Frank Has Left the Building

University City bids a (mostly) fond farewell to its long-time city manager

Frank Ollendorff's golf game stinks. His handicap is so high it gets nosebleeds, and the only thing he drives straight is his Jaguar.

But that's about to change: The 66-year-old Ollendorff is slated to retire from his post as University City's city manager on July 14. After more than a quarter-century on the job — 26 years, to be precise — Ollendorff has fiddled with virtually every street corner in St. Louis' smaller sibling to the west. From the transitional neighborhoods around Olive Boulevard west of Skinker to the gated communities south of Delmar to one of the region's great success stories, the Delmar Loop, Ollendorff has had a hand in every facet of the making of modern University City.

Along the way he's made plenty of friends and a handful of enemies, but through it all the smallish Ollendorff, with a gap-toothed grin and inscrutable eyes that peek from behind a pair of thick trifocals, has kept his poise. These days his wood-paneled office in the newly refurbished city hall is stacked high with files. He's keeping busy paving the way for his successor, Julie Feier. He's got round after round of goodbye lunches to attend and loose ends that need tying up. He also took the time on a recent afternoon to reflect on his career.

Frank Ollendorff leaves a legacy of urban revitalization — with a soupçon of pique.
Jennifer Silverberg
Frank Ollendorff leaves a legacy of urban revitalization — with a soupçon of pique.

"Every city facility — from sidewalks to streets to buildings — has been upgraded during my tenure," says Ollendorff, adding that he hopes his real legacy is one of diversity. "My goal, and the goal of the city, is to be open to every kind of diversity. So we have inexpensive little houses and millionaires' mansions and everything in between. I entered city management because I really believed in making sure that every person has the opportunity to succeed. That includes [everything from] the community I serve to the city staff."

University City Mayor Joe Adams agrees: "You can look across the nation and see people who Frank has nurtured. It's tremendous. Frank is a good gauge of talent, and he's been a great mentor."

Like many of the municipalities that make up St. Louis County, University City elects part-time city council members and a full-time city manager who acts as an advisor to the council. For Ollendorff the position has been lucrative. In his last year as city manager, his salary was $136,000.

Though Ollendorff stresses his commitment to the city's diversity, he has also overseen the renaissance of the city's premier shopping district, the Delmar Loop. Once pocked with rundown buildings, during Ollendorff's tenure the area has become the envy of neighboring suburbs.

Ollendorff is quick to downplay his role. "In the 1960s University City put together some massive investments into the public infrastructure, everything from widening sidewalks and planting trees to building parking lots," the city manager recounts. "We turned down things like McDonalds, auto sales shops and insurance agencies. We held out for what we thought would make a good mix. We were also fortunate enough to have some real pioneering merchants. There's been a real public-private partnership."

Ollendorff cites two other keys to revitalization: financial incentives for developers and strict code enforcement.

It's the latter component that has irked many of the city's residents.

"He acts like he's the king of the city," says Delores Mills, who filed a complaint ten years ago with the Department of Housing and Urban Development when University City tried to acquire two of her buildings through eminent domain. University City relented when the U.S. Department of Justice became involved. "That's the way it works with Ollendorff: If people are in the 'in crowd,' things are great. But if you're not in the 'in crowd,' or you're pursuing people in the 'in crowd,' then things get tough. This is why you can drive through University City and see such an inconsistency in housing codes and enforcement."

Inconsistent housing code enforcement is only one aspect of Ollendorff's management style that irks longtime University City activist Elsie Glickert. "He's very smiley and pleasant to people, but he does as he well pleases," says Glickert, who says Ollendorff approved a multi-unit building on Amherst Avenue that had only one exit. "One door! Not only is that a safety hazard, but this is the city manager supporting that policy."

Ollendorff seems immune to the criticism, brushing it off as a foggy, if vaguely unhappy, memory. "I remember that controversy, but [the building] was whatever the code required," he says. "I try professionally not to be too caught up in what I'm recommending as a policy; I advocate as strongly as I can for what I think is right and then fully accept whatever the people's representatives decide. That kind of rolls off my back."

"Frank has brought a great level of professionalism to the city," seconds Adams, U. City's mayor for the past ten years and before that a city council member since 1974. "If there's been inconsistency, it's been more with the council than with Frank."

But apparently the bitter feelings did linger. Prior to Ollendorff's June 26 retirement party, the city manager sent out a handful of handwritten notes, specifically disinviting Glickert, former mayoral candidate Shelley Welsch and University City Council members Francine Brungardt, Robert Wagner and Stefany Brot.

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