[Update] South Grand Del Taco Gets Facebook Love -- But Could Get Demolished Anyway

Jun 24, 2011 at 3:33 pm
[Update] South Grand Del Taco Gets Facebook Love -- But Could Get Demolished Anyway
photo by Laura Miller

Update: By attending the meeting of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, Daily RFT's Albert Samaha called the bluff of more than 9,000 enraged citizens who like the "Save St. Louis Del Taco" Facebook page. Would they show their opposition to the bill that would create a community improvement district and spell the end of the flying saucer-esque fast-food joint? Not many turned out to city hall, but the bill was immediately sent to committee anyway.

By now you've probably heard that the wacky flying saucer on Grand Boulevard, home of Del Taco (212 South Grand Avenue; 314-534-1424), may have a date with a wrecking ball. Facebook and Twitter have lit up with St. Louisans' memories of drunken 4 a.m. burritos and on-site marriage proposals -- and devotion to the crazy structure the joint inhabits.

But the news is even more serious than you may have heard: The Board of Aldermen is poised to consider legislation at Friday's meeting that would not only allow the building's owner to tear it down -- it would also supply him with tax-increment financing to do so.

Developer Rick Yackey, who owns the entire complex where the building is located, proposes to demolish it and replace it with pedestrian-friendly retail. But although Yackey owns the real estate and the Del Taco franchisee who leases from him is in bankruptcy court, the plan's not a done deal. Because of the building's historic designation, the city would have to grant Yackey permission to tear it down.

Love 'em or hate 'em, the tacos have little to do with the campaign to save the building.

The taco shop occupies part of a complex built in the mid-'60s by Teamsters to be retirement homes, says Michael Allen, president of Modern STL, an advocacy group for mid-century modern architecture in the city.

"We're talking about a building that has a significant local pedigree," Allen tells Daily RFT.

The complex was designed by prominent local firm Schwarz & Van Hoefen, which also designed Busch Stadium and the Mansion House Center, among many others.

"This building at the corner, which was originally a Phillips 66 gas station, added a creative and stylistic element to a rectilinear project," Allen says. "It becomes the most visible symbol of the project. It's an icon.

"It's very well-known -- people don't necessarily know the towers," he adds.

The whole complex, known as Council Plaza, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. And that's why Yackey can't just make it disappear without the city's permission.

Typically, because of the historical designation, any demolition permit would have to go through the Preservation Board, a nine-member group that includes architects, engineers and citizens.

But Yackey seems poised to go another route -- one involving a group of people who could be far more sympathetic to him than the preservationists. At its meeting tomorrow, the board of aldermen will consider an ordinance that would ultimately allow for demolition.

The ordinance calls for the area to be declared blighted and designated as a "Community Improvement District," which would allow Yackey tax advantages and a degree of political autonomy that would supersede the historic designation. The ordinance puts both Yackey and at least one family member on a board that would govern the new "improvement" district.

And when an improvement district is determined to be blighted, Allen notes, tax funds generated by a property's owner can be used for demolition.

It's too soon to say what will happen at the meeting tomorrow -- and whether all that virtual support will translate to bodies who show up to protest the improvement district plans. But it's clear that, regardless, the issue has become the talk of the town.

In fact, a new Facebook page has just popped up, called "Smash St. Louis Del Taco."