Stranglehold

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

To say that Sam Glasser has made enemies along Washington Avenue is like calling Pol Pot a pickpocket.

"He's an asshole," says one downtown developer.

"I hate Sam Glasser," says another. "He'll look you in the eyes and tell you one thing and have absolutely no intention of following through on it."

The Cheerful House building at 1113-1129 
Washington: a dilapidated monstrosity
Ryan Hudson
The Cheerful House building at 1113-1129 Washington: a dilapidated monstrosity
Gus Torregrossa is Jump's staunchest defender.
Ryan Hudson
Gus Torregrossa is Jump's staunchest defender.

Glasser, it seems, has rankled many within the community. Says one developer: "He is gleeful in holding up downtown development and extorting money out of other developers for his own financial gain. He has no civic motive. He doesn't care what happens to downtown, other than to the extent that it raises the water for his property values so that he can sell them."

After hearing that, Glasser replies, "Fuck 'em. It's a free country. I don't give a shit what anybody says, when it comes down to it."

But then Glasser calms down and his rumored charm starts to shine through. He says he's happy to provide "pithy quotes" and answer questions about Jump. The New Yorker says he has nothing to apologize for. He and Jump may have let some of their properties sit undeveloped for a few years, but that doesn't mean they were letting the buildings rot. They were repairing roofs and elevators, performing environmental remediation, preparing the buildings for other developers who would turn them into lofts.

Glasser and Jump are familiar with the criticism aimed at them. First, it was their methods. The pair bought all these buildings and then jacked the prices so high -- at least in St. Louis terms -- that potential loft developers couldn't secure financing.

A few of Glasser's and Jump's decisions, however, damaged their reputations. In 2000 the developers alienated much of the neighborhood when they purchased the Knickerbocker Building at 1308 Washington Avenue and proceeded to raise the rent on the Downtown Children's Center, a nonprofit daycare facility considered crucial to the success of the loft district. Jump and Glasser wanted the center to purchase the space, but the nonprofit, which didn't have a lease, couldn't afford to. Each month, recalls a former Chidren's Center employee, the new owners increased the rent by $500, until it reached $8,000 per month -- more than twice what the Center was paying when it first took hold of the space.

At one point during negotiations, Glasser showed the facility to another daycare provider interested in relocating, a high-pressure move that prompted more outcry. At the time, then-Deputy Mayor Mike Jones called their tactics "functional child abuse." Jump was outraged at the accusation, but soon he and Glasser relented and worked out a less-expensive arrangement with the center, ultimately selling them space in the building.

In 2001 residents of Jump and Glasser's Knickerbocker building sued them for failure to deliver a promised parking garage. "He didn't even build the garage," says a resident who is still owed parking spaces. "It didn't occur to us that not only were we not going to get a spot, but that the garage wasn't even being built."

Four years later, the lot is finally finished, although it remains unopened until the neighboring building, under which the driveway to the lot will run, is renovated. Glasser, who stresses that the litigants dropped the suit, says the lot will be ready in a couple months and that every legal commitment will be honored.

"Do you think Dave and I are going to try and screw somebody out of a parking spot?" he adds incredulously. "We're not looking to be feted and wined and dined and congratulated and given the gold keys to the city, but by the same token, understand who we are here. I'm going to fuck you out of a parking space?"

If it wasn't their methods, it was their pace. Jump and Glasser were in no hurry to make deals and were convinced that eventually the market would rise to meet their prices. But that delay rubbed people the wrong way.

"I think the prices that they held out for slowed the recovery," says one former city official. (Deputy Mayor of Development Barbara Geisman declined repeated interview requests for this article.) "If nobody buys it, you're retarding the opportunity for development. It wasn't like McGowan coming in, buying and holding until the market got ripe enough to develop, because they make their money in development, not in flipping real estate."

Glasser is incredulous. "I want more money than you think my building is worth? Too fucking bad, OK? You know what a building is worth? It's what me, the seller, and you, the buyer, exchange it for. That's what it's fucking worth. And if I want $1 million for the building, and you say, 'Fuck you, Glasser, it's only worth $500,000,' well, then, I guess we don't have a deal.

"I've sold seven or eight or ten or fifty fucking buildings to people not by holding a gun to their temple. They all agreed. And it's not like we sold all these buildings to one idiot. Every building we've sold is through a different person, and some of them are highly intelligent, highly sophisticated, highly experienced."

And, in fact, Jump is purging himself of many of the Washington properties. His Arts and Crafts building at 1635 Washington, long an eyesore, is under contract to former McGowan Brothers colleague Andy Hillin, who's converting the space into lofts. Earlier this year, Jump sold the dilapidated Old Square Building at 1706 Delmar Boulevard to Craig Heller, who also purchased Jump and Glasser's Mary Muffet building on Locust Street. Heller is reimagining the building as the Printers Lofts.

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