Sunday, February 19, 2017

Charless Village Update - McKinley Heights Neighborhood

It was a fun blog for me because it started with simple curiosity of a CF Vatterott housing development called "Charless Village" on an empty lot. But, it evolved into a deeper understanding of St. Louis' past and present. Once I started poking around, I figured out this was the site of a former SLPS school, Charless School.
One thing led to another and I found myself on the Charless School alumni Facebook page, which brought exchanges with folks with firsthand knowledge of the school.

Then, one of our best reference librarians in the city stumbled across the blog and helped me track down the closing date for the school, and verify the fact that the school was indeed named in honor of Joseph Charless and was damaged by a tornado in 1896.

This beautiful school was operational from 1895 to 1981. Arsonists provided the final blow in 1988 setting a 3-alarm fire in the was razed in 1993 and sat as an empty lot until 2016.

Arsonists can prove to be a stronger force of destruction than even the worst tornado that Mother Nature brought to St. it goes.

Anyhow, it was a fun post where history unfolded and I got lost in it for awhile.

I chose to go back to check on the progress.

So here's a chronological set of photos that takes you from the property as a vacant lot in June, 2016 to the current state in February, 2017:

Google street view Image from June, 2016

November, 2016 from Shenandoah Avenue
November, 2016 Alley View
 February, 2017, old meets new on Shenandoah Avenue
 February, 2017, Shenandoah Avenue view
 February, 2017 alley view
Future parking off the alley

So opinions and thoughts on new construction in our historic neighborhoods, such as McKinley Heights can be lively and quite varied.

I will hold my cards close to my chest on my personal opinions until this project is finalized; but to date, I have to say I'm optimistic.

The street grid is respected both on Shenandoah and the alley. Parking in the rear makes a huge difference for quality of life in this part of St. Louis...these will have it. The massing, the subtle yet varied styles/forms and relationship to the awesome buildings on each side is respected. So far so good, I'll revisit upon completion and weigh in on the finished product.

Will these be market rate offerings? Will there be demand and will they be purchased quickly? 

Stay tuned. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Some Quick Thoughts On An MLS Stadium

Well, I guess the electorate of STL is all of a sudden respected. If you recall, we were decidedly not thought to be worthy of voting on the Rams stadium debacle (check the record on the aldermen who voted for that mess...and who are running for office).

Now remember, if you live a couple feet west of Skinker Boulevard, a few feet south of the River Des Peres, a few feet west of Cement land or a few feet east of the halfway point on the Stan Span, you don't matter in this conversation. 

If you are a suburbanite, you are not being asked to pay for an MLS stadium. You are not being asked to pave a massive expanse of land in your city for surface parking lots that get used maybe 20 days a year. And most importantly, you don't get to vote on whether STL gives ~$60M in tax money to pay for a MLS stadium. 

You are irrelevant if you don't live in STL when it comes to an MLS stadium. 

Why? Because the suburban cities in the areas surrounding STL don't want anything to do with giving public tax dollars to the prospective MLS ownership group (who I'm almost certain don't even live in STL).

There is no regional taxing district for sports arenas. Outside of the ZMD and GRG initiatives, there is little desire to share in this region.  STL is expected to carry the weight on regional issues, both ones the county people want and of course the ones they want absolutely nothing to do with. For instance, can you imagine the county taking an equal part in caring for the homeless, the growing population of elderly on fixed incomes or oxy/heroin/meth/crack/booze addled members of our region? 

No, these are STL problems. We are expected to take these things on...and of course the stadiums/parking lots for hockey, baseball, soccer and any other sport you can imagine.

I'm feeling cynical lately, forgive me. I just don't think people like County Executive Steve Stenger want anything to do with STL. And sadly, I feel he's the voice of the angry people I hear in the burbs who hate STL and it's problems both perceived and real.

But a vote on an MLS stadium is coming up (if you live in STL)...and what American doesn't love a vote?

I take a vote very seriously. I try to do my best to educate myself, be fair, compromise and think of the greater over my selfish interests.

But this MLS ownership group has asked ONLY STL for tax $ to pay for their stadium. Their... Who is they? I'm not sure I can put a face to the names. I'm not sure I've met them or seen them at any neighborhood meetings of public forums in STL to drum up support and make us want to support them.

Who are these guys? Will I know by April when I get to vote on this $60M or so of our hard paid dollars.

Imagine an alternate past where this MLS ownership group showed themselves before they made the ask. Sure they are likely staunch county boys, rich kids all grown up and successful and connected. Good for them. But they're probably genuine, well-meaning people. We are all reasonable Midwesterners, no?  Heck, STL people loved the Busch family well after they left for Sunset Hills and Huntleigh and other areas outside of STL...even in the post-In-Bev days, we still seem to love them.

When will this ownership group let us know how much they love soccer (their last pitch was for NFL football) and apologize for not introducing themselves earlier.

It's been too long, guys.

St. Louis is a small town (~300K) and most people know each other, or at least recognize each other. But few in STL know these least the people in my small hoi-polloi circles.

What if they acknowledged the huge ask of $ they were making on us. What if they acknowledged the need for strong schools and crime prevention in STL, yet made a convincing pitch for their investment in a team and stadium we would (by default) own? 

What if they threw us a bone for our vote?

What if they signed a city contract to donate money/build three quality soccer fields in STL for the CYC and SLPS to use. (currently there are 0). What if they committed to aerate, seed and water said fields for 30 years? What if they vowed to pay for SLPS/CYC/Charter school soccer coach/referee training programs?

If you think soccer is big in St. Louis please come witness the fields the CYC league plays on. Please come with me and walk the fields the SLPS high school league plays on. Let me show you the field one of the greatest middle schools in the country practices on. Let's meet the soccer coaches in St. Louis and see what they want/need.  

I've heard nothing like that...just that we're dumb and missing out on this amazing opportunity to build a stadium. Um, we've got 3, two with teams in them...and they are just not helping us gain residents and money. Check the stats guys.

The 100 or so cities in the suburbs outside of St. Louis have a rich history investing in soccer programs and fields. Look no further than the impressive soccer park off of I-44 just west of I-270. St. Louis has nothing like this. Nor does St. Louis have plans for anything like this. We have bigger fish to fry. We're not at the stage of building soccer field or rock climbing in our schools or neghborhoods yet...maybe you guys could help us.

But these regional leaders/investors who don't live here or care about crime/schools/neighborhoods here want our public money and are willing to give up none of theirs.

Float me a plan that makes sense. Throw me a bone. Give me some reason to believe. I'm a taxpayer, a resident, a dad, a voter in St. Louis...the one city in this 2-state, 100 or so city region that will decide the fate of soccer for now.

As of now, this ownership group has given St. Louis people very little to grasp onto. 

Memories of Kroenke and the great County rulers so close but yet so far from St. Louis are swimming in my mind.

I'll remain a skeptic until this group of investors shows up St. make their pitch.

April is just around the corner.