Chutes and Ladders

Bill Stallings, the mastermind behind the Chase Hotel renovation and one of St. Louis' biggest movers and shakers, has tumbled hard

Six years ago Bill Stallings had the world by the tail. Just 35 years old, the hotshot developer was heralded in gossip and business columns as the man behind the redevelopment of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. Mothballed since 1989, the landmark hotel had long served as the playground for visiting dignitaries and celebrities staying in St. Louis, and now Stallings' $65-million renovation would restore it to its former glory.

Stallings wasn't going to stop there. As fast as his Mercedes SL500 convertible, a gold-plated notion raced through him: Bill Stallings -- real-estate magnate. By 1998 Stallings was speeding down the freeway to financial glory. In an article recognizing him as one of the city's pre-eminent businesspeople under the age of 40, the St. Louis Business Journal reported his holdings, in addition to the Chase Park Plaza, to include thirteen shopping centers and strip malls, and a warehouse on Washington Avenue that would soon be converted into a nightclub and condos.

What a heady time it was -- perhaps right up there with Stallings being the St. Louis Steamers' top draft pick after he graduated from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. All told, Stallings laid claim to more than two million square feet of property in St. Louis. Not quite Donald Trump, but not bad for a kid from north St. Louis County who started with nothing.

Bill Stallings outside The Cheetah in 1998
Jennifer Silverberg
Bill Stallings outside The Cheetah in 1998
Soccer cut: Stallings' playing career lasted just one 
Soccer cut: Stallings' playing career lasted just one season.

Bill Stallings' life has long been a game of "Chutes and Ladders." And for quite a while, he's been riding the chute.

Chase ownership blacklisted Stallings soon after the hotel reopened in March 1999, basically telling him not to let the door hit him in the ass on the way out. Local developers say Stallings' brash personality, the many precarious financing arrangements and the millions of dollars in cost overruns all played a part in Stallings' getting the boot.

Stallings' most recent venture, the WS Hotel at Fourth Street and Washington Avenue downtown, is in bankruptcy.

Last month, he began serving a two-month sentence in a Memphis federal prison for his second felony conviction in the past four years.

"Getting the Chase done was an amazing accomplishment that at the time earned him a tremendous amount of respect," says one downtown developer. "It was a very bold and courageous thing to do. That said, Stallings has been pretty much a non-entity for the past three years. Following his latest felony, everyone in the development community thinks he's a joke."

Other developers say they never put much stock in Stallings and questioned his ability to tackle such an ambitious project as the Chase renovation.

"His partner in the hotel, Jim Smith, is well-respected as first-class guy," says Pete Rothschild, a major St. Louis developer. "Stallings was the complete antithesis."

During the Chase renovation project, Rothschild recalls, the three developers met to discuss the sale of some property Rothschild owned in the Central West End. Everything was going fine until Stallings burst into the room.

"Immediately he says in a dismissive and arrogant way that the price we were kicking around was too high, and that if he wanted the property he would take it by eminent domain," recounts Rothschild. "It was one of the ugliest business meetings I ever attended, and later I called Jim and told him, 'If you sleep with dogs, you get fleas.'"

Rothschild says he was hardly surprised to learn a few months later that Stallings had been cut loose from the Chase Hotel.

Both of Stallings' well-documented felony convictions stem from real-estate transactions. But much of his more egregious behavior has gone largely unreported, including allegations of date rape and bribing a police officer.

Stallings is suspected in July 2003 of paying a former Florissant cop, James Cox, $1,600 to arrest his ex-girlfriend, Christine Lambert, on trumped-up charges of credit-card theft. Stallings did it, claims Lambert, in order to undermine her chances of winning a bitter child-custody battle over their twenty-month-old daughter, Sydney. The two currently share custody of the girl, but Stallings is looking to gain full custody.

"He's a total fucking control freak," says Lambert, who argues that Stallings never showed much interest in the child until well after she was born. "Now he'll stop at nothing to get the baby, and he knows I'll eventually run out of money to fight him in court."

When the credit-card charges didn't stick, Lambert alleges, the ex-cop and the embattled developer cooked up a plan in which Stallings would pay Cox $1,000 to plant drugs on her. Others involved in the case, none of whom would talk on record, also identify Stallings as the man who approached Cox.

Cox pleaded guilty for his role in the conspiracy two months ago, but the FBI and U.S. District Attorney continue to keep a tight lid on the name of Cox's accomplice.

Those who know Stallings -- many of whom declined to be identified in this story -- express no surprise that he might try to send the mother of his toddling daughter to prison on false charges.

What most astounds them, though, is that he wasn't put away sooner.

"I've talked to prosecutors in the city, and they all express surprise that he hasn't been charged for more," says a downtown developer who's kept close tabs on Stallings since the late 1990s.

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