The Definitive Platform for Rebuilding St. Louis in the 21st Century

St. Louis City is at a critical fork in the road. With some of the biggest political leaders recently indicted by the Federal Government for corruption, a variety of infrastructure improvements and funds still stuck in limbo, a declining population, and our many Aldermen essentially running their own kingdoms with distinct capital funds, coordinated progress is difficult to achieve.

As this website shifts toward operating more as an idea-based, urbanist ‘think-tank’, it seems prudent to outline some key ideas in an organized fashion that just may give St. Louis City practical solutions to a growing list of pressing needs.

Our problems will be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome without a substantial effort to reform our governance and priorities. Doing so now is increasingly important to reverse the negative feedback loops already negatively impacting the city. Moreover, upcoming challenges to individual liberties, safety, and equitable economic development are in the pipeline from Missouri’s legislative branches.

The following is a platform rooted in equitable growth and land use, safety & wellbeing, pride, and looking toward the future. The purpose of this platform is to provide a distinct set of ideas and purpose to our elected officials and to give the public a list of solutions to lobby for.

THE PLATFORM:


LAND USE & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

  1. Completely remove single family zoning.
    1. Single Family Zoning is incredibly effective at keeping people out of neighborhoods, an exclusionary practice that increases housing costs, segregates communities, and contributes to the climate crisis. Single Family Zoning does not mean that your home must become a multifamily dwelling. Instead, it means that you could decide to build more units on that property should you choose to do so. Density is critical for supporting transit and neighborhood commercial opportunities.
  2. Allow ADUs.
    1. Accessory Dwelling Units can provide critically important additional housing in high-demand neighborhoods. A garage can be converted at significantly less cost to new housing versus entirely new construction on a vacant lot.
  3. Fee for unit removal.
    1. As is already being considered, this type of ordinance discourages flippers from taking dense housing stock and reducing the number of units available on a given parcel. The fee would be akin to a ‘sin tax’ for smoking, still preserving liberty in real estate transactions while also providing an opportunity for the city to then invest those funds in positive social uses.
  4. Eliminate community and aldermanic review for housing proposals.
    1. Community and aldermanic review serve to prevent or otherwise housing proposals and thus affordable housing more broadly. Empirical research routinely showcases that even market-rate housing construction lowers housing pressures even for low and middle income earners and as such still provides benefits.
  5. Increased property taxes to fund infrastructure.
    1. Property taxes are comparatively low in the City of St. Louis despite its large geography and service responsibilities. Increased property taxes would direct more revenue to schools within the city and ensure that land is valued accordingly. However, efforts should be made for property tax assistance for homeowners on fixed incomes.
  6. Tie development incentives to a tangible percentage affordable and/or workforce units.
    1. Development incentives often may be necessary to make a project feasible, which should be the goal in a city that is losing population. However, development incentives are effectively public funds and thus should deliver concrete public benefits. A percentage of units for large developments with tax incentives should deliver a percentage of more affordable units. However, this should be a concrete policy and not determined on the fly. SLDC should have a tiered list of percentages for project cost and units.
  7. Funding for elderly home repair.
    1. The University of Missouri – St. Louis is currently conducting a study that explores the impact of home repairs for elderly citizens in the region. If it showcases tangible positive benefits such as keeping the home in the family and making the residence safer, this can be an investment that helps produce and maintain generational wealth.
  8. Prioritize land use over historical preservation with the recognition that housing affordability, density, and the impacts on people and environment outweigh poor historical land use.
    1. St. Louis has an incredible historic built environment, and historic preservation can be an important tool. However, when facing crises like Climate Change and Housing Unaffordability, historic preservation should not prevent higher value land uses. For example, many preservationists opposed the renovation of the Optimist International building in the Central West End into over 150 apartments. The building was in poor shape, the non-profit who owned it wanted to sell it, and the parcel thus provided almost no benefits to the community save for its design which is fundamentally exclusively subjective in benefit. That is rather than the concrete benefits of dense housing that can contribute a more widespread benefit than a derelict building that, even if remodeled, would contribute little aside from its design to the city.
  9. Reform SLDC such that it does not rely so heavily on outside consultants.
    1. A burgeoning field of research on ‘State Capacity’ showcases that governments of all sizes and shapes across the U.S. have steadily found themselves with less capacity and ability to take on large projects and to do so effectively. A negative feedback loop is thus spawned as it faces punitive budget cuts and relies on outside consultants for difficult projects. Such takes away the sovereignty of the organization and makes it reliant on private interests, costs, and timelines. Such should not be the case for St. Louis’ development arm and the recent corruption case showcases how outside consultants poison the well in this capacity.
  10. Empower Greater STL Inc. and work with neighboring counties and municipal governments to restrict inter-region infighting and to offer the region’s collective benefits to lure new investment.
    1. Regional infighting is not a real economic development solution. If Maplewood sees stealing a business from the City or another municipality as a realistic option to raise its revenues, it simply harms its next-door neighbor and even then, probably just temporarily. The region must act collectively to lure new businesses with Greater STL Inc. rather than continuing to split hairs internally.
  11. Further funding the Prop. N.S. Program to reduce the market gap in housing rehabilitations in lower demand sections of the city.
    1. A ‘market-gap’ has been identified in research over the last few decades that showcases how real estate investment will not occur in given areas due to a non-existent market. For example, the City may offer a property through the LRA for $10 – which sounds like a steal, but if the buyer needs to put in $100,000 for a building that would at best sell for $70,000 then they will not make that investment and the building will continue to rot. Prop. N.S. begins to address this problem by addressing key issues and stabilizing the properties, usually through roof and foundation repairs, beginning to fix the market-gap. This should continue and be bolstered.

TRANSIT

  1. Complete build-out of the N/S MetroLink line and connect to North County.
    1. The MetroLink expansion will be critical as a means to connecting people in lower-income communities with fewer jobs to areas where jobs are in abundance. This is an investment in our people and in the environment. This also would reduce auto-dependence for communities where auto-ownership is a major financial burden.
  2. Increased funding for bus and train operator salaries.
    1. A sizable number of people rely on bus and train service, and ideally this number must grow as we face a climate crisis fueled in some part by car dependency. With this in mind, the City must work with Bi-State in any way required such that these operators earn a competitive salary and routes do not see their frequencies cut. These individuals are the backbone of our region.
  3. Increased funding for bus shelters.
    1. Bus shelters are a critical piece of infrastructure for safety and comfort and represent a relatively insignificant capital investment versus infrastructure that we dedicate toward cars. These are of reduced importance with high frequencies, but no individual should have to wait in the sun for 30 minutes waiting for a bus. This is a standard met by world-class cities, and St. Louis will not be world-class or competitive if it misses key infrastructure opportunities that take care of its people.
  4. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along #95 and #70 bus routes.
    1. BRT is being adopted in forward-thinking cities across the country as a relatively low-cost method to increase bus frequency by dedicating a lane for bus transit. The Kingshighway and Grand routes have abundant space for a dedicated bus-lane and dedicated, built-out stops can even rival fixed light-rail in some instances at significantly lower costs.
  5. Increased funding for station maintenance and accessible features.
    1. Our major Downtown MetroLink stations should never sit for weeks without working elevators or escalators. IT is an embarrassment to visitors and regular transit users. It again reflects all-too-low state capacity and, if Bi-State needs more engineers and cannot fund this by themselves, then it should be addressed by partners in the City. These are key accessible features, particularly with regard to elevators, and it is indeed too much to ask that a low-mobility individual bypass their stop.
  6. Increased frequency on major bus corridors and MetroLink routes.
    1. Frequency is a driver of ridership and contributes to economic mobility. An individual should never have to allocate 2 or 3 hours to get to work, but this is the reality for many St. Louisans not because the route doesn’t exist, but because the frequencies leave them waiting for significant periods along their route. Reducing frequency can often reduce ridership, contributing to urges by communities to further reduce funding because of low ridership. We must not fall into that trap.
  7. Ensuring that Lambert International Airport officials incorporate MetroLink into revised terminal plans.
    1. One of our greatest regional assets is a light-rail system that brings riders to and from the airport, something that world-class cities like Los Angeles are just now trying to build out. We must ensure that as Lambert undergoes planning for a renewed, singular terminal that transit access continues to be a strength.

ROADWAYS

  1. Take roadway capital improvement projects away from Aldermen and incorporate into the responsibilities of BPS and Streets Department.
    1. Aldermen should not be making capital improvement/urban planning decisions, particularly those that impact residents in other words as well. These are largely untrained elected officials who, again, largely do not hold expertise in urban planning decisions save for a few particular individuals. Leave city planning and streets decisions to experts in a city with the capacity to make these decisions. This is fragmented decision making as it stands today with domino-impacts from individual aldermanic decisions.
  2. Incorporate ‘Road Diets’ along Kingshighway, Grand, and Jefferson corridors and along most roadways in Downtown to rebalance toward pedestrian safety in an era of bigger and heavier vehicles.
    1. Road Diets are one of the best tools for improving pedestrian and bike safety, and for some of these corridors, trying to be either is a frightening proposition. Research showcases that reducing lanes does not increase traffic due to the principals of reduced demand. This is hard pill to swallow for many and a tough political line to sell, but the City should follow empirical evidence and incentivize other forms of transportation. Road Diets can make our roadways safer across the region and they are cheap to implement and of higher importance as cars continue getting bigger and deadlier for non-car users.
  3. Additional tax on heavy-duty vehicles (large SUVs and pickup trucks) incorporated within personal property taxes to afford the additional damage they cause to the built environment and infrastructure, as well as the environment more broadly.
    1. These vehicles have negative externalities that are not accounted for when purchased by the end-user. Heavier vehicles cause significantly more damage to road infrastructure, and when they occasionally drive off the road, to our buildings as well. They are becoming significantly more deadly to pedestrians and cyclists as well, wreaking havoc to all those not within the vehicle. These amount to increasing costs that should be addressed and then utilized to improve and prepare infrastructure to keep people across all transit modes safer.
  4. Continue the build-out of dedicated cycle tracks along major roadways.
    1. Dedicated cycling paths are important for cycling safety and, in many cases, even for the safety of drivers. They are relatively cheap to implement and we have a growing number of examples, like the protected cycle paths on Union north of Forest Park, that showcase how easy they are to implement and how efficient they can be. With current infrastructure, cycle users may often avoid major, and the most efficient, corridors when reaching their destination because they opt for a higher chance to make it home to dinner in one piece. If other great cities can do it, so can we.

