in price for new installed windows. Let's take a middle of the road price of $500 per window. Complete window replacement in our last house would have cost about $10,000.

In our new home, it would cost about $8,000. However, to use the appropriate historic windows our house deserves, the cost would be closer to $12,000.

Based on these costs, it would take about 8 to 12 years to break even on the cost of energy savings from new window replacement. Most people don't even live in the same house that long.

Recently, a very savvy real estate agent and I were discussing the subject of original versus new windows. His advice? Buyers don't pay much attention to the presence of original wood windows in a house. If anything, they prefer the charm the old windows offer.

He suggests doing kitchen and bath upgrades instead.

Email me if you'd like a referral to the original wood window restoration specialist I referred to at the start of this post.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Is This Heaven?

No, it's Parkway South

This fall, Matt is trying out for a baseball team which plays a more competitive level of ball. The team plays opponents throughout the St. Louis area on great amateur fields. This past weekend, the team ventured west of 270 to play a game at Parkway West High School.

The groundskeeper said most of the upgrades to the facility came through private donations to the public school. For baseball purists, a visit to this wonderfully developed facility will feed your soul.

Friday, September 15, 2006

"Children of Garbage Collectors" Send Message

Our son Matt is in 8th grade, which means now is crunch time when it comes to making a high school decision. And we're no nearer to finalizing the process than we were this time last year.

There are tons of issues to consider. Having listened to others and now living through the experience, we are learning first hand about the whole "where did you go to high school" tradition. It's definitely not the only option, but we are considering a parochial high school.

With thirty to choose from, the St. Louis area, just a middle-sized region, has the greatest number of Catholic high schools in the country. Tuition ranges from about $5,400 to over $14,000 per year.

In St. Louis, there's a lot of high school pride, tradition, and some social stair climbing, when it comes to where you attended high school, where your parents attended, etc.

Yesterday I heard a funny comment about how the students from one of the more affordable high schools in St. Louis trounced the kids at one of the most elite, expensive high schools in athletic competition. Parents from the expensive school were stunned at how the "children of garbage collectors" kicked the butts of their ivy-league bound youngsters.

I wish I could have seen it. I wish Matt could have seen it. Underdogs in St. Louis have a fighting chance. And where they attend high school doesn't have a thing to do with it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fourth Quarter Comeback

St. Louis is gaining a national reputation for being a comeback city.

As we enter the fourth quarter of 2006, we all have the opportunity to support the city's resurgence by visiting downtown during this upcoming holiday season.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are from this time of year. Holiday gatherings. Football parties. And downtown shopping trips.

One of my favorites is of the five-story tall Christmas tree they put up each year in the old City of Paris department store in downtown San Francisco. Downtown St. Louis has a similar high-rise Christmas tree in the lobby of the Metropolitan Square building.

This year, let's all be part of the revitalization of St. Louis by renewing the tradition of visiting downtown during the holidays. There are plenty of reasons to do so.

Downtown has more and more stores opening, more restaurants and hotels to visit, and more people on the streets. And we can look forward to the excitement building every year as more downtown projects are completed.

Why not be part of the comeback of downtown St. Louis? Between now and the end of the year, make plans for a visit downtown for some shopping, strolling, romantic dining and even an overnight stay! Maybe even some fireworks on New Years Eve?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

STL Rising-Local Clothing Designer and Manufacturer

A friend of mine emailed a note about his sister-in-law, an immigrant from the other side of the world, who has settled with her husband in South City where she makes and sells her own clothing design originals. She markets her products through her website at

Okay, so people don't usually ask me for fashion advice - just ask my thirteen year old - but her designs look good. Now if there was just the right up-and-coming, garment district venue where some serious clothing experts could see her work...

STL Rising: Great Deals on Tacky Art!

So I'm taking it easy watching television, clicking up and down the dial from the new ESPN Monday Night Football double header format to VH1's documentary about the loss of innocence in the 60s psychedlic days. I surf by Bill O'Reilly interviewing Pat Buchannan about strategy in the Middle East and Iraq and stop to listen for a minute.

