Stranglehold

Downtown real estate speculator David Jump goes for the jugular when he smells blood. Who the hell is this guy?

Glasser, Jump and the McGowans decided to test the waters in 2001 and placed their dozen acquisitions on the market for $37.5 million. A few out-of-town developers nibbled, but nobody bit. Jump and Glasser, meanwhile, began to infuriate other developers by raising the price tags on their properties.

"He was buying these things at a dollar," complains one developer, "then three dollars, then seven dollars, then ten dollars a square foot, and then turning them around and asking $22 to $27 per square foot." At the time, the market couldn't sustain those prices. "He had the effect of freezing the street, because unless you were stupid, you wouldn't pay over $10 to $12 per square foot for a raw building. It just wasn't economically viable to do so."

While others busily contributed to the avenue's revitalization, Jump sat and watched like a poker player with a royal flush, secretly smiling as others raised the pot. Says another downtown developer: "Here's Dave. He buys up all the buildings. He's kind of in control of the neighborhood and is asking these outrageous prices."

Because of Jump, says developer Kevin McGowan 
(above), Washington Avenue is on the comeback trail.
Ryan Hudson
Because of Jump, says developer Kevin McGowan (above), Washington Avenue is on the comeback trail.
Because of Jump, says developer Kevin McGowan 
(above), Washington Avenue is on the comeback trail.
Ryan Hudson
Because of Jump, says developer Kevin McGowan (above), Washington Avenue is on the comeback trail.

Walk down the north side of Washington from Eleventh Street to Sixteenth, and there's the Cheerful House building at 1113-1129, a dilapidated monstrosity with boarded-up windows, catty-corner from the redeveloped Merchandise Mart. Jump sold the building last week to budding developer Patrick Stanley, who intends to turn it into lofts and a restaurant. Jump purchased the building in 1999 for $900,000. He sold it for $4.2 million.

Pass the abandoned Drury Inn at the northeast corner of Washington and cross Tucker Boulevard, and there's the Lesser-Goldman Building (also commonly known as the Weiss-Newman Building), home to Gus's Fashions and Shoes and former site of A. Amitin Book Shop. With its dark red brick and gorgeous rococo ornamentation, Lesser-Goldman is the crown jewel of the district -- and yet it's nearly vacant. The building was designed by the renowned architectural firm Eames and Young in 1902, and now, a century later, it seems all the more prominent because of its disrepair.

"The downspouts were falling off," complains one developer, "and dropping in the street. The rats and homeless guys were living under the loading dock, which was crumbling. It was only after [Jump] was pulled into court that he actually did the work to start fixing it up."

The City of St. Louis Building Division has cited Jump for numerous violations related to the Lesser-Goldman Building, including its rotting window frames, missing bricks, defective and missing gutters and accumulation of garbage.

Jump's allies say he has maintained the building. He just hasn't redeveloped it. He's put on a new roof, painted the windows and, with the help of Bob Cassilly, worked on the façade ornamentation. Others are horrified by the aqua-green, makeshift cornice that wraps around the peak of the building, a violation of historic preservation codes.

Because of its strategic location, the building's woeful condition damages the entire district, argues Jim Cloar, president of the Downtown St. Louis Partnership. "The buildings themselves have either the ability to attract you or to draw you across an intimidating intersection, or they can suggest that it's not worth your trouble. And right now, at least on the north side, it kind of suggests that it might not be worth your trouble."

Says Sam Glasser: "Dave used to tell me that he did his real estate on the way to his real job."

Jump's part-time gig stands in stark contrast to the work of his property-owning peers, whose hearts and livelihood are invested in the blossoming loft district. Still, Kevin McGowan, who now runs McGowan/Walsh Historic Renovators, maintains that if it wasn't for Jump, Washington Avenue probably wouldn't be where it is today.

"Because of Dave," he says, "and because of Dave's faith in [us], we went out and lit the street on fire. Before long you have Craig Heller, you have Pyramid Construction, you've got Desco and the Old Post Office. You've got the Terra Cotta guys from Chicago. It brought us to the point where we are today. In a backhanded kind of way, the city owes Dave some thanks."

Nonsense, grouse his peers. "He hasn't helped downtown development, because he hasn't developed anything," says one. "He's speculating. But to say that what he did was beneficial? That's ridiculous. That's just Kevin McGowan sucking up to Dave. I don't see how he's added any value to it. I don't think he's a bad guy; I just don't think he's helped the process. We're going to get it done despite Dave Jump, not because of Dave Jump."

Echoes another developer: "He deals in any type of commodity, whether it's feed corn or downtown buildings. Buy low, sell high. He's never shown any significant interest or capacity in fixing up the properties that he owns."


"Most of what you're going to hear is going to be, 'I hate Jump,'" says Kevin McGowan. "'He's a speculator -- he's this, he's that.' But you're rarely going to hear, 'He told me something and he didn't do it.' He'll tell you to your face, 'I'm going to squash you.' And he will. He once told me, 'You know, Kevin, I like this partnership, but I have to tell you a little bit about myself. If I smell blood, I have a real hard time helping myself from going for the jugular.' He's aware of that about himself."

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