by Sam Levin
Cupples 7 is being demolished.
After heated debate over the last two months, St. Louis city officials are officially moving forward with the plan to tear down the seven-story brick building in downtown that a group of preservationists and interested developers fought to save.
"It's unfortunate that it had to come to this, but public safety absolutely had to come first," Maggie Crane, spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, tells Daily RFT this morning.
The demolition crew began evaluating the site yesterday and the physical process will begin in the coming days, she says. Within roughly one hundred days, Cupples 7 will be gone.
See also: - City Says Historic Cupples 7 Will Be Demolished Unless a Developer Steps Up - Demolition To Begin Next Week On Cupples 7, Advocates Push For Rehab - Cupples 7: Vertical Realty Says It Can Save The Historic Site In Downtown
Critics of the demolition option have argued that the site should be rehabilitated and redeveloped in an effort to both preserve the historic building and to avoid a vacant lot downtown.
The property on 11th and Spruce streets is the only building in the historic Cupples Station complex that has not been fixed up. Eames and Young constructed the site for Samuel Cupples between 1894 and 1917. The city, which did not own the site, condemned the building in 2008 -- and efforts to rehab it by a firm called Ballpark Lofts III, headed by developer Kevin McGowan, were unsuccessful.
Over the last several months, the city has publicized its call for immediate development proposals, with the formal request for proposal issued last November.
The city has said it was looking for a developer with the necessary financial backing to save the site without delay, after officials declared the building to be a serious and imminent public safety threat. As per a contract negotiated by the former treasurer of the city, Tishaura Jones, the current treasurer, purchased Cupples 7 in June from Montgomery Bank for $850,000. The treasurer's office and the mayor's office have both said that if interested developers could step up now with adequate financing to rehab the site and address public safety concerns, they would be happy to facilitate a deal.
Otherwise, officials said, Cupples 7 must come down now.
"We are comfortable the City exhausted every avenue for redeveloping Cupples 7 before demolition," Jones says in a statement. "It is unfortunate we are forced to demolish a historic building, but our first responsibility is always to ensure the safety of our City."
Daily RFT outlined the proposal of local firm Vertical Realty, which argued it had a plan and necessary financing to save the structure and redevelop it. But the city and company, it seems, could not hammer out a deal that was satisfactory to both parties. Vertical Realty was the last remaining potential developer.
"It's definitely disappointing," Hasan Adelani, senior associate with Vertical Realty, tells Daily RFT, "but we understand the city's take.... We support the city in their decision."
He adds, "Timing was a huge factor in this."
The city argues that, under Vertical Realty's proposal, the city would've had to become a "master tenant" of Cupples 7, meaning that it would have an obligation to pay unsecured debt if the development failed. In this scenario, the city risks defaulting on its promise and triggering a downgrade in its credit rating if the developer runs out of money, according to city officials.
Adelani and his team, however, have argued in recent weeks that their proposal for a public-private partnership would not be a financial risk for the city and that the so-called "lease agreement" would simply help Vertical Realty access funding. It would not require the city to guarantee the debt, the company has said.
"We appreciate Vertical Realty trying hard and trying an imaginative approach to saving this building. But, we cannot put either the taxpayers or the City's credit rating at risk," Slay says in a statement. "Vertical Realty's finance structure might work for public projects like new police stations or college dorms, but it does not fit here."