Sunday, December 5, 2010

St. Louis Desaturated

Late fall and the winter provide great atmospherics for black and white photography.  I feel like B&W captures a certain subtle melancholy that is associated with this colder, darker time of the year, while continuing to reflect the underlying beauty of the subject. 

Here are some recent pictures from around the City of St. Louis (click on pictures for larger versions).  I hope you agree that it doesn't need to be sunny or warm to get out and enjoy the scenery!

A bridge over Pagoda Lake in Forest Park, near The Muny.

"Washed Ashore"
St. Louis' cobblestone levee on a recent foggy morning,
with the historic Eads Bridge in the background.

"For the Birds"
Some of the abundant bird life at Tower Grove Park,
taken at the "ruins" and fountain pond.
"To the Arch"
The path from the northern end of the Jefferson
National  Expansion Memorial to the Gateway Arch,
on a foggy morning.

"Into the Mist"
The Gateway Arch on a recent foggy morning.

"The Return"
This is "The Captain's Return," adjacent to the Eads Bridge.
This is the explorers' (and dog Seaman's) return to St. Louis after a 2+ year
journey to the West, on September 23, 1806.

The landmark Wainwright Building in downtown St. Louis. 
Some may consider it heresy to take the red out of the red brick for this
picture, but I like how it focuses the eye on just the building's form and
detail work, particularly the highly ornamented cornice.

"Silver Morning"
The Gateway Arch from the Eads Bridge, early morning.
The faux ruins and fountain pond at Tower Grove
Park.  Created by park founder Henry Shaw in
1872/73, and restored in summer 2010.
This sculpture, along with the nearby turtle, are the works of Bob
Cassilly, creator of the amazing St. Louis City Museum. 
Located in the playground of Lafayette Park.

"Edge of the Park"
This iron fence is located along the eastern edge of Lafayette Park in St. Louis.
The fence and stone gates were designed by Francis Tunica and erected in 1869.

"Into the Storm"
This statue, "Apotheosis of St. Louis," stands at the top of Art Hill in Forest Park, in front of the Art Museum. The statue, of Saint Louis, King Louis IX of France, was originally cast by Charles H.Niehaus and later cast in bronze by the W. R. Hodges firm. The original plaster statue stood at the entrance of the 1904 World's Fair. The final bronze work was unveiled on October 4, 1906, and was the symbol of the City of St. Louis, until completion of the Gateway Arch.

"The Rockery"
The Rockery in St. Louis' Lafayette Park was built in 1866. According to the park's website,
"Only one Iron Bridge remains of two that replaced rustic bridges lost in the Cyclone of 1896."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Looking for Leadership on Regional Cohesion

Will this flag someday fly over ALL of St. Louis?
This week, the Post-Dispatch continued its excellent "Can St. Louis Compete?" series, analyzing the region's disproportionate focus on real estate development rather than job creation, and the competitive and counter-productive use of tax incentives by the region's numerous governmental entities.  It seems pretty clear that if the paper's query ended "With Itself?", the answer would be a resounding "yes."

There are, of course, no easy solutions to the problems examined by the series, rooted as they are in complex and intertwined financial, political, and social issues.  I believe, however, that the re-entry of the City of St. Louis into St. Louis Countyif not a full-scale consolidation of the City and the Countywould be a step in the right direction.  This spring, I wrote a post on reunification, arguing that "re-joining the City to the County would help foster a sense of regional cooperation that is lacking now, to the greater good of all of St. Louis."  While only a cursory overview of the issues (and probably oversimplistic in its analysis), I continue to believe in its central premise that reunification would be a long-term net positive for all of St. Louis.

Of course, as many others have said, rejoining the City and the County would not be a "silver bullet" to solve the region's problems.  Such "solutions" don't exist in the real world.  Without complementary reform efforts, such as changing the way in which intra-regional municipalities use local tax incentives (particularly tax increment financing) in an "inefficient, zero-sum competition for tax base with their neighbors", it's possible that reunification would have very little effect at all.  To me, though, the question isn't whether reunification solves the problems the region faces (it certainly won't), but whether it is a stephowever smallin the right direction.

Admittedly, it may not be.  As some suggest, enhanced collaboration among specific organizations and interest groups may be more effective and efficient than changes to governmental structure.  There is certainly evidence that city-county consolidations don't always result in the cost savings touted by their advocates, and even that they can do more harm than good.  And concerns held by residents of the City (e.g., ceding control over urban issues to the County) and the County (e.g., the assumption of liabilities from the financially struggling City) are not irrational. 

To me, though, it seems intuitive (and real-life examples from elsewhere suggest) that a united City and County would become stronger over the long term.  If nothing else, the re-entry of the City into the County would be a symbolic step toward increased regional cooperation, and ultimately may advance a new paradigm of competing against other regions instead of ourselves.  As business columnist David Nicklaus said in Tuesday's online discussion, "The outside world sees us as one metro region, and the more we look at ourselves that way, the better off we'll be."

