Short Cuts

BOMBS AWAY: Depending on how you look at it, the building swap was a good deal for the city, or the city got screwed out of $450,000 and its workers got crapped on -- literally.

On paper, the deal made sense; it even looked good for the city. The city would give St. Louis University the building at 1220 Carr Lane, a block east of Grand and north of the expanding SLU medical-school complex. In return, the city workers housed in that building would move to the old Mangelsdorf Seed building at 1316 N. 14th St., a few blocks north of downtown. That way, SLU could demolish the building on Carr Lane for -- you guessed it -- a parking garage.

The comptroller's office says the Carr Lane building had a market value of $1 million, whereas the Mangelsdorf building was valued at $1.5 million. As part of the deal, SLU kicked in $100,000 to help renovate the seed building into warehouse and office space for the relocated city departments: air pollution, forestry and facilities management. So far, so good.

But when the departments moved to their new home on March 26, they had to put their desk workers in the warehouse area. Also, the rehab costs exceeded the estimated $100,000 and have ballooned to about $550,000, according to Steve Engelhardt, spokesman for Comptroller Darlene Green.

A March 10 memo from Marie Jeffries, of the mayor's office, to the department heads was quite clear as to how the transition would be handled: "I am acutely aware that the planned office space for you at the new site will not be completed until sometime in May, based on the contract recently signed by BPS (Board of Public Service). Nevertheless, the move is still on for the 26th." The department heads are advised that their employees will "temporarily occupy space in the warehouse area." Then, in a blunt admonition, Jeffries ends the three-paragraph communique thusly: "There will be no deviation from this plan without my personal approval." Okeedokee, Marie.

As it turns out, the air-pollution workers found a polluted work environment. In the large warehouse area, trucks and heavy equipment drove in and out, and birds flew overhead. "If government workers were covered by OSHA, there were OSHA violations," says one insider. "There were birds flying around, crapping on desks. There's pesticide odors, there's mice staggering around that had been poisoned, there's vehicle exhaust, heavy equipment with carbon monoxide while workers were expected to sit at a desk and work inside." The city employees moved in late March, and just this week desks were beginning to be moved out of the warehouse area, away from the birds and the carbon monoxide.

One negative interpretation of the swap has "SLU swallowing up everything, and what they want, they get," coupled with Jeffries "cramming this down everybody's throat." An alternate view comes from former Ald. Marit Clark, who co-sponsored the aldermanic-board bill that structured the building swap. Clark insists that SLU "is always willing to pay whatever it needs to to get something done; they're not going to cheap out on you." The university had been "begging for this for 10 years," Clark says. And Engelhardt insists that the real-estate part of the swap was a good deal. "At the time of that deal, the $100,000 in cash that the university supplied for renovations in the Mangelsdorf building would have been adequate for the project as it was envisioned then," Engelhardt says. Then the "administration" -- the mayor's office -- sought changes that caused the rehab tab to jump to an amount "in excess of $550,000."

In short, the city signed the swap deal first and figured costs later. From the comptroller's perspective, what drove up the cost of the renovation came from the departments involved and was OK'd by the mayor's office and BPS. From a citizen's perspective, if the city knew it was going to cost $550,000 to renovate the Mangelsdorf building, at least it should have attempted to hold SLU's feet to the fire for more bucks. After all, SLU could always have raised its parking fees.

PAGE SUMMONED: Tim Page is not only a Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic (at the Washington Post); the author and editor of 10 books, including Dawn Powell: A Biography, Selected Letters of Virgil Thomson and The Glenn Gould Reader; and the new artistic advisor for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, he's the star of "A Day with Timmy Page," a 1967 short-subject film that shows the 12-year-old as auteur. Page made 8mm films as a child, directing friends and family in silent productions. The films within the film "A Day with Timmy Page" contain some outrageous violence -- in one, a baby is kidnapped, then shot -- but the young director is as nimble as Martin Scorsese in distancing himself from an interviewer's pursuit of darker motivations. The precocious Page discusses his directorial influences, which include Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin movies, especially The Gold Rush. He reveals a Hitchcockian disdain for actors and admits that one actress was cast because he likes her.

Whether "A Day with Timmy Page" should be viewed as primer for Maestro Hans Vonk and the symphony staff is up for conjecture. SLSO executive director Don Roth is ecstatic about Page's appointment, but, then, he hasn't seen the movie. SLSO hopes to "utilize Page's vast encyclopedic knowledge of music," says Roth, to help Vonk put together a season's program. "Hans loves to work this way. He loves to have somebody bouncing ideas off of him."

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