By Anne Valente
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Newly elected Ald. Florida, whose husband, Mike, owns a wholesale-framing business in University City, believes South Grand could learn a lot by looking closely at the success of the Loop. "What we should do is look at working models. The businesses in the Loop organized and created a vision and then implemented it. If they can do it, why can't we?"
The analogy doesn't hold up for Boyle. "South Grand and the U. City Loop are not synonymous," he says, citing the Loop's proximity to Washington University and supposed "denser housing" (although Tower Grove is packed with occupied duplexes, homes and apartment buildings). "Also, the Loop is the only commercial district that University City has to worry about, while South Grand is only one of many in the city. They're not even close to being analogous." Nor, alas, are Joe Edwards and Tim Boyle.
Joe Edwards, Blueberry Hill owner and U. City Loop impresario, would seem to be Boyle's model as a culturally oriented urban-renewal specialist. But there's one big difference: Edwards gets things done. Blueberry Hill has been a crucial anchor in U. City since long before the crowds arrived, and the restaurant's expansion a few years ago has added to its magnetic appeal. In the past five years, Edwards has spearheaded the renovation of the Tivoli Building and the theater that occupies a part of it; he successfully pushed for a new public parking garage; and, despite the so-called hassles of doing business in the city, Edwards managed to turn a rubble-strewn lot into the Pageant in less than two years.
Why the difference? Edwards' development projects have been completely congruent with their urban setting, whereas Boyle tries to impose a suburban mentality on an unwilling city neighborhood. His lone South Grand success story, St. Louis Square, was originally planned as a park-in-front strip-mall-style development. Only pressure from locals forced him to build it in a more urban "storefront" style, and even then he ended up with the St. Louis Bread Co., Kinko's, Streetside Music, Sears Portrait Studio and Hollywood Video -- businesses often found in strip malls -- as tenants.
The men themselves account for some of the difference, too. Edwards is a Loop personality and works well with the merchants, residents and City Hall. But Boyle, time and again, has displayed a knack for irritating the residents of South Grand. Edwards is a Loop hero; in the minds of many on South Grand, Boyle occupies a spot somewhere below Mussolini.
Tim Boyle says his low standing among area residents is the doing of a small group of fanatics intent on smearing his name. But there are some real-world reasons so many people say the same nasty things about him. Boyle's recent adventures are instructive because they touch on one of the hottest flashpoints in urban development today: parking.
In December, Boyle outraged Tower Grove residents by demolishing a house at 3617 Hartford St. to build a parking lot. Boyle received permission to do this without a public hearing; contrary to widespread belief, a hearing is not legally required for building demolitions. "There's not a financial or development decision we make without significant discussions with the other players in the area," Boyle says. But in this case, the nearest neighbors of the demolished house were not important enough to be included in the discussion.
The resulting outcry has made it impossible for Boyle to remain under the radar. His current plan calls for the razing of two more houses on Hartford, this time to add parking for a proposed expansion of the St. Louis Bread Co. The 20 new spaces would be reserved for Bread Co. customers.
Boyle simply considers himself a realist. "When I try to bring new businesses into the area," he says, "the first two questions they ask are 'How safe is it?' and 'Where's the parking?' If you don't answer those two questions correctly, they won't give you a chance to answer any more."
On April 9, the Preservation Board of the city's Cultural Resources Office voted 4-3 against recommending the demolition. Boyle says he will continue to pursue his plan but hasn't yet decided how. Before the board's nay vote, an estimated 30 anti-demolition residents picketed the Bread Co. during the Saturday lunch rush, hoping for that very result. But Boyle believes that the protesters are simply a loud minority.
Ald. Ortmann, whose ward includes the houses in question and who supports the demolition, echoes this view. "The people that support this don't have to picket," he says. "It's the opposition that's jumping up and down. When you get the same 30 or 40 people coming out to picket all the time, it looks like a lot. But a lot of people tell me I'm doing the right thing" in supporting the demolition.
In Boyle's view, the Bread Co. -- an established business that took a chance by investing in the neighborhood years ago -- deserves some credit as an anchor of the district. "I chose to offer this expansion to them because St. Louis Bread, day in, day out, brings in customers that benefit businesses up and down the street."