GOVERNANCE

  1. Transition municipal government away from the Weak-Mayor system with the Board of Estimate and Apportionment into a Council-Manager government with a professional city manager.
    1. Cities with City Managers and a Council dedicated to legislative actions can be much better equipped to collectively and coherently tackle city-wide issues. The current state of various fiefdoms stifles cooperation and takes decision making down to individuals who are not equipped generally to be making huge capital improvement decisions. We don’t need to look far to see higher efficiency: our neighbors across the state in Kansas City showcase just how effective a City Manager can be. Crucially, Kansas City is also growing and a coherent vision is key to that.
  2. Double the salaries of Aldermen and professionalize their offices with a community liaison and legislative specialist.
    1. Although elected offices should and must be accessible to people of all walks of life, the current low salary and part time nature of the job effectively rule out a large amount of people who simply could not afford to serve without having to take on other responsibilities. Legislating a big city is and should be a full-time job, and its one that also requires a lot of community input and legislative know-how. Let’s modernize and professionalize the Board and ensure that members are prepared financially and logistically to succeed.
  3. Work toward reducing fragmentation with duplicated services particularly with regard to the municipalities bordering St. Louis City.
    1. Police
      1. Multiple police departments impacts service delivery, reliability, data collection, and quality. Differing training regiments, accreditations, community relations requirements, force regulations, salaries, etc. harms safety and credibility.
    2. Dispatch
      1. The City has struggled to maintain an effective dispatch center and is already making improvements, but there are inherent inefficiencies to multiple different dispatch systems for multiple neighboring police departments. The redundancy carries extra costs and potentially sub-optimal outcomes for people on the other end of the line.
    3. Schools
      1. This is unpopular particularly in some inner-ring suburbs who fear sharing their school resources with less-well funded school systems. However, the difference in school quality and funding leads to an unequal foundation for our youth and contributes to inequality, often intersected with race and zip code. By increasing property taxes as described elsewhere in this platform, the city can make its foundation for schools more sizable and relieve concerns.
  4. Reform service delivery and development, reducing unnecessary reviews when possible. No cycle track should take years to approve.
    1. Efficiency has to improve such that idea to finished product for a roadway improvement, bike path, or sidewalk repair to take years. This is another culprit of state capacity and can likely be traced to excess reviews, approvals, and a bureaucracy hampered by withering technology and unacceptably low levels of accountability and ability to take action.
  5. Increase salaries of city personnel across the board to be more competitive with industry. The city should be the best place to work in St. Louis.
    1. How could we expect great city services from a government effectively operating as though it has adopted austerity? Low budgets and inflexible salaries lose qualified individuals to industry. Public service should not be as much a sacrifice as it is made to be, because such sacrifice is burdened by our entire city, not just that individual.
  6. Reduce reliance on external consultants. To do so, St. Louis needs to build state capacity such that project costs and timelines are not dictated on exterior schedules and cost overruns.
    1. External consultants are much a product of all-too-limited state capacity and they introduce private interests, leading generally to increased costs and longer timelines. See the high-speed train fiasco in California as an example, or even the many private, consultant-run studies on light-rail transit that we’ve explored over the last two decades here in St. Louis that eat up millions of dollars with no tangible product. In-house can equal efficient and bring about cost savings if we equip our government with the qualified personnel necessary to make engineering and planning decisions.
  7. Consider a 0.5% increase in the City Earnings Tax to be more competitive in city services with other peer cities that have similar or even higher tax rates.
    1. Good city services to not naturally occur under austerity conditions. Many cities actually have higher than St. Louis City’s 1% earnings tax. Cleveland, for example, has a 2.5% earnings tax and, despite that, is growing (albeit slowly) while St. Louis is doing the opposite. Our 1% earnings tax is not the problem, but increasing it to 1.5% could be part of the solution toward providing city services and infrastructure that attract and maintain residents.
  8. Remove the residency requirement from most, if not all, city bureaucratic positions such that the local government is less of a jobs program and more a delivery service of excellent and professional city services.
    1. St. Louis City represents approximately 10% of the total MSA population, but the entire region is home to qualified professionals in all fields. St. Louis City is largely prohibiting some of our region’s best from working for us on the basis that these roles should pay salaries to only those who live in the city. The presumption is that our city residents hold all the key qualifications necessary, but that argument becomes more and more strained overtime as our population decreases and city jobs remain vacant while dumpsters don’t get emptied in our alleys.
  9. Preserving the new ‘Approval Voting’ mechanism to reduce partisanship and produce candidates who better reflect collective interest rather than those at partisan extremes who otherwise may win with a plurality.
  10. Approval Voting
    1. As described in our video below, Approval Voting can be an excellent tool to ensure that elected candidates are more likely representing a larger share of interests than in our standard primary system.

SAFETY

  1. Restrict firearms to the extent possible and encourage private institutions with more ability to do so to meet stringent firearms requirements.
    1. Doing so will be difficult as gun rights continue extending due to court decisions. However, empirical research almost exclusively showcases a connection between more guns and more killing. Regardless of the political reality, whatever efforts that can be made should be made and that means relying on private partners when possible to enact gun restrictions on as much private property as possible where it is still legal to do so.
  2. Merge city and inner-ring suburb police/EMS departments and have the combined force meet the absolute highest accreditation possible.
    1. Increase funding where necessary to ensure fewer officers work overtime in accordance with improvements documented in empirical criminology literature such that violent and property crimes are reduced. However, those improvements are not inherent to having more officers – fundamental improvements to training and scheduling must be made such that officers are less likely to be in situations where they’re 12 hours into a shift making sub-optimal decisions with insufficient training.
    2. Many of the city’s lowest income neighborhoods, and even Downtown, report frequently seeing few officers.
  3. Combine dispatch centers and increase salaries, wellness benefits to completely eliminate 911 call wait-times.
    1. 911 wait-times are unacceptable for those in emergency situations and the lack of operators comes down to multiple key issues: (1) Salary – workers go where they see an acceptable financial return; (2) Fragmentation – some municipalities likely have too many operators while the City has too few; and (3) It is a difficult, mentally taxing job – and as such, these roles should come with great benefits and wellness programs to ensure that when your call is answered, they’re up to the job all the time.
  4. Allocate funding toward the fire department’s efforts to document vacant building status such that firefighters are less in danger when putting out blazes in vacant structures.
  5. The St. Louis City Fire Department has begun building a collection of buildings that they will not enter due to the inherent and real risks that these buildings pose upon their personnel. However, this is a process that should be expedited and likely more the responsibility of other City departments and should thus be supported substantially.
  6. Utilizing road diets and taxes on excessively large vehicles to reduce pedestrian injuries and casualties.
  7. As described above, Road Diets will keep pedestrians and cyclists safer while also not contributing to worse traffic.
  8. Non-enforcement of non-violent drug crimes and sex work.
  9. These crimes intersect with strong moral and religious beliefs, but regardless of those and whether or not they’re valis as public policy solutions, the enforcement of crimes of these natures that are violence-free and victimless should not take any capacity away from our overtaxed police enforcement. From a practical perspective, these activities will likely continue despite the laws and actions should be taken to make them safer without filling our prisons – a cost we all bear.

