Tomorrow the Housing and Urban Development Aldermanic Committee will consider a bill that would deem the Del Taco at South Grand and Forest Park a "blighted area," consequently opening the door for its demolition. The proposal has drawn much scorn from the public. So yesterday, Mayor Francis Slay blogged his thoughts on the matter . Clearly, he's a man who hears the voice of the people.
"I hope that aldermen take notice of the building's popularity, particularly among younger residents for whom buildings of the 1950s and 1960s really are old buildings," he wrote, possibly referring to nearly 12,000 members of the "Save St. Louis Del Taco" Facebook page. "If aldermen, after mature consideration, approve a plan that allows the demolition of the Del Taco building and the developer subsequently applies for a demolition permit, I will ask Cultural Resources Office director Betsy Bradley to review the permit and make a professional recommendation to the Preservation Board about further action."
This is key because the Preservation Board is mainly made up of Mayoral appointees, so it gives Slay some control over the situation. The whole reason developer Rick Yackey went to the aldermen in the first place was to avoid having to go to the Preservation Board. Aldermen in outside wards, after all, are less likely to object to the building's potential demolition than are a group of citizens responsible for maintaining the cultural artifacts of the city.
Slay questions the validity of the claim that the Del Taco building is a "blighted area," and implies that the term was only applied in order to sidestep the Preservation Board.
"A more reasonable use for a blighting ordinance is to aid neighborhood revitalization by allowing some flexibility in demolishing problem properties," he says. "It is not clear to me that the Del Taco building falls into the same category. Unlike many, many others, it seems to have the potential for use and re-use."
He goes on to directly suggest that Yackey consider reusing the building rather than tearing it down. And if the demolition does happen, he asserts, the people of St. Louis should not be paying for it.
"At the very least," he says, "I hope that aldermen include a provision in the plan that bars the use of any public funds for reimbursement for the demolition of this particular building or compensation/relocation of its tenant."
He doesn't say whether or not he would veto the bill if it gets approval down the line. However, by making a public statement that brings the Preservation Board into play and nudges Yackey and the aldermen to consider every possible alternative, Slay has essentially taken an unofficial stance against the building's demolition. And that may be enough to push the aldermen who have no stake in the issue to swing against the laissez faire "aldermanic courtesy" of letting 19th ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis do as she wishes in her ward as long as it doesn't affect anyone else. Because now that the mayor's picked a side, it does affect everyone else.
Tomorrow's committee meeting will be at 10am in room 208 at City Hall. Let's see if the mayor's words sway the field and the people who say they love the building actually show up.