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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

300 S Broadway Plans Amended

Developer Bamboo Equity Partners is moving forward quickly with their plans to redevelop the historic 300 S Broadway building just adjacent to the quickly-growing Ballpark Village. The building has seen a host of proposals, even a skyscraper concept that would be one of the tallest buildings in St. Louis if completed.

Featured Photo Credit: Bamboo Equity Partners
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While the more flashy skyscraper proposal, created by HDA Architects, did not move forward, Bamboo Equity Partners decided to maintain the historic brick façade and renovate the vacant structure into ballpark adjacent apartments. Downtown’s residential population has steadily been growing over the past decade, with sky-high occupancy and multiple new multifamily projects either under construction or just proposed. Cordish’s One Cardinal Way is nearly 90% occupied just down the street, and it seems as though Bamboo Equity Partners saw value in being just next to a National Park, the Cardinals’, and the entertainment venues at Ballpark Village.

While their initial plans for the building included a penthouse addition to the roof of 300 S. Broadway with views into Busch Stadium, just revised plans amended the rooftop to be a smaller lounge and outdoor amenity space for all residents. However, some urbanists are disappointed that Bamboo Equity Partners appears to have scrapped their plans for ground-floor retail, opting instead for apartments directly on Broadway. For a development in the heart of Downtown and right next to Ballpark Village, this may be a missed opportunity, one albeit that may represent the new retail environment created by COVID-19.

“Penthouse addition with apartments and bleachers scrapped per plans posted on the SLDC planroom. Club room and terrace remains. Also interesting to note, the first floor will feature apartments facing Broadway. “

Chris Stritzel summarizing the latest updates from the SLDC Planroom – 3/3/2021

Regardless, this will likely still be a huge benefit for Downtown St. Louis, which has over the past few years chipped away steadily at the abandoned buildings that grace its skyline. Combined with other recent projects like the Jefferson Arms renovation and the incredible progress along Washington Avenue, Downtown may just run out of abandoned buildings in the not too distant future to rehabilitate. Moreover, this will contribute to the day and nighttime populations in the city’s urban core, helping provide stability to neighboring businesses. We hope that ground-floor retail may make a return sometime, but this will still be an excellent place for residents with the incredible amount of amenities nearby.

Map View of 300 S. Broadway from Google Maps
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Featured Photo Credit: Bamboo Equity Partners

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