Of course, we cannot know the precise effects of reunification before it occurs.  What we do know, though, is that St. LouisALL of St. Louisneeds to analyze these questions critically, to the point of starting to come up with some answers.  For too long, we have heard about the problems caused, at least in part, by the ultra-divided nature of our region, and by our self-defeating infighting.  How long do we have to hear about the problems, before we start demanding solutions?

Perhaps those demands are about to multiply.  Gauging by the (mostly) thoughtful online comments to one of the series' articles, the region's citizens are engaged in the discussion and are looking for answers. In addition, there are rumors in the air about the formation of a citizens' group to begin advocating for the re-entry of the City into the County.  The conversation will be further advanced with the publication (probably in a month or so) of the next installment of the "Can St. Louis Compete?" series, which will focus specifically on our governmental structure.

It is my hope that the increased focus and public engagement on these issues will act as a catalyst for policymakers and business leaders alike to begin identifying waysspecific waysto begin tackling these oft-cited problems.  Again, it is certainly possible that reunification is not the answer.  But if that is not one of our first steps, then whatspecificallyis?  What are the first steps we should take together to begin competing more with other regionsfor businesses, jobs, and residentsthan with ourselves?  

And who is going to lead the discussion?  City of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, for one, has long advocated the City's re-entry into the County.  Mayor Slay amplified his position on the issue earlier this year, taking to his blog, Twitter account, and the media with calls for a vote on the re-entry of the City into the County within two years.  Mayor Slay rightly noted that there would have to be a "huge benefit" to the County for reunification to work, and described the process as "slow" and "with much public debate."  In a discussion I had with the Mayor's office earlier this year, I was told that a push for reunification would begin after the County Executive election in November, assuming that the County Executive (Charlie Dooley) was agreeable to it.

The public debate seems to be well underway, and I believe that the Mayor's position has not changed.  What is less clear (to me, anyway) is the extent to which County leaders are stepping to the plate.  "Dooley's Merger" became a heated issue in the waning days of County Executive Dooley's campaign against challenger Bill Corrigan, with County Executive Dooley backing off earlier statements in support of "merger." 

Since the election, County Executive Dooley's public stance on the issue has been somewhat muddled.  He has stated that "the city-county merger issue will not be one of my priorities in the next term," described reunification to the Post-Dispatch as "not a Dooley or a Slay thing," and argued that "It's got to be what the people want. And apparently, people are not interested in doing it right now."  Subsequently, though, he has clarified to The Riverfront Times that the "merger" topic is not "off the table," and that he is open to discussing the idea if it will help the economy of both the county and city, bring jobs and make the region better."

There is no doubt that any proposed reunification of the City and County is politically tricky, and that the public's input is critical.  Equally clear, though, is that moving the ball forward will also require strong top-down political leadership.  Merger may not be "a priority," but beginning to identify concrete solutions to the problems it is intended to address must be.  It is incumbent on all of the political leaders of our communityin the City, the County, Missouri, and Illinoisto work cooperatively to determine how to strengthen the region for the future.  That is certainly underway to some extent already; hopefully the focus will sharpen in upcoming months.

It is timebeyond timefor strengthened regional cohesion, whether that takes the form of formal consolidation or merely enhanced internal collaboration.  Either way, it's time for our region to stand together as ST. LOUISUNITED.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why St. Louis Should Vote for Simone

Those of you on Twitter are almost certainly aware of the ongoing "Vote for Simone" campaign.  This post is for my millions (and millions!) of readers who are not on Twitter or otherwise haven't heard about Simone's contributions to St. Louis.

Simone Bernstein is the 18-year old founder of St. Louis Volunteen, a comprehensive online database of St. Louis volunteer opportunities, geared toward matching youth volunteers with the service needs of charitable organizations.  Simone also has focused on opening up volunteer opportunities to youths under 18, which are typically limited due to safety and liability issues.  Using her website and social networking sites like Twitter, Simone posts volunteer assignments and promotes a variety of charitable causes.
Through St. Louis Volunteen, Simone's efforts have resulted in placing more than 1,500 area students into volunteer opportunities.  In addition, almost fifty St. Louis organizations are now willing to consider volunteers under the age of eighteen.  Simone also was instrumental in organizing the First St. Louis Youth and Family Volunteer Fair, which connected over 25 organizations and 500 interested volunteers at the Magic House.

Simone has now been named a 2010 "Woman of Worth" by L'Oreal Paris, which recognizes Simone as "an inspiring volunteer, an outstanding achiever, and a beautiful person who's making a difference in her community."  She already has received a $5,000 award for her charity of choice, and is in the running for a $25,000 award if voted as the Woman of Worth National Honoree.

In Simone's own words:  "I was fortunate to be selected as one of 10 females throughout the US for the L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth award.  I am one of the youngest honorees and the only one from the Midwest.

L'Oreal Paris has donated $5,000 directly to continue providing funding for future Youth and Family Volunteer Fairs at the St. Louis Magic House.  The next Youth and Family Volunteer Fair will be Sunday, April 10, 2011.  The event is a great way to promote and share an organization's mission with the community.

