Thursday, January 31, 2008

Middle Third Rising

Every year St. Louis is supposed to receive 19 inches of snow. It's been years since we've received our full share, and, to the dismay of school-aged kids all over St. Louis, an even bigger disappointment over the drought of snow days.

So far this season we've had one good snow, back in mid-December, ranging between 4 and 7 inches of heavy snow. Today and tomorrow, we're supposed to get another 6-10 inches. This snow will put us over 10 inches for the year, and most likely give kids across town day of sledding and no school.

With another two months or so of cold weather left this winter, maybe this year we'll see our full share of winter's white blanket?

Wanna see something cool? Check out how a covering of fresh snow makes the most forlorned, abandoned building look a little more loved.

Bad Mood Rising?

Michael Allen is reporting at Ecology of Absence that the city has denied an application for a demolition permit for the building located at 5286-98 Page. The building sits on the southeast corner of Page and Union, and is an important building contributing to one of our city's National Register Historic Districts.

The property is owned by the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church. They are proposing to tear it down and replace it with a surface parking lot. Someday they may build on the lot.

City staff recommended denial of the demolition permit and the Preservation Board voted to uphold the staff recommendation. Now Allen is suggesting the next step may be a lawsuit by the church to force the city to issue a demolition permit.

The building is an attractive corner commercial building, with a substantial amount of its original metal work still in place. Lynn Josse wrote the original historic district nomination. She wrote of the pedestrian scaled nature of the old neighborhood.

Perhaps the current stand down over the proposed demolition will provide the opportunity for all sides to meet over a plan for preservation.

Friday, January 25, 2008

CSB Tree in Forest Update

Following up on a previous post re. downtown street trees in need of pruning, STL Rising is pleased to report that said pruning has been completed, the trees look excellent, and that our city's customer service system worked to a "T". Thanks to all involved.

The original call was referred from the Foresty Division to the Citizen's Service Bureau ("CSB"). The CSB representative took down the information, assigned it a work order number, and referred the item to the appropriate city department. Within the allotted time frame (about two weeks), the work was completed, and the situation was resolved in a fully satisfactory manner.

If you're looking for assistance on a city service matter, the number to reach the Citizen's Service Bureau is: 314-622-4800.

Top Ten STL Historic Sites

What would you include? Here's my list:

1) Cahokia Mounds
2) Eads Bridge
3) Grant's Cabin
4) Jefferson Barracks
5) the Arch (not the grounds)
6) Clemens House
7) DeMenil House
8) Cambell House
9) Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Convent Church and Reliquary
10) Lafayatte Square or Soulard neighborhoods-tossup

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Scholarship Opportunity


Papa John's Proudly Presents:

"Officer Norvelle Brown Fundraiser"

DAYS: SAT & SUN DATES: 1/26/08 & 1/27/08

Order Papa John's in any of the St. Louis, St. Charles or Metro East Papa John's on the above dates and Papa John's will donate back to the The Officer Norvelle Brown 7th District Scholarship 20% of your total order.

Please be sure to mention that you are a supporter of the "Officer Norvelle Brown" when placeing your order.

Valid for Carry Out or Delivery

Fundraiser Valid at Any St. Louis, St. Charles & Metro East Papa John's Locations

Papa John's

Better Ingredients

Better Pizza

For more information, please contact the St. Louis area Papa John's restaurant of your choice.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Your neighborhood's voice

In our neighborhood city, we have a wide range of neighborhood types. Populations, businesses, and housing patterns all vary. What direction is your neighborhood headed, and is there a public voice communicating that message? In some neighborhoods, that voice calls for historic preservation and increasing small businesses activity.

In other neighborhoods, the call is for new housing and infrastructure development. In some neighborhoods, the area has been working for years to find its voice. In other places, it may be hard to hear or find the voice of the community.

Is it possible for there to be more than one voice? Can you think of situations like that? What about the quieter places, those where the voice is harder to hear?

What about your neighborhood? Do you think you know the voice of the community? Do you think it has one? How would you describe it? Is your own voice a part of it?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Where do we go from here?

One of the lessons I learned too late was the idea that in many situations, let's say most situations, when there's some kind of problem, or concern, or whatever situation, that we think is about us, it's maybe equally or even moreso about someone else. Whatever it is. It's not always about you! None of us are that important or irreplaceable.

Let me say that as of yesterday, I am now totally convinced that our mortgage servicer is definitely not irreplaceable, and that whatever the issue is between us and them, it's definitely not us-it's them!

Last October, the loan on our house was sold to one of the country's largest mortage holders. They are huge. HUGE! And ever since they purchased the loan, the servicing has been A JOKE! A HUGE JOKE! But it's not funny anymore. In fact, it's gotten so unfunny that yesterday I placed a call to the Consumer Affairs Department of Attorney General Jay Nixon's office.

