In Wake of Cupples 7 Demolition, St. Louis Considers Reforms to Historic Preservation



After much controversy, the Cupples 7 building in downtown St. Louis is being demolished -- and city officials are now debating whether they can do more to protect the city's historic properties moving forward.

At the direction of the mayor, officials from across a wide range of city agencies met yesterday to discuss possible policy changes and other kinds of reforms that could bolster preservation efforts.

"St. Louis has such a rich stock of historic buildings," Maggie Crane, spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, tells Daily RFT. "You look at the architecture and you'd be hard pressed to find it anywhere else. We don't have beaches. We don't have mountains. We have historic buildings."

What can the city do to ensure the preservation of these properties?

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

As we've chronicled here, Cupples 7 -- the seven-story brick building on 11th and Spruce Streets, built between 1894 and 1917 -- was in very poor condition and on the verge of potentially crumbling, according to city officials who deemed it a public safety hazard.

The city, which did not own the building and had taken previous developers to court over poor maintenance, sought to find a new developer for many months. City officials said they did not want to assume the financial risk and argued that Cupples 7 could only be saved if a firm with an immediate plan and financing to stabilize the building stepped up to the plate.

One company had a serious proposal at the last-minute this spring, but wanted a so-called "lease agreement" with the city -- a setup that officials said would have required St. Louis to guarantee the debt in the event of a failed development.

Cupples 7. - VIA GOOGLE MAPS

"We have a lot of really good ordinances on the book. We have a really good process of historic preservation and what you have to go through in order to get a demolition permit. It's pretty rigorous," Crane says. "But can we add anything to this? Is there anything we missed?... What did we learn from Cupples 7?"

She tells us that the private, two-and-a-half hour meeting on preservation yesterday included the building commissioner, the cultural resources office, planning officials, city attorneys, the public safety commission, the development corporation and other leaders.

As St. Louis officials emphasized in the months leading up to the demolition, the city did sincerely want to save the building, she says.

"Some of the frustrations with Cupples 7 were not just from the outside but from the inside right here in the mayor's office," Crane says.

The group of city leaders will be meeting again in three weeks and regularly after that to explore potential reforms, though Crane says it's too early in the process to discuss specifics. There could be proposed ordinance changes, new funding structures and more, she says.

Mayor Francis Slay. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • via Facebook
  • Mayor Francis Slay.

She cites a maximum fine of $500, written in to the city charter, for developers who neglect to maintain properties as one example of an obstacle worth exploring further.

"There are too many other buildings that could fall into similar incredible disrepair," Crane says. "We are working to find every which way possible to prevent another Cupples 7."

She adds, "Every idea is on the table."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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