I have a chance at winning a huge grant of $25,000. I would like to put those funds to use for funded summer volunteer enrichment programs for inner-city youth. Middle and upper class kids are encouraged to volunteer, but transportation and finances make it more challenging for inner-city youth.  ALL funds will go back to programs that focus on youth." 

Simone named the following organizations as ones that "are passionate about helping youth and utilize youth volunteers," and that she would like to help with her grant proceeds if she wins:  St. Louis Crisis Nursery (@StlCrisisKids); St. Louis Making Music (@Stlmakingmusic); the Education Exchange Corps (@EduXchangecorps); Scope Missouri (@ScopeMO); and the Danforth Center's World Food Day.
Simone has done a lot for the greater good of the St. Louis communityparticularly for an 18-year old.  Her efforts should be encouraged and rewarded. Let's all take a few seconds and return a good deed to her, and help her become the National Honoree by voting (and asking others to vote) for her.

Unlike some contests, you only have to vote once (per e-mail address), and it literally takes only a couple of seconds to vote.  Voting ends on November 24th.  The Women of Worth honorees will be recognized at a dinner in New York City on December 9th, at which the National Honoree will be announced. 

Vote for Simone!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Autumn in Tower Grove Park

Vine-covered tree near Grand Blvd.
entrance to Tower Grove Park
Any season is a great time to visit Tower Grove Park, but if you haven't yet enjoyed an autumn day there this year, I would highly recommend getting there before the remaining color is gone. 

Although sometimes called one of the City's "best kept secrets", the park has a huge number of devotees and was recently hailed by the Riverfront Times as the "Best Public Park" for 2010.  It may be overshadowed by the better-known and more-visited Forest Park, but, in my opinion, its relative peacefulness is a big part of its charm.  On my most recent visit, the word that kept coming to mind was: serenity.  

Tower Grove Park was donated by Henry Shaw to the citizens of St. Louis in 1868.  In addition to its beautiful natural scenery and wildlife (particularly birds), the urban forest boasts some of St. Louis' finest landscape architecture, statuary, and numerous Victorian-era pavilions that can be reserved for weddings, picnics, and other events.

The park includes four full-length sculptures (William Shakespeare, Alexander von Humboldt, Christopher Columbus, and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben), and a music pavilion surrounded by marble busts of composers Mozart, Rossini, Beethoven, Wagner, Gounod, and Verdi. Other ornamental works are scattered throughout the park.

Main Drive in Tower Grove Park, early morning.
Christopher Columbus by Ferdinand von Miller, dedicated October 12,
1886. This first statue of Columbus in the U.S. is believed to be "the
only statue in the US of a bearded Columbus, a feature added at the
insistence of the donor [Henry Shaw]. A rumor has it that objecting,
the sculptor carved on the statue:  'I knew he didn't have a beard.'"
The Music Pavilion is surrounded by this marble bust of Mozart as
well as ones of composers Rossini, Beethoven, Wagner, Gounod, and Verdi.

Echoing the words of one of the park's commissioners in 1883, the park's official website states that "the public pleasure grounds of a great city . . . are disassociated from all political, religious or social antagonisms; people generally visit them in their happiest, most reflective moods, and on days when the cares and anxieties of business and labor are laid aside."  Those words ring true to me in general, and particularly in relation to Tower Grove Park.

Autumn may be on the wane, but the park is a great place to visit in any season.  The park is the site of many of the City's gatherings throughout the year, including the popular Festival of Nations, which saw its largest crowd to date140,000 visitorsin summer 2010.  And on Saturday mornings from May through early November, the Tower Grove Farmers' Market and Bazaar (located just west of the Pool Pavilion) is bustling with shoppers and other visitors. Particularly in the summer, this is a great time to bring the entire family to the park, as throngs of kids splash in the wading pool and enjoy the nearby playgrounds.  

Enjoying the music at the Festival of Nations,
 Summer 2010.

Families splash in the fountain at the Wading Pool Pavilion,
adjacent to the Tower Grove Farmers' Market.
 For much more information on Tower Grove Park's history, attractions, and events, be sure to visit the park's official website or the City's site dedicated to the park.  If you really want to dig into its history, check out this digitized version of the 1883 Tower Grove Park of the City of St. Louis. Review of its Origin and History, Plan of Improvement, Ornamental Features, Etc. With Illustrations.

Of course, if you want to get a true flavor of the parkget out and enjoy it!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Scenes from Our Beautiful City

Lately, I have not had nearly as much time to post on this site as I would like.  I hope to be able to write more in the upcoming months, but in the meantime, I thought I would share some photographs from around the City of St. Louis.  I bought a DSLR camera last month and have been spending a lot of time taking pictures around town (part of the reason I haven't written as much lately).

While I intend for this site to continue to be more of a written blog than a photoblog, the main point of the site is to spread a positive image of the City of St. Louis--and what better way to do that than to share some scenes from our beautiful city.  You know what they say pictures are worth . . . so, until I can get back to actual writing, here are 12,000 words.

