Conservationists urge city to use ‘demolition by neglect ordinance’ to expedite action on historic St. Louis church | politics
ST. LOUIS – The head of a nonprofit dedicated to preserving historic buildings wants the city to exercise unprecedented power to honor Dr. Gurpreet Padda, the owner of the Second Baptist Church, to blame for the decay of the famous structure.
Located at 500 North Kingshighway in the Central West End, the church is part of the ‘Holy Corners’ district on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for its stonework and 130-foot-tall bell tower, which caught fire in October, increasing the urgency of preservationists’ because .
Andrew Weil, executive director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, sent a formal request to Meg Lousteau, director of the Office of Cultural Resources, on Dec. 15, asking her to use her powers under the 2014 Demolition by Neglect Ordinance to convene a hearing The Church of 1907.
But so far, Weil hasn’t received an answer. The city never actually applied the ordinance passed with the broad support of the city councilsincluding Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, who co-sponsored the measure.
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“All we’re asking is that the[Cultural Resources Office]refer the matter to the Preservation Board,” Weil said. “At the very least, that would allow for a public hearing and public recording of the exam. The ordinance was issued by the city legislature because it recognized that protecting irreplaceable cultural property serves a common interest. The ordinance serves the people and heritage of the City of St. Louis. At least we deserve a hearing.”
Heather Navarro, who was the area councilor until she resigned Monday to take another job, backed the motion. Shortly before she left office, she said city officials told her they were looking into the matter.
“This is exactly the scenario that the regulation envisages,” Navarro said.
The ordinance, issued after the high-profile demolitions of the Cupples 7 warehouse and Castle Ballroom in Midtown, allows the director of the Cultural Resources Office to initiate a hearing with the Preservation Board on certain “high-quality” historic buildings she believes will be carried out “Abandonment through Neglect”. The board can then vote to refer the petition to the Office of the Building Commissioner, which must conduct further hearings.
Ultimately, the city can use the ordinance to perform emergency repairs to stabilize a building and bill the owner for the work by adding the cost to property taxes.
However, the process to get to that point would require multiple hearings and likely attorneys.
At a Preservation Board hearing Monday, Lousteau said the city is considering using the ordinance on demolition by neglect “or other avenues” to protect St. Louis’ architectural heritage.
Chief Executive Richard Callow asked why the regulation had never been applied.
“It’s a bit complicated,” Lousteau replied. “There are multiple departments and legal action involved, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used.”
Actually the city already has the power to perform emergency repairs and secure many buildings. But historically, the means to do so have been lacking. Discussions are underway to potentially give the Office of the Building Inspector the money it needs to step in and make repairs to some of the city’s most historically significant buildings and charge owners for the work.
Alderman Jack Coatar, also a member of the Preservation Board, noted that the city has settled millions in federal funds and from the NFL lawsuit that may be used to fund some of the necessary stabilization work for neglected historic buildings under the city’s existing powers could.
Simply starting a hearing before the Preservation Board “is not a worthwhile endeavor unless we can put our money where our mouth is,” Coatar said.
However, Weil argued that initiating the “demolition through neglect” process could still spur Padda to secure the building and undertake emergency repairs before it decays into an unsustainable state. Padda did not respond to requests for comment.
padda, which operates pain management clinics in St. Louis and BridgetonHe bought the church in 2012 with plans for a brewery. But since then nothing has happened and the church has continued to deteriorate. Without the quick response of firefighters, the October fire might have destroyed it.
There is a development proposal from Monica Butler, the owner of The Butler Groupand developer Steve Smith to turn the church into a gospel music museum.
Butler said in an interview that Monday talks are underway with Padda and her team is renegotiating a price for the structure to reflect the damage from the fire. She hopes to complete the purchase of the building by the end of the year. She said the fire was “heartbreaking” and she won’t be sure the building is secure until her group closes the building.
But, she said, talks are moving forward and she’s confident her group can buy the building for the Gospel Music Museum concept, whether or not the city takes action based on the condition of the building.
“We’re going to have a Gospel Music Hall of Fame in this area,” Butler said. “I feel in my heart that we will have the building fully secured by the end of the year.”
Consulting firm PGAV is now helping to plan the project, and more supporters are signing up, she said. For example, there are plans for a “Gospel Music Day” at a Cardinals game in August at Busch Stadium, which she says will help raise awareness of the project.
“The doors have just opened and it makes me feel better to know that this is something the community wants,” Butler said.
Still, there’s no guarantee a deal will materialize, Navarro said, and even during negotiations, action by the city under the “demolition by neglect” ordinance could speed things up.
“So I think it’s really important to keep the pressure going,” Navarro said.
Updated at 6 p.m. with comments from the Preservation Board meeting.(tncms-asset)d8aeb85e-6e73-11ec-983c-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)2008dc34-3657-11ec-8592-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)e6ef7c54-fba6-11eb-8608-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)