WELLBEING

  1. Consider bond programs for city home repair programs to maintain existing residents and build generational wealth.
    1. Keeping people in their homes and building generational wealth is a means of battling income inequality, particularly that which is present for marginalized groups. Making relatively minor repairs on the homes of our elderly neighbors may be a positive investment from a human perspective, but also possibly from the perspective of the alternative costs of a vacant building that becomes more expensive to repair as it attracts crime in accordance with the Broken Window Theory.
  2. Subsidize and/or insure home loans, particularly in neighborhoods that have a history of redlining.
    1. Home ownership is one of the best tools for building wealth and stability, but residents in primarily North-City neighborhoods cannot access financing for rehabs or new constructions due to market-gaps, informal redlining, etc. oftentimes even if they have excellent credit. The City stands to gain from these revitalized neighborhoods and stability and thus should explore subsidizing or insuring loans in these neighborhoods to help build equity for qualified buyers.
  3. Ensure transit routes have a frequency that can support longer distance city travel and thus support individuals who cannot move but need to access job centers.
    1. Frequency is a critical factor for someone without a car to find job stability and have the freedom of mobility.
  4. Support individual rights and freedoms for the LGBTQIA+ community and other marginalized groups who routinely face attacks from the Missouri State Government.
    1. The City has the inherent duty to protect its residents, and that duty is likely to face increasing threats from Missouri’s State Government that is increasingly interested in reducing freedoms for LGBTQIA+ people and allowing for discrimination on the State level. St. Louis City should take on these in court and create funds where necessary to provide defense for those who may be persecuted.
  5. Adopting local ordinances in the workplace and housing to prohibit discrimination.
    1. Just as above, these ordinances may be necessary in an increasingly hostile state government and can at least protect residents from local enforcement mechanisms.
  6. Contributing to funds for legal defenses if necessary for individuals if, like in the State of Texas, may find themselves prosecuted by their state government for healthcare for trans children.
    1. These are unacceptable intrusions upon personal liberty and healthcare and pose significant threats to the wellbeing (emotional and financial) for members of our community, many of whom would be unable to protect themselves legally from these attacks should they take place. The City must prepare and be ready.
  7. Non-enforcement of potentially incoming state legislation that may criminalize abortion access.
    1. Similar to protecting other rights and freedoms, abortion falls into a category of personal healthcare that is under increasingly hostile attacks from the State government. St. Louis City should ensure easy access to states like Illinois across the river and ensure that every action is taken to support those in need of those services. This is something that we’re beginning to see discussed among the Board.
  8. Creation of a Tenant’s Bill of Rights.
    1. Tenants in rental units are prized neighbors and community members and should not be subject to some of the most relaxed laws in the nation for tenant protections. As we encourage more development, we should ensure that tenants have protections and do so through coherent city policy rather than through individual neighborhood pushback.

PRIDE

  1. Build infrastructure that does more than meet the bare minimum. Our built environment is one of the key assets of the city, and the higher-quality, attractive streetlights and street features that used to be more commonplace can provide hope and pride for city residents.
    1. Build out in neighborhoods beyond the Central West End. Every city resident should feel pride in their city and see investment.
    2. This will carry an increased cost, but it’s important to recognize that existing streetlight infrastructure, for example is already very expensive and investments in pride and built environment can pay dividends in the future.
  2. Offer best-in-class services that make people proud to live here.
    1. We need to offer reasons for people to stay and, in a large country with many incredible cities, offer unique infrastructure and city elements to attract more residents. We are so used to dumbing down our infrastructure and finding the lowest costs rather than delivering something special.
  3. Properly maintain city parks and revitalize connections to these major community assets.
    1. A Southwest Garden resident has almost no safe way to cross over to Tower Grove Park as Kingshighway and the current streetscape almost completely separate a major asset from its closest neighbors.
    2. A Dutchtown or Wells Goodfellow resident might routinely see unexpectedly tall weeds in their city parks.

PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE

  1. Turn budget reserves into a well-managed endowment/sovereign wealth fund similar to that of nations like Norway to invest in our collective future.
  2. Take advantage of low-interest debt to finance infrastructure and community projects. Focusing on less debt is a low-productivity strategy that fails to capitalize on growth.
  3. Invest in St. Louis’ key location along the Mississippi River for freight transportation.
  4. Invest in St. Louis as a tourism destination by better connecting the Arch Grounds to commercial corridors as well as creating riverfront attractions for riverfront cruises.
  5. Coordinating legislation with empirical, academic literature – particularly alongside partnerships with our world-class educational institutions.
Advertisements

This Week in Urbanism Season 2 Premier: Development Incentives

Thank you for joining us for a second season! This Week in Urbanism returns with improved audio quality and production along with topics that are intended to foster nuance and excitement along the way.

In the time since the ending of the last season, a budding, 200+ group of St. Louis Urbanists has begun to find community and organize together. The group, the St. Louis Urbanist’s Confluence, can be found on Discord at the link below and is beginning to do great work on transit advocacy, housing, and collective action.

https://discord.com/invite/AvQsVs7B

ROUGH TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

Advertisements

Could it be? Could it finally be?

The time’s finally here. You’re listening to This Week in Urbanism, and yes, Season 2 is finally here.

I’m your host, Brian Adler. Before I get started, why don’t you subscribe and check out my Patreon supporter page at Patreon.com/BrianAdler. Why check out my Patreon? Well, I want to buy more stuff and the benefit to you is that you can listen to this podcast a little early. Heck, it doesn’t hurt to boost my ego a little bit either and my brilliant, self-inflating writing doesn’t generate via AI just yet.

Anyway, it’s time. And I’m sure you’re ready.

And before we get started, I want to do a special shout out to a new group that I’m a moderator of, but, did not create. I’m talking about the St. Louis Urbanist Confluence group, and it’s a collection of urbanists, almost 200 strong, across the St. Louis area. We talk transit, density, affordability, neighborhoods, and more. Some of our incredible members are planning collective action to enhance walkability, bike-ability, and more. I will post a link to join on our Anchor.fm channel and everywhere else I can.

Today is June 22nd, 2022, and St. Louis, I think I have myself something just controversial and important enough to boost my listener base here. Don’t believe me? Well guess what today’s topic is: public development incentives.

See? What did I tell you. This is some real juicy stuff and by sheer virtue of listening to this niche, urban planning podcast, I’d be willing to bet you’re not somewhere in the middle on this. You’re probably gripping the steering wheel or bike handles a little bit harder, and baby, this is gonna make your hands sweat.

Advertisements

But you know what? Life’s complicated. Tax incentives are nothing different. They’re probably one of the more complicated things in life, even more than basic human interactions with one another. Heck, especially during and after COVID. Yesterday I was in the elevator with someone for the first time in a long time, and my god, what even are you supposed to say?

Anyway suffice it to say that if you feel strongly about this issue, my goal is for you to loosen up a bit because as many good arguments as you have, there’s probably plenty that even your mortal urbanist enemies have too. And, even though there’s nothing sweeter in life than winning a petty argument on the internet, I’ve learned that us urbanists have to try to find some common ground if we want to make some progress.

Okay I’m going to dig in here a bit. This is an inherently thorny conversation. Let’s start with a definition. So, what I mean by the term “development incentive” is a distinct set of public goodies offered by a given municipality or development authority to either lure a project to their region or to ensure that a project is actually financially feasible and thus built. Of course, anything that a city gives away is essentially publicly generated, so you enter a realm of tricky and important politics too.

Still with me? I’ll try my best to keep this podcast episode accessible. Let’s briefly go over the main types of incentives that developers usually seek or are given here in St. Louis. I’ll probably miss some, but that’s where you can enjoy roasting me in the comments. Come at me, folks! I just got a haircut, so my ego has room to fall.

  1. TIFs
    1. TIF stands for ‘Tax Incremented Financing’, which is essentially a capital improvement bond that cities can issue on the behalf of developers. It is a financing tool that captures a rise in economic and property values and the connected increase in tax revenues to invest in the required infrastructure upfront. You’ll often see TIFs go toward infrastructure like roads, lighting, sidewalks, sewer and water, etc. Anyway, usually you’ll see these over a period of say 10 to 20 years.
  2. Tax Abatement
    1. Tax abatement is a tool that we see used relatively frequently in the St. Louis area as well. You’ll see this often as a percentage when applied, and the idea is that you pay property taxes on pre-improved values for a given amount of time. You’ll rarely see 100% abatements, but often somewhere between 50 and 75%. Although the developer will pay increased property taxes, they’ll not be paying that full amount, rather they’ll be paying the abated amount, for perhaps 5-15 years.
  3. CIDs
    1. CIDs, or Community Improvement Districts. Many CIDs are not related to particular developments, but sometimes they can be created primarily for a development too. These are a set of boundaries that create a special taxing district to offset costs for public improvements and services. For example, a hotel development could create a CID covering the boundaries of just the hotel, which I believe occurred at the Le Meridian in Downtown Clayton, where it then collects taxes from those boundaries.
Advertisements

On the surface, this is a pretty benign topic, right? It gets a little complicated, though, and pretty incendiary too.

But let’s do our very best to examine some different arguments here. Let’s say I’m a developer and I want to develop market-rate apartments on a vacant lot in the Central West End. Let’s lay out some facts:

  1. First, I said market-rate, not affordable housing.
  2. This project would ask for a 50% tax abatement over 10 years.
  3. Let’s go crazy here and say we’re going to pick the most high-profile parking lot in the Central West End at Lindell and Kingshighway, where a new tower is actually slated to go. That parking lot generates about $64,000 annually in property tax revenue.
  4. Let’s say we’re going to have a building just like The Orion, the building that has the Whole Foods. That building generates about $700,000 in property taxes annually. We’ll do the same number of units and just estimate the same.

Okay so we’ve got some workable stuff here. Let’s say I’m anti-development incentive here. What would I probably argue?

Advertisements

First, I’d be sure to point out that we’re using future public revenue to subsidize a project that does not, on the surface, necessarily represent public benefits.

Second, I would extend that argument credibily to discuss equity and schools. Schools in St. Louis City are perpetually underfunded, and a good portion of property tax revenue goes to schools. So, you would argue that you’re potentially taking 50% of the difference in property tax revenues between old and new, so about $318,000 each year for 10 years from schools that would, theoretically, be there if the building were developed without incentives.

Third, I’d probably talk a bit about the neighborhood itself and how it commands top-market rents in St. Louis and point to the fact that the building only serves an upper-market clientele, and point out how that subsidy isn’t going elsewhere. And, I’d talk about the precedent of subsidizing a well-developed, wealthy neighborhood rather than elsewhere.