Buchannan is dressed in a suit, sitting behind a big desk in what supposedly is his office. He's discussing his views about what he believes to be our misguided efforts in the war in Iraq when I notice over his shoulder, on the back wall of his office, a framed piece of art work that looks very familiar...

Now I'm not paying any more attention to the interview, but rather am leaning closer to get a better look at the art work on Buchannan's wall. It looks exactly like a piece we have in our bedroom, frame and all. I walk upstairs and, sure enough, they are identical.

The setting is a scene from what looks to be England during the 1600-1800s, displayed in a rope patterned, gold leaf frame. It's a product marketed widely through Bombay mall stores.

The only thing is, we didn't get ours at a Bombay. In fact, we didn't get it at a store at all! We paid ten bucks for it at a STL yard sale!! Buchannan always struck me as a fiscal conservative. Maybe he sends his people to buy cheap art at STL yard sales too?

Monday, September 11, 2006

STL Rising-What Would You Preserve??

In a region bestowed with so much rich architectural heritage, there is a constant debate over preservation.

While STL Rising is all about the growth and renaissance of St. Louis, we won't be successful in our renaissance if we lose our unique STL identity.

However, sometimes there are tradeoffs which take us forward. The demolition of old Busch into Busch III and Ballpark Village is a good example.

Without Busch III, many believe that downtown STL would have lost the Cardinals. Instead, we are now on the threshold of seeing $1,000,000,000 in new development downtown on the site of old Busch and a massive surface parking lot.

On the other hand, many of us were very saddened to see the demolition of the old Arena. Some advocated for a plan at the site of the "Old Barn" that would have combined new construction with preservation of the landmark sports arena.

This weekend, we enjoyed some local ethnic flavor at the annual Polish Festival in North St. Louis. Just across the back fence from the Polish Falcons picnic area is a severly deteriorated building. Based on many years' returns to the Polish Festival, the forlorn building has stood there mostly unattended to, year after year.

At this year's event, I overheard one of the seasoned patrons of the Festival talking about moving the event to some different location. For me, when it comes to preservation, I care less about the future of the nearly collapsing building behind the Polish Falcon's back fence, than I do about seeing the annual festival remain at its St. Louis Avenue location for generations to come.

In St. Louis, we are an interesting mosaic of differing ideas and perceptions. There may be no other topic that generates so many varied perspectives than the preservation and redevelopment of older sites. What's your take?

Ballpark Village - Tale of The Tape

In baseball, a "tale of the tape" is a popular expression to measure the distance of a monster home run. Soon, the expression could take on added meaning when describing another potential home run in downtown St. Louis: Ballpark Village.

Negotiations are underway to expand the scope of Ballpark Village to a $650,000,000 project. Investing $650,000,000 into eight downtown acres means achieving serious urban densities, and will be another big step in the transformation of our downtown.

If we estimate development costs to run $200 per square foot, Ballpark Village grows to approximately 3.25 million square feet. On 8 acres, that's about 400,000 square feet of new construction per acre.

Combined with new Busch, the total investment on the site of old Busch and its adjacent surface parking lot comes to over $1 billion dollars!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Downtown Runway Rising

Early this Friday morning, workers in front of the downtown Macy's have closed off the 600 block of Olive, and are erecting a stage for some sort of high profile, celebration.

For the past two weeks, construction crews have been working to install sharp new Macy's awnings on the Railway Exchange, replace all the glass and upgrade the interiors of the sidewalk window displays, and remodel the 1st floor space of store interior.

Yesterday, red Macy's stars were painted in the street, and workers were rehearsing for an Olive Street block party.

Just in time for fall, check out downtown for some new retail excitement.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Blog Hangover?

I have followed the work of Toby Weiss in her B.E.L.T blog, seen some of her beautiful photography, and heard her on KDHX discussing the importance of preserving our mid-twentieth century St. Louis architecture. Then last nite, I had the strangest dream.

I am visiting an open house somewhere in St. Louis. The owners are an elderly couple, beyond retirement age. On the outside, it's a simple, fifties vintage, curving building, following the "art moderne" style, except there's no ceramic tile; just stucco walls, simple windows, and a flat roof.