(Apologies to my Twitter and/or Flickr followers, who likely have seen some or all of these before).
“The Runner” by William Zorach.
Kiener Plaza, downtown St. Louis.
Eros Bendato (the "sideways head") by Igor Mitoraj.
Citygarden, downtown St. Louis.
The Southwestern Bell Building is in the background.

Nathan Frank Bandstand in Pagoda Lake, Forest Park
(Thanks to "Anonymous" for the info on this structure)

Christ Church Cathedral, 1210 Locust Street.

Vine on Brick, Cherokee Street.

Arch through the trees.

Civil Courts Building reflected at Citygarden.

Art Museum under construction.

"Guardians of the Brick."  Hammerstone's in Soulard. 
This brick building on their back patio is believed to have been a whiskey still during Prohibition.

"Waiting on a Train"

"Bunnyzilla" at Citygarden.

Arch at sunrise, from the Eads Bridge.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Winning Women Historic Tax Credit Forum: Tuesday, November 9th

Winning Women is a St. Louis-based organization of highly successful women dedicated to promoting women in business, education, government and health initiatives to advance regional economic growth; to making the region a better place to live and work; and to reinforcing the region's position as a desirable community in which women can build successful careers, businesses and family lives.  Among other activities, the group provides interested, motivated young women opportunities to meet and learn about available career options and to interact first hand with active, successful female executives.

In addition, Winning Women holds periodic forums on key current issues affecting the St. Louis region.  The upcoming November 9th forum will address Missouri's historic tax credit ("HTC") program, both in terms of its past successes and the ongoing legislative efforts to modify the program. 

Winning Women has put together an outstanding and diverse panel for this forum, including Sarah L. Coffin, PhD (one of the principal investigators of a key study on HTCs prepared for the Missouri Growth Association); Susan Montee (Missouri State Auditor); Tishaura Jones (Missouri State Representative); Wendy Timm (President of the Missouri Growth Association); and other political, business, and historic preservation leaders.

This event will provide insights into the current state of legislative activity surrounding Missouri's HTC program, and is sure to be of particular interest to those who want to ensure that recent harmful tinkering with the program does not lead to even worse, permanent legislation.  For more information on the forum, including how to register (by November 3rd), please click on and print the picture below.  If you are interested in learning more about Winning Women, you can contact the group here.

Click picture for larger, printable version

Friday, September 24, 2010

Congratulations to MVVA Team, Winner of The City + The Arch + The River 2015 Competition!

The selection of the team helmed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates as the winner of The City + The Arch + The River 2015 international design competition marks a key milestone in the decades-long effort to revitalize the Arch grounds. For a detailed look at MVVA's plans for reconnecting the City of St. Louis to the Arch grounds and the riverfront, go here and/or watch the video below:

As would be expected (no matter which team won), there is a wide range of opinion as to whether the competition jury selected the best design. Personally, in my first reaction to the release of the designs, I tweeted that I liked MVVA's design the best, primarily because it seemed to me to be the most compatible with City to River's longer-term proposal to replace the downtown highway with a boulevard.  In subsequent weeks, though, I had MVVA considerably further down the list.

Having had several days to dig back into MVVA's design, I have to say that I am really excited with the outcome of the competition. In the relatively near future, among other improvements we can expect to see (subject to design changes):
  • A westward-facing, street-level entrance to a significantly expanded underground museum;
  • Removal of the existing parking garage at the northern end of the Memorial, creating access to walkable portals through the Eads Bridge to Laclede's Landing;
  • New spaces and improvements to enjoy at the northern end of the Memorial, including play areas for children, shaded seating areas, a large earthen amphitheater (better placed, in my opinion, than the theaters proposed for the east side of the river), and a new Gateway Urban Ecology Center;
  • A new, well-designed Cathedral Square next to the Old Cathedral, with an adjacent market pavilion and restaurant;
  • On the east side of the river, a bird sanctuary with treetop-level walkways above restored wetlands;
  • A riverside cobblestone plaza, intended to "accommodate a broader spectrum of markets, concerts, and seasonal attractions";
  • Smarter use of parking to activate the north, south, and west edges of the Memorial, and remote ticketing facilities intended to encourage visitors to explore downtown while waiting for their Arch tours to begin;
  • A seasonal beer garden and ice rink on the currently-underused south end of park, as well as better connections to the Choteau's Landing area;
  • Expanded space on the Eads Bridge for pedestrian and cycling use; and
  • A one-block "lid" over the depressed lanes of (soon-to-be-former) Interstate 70 with "noise mitigation hoods," intended to create a more pleasant pedestrian experience.
If these improvements are actually completed--and all indications are that key governmental and business players intend to ensure that they are--then I think the design competition will largely have fulfilled its mandate to "take one of our country’s first urban park sites, weave it into the city fabric, explore the role of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial as an active part of the downtown and a contributor to economic growth, celebrate the riverfront and mitigate the divisive ‘moat’ of transportation around the site." 

