Wrecking Crew

Slay and his Old Post Office plan allies knock down two rivals with hardball and humiliation

"Nobody had any desire to make this a humiliating experience," says Marie Casey, the public-relations spokeswoman for DESCO/DFC.

Conciliation and cooperation was hardly the tone of Slay's own press release on the matter. It was another public whack: "I now expect Mr. Heller and Mr. McGowan to put at least as much energy into supporting the City's program of downtown revitalization as they have put into delaying it."

The mystery of how a developer can force a rival to sign a humiliating press release is revealed in conversations that took place among Knight, Stogel and Zack Boyers, the director of the Community Development Corp. wing of Firstar Bank.

The Old Post Office (foreground) and Century Building
Jennifer Silverberg
The Old Post Office (foreground) and Century Building

Firstar, recently renamed U.S. Bank, was in a unique position. All of the players in this downtown firefight are customers, including DESCO, which is owned by the Schnuck family, the folks with all those grocery stores.

These talks started soon after the Missouri Development Finance Board reviewed Heller and McGowan's proposal and sent a March 6 memo asking some hard questions about their funding.

Bob Miserez, executive director of MDFB, says the state agency was merely doing its job and never got a response from Heller and McGowan.

Boyers stresses that Firstar would never choose one customer over another. He says he only got involved because he wanted to see a quick resolution to the conflict:

"We thought it would be best for the development community to work together. Given our relationship with all the parties, we hoped we could be of some help."

But sources say Boyers is sugarcoating the truth. They say he was strong-armed by the city and its development allies into delivering an economic death threat to Heller and McGowan: Sign a press release killing your plan, or you will be out of business in less than a year.

Stogel scoffs at this notion: "I don't have that much power. I can't tell the banks what to do."

And Boyers says he was acting out of kindness, not malice. He denies that Firstar loans on other projects were used as leverage to get Heller and McGowan to back off. But he also adds this harsh note of reality: A downtown developer can quickly go under without city support.

After whacking Heller and McGowan with a big stick, they dangled a carrot.

On March 8, the day before the two men signed the press release killing their plan for the Century building, the extension on their tax-increment-financing application for the Mississippi Lofts project was passed during a special meeting of the St. Louis Development Corp.

SLDC chief Stuart says: "The developers were in a hurry, so we accommodated them."

If Stuart believes that, perhaps she'd be interested in a really nice parking garage.

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