There are certain to be other arguments too, but let’s let this serve as an introductory, good-faith argument from a fellow urbanist who simply doesn’t love the idea of incentives here for those above reasons.

Let’s flip the table and be in support of the incentives. What would I argue?

Advertisements

I would point to a range of public benefits that are way too often forgotten in these conversations. It helps that I’m debating myself here, but I know from empirical research that there are inherently positive environmental benefits to dense residential buildings. I’d speak to the benefit of potentially having wealthy clientele move from Ladue to a Transit-Oriented development, and a location where they can replace many of their vehicle trips with walking or transit. I’d speak to the public benefits that would still occur from the other tax revenue being generated.

I’d also take a pragmatic approach and highlight that you would still have over $300,000 in new annual revenue, much of that going to children that otherwise wouldn’t have if we simply kept it a parking lot. Though they’re being shafted that amount each year from the incentive, they’re still getting that much more than they had before.

I’d mention that it’s been a parking lot for years, and that despite the success of the Central West End, St. Louis is still a difficult market to get financing for in some cases and it is still low-growth. There are inherent risks to development and there are huge inflationary pressures affecting labor and supply costs substantially. I don’t think people often realize just how expensive these buildings are.

So let’s be honest here, neither argument is wrong and both are well-rooted in positive values. But, if you can’t tell, I’m in favor of an incentive in the situation like the above.

Advertisements

But, of course, that’s literally just an example that I made up. What if we bumped up the incentive to 95% abatement for 15 years? Well, we’d essentially erase all of the gain in property tax revenue. Schools wouldn’t gain a thing practically and it would be really lopsided. You would still get all the benefits described regarding density and built environment, but it could set a very bad precedent for other developers and reflect an unstable development environment.

Anyway, this is all to say that these conversations are complicated and it’s usually worth it to look at the numbers and to play things out before outright expressing approval or disapproval. The reason that I began developing this script is because development incentives are falling into a category of reactionary urban politics.

There have been discussions among neighborhood groups like my own and others who seek to reject any development incentive seemingly rooted in an unfounded confidence in our development environment and a genuine value for equity. But, having admirable values is different from actually supporting actions that meet your stated goals.

When you add new units to a market, you increase affordability. Let’s say you do that and you, a developer, seek a development incentive that’s a middle-ground and still financially beneficial to the city like the example that I described, and then a neighborhood immediately declines it and your project isn’t otherwise possible, then what?

Then it’s clear that the neighborhood may have fallen into its own trap, rejecting benefits even when the numbers showcase a genuine benefit, even if it isn’t as good as we would like.

Advertisements

I think St. Louis is incredible. I think my neighbors are smart, empathetic, compassionate, and just wonderful people. But, as great as our communities are, we continue to need investment in a city that still sees its population declining. I don’t think we’re in the place to reject things in a reactionary manner even if we don’t on the face of it think the package is as good as it likes.

Now let’s be abundantly clear here. There are plenty of development incentives that we should decline. I don’t think you can credibly at this point request hefty incentives in the Central West End market, and we’re seeing those decline. But, every project is different. New construction is different than historic rehab.

My appeal here is for patience and for good-faith review and for mutual respect. Our mission is so great here as an urbanist collective, so let’s lead the way in our communities and strive to advocate for projects that are reasonable and beneficial.

So how’s that, huh? What do you think? Drop me some interactions, maybe even like Missouri Metro on the insta. My wife doesn’t think I’m cool enough for the tik tok but you can fax me some gif reactions instead.

Stay tuned for our next podcast, folks. Until then, enjoy the outro vibes.

Advertisements

Controversial Developer Proposes Apartments on Kingshighway near CWE

This featured article has been split into multiple sections to better organize the ideas discussed and the many moving parts of the story. Thank you for your patience and I hope that you find it to be informative. I invite you to engage in the conversation either in the comments below or on our Twitter page.

Introduction

Site of the FPSE Project – Brian Adler

Just after announcing its latest apartment development in the Central West End at the Optimist International Building (intersection of Taylor and Lindell), developer LuxLiving released its big plans for the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. Those who have travelled on Kingshighway any time over the last two decades have witnessed the steady decline of several multifamily buildings owned by Drury Development Corporation. As Drury’s plans for a two-tower hotel adjacent to the CWE stagnated and faltered, their properties declined significantly with little to no maintenance. Missouri Metro covered their “Demolition by Neglect” strategy last year.

The blighted properties contrasted the stunning growth and evolution of the Forest Park Southeast and Central West End neighborhoods, even as housing inventory in the neighborhoods remained low. The highly visible location, so close to the highly sought after amenities of some of the City’s most expensive neighborhoods, stood out for long-time residents and visitors alike. Residents hoped for action for years, but faced stiff resistance from Drury Development Corporation and a lack of transparency as the corporation continued to acquire more properties.

Map of St. Louis with Forest Park Southeast Highlighted – Google Maps

After nearly two decades of this prolonged process and limited neighborhood approval for a two-tower design and a surface parking lot that would replace handfuls of historic residential homes, Drury finally announed it had cancelled its hotel plans in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. This year, they begun selling some homes to residential buyers and investors alike, while also choosing a large developer to take on the most notable parcels facing Kingshighway. That developer is LuxLiving.

Advertisements

The Proposal

Preliminary Rendering Facing Kingshighway: LuxLiving

DISCLOSURE: Brian Adler is the current Vice President of the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association and will have some say in the community engagement process. He also lives on the 4500 Block of Oakland, which will be directly impacted by this proposed development.

LuxLiving is proposing a 7-story, 163-unit apartment building to replace these structures. While I generally am in favor of preserving many of the city’s historic brick structures, the buildings facing Kingshighway have been open to the elements for years, lack walls in some cases, and have foundations that are crumbling significantly. The proposed structure would activate a stretch of land with significant density that has not been occupied for two decades. While the design is still in preliminary stages and far from finalized, the current plans call for the usage of 15 parcels and the construction of a 177 space parking garage that will be partially underground and concealed.

Advertisements

On Oakland Ave and Arco Ave, LuxLiving plans to construct two-story buildings with 14 units and amenity spaces to fill in the gap between the various other residential homes on the street and the larger, 7-story structure. The designs of the two-story buildings seem to be similar in materials, massing, and overall design to the other homes on the two blocks. With that said, to accommodate these additional buildings, a few currently occupied and vacant structures would have to be demolished. LuxLiving states that they are in various late stages of disrepair and while they may not be entirely unusable, this very author lives within this stretch and agrees for the most part on that assessment.

This article cannot be as neutral as I would otherwise hope for it to be because of my very close proximity to the site, but I do want to emphasize the kind of feedback that I have been hearing from the community. For the most part, community members have few, minor qualms with the overall design, density, and massing. In fact, many (including myself), are downright excited at the prospect of removing the blight that has FREQUENTLY contributed to visible crime and dangerous drag racing across the 4500 block of Oakland and Arco.

Behind the Kingshighway Buildings – Brian Adler

Causes for Concern: Safety, Fraud, and Bad Practices

With that said, there are significant concerns about LuxLiving itself as the selected developer for the site. While LuxLiving has been generous with information and access to its developments including the SoHo, Hudson, and Chelsea covered frequently on this website, it has a troubling reputation that has consistently dogged the company. Surprisingly numerous reviews from tenants at even their newest buildings suggest lackluster property management, shoddy building materials, thin walls, and various issues. LuxLiving also allegedly utilizes Airbnb to rent out vacant units for short-term visits. While Airbnb is not inherently bad, it can pose security concerns for actual residents of the building or pose challenges in terms of trash, noise, or usage of the building’s amenities.

There are also potential issues relating to various other business practices of the organization. The CEO of LuxLiving, Vic Alston, previously defrauded investors in a revealing Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) document. Alston reportedly omitted key information from investors and submitted SOX certifications that “were materially false and misleading“. He was banned from engaging in similar investments for five years following this judgement.

Advertisements

While financial accounting requirements can be complex and perhaps it would be unfair to make judgements off of one case, Alston has repeatedly led business practices that are at best scorched earth-competitive, and at worst, deeply and fundamentally dishonest and dirty. For example, LuxLiving is currently wrapping up the nearly completed apartment building in DeBaliviere Place, dubbed “The Hudson” – poised to become another luxury, amenity-packed community. I have reported on its progress multiple times and lauded how it adds significant density to a well-trafficked transit corridor. Those facets of the project are unabashedly positive, and additional units online relieves pent-up demand that would otherwise raise rent prices.

Unfortunately, LuxLiving worked to undermine their competitors and the neighborhood itself at the onset of the development. While praising their contribution to a transit-oriented district, Alston and LuxLiving sabotaged the under-construction apartment just across the street. The Expo at Forest Park would offer hundreds of apartments at a similar price range and with similar amenities. In response, as first reported by the St. Louis Post DIspatch, LuxLiving had their lawyer Ira Berkowitz “reincorporate a long-dormant property owners association that claimed to hold review rights over the competing apartment development and declined to support the project.”

The complaint resulted in a lawsuit against the Expo at Forest Park developers and then, of course, a countersuit alleging that resurrecting an organization that had not existed for 30 years was nothing more than a means to denying a competitor’s approval. LuxLiving and the other firm ultimately settled, but another legal battle ensued – this time with LuxLiving suing the City of St. Louis’ Development Corporation, SLDC. Lux claims an entitlement to tax incentives including tax abatement and a tax break on construction materials. They allege that they must receive this support due to a letter of support from Alderman Shameem Clark-Hubbard from the 26th ward. The suit has not yet been resolved, and the decision to grant tax breaks was tabled at the June 22 meeting.