For those who think that the design is merely "safe," I think they have not considered the massive undertaking that is involved in completing the improvements described above, and are missing the bigger picture.  The design does, after all, have to be feasible within the parameters (temporal and otherwise) set by the design competition (without which nothing would be happening at all), and economic reality. 

Of course, what MVVA has proposed is a preliminary design, and there is room for improvement.  Over the next 90 days, the team will work with the National Park Service, the City, and key stakeholders to revise and refine the design.  Comments from the public are welcomed, so if you see something you don't like--or don't see something you do like--then now is the time to voice those opinions.

Interestingly, MVVA even appears to be open to incorporating design components from the other teams in the competition.  I wouldn't anticipate any of the big-ticket, eye candy items (think gondolas) working their way into the final design, but there is certainly room for (for example) better cross-river connections, better activation of Kiener Plaza, and better connections between the Memorial and downtown.

That last point may be the most exciting, as MVVA appears to be interested in designing in a way that is consistent with the broader goal of replacing the downtown highway with a boulevard.  As noted in the team's earlier design narrative, "We have proposed a one-block overpass, rather than an at-grade boulevard, because it is less expensive, easier to achieve by 2015, and would require fewer jurisdictional and regulatory negotiations. But the benefits of removing the highway altogether are clear, and we have purposely created a proposal that is compatible with either solution."  City to River has extended its congratulations to MVVA, and hopes to work closely with the team and other stakeholders in the upcoming months.

On balance, I think St. Louisans should be thrilled with where this competition has led, or that it even occurred at all (it being a monumental achievement in and of itself).  I have probably said it hundreds of times and I will say it again--this is an incredibly exciting time for St. Louis.  Thanks to the organizers of the design competition, and congratulations to MVVA and its team members!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dear Tax Credit Review Commission: Please Do No Harm

On Tuesday, I attended a portion of the meeting of the Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission at the Old Post Office.  The Commission, appointed by Governor Nixon, is charged with "review[ing] the state's 61 tax credit programs and mak[ing] recommendations for greater efficacy and enhanced return on investment."  Due to time constraints (mine, not the Commission's), I was unable to give the testimony I had prepared for the meeting.  Luckily, the Commission is accepting testimony by mail and e-mail (see this post for information on how to contact the Commission). 

Here are the comments that I have delivered to the Commission:

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District
En Banc Courtroom
One Post Office Square
As I’m sure the members of the Commission know, Missouri has what is widely hailed as the best, most effective historic tax credit ("HTC") program in the entire nation. Missouri's program has been dubbed a "national model" for economic development by the Wall Street Journal. Respected preservationist and real estate consultant Donovan Rypkema has stated that "the Show Me State has shown the rest of the country how to attract private capital into our historic buildings." The credits have long been recognized as a key economic driver of the state’s economy.

According to a March 2010 evaluation of the program by the Missouri Growth Association, economic impacts of the program include $670 million in new sales/use and income taxes for state and local governments, $2.9 billion in leveraged private investment, significant property tax collections, $75 million in earnings tax revenue in St. Louis City and Kansas City, and significant job impacts. The MGA concluded that the program "pays for itself in economic impacts to the state."

Governor Nixon's own executive branch--if not the governor himself--recognizes these benefits.  Until very recently, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' website continued to call historic preservation "a major source of new jobs and additional revenue for municipalities, counties, and the state itself," with the economic benefits of the credits "extend[ing] far beyond the initial investment in buildings and communities."

The job-creating impacts of historic preservation in Missouri also are significant. The 2010 MGA report concluded that the HTC program is associated with 43,150 new or retained jobs with an average salary of $42,732. The program is believed to be indirectly responsible for tens of thousands of more jobs.  Annual job growth associated with HTC projects is higher than expected, with higher than expected increases in "high-paying sustainable jobs." In this economic climate, it is critical that we act very carefully in changing any program that has such a clear history of creating jobs.

An analysis of the benefits of the Missouri historic tax credits is not complete without taking into account the corresponding benefits of federal tax credits. As detailed in the 2010 "First Annual Report on the Economic Impact of the Federal Historic Tax Credit," Missouri ranks #1 in federal tax credit-aided historic rehabilitation, with $419 million of such rehabilitation in fiscal year 2008. I won’t go into all of the numbers (which you have surely seen before), but the national impacts of that one year of activity (in terms of jobs, income, and generated taxes) were immense. The in-state retention rate of those benefits was 76%. The benefits accruing to Missouri residents from the federal program—in other words, dollars that are invested in our own communities as opposed to being paid to the federal government or invested elsewhere—are a direct result of Missouri's own superlative program.