On the inside, the rooms have curvilinear outer walls, with some of the living areas further divided by four-foot tall curving half walls. Even the ceilings having curving lines, especially where they meet the hallways.

However, the most interesting of the 50s vintage, art moderne "features", were the molded plastic, ceiling-mounted, ornamental air conditioning units in the hallways. The units were burgundy in color, featuring a thin-line gold star motif, cold air vents formed in the plastic, and a rounded shape that molded into the ceilings and complemented the rest of the interior design scheme.

Maybe it was something I ate for dinner?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Unsecured I-55 Load Rising

So I am driving along northbound I-55 minding my own business, wondering how much of the original interior of the historic Lemp Brewery is still intact, when I notice a pick up truck in the right hand lane with a heavily loaded bed. It appeared the driver was headed somewhere with a full load of alley castoff items.

Holding down the load was one of those farm-issue galvanized cattle watering basins (about 10 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep) adaptively converted into backyard swimming pools by generations of St. Louisans. The only problem was there was nothing holding down the galvanized pool. In the next moment, a high speed current of wind worked its way under the metal tub, sending the metal pond airborne in the middle of highway traffic.

At fifty-something miles per hour, the tub completed one and a half somersaults through the air, landed on the pavement and skidded to a stop in the middle of a traffic lane. The stunned pickup driver immediately pulled over, presumably in an effort to recover his high flying swimming pool before it cost someone life or limb.

Combined with the number of people driving while on a cell phone, I can't count the number of times I've seen unsecured items blow out of the bed of trucks. After quickly recounting the moments of my (hoped for) half-lived life, I made a note to myself: better stick to the much safer city neighborhood streets!

STL Rising-Total Access

For the past two months we procrastinated about buying tickets to last nite's Steely Dan/Michael McDonald concert at UMB Bank Pavillion. Just a couple of weeks ago, friends from California emailed us about buying tickets. They missed the show there, and were thinking about flying here to see it. St. Louis would be the last stop on the tour.

As of yesterday morning, we had no tickets and the show date had arrived. It's the last minute, and we decide to take the plunge. We drove out to UMB (about 25 minutes from South City), walked up to the box office (no line), and bought three lawn tickets.

We planned on returning to UMB early to get a good place in line for our lawn seats. We arrived at 4:20 PM, and were first in line (nobody camped out). When the gates opened, we made our way to the lawn, and got the perfect front row, center lawn seats.

Across the "depressed section", dividing the lawn from the seating section (about 40 feet away from us), people were paying upwards of $200 per ticket on the secondary market. Our California friends saw tickets for the front few rows selling for $500 online.

But right here in St. Louis, it's still possible to wait until the "day of", buy your tickets at the box office, invest a little time waiting in line, and enjoy an excellent concert with minimal to no hassle.

Accessibility: it's one of the perks to living in the STL.

Friday, September 01, 2006

STL Rising-STL Music

STL is a music town. It's a blues town. Our music scene is not as organized as say Nashville or Austin. But it's here, and it's getting more notice.

Playing the blues sounds great with slide guitar. And slide guitar is easier than it sounds. Almost anyone can do it.

Here's an easy way to start:

Open tuning is the key to easy slide playing.

For a fun and simple slide tuning, try tuning your guitar as follows:

E (standard first string guitar tuning)
C (1/2 step above standard "B" second string)
G (standard third string tuning)
C (1 step below standard "D" fourth string)
G (1 step below standard "A" fifth string)
C (2 steps below standard "E" sixth string)

With your guitar thus tuned, you are playiing an open "C" chord.

When playing with a slide, all your notes will be following an open chord format, so easier harmonies are produced.

Accompany a rhythm musician playing the blues in "C", and in no time you will sound like an old school STL blues side player.

The other secret to playing slide guitar most people don't tell you is this: when playing with the slide or bottle or whatever you're using to "barre" the strings, hold a finger down lightly on the strings behind the slide (toward the tuning head of the guitar).

See the picture above. The guitarist is doing it differently. If her index finger were held down on the strings, "behind" the slide, she would be able to better control the slide effects. To her credit, she's probably lifting and pressing her index finger to gain even more tone variation.