This context is important because Lux has gained some positive publicity from not requesting tax incentives for its proposed project at the Optimist International site in the Central West End, just minutes away from Forest Park Southeast. While the development will ultimately lead to a large and noticeable property tax receipt that will benefit St. Louis Public Schools, it would admittedly be awkward for Lux to request incentives from the same organization that they are currently feuding with. Notably, Lux has been mum on its intentions for tax incentives at the parcels in question in Forest Park Southeast.

Advertisements

Unfortunately, tax breaks, lawsuits, and fraud cumulatively barely scratch the surface of the controversy surrounding the company and its owners. LuxLiving is but one name of many for the company and its principle actors. Some St. Louisans might remember their apartments under the portfolio of Asprient Properties, CityWide, and others. They are all the same buildings, the same company, and the same team. Lux tends to rebrand when controversy hits a fever pitch, like when Asprient mishandled residents’ security deposits.

Even more worrisome, at one of the Central West End properties under the STL Citywide brand, residents had to be evacuated for a structural collapse at the Euclid + Pine building. Residents interviewed by KMOV reporters, while horrified, expressed not being surprised due to the general conditions that the building was kept in. Perhaps you may have been urged to give the company the benefit of the doubt, choosing to assume that the company surely has improved since then. That would be unlikely, however, because this happened this last May.

What’s Next

The proposal is likely going to go through a community engagement process facilitated by Alderwoman Tina “Sweet-T” Pihl, Park Central Development, and the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association. Although Park Central Development and its Development Committee often led the process in years prior following former Alderman Roddy’s decades-long design, Alderwoman Pihl is looking to reshape the process and involve more members of the community.

There will likely be community engagement sessions in the next couple months to inform both the community about the developer’s plans and the developer on the community’s concerns. It will ultimately then receive the approval or denial from the Alderperson.

Advertisements

A Nuanced Conclusion

While some might have expected my take to be one of pure opposition based on the sizable list of concerns outlined above, it might surprise you to know that I am still begrudgingly, mostly in support of the project. It is difficult to shake the feeling of “ick” that surrounds LuxLiving and it feels wrong to reward the company with my support, especially as a member of the FPSE Neighborhood Association. Remember, and this is important, the association itself is a neutral party and will not lend its support or lack thereof to any project, and the views of its members and board members are diverse.

That said, I am also a current resident of the 4500 block of Oakland that I presume that I will one day share with LuxLiving and the many residents who will occupy the community. I am writing this piece with little to no distance at all between myself and the anticipated consequences. As a resident of this block, I know all too well the damage and hardship currently caused by the derelict Drury-“maintained” buildings facing Kingshighway. The alley is littered with broken glass, impossible-to-count bottles of spent liquor, drift marks, and more. The majority of nights feature speeding down Oakland and Arco in unlicensed vehicles opting to not use their headlights. Recognize that this is not a short-term problem: this has been the reality on this block for decades. It is not as though we have been given the choice of various optimal developers, or even that matter for residents to buy up these individual buildings facing Kingshighway. Drury has selected LuxLiving, and I know well that what we will get is better than what we have.

There are other benefits I look forward to including a prettier streetscape, way more neighbors, density that will at some point add to our tax base our students, and a bit of relief for a rental market very short of inventory in this neighborhood. Perhaps I speak from a point of privilege in a multitude of ways as well, in that I am not one of the few families that will likely have to move for the project. I also am keenly familiar with development and have a hand in the community engagement process. That heightens my responsibility and that of my fellow neighborhood volunteers to ensure we don’t let LuxLiving skate through this process without answering for its reputation and demanding a robust community engagement process that allows for real concerns to be given real answers.

What’s your take?

New Midrise Proposal in St. Louis’ Central West End

The Central Corridor, ranging from Clayton to Downtown, continues to see a flurry of development proposals and construction. The last couple of years have brought several large, mid-rise to high-rise residential buildings to a region that, for decades, has seen its growth stagnate. The City of today is beginning to look far more alive than the City of 5 years ago.

Nowhere is that more true than St. Louis City’s Central West End neighborhood, where an architecturally stunning high-rise was just completed last year and new apartments, and even hotels, are popping up quickly. Dense, walkable neighborhoods with easy access to transit, groceries, coffee, and other amenities are becoming more and more in demand. As a result, any parcel of land that does not produce economic activity or bring value to the neighborhood has a short life ahead.

Optimist International on Lindell – Google Maps
Advertisements

At the Optimist International Building at 4494 Lindell, a rather old, bleak building becomes further outclassed each year by its neighbors. The building does have some defenders, however, who appreciate its somewhat brutalist, mid-century design. It would be replaced by a proposal by a 150-unit, 8-story apartment building shown in the rendering below. LuxLiving is the developer on this project, having just completed their Chelsea apartment community in the nearby DeBaliviere Place neighborhood. They are also currently working on projects including The Hudson and The SOHO in Soulard.

As Chris Stritzel at CitySceneSTL reported this week, the Executive Director of Optimist International is very supportive of the sale, however. The non-profit head wrote a letter in support of the development proposal detailed below as the current building’s maintenance had become too costly, sacrificing some funds that he preferred would go to the children they support. The sale of the building would boost their capabilities significantly.

4490 Lindell from Taylor – LuxLiving

The proposed structure would, unlike some other recent projects in the St. Louis area, not request any monetary subsidies from the City of St. Louis. Rather, it is expected to produce between $850,000 and $1,000,000 a year in property taxes. It is common to see apartment buildings often receiving large tax incentives that reduce the revenue in the near term that goes toward the City’s public school system, but this project bucks that trend. It should also fulfill most elements of the Central West End’s Form Based Code, a requirement for new development to fit in with its neighborhood surroundings. While many of LuxLiving’s latest apartments have come with wild amenities like virtual golf simulators or huge saunas, this particular building will be a little more down to earth.

The units will still be luxurious, but the amenities on offer will, due to more limited space, be more in line with most of its competitors. It will include a pool deck, public café in the lobby, some walk-up office space, gym, mail room, and game area. The developer noted in a public meeting this week that their goal is to capitalize on the neighborhood rather than keep residents within. To that end, they will try to have e-scooters and bikes available for residents to enjoy the neighborhood even if they do not own a car. This is something very unique to the Central West End, with a Whole Foods just a few minutes away, nearby Schnucks, public library, UPS store, MetroLink, dozens of restaurants, art galleries, and more.

Advertisements

Additional Renderings Below:

OPINION: STL City and County Merger Discussions Must Return under Jones as Regional Mayor

On May 6, 2019, the ambitious “Better Together” plan to unite St. Louis City and County shelved its hotly anticipated and oftentimes controversial merger plan. With its chosen Regional Mayor, then County-Executive Steve Stenger, headed to Federal prison and other issues like concern from Black political leaders, the plan fell apart. The effort fizzled away, with no word on when it might return. It all began, however, nearly a century and a half ago when the City and County originally separated. For the many decades to come, the City hosted most of the regional growth. Quickly becoming one of the largest U.S. cities, bolstered by railroads, a huge river, and even a closer-than-many-expect plan to make St. Louis the actual U.S. Capitol, the City of St. Louis unquestionably thrived.

Of course, the tides shifted some in the mid-to-late 20th century. St. Louis City saw its population decline by historic proportions as the County gained residents rapidly through suburbanization. There were many forces at play, with some County municipalities created with segregationist motives, urban renewal in urban centers demolishing Black neighborhoods, redlining, restrictive covenants, “white flight”, and more. It is a complicated story to tell, but one worth in-depth research from those curious about the history of the St. Louis region.

Advertisements

Now, in what appears to be a decade of tumult in many ways for the City including crime and vacancy, there are many reasons to be optimistic. We cover a host of them here, but here’s the short of it. There are thousands of residential units under construction in St. Louis City, hundreds of millions of dollars from the Federal government, billions in building permits over the last few years, rising property values even in many Northern St. Louis neighborhoods, dozens of tiny homes and new services available for unhoused people, and tens of millions of dollars through Prop N.S. to renovate old buildings. Add to that a growing Central Corridor, tax base, annual budget, etc. and it appears as though the City itself is strengthening.

Looking at the region exclusively through the lens of there being one winner and one loser is part of the problem, however. The City doing well or the County doing well often comes at the expense of the other. For the City to grow its corporate base or lease new office space, it often poaches companies from the County and vice-versa. Municipalities play the game “Let’s see who can offer the most incentives!” to huge corporations, effectively nullifying the benefits and creating a race to the bottom. They will compete and do anything for precious sales taxes, even razing dozens of homes, schools, churches, and local businesses for a Costco in University City, for example. There are dozens of police departments, mayors, local council-members, school districts, urban planners, and more all doing the same work but competing against one another. There are even completely separate judicial systems distributing uneven justice.

Regional fragmentation leads to a host of duplicate tasks, uneven accountability, increased costs, and even a cultural/social divide that harms the region. There are many people who live in “St. Louis”, who would never step foot into Downtown STL and claim the region would be better off without the City. Of course, this view is bolstered by crime stats that truly don’t look too good, but neglects the importance of the many incredible cultural institutions, historic architecture, parks, hospitals, schools, urban form, local businesses, etc. that make the City great. The divide extends the opposite way as well, with many City dwellers looking down upon County residents for choosing to live in less-diverse, car-centric, often more conservative neighborhoods that were historically built to keep out Black residents.