The HTC program has been a critically important component of the ongoing rejuvenation of the City of St. Louis, and downtown in particular. In downtown alone, more than 100 historic buildings were redeveloped in the last decade, with 4,400 new residential units coming online and 5,000 new downtown residents, making downtown "the fastest growing community in the St. Louis region." By the end of this year, over $5 billion dollars will have been invested in the redevelopment of downtown in the last decade, much of which could not have occurred without the HTCs used to help finance the high-cost rehabilitation of the City's historic buildings. There are numerous projects in St. Louis that very likely would not have occurred without historic tax credits, including the critical Washington Avenue corridor.

So, on a local level, Mayor Slay and others have rightly opposed changes to the HTC program that are likely to hinder continued urban development. Of course, HTCs benefit not only just large projects in downtown St. Louis.  Neighborhoods all over the city, and other communities all over the state, benefit from the program. As noted by one commentator, most historic tax credit projects in Missouri are undertaken not by large-scale redevelopers, “but rather [by] small homeowners and developers. . . . the independent 'mom and pop[s]' in communities across the state." With tens of thousands of eligible properties across the state, the benefits to smaller communites will only continue to increase over time.

A critical point to appreciate is that a mature, efficient market for HTCs is what allows Missouri's program to be so successful. As you know, Missouri HTCs are transferable to tax-paying corporations and individuals, allowing developers to obtain up-front cash for projects by selling the anticipated credits for a discount (typically $0.90 to $0.95 on the dollar). Purchasers know that the credits will be issued as long as apolitical, objective criteria are met, creating the certainty necessary for the tax credit market to thrive.

The Commission, the Governor, and the General Assembly need to carefully consider the extent to which changes to the program might affect this market. Measures such as lowered caps--and, even worse, subjecting the issuance of HTCs to appropriations--not only will cause direct negative impacts to rehabilitation efforts, but are likely have unintended and devastating effects on the entire program.

Indeed, significant damage already has occurred. This is partly the result of the “expanded review process” recently announced by the Department of Economic Development, that has resulted in developers having no clear sense of when or if final tax credit approvals will be obtained. This vague process, coupled with new program caps and other changes implemented recently and the governor's pursuit of further limits on historic tax credits, have created the uncertainty and confusion in the tax credit marketplace feared by supporters of the program. In a July 20th front page article, the Post-Dispatch reported that only $13.4 million in HTCs were authorized in the first half of 2010, down from $87.7 million in the first half of 2009. The number of applications fell by over 60% in the same period, with half of those "still awaiting approval."

That Post-Dispatch article is instructive on another point. The reporter noted that "a dozen local bankers, developers and others who work with historic tax credits" would not speak publicly "for fear of alienating the powerful state Department of Economic Development." Assume, now, that the HTC program is made subject to a political (or otherwise subjective) appropriations process. How can a market for tax credits--one that, in prior years, was held up as a national model and a key driver of the Missouri economy--function efficiently in that environment? Not surprisingly, it can't. As one prominent St. Louis architectural firm noted with respect to HTCs, “uncertainty = deal over."  And who is most likely to be hurt by new restrictions on the program?  Not the “fat cat developers” so disdained by some opponents of the program, but by the smaller, politically unconnected businesses across the state.

Hopefully the slowdown in restoring our state's historic assets is a temporary setback. Whether the harm done to the program will be made permanent is largely dependent on the recommendations given to the Governor by this Commission.

I understand that there are both benefits and costs to consider here. There is no question that the use of Missouri tax credits, including HTCs, has greatly increased over the last decade. I understand and appreciate the grave economic and budgetary times that many states, including Missouri, are going through. It is only sensible to evaluate the efficiency and return on investment not only of HTCs, but other tax credits and state programs.

But all tax credits and state programs are not equal. One way to distinguish the HTC program from at least some other programs is that it has been proven to work to the benefit of the state as a whole. The program has a long-term track record of achieving extremely beneficial results for the state in creating jobs, increasing tax revenues, and breathing new life into our historic communities and buildings. The Governor and state legislators should think long and hard about altering an extremely successful program which is the envy of many other states.

Consider also that tax credit-aided historic rehabilitation is consistent with a growing nationwide movement toward urban infill, conservation, and restoring the historic architecture of communities.  Particularly for younger generations (whom hold the keys to our state's future), there exists an ever-increasing demand for walkable, smart-growth communities, and disdain for abandoning the neighborhoods of our past in favor of continued sprawl (as opposed to real metropolitan growth).  I believe that, in coming years, these values will grow in importance to the businesses and workers that our state must be able to attract and retain to stay competitive in the national and global economies.

Rehabilitating our state's urban cores and historic communities is, then, an investment in Missouri's future--an investment that has been proven to be returned to the state many times over.  We simply cannot risk hobbling our HTC program at exactly the wrong time, particularly when other states (including neighbors Kansas and Iowa) are making positive changes to their own HTC programs.  To the extent Missouri's HTC program becomes less attractive to tax credit purchasers, Missouri's economy will lose investments to other states that would have been made in our own communities. And to the extent Missouri's cities fail to become the type of cities that an increasingly mobile workforce wants to live and work in, the state as a whole will suffer.

