Grand Funk

Where's the live-rock venue or big dance club on South Grand, catering to the area's mass of young hipsters and music lovers?

But the Bread Co., with a multitude of locations around the metro area, is hardly a unique destination; nobody will be driving to South Grand from the county to eat there.

The masses of young adults who have flooded the Tower Grove area were attracted not only by sturdy, attractive brick homes and leafy streets but by the diverse urban culture, rare in the St. Louis area. Unfortunately, they now find their neighborhood's cultural destiny in the hands of someone with views sharply contrary to theirs.

Residents recently picketed the Bread Co. during the Saturday lunch rush in opposition to the planned demolition of two homes to create a parking lot.
Mark Gilliland
Residents recently picketed the Bread Co. during the Saturday lunch rush in opposition to the planned demolition of two homes to create a parking lot.
Tim Boyle of the City Property Co. is a major player on South Grand despite the decrepit state of several of his properties.
Mark Gilliland
Tim Boyle of the City Property Co. is a major player on South Grand despite the decrepit state of several of his properties.

"Here's what I think Tim fails to recognize," says Marston, "and this is painfully obvious to me: What makes the Loop work is those kids with spiky hair and multiple piercings. Middle America wannabe hipsters see that and say, 'Ooh, wow!' They want to be close to the action. That's what makes people come down."

If those long-ago hippies and punk-rockers had never inhabited the downtrodden Loop, the yuppies and their heavy wallets would never have arrived. Can a rebounding urban district leapfrog over the "weirdo stage" in this well-established pattern? Maybe, but it doesn't seem ever to have happened. More important, is the suburban-based strip-mall model of development good for South Grand?

"I do not want to turn South Grand into a strip mall with nothing but big chain stores," counters Boyle. "That is not my vision. But big national businesses do bring credibility and financibility, which is something that people overlook. All this takes money, and in order for people to give you money, whether it's investors or banks, they have to be reasonably sure they'll get their money back. So you need credible tenants who can pay their rent."

"Credible tenants," in this case, are tenants who meet Boyle's goal of attracting "people with higher discretionary income." Such an attitude is risky in an urban milieu where people of different social and economic backgrounds live and work side by side.

As for the slowness of any real progress, Boyle says it's unfair to blame him for the glacial pace of development. "With a lot of these properties, it takes a minimum of three to five years to really put together a good agreement," he says. "With options, it could take 15-20 years. So you really have to take the long view. It's very important that it be the right agreement at the right time." The city bureaucracy shares some culpability, too, he says: The process takes too long and is too cumbersome.

Residents counter that it's much easier to "take the long view" when you're not the one who must live next door to a boarded-up building. Some say Boyle is sitting on his empty properties, waiting for a real-estate bonanza at some point in the distant future. If not, he's doing a convincing imitation of someone who is, and area residents would like to see something happen with these properties soon.

Clearly no consensus exists as to what kind of businesses South Grand needs. Nor is there an agreed-upon plan. Lacking this, the district's many constituencies and interests wander in countless directions, and the result is frustration and confusion.

"There is some sort of development plan from SLDC in place for South Grand," says real-estate agent Cheryl Jones, past president of TGHNA, "but it has not been generally made available. The neighborhood association hasn't seen it, and we don't know which business owners have or haven't seen it." The plan Jones refers to was drawn up in 1986, under drastically different conditions, when keeping out strip clubs and liquor stores was the most urgent neighborhood issue.

The parking situation, which has been so divisive, may in the end become the glue that unites South Grand's businesses, residents and bureaucrats. Florida has shown a desire to mix it up with the powers that be and seems interested in pushing for some sort of consensus.

Boyle and the bulk of the development community supported Mike Daus in the Democratic primary to fill the seat Vining vacated. When Florida won the race by a razor-thin margin and began meeting with the power players in the 15th Ward, she found a commercial district that she says has historically been "very hesitant and afraid to build a relationship with the community."

Before Vining left office, she and Ortmann assigned money for a comprehensive study of the parking problem in the commercial district. The project has become a priority for Florida, who sees it as a way to bring the businesses and residents together and set a new precedent for the way decisions are made on South Grand.

Florida isn't staking out a hard-and-fast position on building demolitions; it's the process that concerns her. If a broad consensus of the neighborhood supported some demolition for parking, she wouldn't obstruct it. "But I am pretty much a building-hugger," she says. "We cannot have every business owner buy a building and knock it down for their own parking. That's crazy. We have to have a plan."

Although he agrees with the theme of cooperation, Ortmann, like Boyle, is leery of doing anything to alienate potential investors in the neighborhood and says he doesn't want South Grand to lose out because of a restrictive plan.

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