Wrecking Brawl

For eight years, the city has kept Mark Finney from replacing the historic Syndicate Trust Building with a parking garage. He says, "Buy it or get the hell out of the way." It's time to put up or shut up.

Carolyn Toft, executive director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the area's primary preservation group, says, "It's far too late to indulge in hand-wringing about past mistakes.

"At least the buildings around the Old Post Office are still standing -- a singular resource for dense residential development," she says. "My concern is that an understandable desire to see something happen will result in an expedient solution with long-term ramifications. In other words, just do the deal rather than attempting to create the best possible environment. There's already plenty of history in this town demonstrating that approach."

As for pushing everyone off the cliff, Toft believes Finney will be the one left standing: "I would put my money on Finney."

And Finney doesn't anticipate seeing the edge of a cliff anytime soon. Sitting in the cluttered ruins of his first-floor office in the Century Building, he looks around and sees dollar signs, lots of them. "The city went and declared a $1.3 billion redevelopment plan right next to me," he says, referring to Downtown Now's announcement last year, which includes the $276 million convention-center hotel next door to the Syndicate. "According to the Downtown Now plan, they want to spend $500 million in this region, mostly in this three-block region. Now the Marriott is looking to buy the Paul Brown and Arcade." He shakes his head and smiles. "Better lucky than smart is all I can say. Any businessman knows that the key to any development is getting site control. You don't tell everybody you are doing all this, then bitch because the price went up. The city has said, 'We'll just develop around you.' I say, 'Go for it, Bubba.' That is great, because when everybody comes, they are going to need a place to park. You think the price of my property is going down? It's not."

He smiles, puts his hands comfortably behind his head and leans back in his chair: "If you ask me where this is going to be next year, I would have to tell you it is going to be a lot more expensive. I am positive of that. We will win, because we are not going to go away. We are the pigsty next to the palace."

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