I would like to express one thing directly to the educators on the Commission. As I'm sure you do, I believe that the most important work of our state government is to ensure the education of our children. If I truly believed that a dollar given as HTCs was a dollar going into a “fat cat developer’s” pocket at the expense of a child, I would have no problem saying that, despite its benefits, the program is not worth the cost.

I simply don’t believe that that is true. I would encourage the commission to look past the “zero sum game” characterizations of the program used by the Governor and the Department of Economic Development. This is not an either-or situation. In order for development interests to "win," it is not necessary for educational (or, for that matter, rural) interests to "lose." As noted in the MGA report, "the value of credits issued are far less than the volume of private investments that otherwise would not have been created." These investments lead to additional economic benefits for the state, including tax revenues (used for education, among other things) that would not have existed but for the development activity. 

In conclusion, I would simply note that the charge of this Commission is to review each of our state’s tax credit programs and to recommend changes as necessary. With respect to the HTC program, I would suggest that the only change that is necessary is to restore the certainty that previously allowed historic redevelopment efforts to thrive across the state. I would respectfully request that the Commission recommend to the Governor and the General Assembly that the historic tax credit program otherwise remain unmodified.

Thank you for your consideration.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Voice Your Support for the Missouri Historic Tax Credit Program

Over the summer, I posted some updates on efforts to "reform" Missouri's historic tax credit ("HTC") program, as part of Governor Nixon's proposed overhaul of all of the state's tax credits "from scratch."  As I noted then, the uncertainty created in the tax credit market by these efforts, including the Department of Economic Development's intentional slowing of the issuance of HTCs through a new undefined "expanded review process," appears to have had a significantly detrimental effect on the program.  In July, the Post-Dispatch reported a substantial decrease in the HTCs authorized by the DED, from $87.7 million in the first half of 2009 to only $13.4 million in the first half of 2010.

A temporary slow-down in the program is bad enough; enacting changes that permanently damage our successful and nation-leading program would be tragic.  In a recent e-mail, the director of the Missouri Coalition for Historic Preservation and Economic Developmentwhich has been working behind the scenes directly with legislatorsnoted the "strong possibility the recommendation [by the new Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission] to the Governor will be to significantly reduce the cap or alter the program so much that there will be very little predictability and we could see the program die in the future."

For those who are involved in and support the redevelopment of our state's many historic assets through HTCs, now is the time to voice your support for the HTC program and your opposition to changes by the General Assembly that would be likely to hobble the program.  Here are some easy ways to help:

1.  Attend one of the remaining regional meetings of the Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission toin the words of the National Trust for Historic Preservation"voice that more cuts to the existing Historic Tax Credit Program will only reduce state revenues and kill more jobs, and that surrounding states are increasing their historic tax credit caps to create jobs."  Those opposed to HTCs (and other tax credits) such as the Show-Me Institute will be attending these meetings to argue "the costs and negative consequences of tax credit programs in Missouri," so it is important that plenty of people supporting HTCs attend as well.

The regional meetings in Kansas City, St. Joseph, and Joplin have already been held. Two other regional meetings are listed below, with a final meeting in Columbia yet to be scheduled. Public comments will be heard at the meetings below from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Monday, September 20th

John and Betty Glenn Convocation Center
Southeast Missouri State University, River Campus
One University Plaza
Cape Girardeau, MO 63701

Tuesday, September 21st

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District
En Banc Courtroom
One Post Office Square
815 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63101

2.  If you cannot attend a regional meeting, you can forward your comments to the Coalition at and they will present them to the Commission for you.

3.  Send an e-mail to all of the commission members expressing your support for the HTC program.  E-mails for all of the members of the Commission can be found here.  Even more simply, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has created an e-mail template for supporters to use.

4Encourage others to voice their support for the HTC program and their objections to any changes that will decrease the availability and certainty of HTCs in the future.

To read the Coalition's press release on the Tax Credit Review Commission and some of the proven benefits of HTCs, continue reading below.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Week of Festivals

There has been no shortage of "festivals" in St. Louis over the last week.  Perhaps most excitingly, Forest Park hosted the first LouFest Music Festival, featuring two days of music in what is almost certain to become a hugely popular annual event.  On the blues scene, St. Louis Bluesweek celebrated its Bluesweek Festival outside the Peabody Opera House last weekend, and its Blues "Cruise" in Soulard went head-to-head with the Big Muddy Blues Festival this weekend. 

Cultural festivals were celebrated throughout the City as well, starting with last weekend's Festival of Nations in Tower Grove Park.  This weekend, St. Louisans enjoyed the Japanese Festival in the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and the popular (and crowded!) Greek Festival at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

Here are a few pictures from some of the festivities:

The first LouFest Music Festival, in Forest Park

Jeff Tweedy puts on a stellar solo performance at LouFest

The market at Festival of Nations, Tower Grove Park

Scottish caber toss at Festival of Nations

Girl poses at Japanese Festival,
Missouri Botanical Gardens

Japanese Drum
Bluesweek Festival, Peabody Opera House

Greek Festival, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Design Teams Express Support for Highway Removal as Bold Proposals are Unveiled

Yesterday, St. Louis got its first glimpse at the design concepts for the renovations to the Arch grounds and the riverfront.  The bold, stunning proposals unveiled by the five remaining contestants promise a bright future for downtown and the St. Louis region.