Advertisements

If all this sounds unhealthy for the region – know that it absolutely is. No one talks more negatively about St. Louis than St. Louisans themselves, and we assume as a culture that all those outside the region view us unfavorably as well. The reality is that they really don’t. While we are bombarded with KSDK, KMOV, and Post-Dispatch stories daily detailing the violence and other problems we face, other cities are too – but with their own problems. National news is so focused on partisan affairs that they hardly pay us any attention. We are finely attuned to our problems, but others know nothing besides our beer scene, the Arch, Washington University, etc. Every family member or friend who visits me in St. Louis has left with a positive impression, and it is a region that kept me – a transplant from Los Angeles – post graduation.

One of the reasons that I stayed was the real potential evident across St. Louis. We have the architecture, the culture, the diversity, the sports teams, the river, the colleges and universities, the food, the beer, the coffee, the kindness, and much more. For how great the region can seem, we’re often operating with one hand tied behind our proverbial back. For example, we can’t make a real, coordinated effort on reforming policing if only the City and a couple County municipalities change their rules because there would still be dozens left with rules unchanged. We cannot truly address housing or income disparities on race if only part of the region chooses to do so. We cannot make investments in infrastructure that affect people equitably if we do so through a fragmented process. With hundreds of millions of dollars coming in to the City and the County, we CAN make historic investments together, but we will end up doing so without coordinating the effort for maximum effect.

Even if I could convince the average reader that a merger, or some furthered and comprehensive cooperation were to be for the better, a reasonable question regarding political leadership inherently emerges. Aside from the unknowns like how many council members there would be in a merged St. Louis City and County, or what those very districts would look like, there would have to be an agreement on who the Regional Mayor would be. Or, if no agreement is possible before a merger, what electoral process would take place to settle this question.

Advertisements

Perhaps the best solution could be to settle upon a “Caretaker Regional Mayor” – one who would oversee the unified City and County post-merger and serve until an election that they would be allowed to take place in. A one year term would be long enough to ensure there was durable leadership in the near-term but not so long that those who disapprove of said person would not have a foreseeable election date on the horizon. Newly elected Mayor Tishaura Jones is uniquely qualified for this position. Mayor Jones has strong support from broad sections of St. Louis, managing to pull in respectable numbers even in South St. Louis wards. She also has strong regional connections, with her former experience in the State Legislature, endorsement from County Executive Sam Page, and the large number of Aldermen who endorsed her in her run.

Many will likely cringe or even stop reading this opinion at the mere mention of Mayor Jones. Some speculate, even claim that without a reasonable doubt, that Mayor Jones is corrupt. Others fall back upon racial stereotypes and even sexist discourse suggesting that she will simply be a tool of her father. Here’s the thing – Mayor Jones has never so much as been indicted for a crime, so those who boldly claim that she is without a doubt corrupt do so as armchair prosecutor, judge, and jury. Some point to her international travel that was broadly related to furthering government competence, others suggest that she was even under investigation from the FBI for parking contracts while she was Treasurer. As salacious as these headlines can be, there has been zero follow-up or indication that such “investigation” was ever taking place following other commentary that any anonymous or politically motivated tip could lead to the actions written about in the McPherson report.

That leaves us with a host of allegations mixed with racist and sexist discourse – none of which has ever been proven in any judicial setting. Most see only the headlines, failing to check in on a story after it is published. None of these have panned out, and there is no reason to think that any must be true.

Advertisements

The reason for this aside is to suggest that the discomfort with Mayor Jones may, to some degree, be unjustified. When taking away these allegations, she is by and large the best candidate for the job. She is the Mayor of the City of St. Louis, home to the Gateway Arch National Park, Busch Stadium, Forest Park, and other cultural institutions that represent what the public knows of St. Louis. She is also a young, Black, progressive woman who could genuinely seem like a fresh, positive face and contribute to a more sunny narrative for the region to the rest of the country. This is merely anecdotal, but I have already seen threads with folks from other cities considering a move to St. Louis just because of Cori Bush and Tishaura Jones.

She has already shown a large degree of competence and community engagement coming out of the Pandemic as well. Her grassroots support is impressive, and her community-driven budgeting process for the COVID-19 funds from the Federal government enticed thousands of responses and her Stimulus Advisory Board has already released a draft of plans that will help tens of thousands of St. Louisans in accordance to their priorities given. She has shown that she is willing to take on excessive subsidies for corporate development, vetoing two Central Corridor tax incentives but also negotiating with The Lawrence Group at the City Foundry for a more equitable incentive package – one that the developer is publicly excited about and supportive of.

Even if I haven’t convinced you that Mayor Jones is the best choice for Regional Mayor, still consider the bigger picture. Our region is stagnant in population. A fragmented approach does little for our region, and a more unified face could help us prepare for the next century. We have so much potential, and too many cooks in the kitchen all with competing interests. It’s time to revive Better Together, but from the bottom up rather than the top down.

Advertisements

Bridging the Delmar Divide? Development at Euclid and Delmar Brings Big Promises

As the Central West End has seen historic levels of investment with tens of millions of dollars of renovations and new construction over the last few years, neighboring communities like Skinker-DeBaliviere, Midtown, and The Grove have experienced significant ancillary growth. St. Louis neighborhoods that traditionally make up what is known as the region’s “Central Corridor” have strengthened, revitalized, and become substantially more wealthy. Over the last few years in particular, other communities adjacent to the Central Corridor have begun to enjoy the fruits of St. Louis’ newfound development and success, yet with some notable exceptions.

While South St. Louis has seen its population stabilize or even increase in previously hard-hit neighborhoods like Dutchtown, much of North St. Louis has continued to depopulate as development has struggled to even begin to cross the infamous “Delmar Divide”. The divide, which signifies a racial and wealth gap between communities North and South of the street, has been a fixture of St. Louis politics and community action for decades.

Boutique studios and businesses like Cross Grand are booming in neighborhoods like Dutchtown – Brian Adler

Segregation in St. Louis is just as present today as it was decades ago, even if many of the practices such as Redlining and Restrictive Covenants are no longer explicitly legal. De facto segregation is still horrifyingly apparent. Communities still experience the impacts of a legal system designed to oppress people of color, where segregation in the form of Jim Crow laws are outlawed but wherein the consequences and harm are not actively fixed or accounted for. The systems that kept Black St. Louisans in the North side of the city and prevented investment in Black communities caused generational harm, and with only a handful of decades between now and Jim Crow, it is ludicrous to expect an even playing field.

The divide is as much engrained in the physical environment of St. Louis as it is in the demographic makeup of our communities. From Downtown to Skinker-DeBaliviere, neighborhoods directly South of Delmar Blvd. contain a host of infill, renovations, businesses with high-paying jobs, and significantly better infrastructure. Most notably, the neighborhoods South of Delmar are predominantly white.

Advertisements

Such issues might best be classified as “Wicked Problems“, often used in the environmental context, because of the large-scale and complex policy solutions that take many years to unpack. To solve segregation in St. Louis, like most U.S. cities, there is no single solution. Instead, a host of attitude and policy changes must occur.

With that said, there are notable efforts in action here in St. Louis that take aim at the most infamous geographical segregation at the city’s “Delmar Divide”. Kevin Bryant, President of Kingsway Development, recently unveiled a massive, $84 million development at the intersection of Euclid and Delmar Blvd. Looking to leverage the strength and momentum of the Central West End neighborhood and bring its success due North where investment abruptly ends, Bryant is taking aim at reducing vacancy, providing affordable housing, and creating a community of mixed income levels.

The Emerging Business Center – Image Found on CityScene STL

The project is predominantly located within the Fountain Park neighborhood, lying just North of the Central West End. In 2015, 84.4% of Fountain Park residents were Black, whereas just south of Delmar in the Central West End, only 29% of residents are Black. Despite its proximality to the CWE, it has seen its fortunes decline over the past several decades. Even as rents rise consistently just South of Delmar Blvd., the buildings in which Kingsway Development hope to redevelop mostly sit vacant.

Fountain Park Neighborhood – Image Provided by Google Maps

Often when large developments are proposed in lower income communities, ones that might be predominantly Black communities, gentrification reasonably becomes a major concern. While I have previously covered that social scientists generally have mixed views on the actual negative impacts of gentrification, some studies show that gentrifying neighborhoods lose their affordable units at 5x the rate of other neighborhoods. There is still active debate regarding how many residents are displaced or whether it is statistically significant when compared to how many residents might leave a neighborhood over several years in the first place, gentrification is a broader issue that covers more than simple physical displacement.

Like most big issues, there is considerable nuance. That is why developers should be cognizant of not just the negative impacts of gentrification, but also the historical character of a community and its demographic makeup. That is not to say that they cannot and should not build in certain communities, but that they should work with the community itself to make sure it can be part of the community, not taking advantage of it, but adding to it and providing value.

Delmar & Euclid – Image Provided by Google Maps

That careful planning is precisely what Kingsway Development has worked so hard to accomplish. Kevin Bryant, President of Kingsway Development, was kind enough to respond to my request for a comment with a substantial conversation on the merits and risks of his project.

Unlike other large, phased projects like the Centene Clayton Campus where the best, most impactful portions of the development are cancelled after being used to help push for tax incentives, Bryant and Kingsway are providing value instantly to Fountain Park. The first phase will include a mix of rehabs and new construction for affordable housing, capitalizing on historic, vacant housing stock and filling in vacant lots. Bryant believes that while gentrification is, and should be a concern to major developers, that this project brings more people in of mixed incomes where there weren’t residents already.