You know what they told me? They get these kinds of calls all the time! Apparently, lousy servicing of mortgages is a growing problem for consumers. And we're trying to make our payments! Imagine if you're facing foreclosure? We're getting the runaround - trying to make our payments made. If you're struggling to make your payments, then what?

With all the trouble in the mortgage and credit industries these days, we need to be more aware than ever about the importance of good loan servicing, and how to find help when we need it.

Our problems started with ___________ (insert massive financial institution name with huge disfunctional call center system here) when we tried to get our payments set up to make online. You would think this would be a pretty simple process. But no!

I'm not much of a tech person. I've never bought anything online and I don't do any online bill paying. This blog is about it when it comes to my techie powers. My wife, Kerri, she's the tech-goddess of our household. She's does everything online. And before our loan was sold, we made our payments electronically every month, like clockwork.

So when it came to setting up our new loan online, we figured it would be no big deal. We figured wrong. It has been impossible. The Company apparently models its internal operation like a Keystone Cop brigade. When it comes to incomptence, they are amazing. The runaround has gotten so bad, it's become like a bad nightclub routine. On my last call to them I said to the nice lady on the phone, "Ma'am, you're making me feel like a comedian, and you guys are giving me LOTS of material!" Not funny.

And problems with mortgage companies are no laughing matter. They can wreak havoc on the national level as well as do damage at the local level. Today's news reports that Citigroup lost $20,000,000,000 through their mortgage portfolio (that's twenty billion dollars) over the last year with their stock price falling nearly 50%.

If you're facing concerns with your home loan, do not wait for help to find you. Take action! Engage the mortgage company as soon as you feel there may be a problem. Locally, Beyond Housing has teamed up with the Homeownership Preservation Foundation to provide assistance to homeowners facing possible foreclosure. They have set up a toll free number to call for assistance. For more information, dial 888-995-HOPE.

The earlier you contact the mortgage holder, the better. Lenders are motivated to avoid foreclosure, and the earlier you contact them, the more options you have to work out a plan to protect your home. Bringing in an expert advocate to assist you through this process can help you work out a solution together with the lender.

As for us, we're still trying to get set up to make our payments online. Maybe next month?

Friday, January 11, 2008

SoHa Pizza Rising

Soon to open at the northeast corner of Macklind and Finkman, in the city's Southampton/Princeton Heights area, is "Sammy's Pizza". Sammy's Pizza will reopen another of the surging Macklind Avenue commercial district's small-scaled, historic, corner-commercial buildings.

The operator is a member of the Racanelli family, known for their pizza restaurants in UCity and Webster Groves. Construction is underway this week. More information about the new restaurant is available in the current issue of Sauce Magazine. From the Sauce article, the owner is promising a family-style restaurant with a feel reminiscent of his Italian mom's dining room back in New York City.

From a walkability standpoint, within a half-mile walk of this location there are probably 1,500 homes. Maybe more. And that walk takes you past historic homes, down tree-lined streets, with many other interesting stopping places along the Macklind corridor.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A tree in the forest

St. Louis is blessed with wonderful resources. We have the nation's best tasting and highly abundant public drinking water. And we have a tremendous urban forest. Nearly every block in the city is shaded by mature street trees. And our parks are lush green landscapes.

One of those trees I pass by every day presents a hazard. It's a young tree, so the lower branches are at eye level. One might say "they present a blinding hazard". I want to bring a pair of pruning shears to work one day and prune the little branches out of everyone's way. That'd be quick, and no one would be worse for the wear, would they? The Forestry Department might rather a phone call to have one of their crews attend to the young tree.

We have good people working in many city departments. Yesterday I heard a presentation on new community centers being built in both north and south St. Louis. Plans are for these developments to incorporate "green" building techniques.

Working across the city, you see city workers fixing things, working with neighbors, and overall working as a partner with residents and businesses to improve the quality of life for all of us. On a tight budget, they do a good job. We can do more by supporting their efforts and working together. The upcoming Operating Brightside season is a good opportunity for city residents to work with city departments to keep St. Louis beautiful.

Meanwhile, the question remains, pruning shears or telephone call...pruning shears or telephone call...I'll make the call.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

St. Louis Style

Ted Wight has some great historic STL house photos over at his blog.

Click here to see a photo of a home that once stood at the site of the Metropolitan Square office building.

Click on the image for a larger view. The picture provides a great look back into Old St. Louis.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Winter 1/2 Over: Annual Mid-Season Rites Passed

First: Registration forms for spring baseball signups arrived in the mail last week; competitive programs begin winter baseball workouts.

Second: The firewood guy from Southeast Missouri made his mid-winter deliveries to St. Louis. By the time the replenished wood pile is nearly gone, the zoysia should be starting to turn green.

Postscript: Are we St. Louisans lightweights or what? There's a front desk on the ground floor of our building. Everyone entering or exiting the building passes through the revolving doors, and by this desk on the way to the elevators. On this mid-January day, it's about 60 degrees with a strong breeze. "Brrr" the lady at the front desk said to me as she felt the breeze come into the building. "I don't like the cold."

Don't like the cold? If St. Louisans can complain about 60 degree temps in January, well, ya gotta know that this town has some high comfort standards....

Can you ever have too much information?

With the expansion of the internet, neighborhood groups have the ability to connect residents with computers to important neighborhood information. Sometimes the information includes sensitive subjects, such as crime reports, which makes some neighborhood residents uncomfortable. If you were thinking of operating a neighborhood listserve or website, would you moderate comments, limit content, or in any other way control the flow of information?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Hwy 40 Shutdown: The Mother of All "Traffic Calming" Devices?

Have you ever watched the water in your bathtub with the drain open? The water in most of the tub is barely moving, while the water headed toward the drain starts accelerating like crazy. That's the way it is with highway traffic.

With traffic dispersed throughout a large system, it has countless avenues back and forth, travels a little slower, and everything seems to be a little more relaxed. However, once it gets concentrated onto a single roadway (Highway 40), it speeds up, gets clogged if there's a blockage, and there's more friction in the system (sort of like what happens to blood cells flowing through the inside of a human artery with arterial sclerosis).

Yesterday we had a meeting out in the UCity/Ladue/Clayton area near the intersection of Delmar and I-170. So we took the new Highway 40 to 170 route back and forth. For the next year, inner ring Highway 40 drivers have most of the road to themselves.

In both directions, travel on Highway 40 was smooth sailing. Traffic volume was easily cut by half. On the return trip from Delmar and 170, the southbound connection from 170 to east bound Hwy 40 felt like a trip on the Disneyland Monorail. No longer are drivers doing that crazy mambo at the old 170/Eager/Brentwood interchange.

Instead, southbound 170 drivers are swooped through a 2-lane aerial flyover ramp, seamlessly connecting to eastbound 40. It feels like the "Innerbelt" now runs all the way downtown. It's awesome.

We won't be doing much driving out in the area of 270 and 44, so others will have to report on how things are working out on the roads in the westplex. However, for those driving within the inner core of our region, the first year of the 40 shutdown appears to be more like going on a Sunday drive, seven days a week.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Highway 40 Perspective - Much Ado About Nothing?

If the Highway 40 shutdown turns out to be mostly a big non-event, St. Louisans will have firsthand proof that we live in a region with some of the lightest traffic conditions of any in the country. Close down a major highway, and hardly feel it?

We'll know on Monday. Change can be a good thing!

Repurposing the dead Kenrick Cine site

With the closing of the Kenrick Cine, a nice-sized parcel of ground has become available for reuse. Metrolink is close by, the city limits are a few minutes away, home values in the area are strong, and the site is generally central in terms of its regional location.

The building appears to be in good shape, so it could be reused. Or, it could be demolished, with new construction in its place. What future use or uses do you think would best serve the community?

One option to consider would be residential development. More rooftops in the area would support the retail uses all around the site. Affordable housing is another alternative, or perhaps a mixed income development?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Missouri's blowout of Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl underlined nicely the snub of Missouri in this year's college bowl selections by "Bowl Championship Series" (BCS) officials. The BCS bowl games are the elite games, with the largest television audiences. Hence, they are very important to a program's recruiting efforts. The Cotton Bowl game started at 10:30 in the morning, St. Louis time, airing opposite the nationally televised Tournament of Roses Parade.

Nonethess, for Missouri, the Cotton Bowl is a good bowl. The Cotton Bowl is located in Dallas, Texas, just down the road from the home of Missouri quarterback, Chase Daniel. Strong recruiting out of Texas has played well into the resurgence of the Missouri football program.

In case you didn't see it, the Missouri Tigers trounced Arkansas in every aspect of the game, winning 38-7. Missouri running back Tony Temple ran for 281 yards and four touchdowns, setting two Cotton Bowl records.

Later in the day, out on the west coast, Illinois was trounced by USC in the Rose Bowl, leading the national broadcast team to openly quesion why 11th ranked Illinois was seated in a BCS bowl game while 7th ranked Missouri was not.

For years people have questioned the BCS bowl selection process, with more calls for a national college football playoff system, at least for the top 8-12 teams. This year's controversy involving the treatment of Missouri by BCS officials will add fuel to that discussion.

Congratulations to both Missouri and Illinois for great seasons. Illinois went from a 2-win season in 2006 to the Rose Bowl this year, and Missouri surprised everyone with the teams' first 12 win season in Missouri history.

Looking into next season, one question still up in the air for Missouri is whether the NCAA will grant St. Louisan Tony Temple one more year of college eligibility due to his previous redshirt status.