For some early impressions on the designs, I recommend checking out the UrbanSTL site, where I believe more detailed reviews will be posted in the near future.  The public also can view the design boards in person at the Arch grounds and at a traveling exhibit.  In addition, each team has released detailed "plan narratives" (downloadable at the CityArchRiver 2015 website) that provide key insights into the teams' ideas that are not immediately clear on the design boards.

Most notably, all but one of the teams has expressed support for the removal of the downtown highway as the ultimate solution for reconnecting downtown to the Arch grounds and the riverfront.  Here is some of what the teams had to say:

“City to River articulates an enormous number of benefits arising from such a scheme…”

          - SOM Team

“..the benefits of removing the highway altogether are clear…”

          - MVVA Team

“Full Circle’s grand loop of transportation facilities could be easily integrated into its [City to River’s] design.”

          - Weiss-Manfredi Team

“We predict fanfare should the elevated highway that cuts off Laclede’s Landing be removed.”

          - The Behnisch Team

It is thrilling that the design teams, consisting of renowned architects and other professionals from around the world, recognize the benefits of highway removal and have prepared designs that are compatible with a new boulevard.  Now it is up to City to River and its many supporters to keep the momentum going.

Come to the Schlafly Tap Room Club Room tonight (7:30 p.m., 2100 Locust Street) to show your support for highway removal! Have your voice heard on this pivotal regional issue. The event is FREE.

View the event on Facebook and RSVP.  Hope to see you there!

UPDATE: See the St. Louis Business Journal's coverage of the design teams' support for City to River's proposal here.  The article also contains a list of some of City to River's key endorsers to date.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reminiscing on the Embarcadero and Envisioning St. Louis' Own Grand Boulevard

When I moved to San Francisco in 2002, I was extremely lucky to land a job at a great law firm handling some of the most exciting urban projects then underway in the city.  Most memorably, my firm represented the developer of the Ferry Building, which was at the tail end of a $100 million renovation and was on the cusp of opening as a marketplace dedicated to local and regional farmers and food businesses.  As a young attorney, I marveled over the opportunity to handle some of the lease-up work for the historic building and to tour the gorgeously restored space prior to its public opening.  Other Embarcadero projects that I was fortunate to work on included the mixed-use development of Piers 1 1/2, 3 and 5 (immediately north of the Ferry Building), and the renovation of the Waterfront Restaurant at Pier 7.
San Francisco Embarcadero, and Ferry Building
My involvement with the Embarcadero was far from merely professional, though.  Over the almost four years I lived there, I spent innumerable hours on and near the  boulevard.  Many afternoons, my wife and I would take a quick stroll to meet halfway between our offices (I worked in the heart of the Financial District, and she ran a day school near the base of the Bay Bridge), stopping for lunch at the Ferry Building, along adjacent Market Street, or in nearby Justin Herman Plaza.  Saturday mornings often included a trip to the Ferry Building farmers' market, and many of our walks through the city included tours of the waterfront.

In restrospect, it is hard to believe that, only a few years earlier, this beautiful, well-developed strip at the city's eastern edge was physically and psychologically cut off from the rest of the city.  Like so many other urban highway projects of the mid-20th century, the Embarcadero Freeway was a disaster in city planning, completely separating San Francisco from some of its greatest natural and manmade assets.  Removal efforts failed for decades, until the otherwise tragic Loma Prieta earthquake rendered the highway unusable and proved the city's fears of traffic gridlock to be baseless.
Embarcadero Freeway blocking Ferry Building
from the city, 1960s.

Although San Francisco and St. Louis are enormously different cities, they—and many other cities—share a common history of suffering the effects of poor urban highway planning.  San Francisco's residents are fortunate to have been reconnected to the Ferry Building, numerous waterfront piers, and the rest of the Bay.  The result has been a renaissance of the waterfront, an explosion of adjacent property values, and significant development including the projects with which I was fortunate to be involved.  As stated in City to River's blog, the boulevard today "accommodates large volumes of traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation alternatives, and is considered a huge success by almost all San Franciscans."

By the time most people read this post, St. Louis will have gotten its first glimpse into the possibilities for the future of its own waterfront.  Luckily, it doesn't have to take a natural disaster to reconnect our city to its own greatest assets, as the Framing a Modern Masterpiece competition—together with the rerouting of Interstate 70 over a new Mississippi River bridge—affords the region a unique opportunity to heal its wounded riverfront proactively.  When I reminisce on the Embarcadero, I envision for St. Louis' riverfront a similarly vibrant boulevard shared by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike, incorporating key intersections and urban connections, and free of abominable infrastructure barriers.  When the five design concepts are unveiled to the public on Tuesday morning, we will have our first clues as to whether the design teams share that vision.