The Kingsway Development Corporation was created out of the necessity to cease the rapid decline of American neighborhoods and restore them to their potential of vibrancy and communal splendor. 

Kingsway Development

Bryant is quite proud of where his opportunity to develop this tract came from. The Fountain Park neighborhood sought a developer for this land, specifically looking for a way to capitalize off of its major potential and proximity to the CWE without negatively impacting or taking advantage of its residents. Working in conjunction with the neighborhood, St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC), and their Alderman, Bryant has found a large base of support. Solidified by public meetings and community input, the plan originated from the neighborhood and immediately offers public benefit. Much of the support is public and visible with written endorsements here.

The plan will include five projects over 2 years alongside and North of Delmar Blvd. Construction will begin alongside Delmar, where the vacancy is immediately apparent across from The Lofts at Euclid, on the South side of the Euclid and Delmar intersection.

The Lofts at Euclid – Lofts at Euclid Website
Advertisements

The first phase will include 22 affordable homes, below market-rate, aimed at creating a more “mixed”, dense neighborhood that residents of different incomes can enjoy. Bryant hopes to “set the precedent” with these homes, creating a model for other developers and investors to follow as he opens up later phases to other developers who go through their community approval process. If other individuals or companies seek to purchase adjacent LRA property, some of which can be found here, they must go to the neighborhood association, Kingsway Development, and ultimately through the LRA approval process. This methodology will prevent speculators and ill-equipped investors from hindering progress.

The first batch of construction will also include a $6.3 rehab of the building at 4731 Delmar Blvd. into office and commercial space, creating a more mixed-use neighborhood once each phase is built out. The gallery below showcases the current and future state of the large structure. This will be a significant street activation, where a blank wall currently meets the sidewalk.

Kingsway Development is seeking a $6.2 million subsidy in the form of tax-increment financing (TIF) from the St. Louis City TIF Commission, followed by a public hearing on December 9, 2020. While Missouri Metro shares the concerns of many St. Louis City residents regarding TIFs and utilizing public financing means as a tool for economic development, this project exists in an entirely different context than most big developments that receive TIFs. While this proposal runs along Delmar Blvd. and the blocks North of the infamous, long-lasting demographic divide, many others utilize public financing even in strong markets in the city’s Central Corridor.

TIFs are best used to eliminate the “market gap” that exists in developing or low-income areas, wherein the cost of development and revitalization exceeds the expected return on investment. They can be an incredible tool when used properly, aiding neighborhoods that traditionally wouldn’t see money flowing in. As Missouri State Auditor Galloway recently revealed in a public audit, however, St. Louis City leaders lack any formalized methodologies or goals when awarding TIFs, often aiding developers where there might not be any market gap.

Advertisements

In this case, Kingsway Development plans for the TIF to primarily go toward streetscape improvements along Delmar Blvd., which is in poor shape thanks to the long-term lack of investment. Other financing is also expected, including Missouri & Federal Historic Tax Credits, Missouri Brownfields Tax Credits, and Federal New Market Tax Credits. While there is still a funding gap, Bryant and the SLDC are optimistic that the project will fill that void as it solidifies investor partnerships.

With the office and commercial building at 4701 Delmar preleased already, according to Bryant, and poised to potentially break ground this December, they are preparing the subsequent phases for a quick rollout. Kingsway Development plans for a second office building with a $14 million price tag to begin shortly after construction at 4701 Delmar begins, with a rehab slated to begin around the same time at 4915 Delmar Blvd. The 4915 Delmar rehab is projected to cost $3.8 million and become a performing arts center to create a more vibrant, 24-7 district.

4915 Delmar – Image Provided by Google Maps

Late next year, perhaps the biggest portion of the project is slated to begin – a $43 million apartment complex, “The Bridge”, with 156 residential units. These units will add significant density to the Fountain Park neighborhood and fill out the vacant Northern section of the Euclid and Delmar intersection.

“We imagine creating a project that will be a symbolic unifier for both sides of the street,”

Kevin Bryant – speaking to the TIF Commission

Many of the units offered will be market-rate, adding to the many affordable homes being renovated and built on neighborhing parcels. Some of those affordable homes will be restored LRA properties, which sit vacant and awaiting developers willing to salvage distressed properties. Unfortunately, the LRA is one of the few land banks in the country without funding sources (save for the sales themselves), and it generally does not have sufficient resources to put work into the thousands of homes it owns to fill the aforementioned market gap. As such, many LRA properties worsen in condition and become even harder to sell to investors. A significant purchase of these properties, with many being salvaged, is a big deal both in terms of historic preservation and because it perhaps saves these homes from the wrecking ball, freeing up other city resources.

The Bridge – Kingsway Development

While the project is certainly large in scope, Bryant and Kingsway Development are not going in alone. Alongside the full backing of the community and partners like the SLDC, his development team includes industry veterans such as Brian Pratt, a former Green Street executive, as well as Kwame Building Group and Trivers, a construction and architecture firm.

Missouri Metro has extensively covered phased developments that go wrong, like the Centene campus mentioned at the top of this article. That being said, development proposals like the project Kingsway Development has put forth, deserve extra focus, and perhaps even praise if done correctly. This is especially true when considering the impacts on a low-income, predominantly Black community that has seen decades, if not centuries of oppression. A large development could either the first domino that falls and triggers the transformation and empowerment of a community, or the erasure of one that has suffered so much already.

Advertisements

Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, who represents the 22nd St. Louis Ward in North City, was kind enough to make himself available to Missouri Metro to discuss the hardships Black people have historically faced that helped create the Delmar Divide as we see it today. We also were able to discuss the development patterns seen in the city, and Boyd specifically called out the tendency for officials to award public financing packages to projects in the Central West End while streets, homes, and whole neighborhoods crumble just North of Delmar.

Alderman Boyd – St. Louis 22nd Ward

Boyd stresses that the only major developments North City has seen, or that the city has generally helped to promote, are affordable housing units. While those have positive impacts and fill a specific need, Boyd worries that they don’t do much to attract any new families or investment to North City neighborhoods. They do not make it more desirable, rather, only solidify the low-income status of communities if they are the only major investment seen. He believes that the best developments would begin to make more mixed income communities, offering amenities that actually attract new residents, providing better amenities and a better built environment for existing residents as well. That is to say, while affordable housing would be a fundamental inclusion, investment should go beyond that and create, support, and foster diverse communities.

City support would go a long way for improving North St. Louis neighborhoods, where institutional barriers like access to financing already create a bleak picture for residents looking to better their own communities. Alderman Boyd and his wife, Patrice Boyd, grew up on the same street they now live on today, and after moving back following his time in the military, they looked to invest in real estate and restore housing stock.

At the time, they could hardly get a hold of their Alderman. They hunted for grants, and partnered with Northside Regeneration, which has now developed a reputation for sitting on land while promising major projects with pretty renderings. Finally, they sought their own financing with banking institutions like Landmarks, Gershland, and UMB. Each bank denied the Boyd’s mortgage applications. While you might assume, as the reader, that this was during the height of Redlining, this was actually in the 1990s – long after Redlining became explicitly illegal. None of the banks gave Boyd any reason for their rejection, until finally he strolled into UMB and demanded to know why they could not be approved for a mortgage. UMB claimed that it was due to credit card debt, which amounted to a couple hundred dollars spread over a few credit cards, despite their steady combined income.

One of the many distressed, historical LRA Properties (left) in Fountain Park – Image Provided by Google Maps

It would be an easy fix under normal circumstances, but UMB forced Boyd to send physical copies of the money orders used to pay off the incredibly minor credit card debt to the bank. For those who have never experienced the process of applying for and receiving a mortgage, this is an inexplicably complicated process they forced Alderman Boyd through. The banks also did not follow one of the most important elements of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, passed in 1974, which requires lending institutions to always provide a clear reason for mortgage or loan denial.

Boyd ultimately resolved the issue, only to find himself hindered by the appraisal for his 3-family property he was revitalizing. The appraiser claimed that she could not provide an appraisal of the value he needed for his mortgage in their North St. Louis City neighborhood. The Boyd’s simply needed an appraisal of 50k or higher, and appraisals in Soulard, which was in poor shape and beginning to see more rehabs at the time, were significantly higher. They Boyd’s finally prevailed after significant effort with the bank and the appraiser, ultimately receiving an appraisal of 70k+. After the rehab, the St. Louis Post Dispatch and CDA featured the property under the “House of the Month” series run at the time, all the while not recognizing the many obstacles in place that prevent passionate neighbors of his improve their community.

Even more ironic, they became the “poster children” for UMB Bank, making massive posters of their home in their bank branches as an example of what was possible with their rehab loans, despite their initial denial and near refusal to appraise the home at the value necessary because of its neighborhood.

Advertisements

At the same time, his neighbors have been preyed upon by predatory lenders. First time homebuyers were buying mortgages that were sold as all-encompassing, as most mortgages are, but that ultimately did not package in property taxes, insurance, and mortgage interest into the loan. These residents were met with massive bills at the end of their first year of ownership and were either foreclosed upon or had to make major sacrifices. Most of those homes now sit vacant, dilapidated, and devoid of the life they used to hold.

Missouri Metro greatly appreciates the willingness Alderman Boyd to share his story that unfortunately is all-too-common among North St. Louis residents. These were not always low-income communities, where vacant buildings often outnumber those occupied. Boyd remembers being able to walk to the nearby JC Penny, and the many stores nearby that helped makeup a somewhat middle class neighborhood. There were concerted, systemic efforts made by large institutions that local governments either ignored or tacitly supported that decimated Black communities.

Alderman Boyd’s experience fills out the context for why the Kingsway Development proposal is so impactful and important to analyze. While he is not too familiar with the project, he knows of Bryant and the effort he puts into his work. This project also begins to meet Boyd’s criteria for positive development in North City communities, bringing real, sizeable investment and public financing to a neighborhood that needs it. Better yet, it brings a more mixed community, one with amenities that will serve a diverse population in a densely built environment.

While the development proposed just may make a big difference at this intersection, it will require much more than the laudable work of Bryant to restore North STL. It will require focus, oversight, significant financing, and buy-in from the broader St. Louis community. There must be a huge shift in how and where public financing is utilized in the city, founded upon a broad recognition and understanding of how St. Louis, like many other cities, has historically failed its Black residents and communities.

Blight in Drury’s Wake: When Development Stalls and Buildings Crumble

Drury Hotels scatter the St. Louis area, offering a value-focused hospitality experience in buildings that predominantly look alike. Friendly staff greet visitors who arrive with a clean room, a few free drinks per day, and a breakfast buffet. Drury now operates more than 150 hotels in 25 states, with 20 in St. Louis alone.

The Drury Hotel in Brentwood, MO – Drury Hotels

Drury’s growth has been remarkable, and their hotels have become staples in the many St. Louis area neighborhoods. Yet, it is becoming evident that their focus is beginning to shift away from St. Louis. Amidst Drury’s rapid growth is a strategic shift toward other markets and larger developments. Drury Hotels outlines on their website a list of future hotels, both large and small, from Richmond, Virginia to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

New and Coming Soon Hotels

A quick glance at these developments reveals that while Drury is retaining their traditional hotel look for its Richmond and Knoxville hotels, it is branching out into larger, more modern structures elsewhere. Alongside the structural and stylistic shift is another strategic move, with none of these “Coming Soon” hotels coming to St. Louis or Missouri as a whole. This could be explained by St. Louis possibly being too saturated with Drury properties or hotels in general. However, hotels have been flocking to St. Louis in what has been called a “hotel boom” over the past two years, so it is clear that more rooms are demanded in the STL market. Drury has 20 hotels in St. Louis, so why invest more time and money in the St. Louis market?

It would be understandable and perfectly conceivable if the saturation argument were true that Drury would move on, expanding predominantly in other metropolitan areas. On first glance, it would seem that Drury Hotels is doing just that, with one critical exception. While Drury has constructed mega-hotels in other cities, it has simultaneously gobbled up property in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, slowly destroying historical property with demolition by neglect.

View of Drury properties from the West side of Kingshighway

Those who commute to or live in the Central West End or Grove neighborhoods are probably be familiar with the site pictured above. Straddling Kingshighway are several multi-family buildings that deteriorate a little bit more each day. Going South on Kingshighway, one might assume they were entering a neighborhood devoid of investment or appreciation.

Instead, these structures mark the entrance to the popular Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, harboring the popular “Grove” neighborhood and a growing number of luxury rentals with rents to match. Housing stock in the community has been appreciating rapidly as doctors, medical students, and tech gurus working at the Cortex choose to live close to work and the many retail and dining establishments on Manchester.

Drury Hotels likely noticed the upward potential when their development arm, Drury Development Corporation, began acquiring neighborhood properties in 2007. Minutes from the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association detail a lengthy timeline marked by a notable lack of transparency or neighborhood involvement. The first acquisitions were located on Arco, Gibson, and Chouteau.

It seemed for a short moment that Drury Hotels and Drury Development Corporation would move quickly, realizing the potential of a hotel on the edge of Forest Park, the Central West End, and an attraction corridor with a vibrant history and growing popularity. Drury unveiled an early rendering of a potential hotel to occupy the property along Kingshighway and build not one, but two towers. Each tower would rise 16 stories above the neighborhood and the rendering depicted a large section of land being made available for parking.

Rendering of the proposed Drury Hotel in FPSE – NEXTSTL

At the time this project was proposed to the community, Drury was still completing their Brentwood hotel near the Galleria mall. Alex Inhen at NextSTL reported that Drury would then focus their attention in Forest Park Southeast / The Grove if the Brentwood hotel proved to be a success.

Although we are not privy to Drury Hotel’s occupancy statistics, my own anecdotal experience with family and friends staying regularly at the Brentwood Drury Hotel seems to indicate a relatively high occupancy. Even if my assumption proved incorrect, there is evidence that Drury has not yet completely given up on a Grove hotel and plans to develop, eventually.

At the time of their FPSE hotel proposal, Drury owned 5 parcels of land that the development would occupy. In 2014, NextSTL reported that Drury Development Corproation had acquired another 15 parcels. In those six years, Drury never presented any other renderings or plans for this location. Instead, they simply kept acquiring land at a snails pace, indicating that they were still bullish enough on the location to purchase relatively expensive land.

Although that might indicate that Drury intended to invest in the community and its success, their actions were far from that. While a hotel would surely add jobs to the neighborhood and improve the landscape for retail and restaurants, their property ownership and lack of maintenance has hampered growth, hindered other investment that could have taken place, and bothered residents.

Debris, bricks, and a crumbling foundation dot the dirt surrounding this property on Oakland Ave.

As Drury continued adding properties to its portfolio in FPSE, they neglected even the most basic maintenance. The structures are slowly falling apart at the seams, endangering residents and skirting the requirements for demolition set out by Park Central Development.

Drury has looked to demolish this property at 1092 S. Kingshighway since 2016, and Park Central Development laid out a set of criteria Drury must follow. They include landscape maintenance, debris removal, regularly painted and maintained boards for all window and other openings, and all other Drury owned buildings not on Kingshighway must be renovated by December 2020, according to NextSTL.

1092 S. Kingshighway

Of course, this building is still standing, with Drury completing none of the requirements set forth by the community. Instead, they are letting the building fall by itself through a strategy of “Demolition by Neglect”. In doing so, a lack of maintenance will eventually bring the building to a state of disrepair wherein demolition is not an “if”, but rather a “when”, as the community pays the price.

As is evident in the photo, there are major portions of the structure that are fully exposed. Vegetation and weeds are found inside, on, and surrounding the property that have hardly seen any maintenance. Moreover, the fence hardly discourages any urban explorers or criminals from entering. This property is undeniably dangerous, unstable, and a disaster waiting to happen for children or scavengers. Bricks could easily fall off the side, rocks the same, and I would not wish to be the individual to test out a floor board inside.

While 1092 S. Kingshighway is being demolished by weather and neglect, Drury also is ignoring its other properties not located on Kingshighway. 4569 Oakland is in a drastic state of disrepair. That is despite the fact that all Drury poerties not facing Kingshighway should have until December to be rehabilitated and stabilized according to the agreement with Park Central Development. Instead, they sit vacant, contributing to blight in the community. Criminologist James Wilson posits a “Broken Window Theory” that suggests blighted buildings sitting vacant with broken windows or in otherwise various states of disrepair also invite crime to communities. Broken windows and abandoned housing provide areas that criminals may reside in, whether for drug use or various other acts, and the visual representation of blight encourages other actions that are damaging or harmful. While it is certain that Drury does not support crime, their actions in Forest Park Southeast absolutely endanger residents, either through a physical risk attributed to structures literally falling apart or by making the neighborhood more attractive to criminals.

4569 Oakland
A six family structure on Oakland that Drury let sit as the elements forced an eventual permitted demolition

Writing this story in the middle of August 2020, I am hardly expecting Drury to suddenly begin and then quickly complete their rehab of the 4569 Oakland property prior to December 2020. Yet, their properties are being brought down slowly without any care on Drury’s toward the wishes of a community that hopes to prevent several homes from suffering the fate of the six-family Oakland property pictured above.

I hoped to give Drury the benefit of the doubt. That is why I called Drury Development Corporation to try and ascertain what their current plants were in Forest Park Southeast. Tom Milford, Manager of Real Estate, would not reveal whether any plans were still in the works for this site. While the answers to all of my questions were some variation of “No Comment”, he suggested that COVID-19 had at least somewhat impacted their long term goals for this property. Tom claimed that he and Drury Development Corporation have held a steady, consistent presence with neighborhood groups like Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association and Park Central Development, and that they would work with the community and reveal plans as they come. However, we already know that residents have found Drury to be an inconsistent, relatively untruthful member of the community, not revealing what their plans are even as they accumulate and therefore deteriorate more land.

It has been almost 13 years since Drury began acquiring properties in Forest Park Southeast, an up-and-coming neighborhood that has seen tons of rehab, infill, and development. The community has evolved in spite of Drury Hotels and Drury Development Corporation, whose crumbling properties line the entrance of the neighborhood and contribute nothing but an increased likelihood of crime. How much longer will Drury string along this community, and how many properties will they demolish through neglect as neighbors cry foul and they ignore the sensible stipulations set out by community organizations? When will St. Louis and community leaders finally say enough and demand more of a corporation that has created almost a decade and a half of blight? Hopefully soon.

Until then, those inclined to put some pressure on Drury can start by calling their Aldermen. For instance, Joe Roddy represents this district, and his number is (314) 622-3287. Or, get involved with Park Central Development or Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association.

%d bloggers like this: