Mmmm, Mmmm, Good

Holden tucks into Slay's Old Post Office recipe

Apr 17, 2002 at 4:00 am
Regurgitated crow is always hard to swallow.

There's the smell, of course. And the ooze. Then there's those white things that wiggle and make gagging the surest bet your bookie will never take.

All in all, it's a disgusting political meal.

But Mayor Francis Slay and his gentle band of thugs have been dining on it for weeks, courtesy of the furious backlash against their brutal treatment of downtown developers Craig Heller and Kevin McGowan, who had the brass to float a rival plan that shows the Century Building can be saved and still provides parking for the new tenants of the mayor's Old Post Office renovation [Elizabeth Vega, "Wrecking Crew," March 27].

Now Gov. Bob Holden is getting a mouthful of Slay's rotten home cooking, courtesy of a Jeff City meeting his chief of staff, Mike Hartmann, took late last week with five members of Metropolis, the scrappy group of downtown activists who oppose the mayor's plan to tear down the Century to provide parking for the new tenants of the Old Post Office.

The quintet expressed their outrage at Frankie the Saint's actions. They also warned that Holden is getting hurt by the mayor's heavy-handed push of a dubious downtown project that relies on a lot of state money during draconian budgetary times.

The Metropolis folks also told the governor's top hand that the central role of Steve Stogel, the self-proclaimed financial genius and one of the governor's old pals, smelled like the type of quid pro quo that could be used to whip up more opposition to the dicey prospects of spending state tax dollars on a new stadium for the Cardinals.

"It's costing Holden politically," says lawyer Matt Ghio, who raised money for Holden's gubernatorial campaign and was one of the Metropolis activists who made the trip to Jeff City. "He's spending all his political capital in all the wrong places."

The image of Holden's hard guy copping a squat with the young, hip, loft-oriented activists of Metropolis is a shocker all by its lonesome, considering Stogel personally guaranteed a $250,000 loan used to pay for One-Term Bob's inaugural excesses and is the mayor's majordomo on the Old Post Office project.

But Holden can't afford to play the bought-and-stay-bought game. Not with his butt in the legislative breeze on two multimillion-dollar welfare payoffs to needy peons such as Stogel and Cardinals principal owner Bill "Ranger" DeWitt.

Not with state legislators on the warpath, looking for another reason to slap down spending state money on the stadium -- and any other St. Louis project that carries the rank smell of rude behavior and expensive political back-scratching.

And not with the same St. Louis folks who backed both the first-time governor and the rookie mayor rocketing down the legislative halls in Jeff City, screaming to all who'd listen about dirty St. Louis politics and a dying downtown.

Holden can't afford not to listen.

And Frankie the Saint can't afford another spot of messy excess.

Here's why:

In the weeks since Slay's goon squad jammed bird meat down the throats of Heller and McGowan, the mayor has watched the outraged reaction spread from the small band of committed loftinistas who helped put him in office but have always opposed tearing down the Century to far more traditional, heavyweight political players concerned with how he is handling downtown revitalization.

"I'm disappointed in Francis," says one major St. Louis insider. "I expected to see some vision and leadership, but I'm not."

Frankie-boy needs to listen to such wisdom, because those who utter it don't hate him but do think he is being ill served by underlings, development allies and shadow puppets.

Instead, the mayor sticks to the script written for him and loudly renounces the blood on his hands on the thinnest of excuses -- the executioners aren't on the City Hall payroll, so he can't be held responsible.

But it just doesn't wash.

Heller and McGowan aren't saints. They're hustlers. But anyone gutsy enough to put their money on the street should not be force-fed an extra-crispy order of public humiliation, no matter how many brothers one guy's got or how much the other favors a Christlike pose.

The crow in question took the form of a joint press release Heller and McGowan signed while a financial shotgun was pointed at their brainpans, one with this subtext: Kill that damned plan or we'll run you out of business in a year's time.

The boys were forced to choke down five damning technical points about state tax credits, asbestos abatement, federal financing and parking that they knew were patently untrue or misleading and deliberately damaging to their business reputations.

The stinkiest piece of meat on the five-item menu is the point about parking.

The shotgun press release signed by Heller and McGowan states that their plan to put 665-plus slots of parking in the bottom floors of the Century won't satisfy the needs of the state judges and Webster University academics slated to occupy the Old Post Office. Not if the Century and its cheek-by-jowl neighbor, the Syndicate Trust Building, were developed for residential use.

This is an absurdity that assumes a geographical vacuum. It also ignores the personal math of Stogel, the mayor's bell cow on this project.

In a startling stab at damage control, Stogel dialed up Ghio last week and told him the new tenants of the Old Post Office will need a maximum of 450 parking spaces -- and that's only at night, when the Webster classes will be fully cranked. During the day, the state appellate-court judges and Webster administrators will only need 220 spaces, according to the Stogel estimate.

Either projection is well covered by the Heller-McGowan proposal for the Century, a plan that now lies a-moldering in its grave.

But Slay's proposal calls for tearing down the Century and getting the state to bankroll a brand-new 1,050-space parking garage to serve the Old Post Office's new tenants. That's more than 600 surplus parking spaces begging for somebody else's cars to use them -- maybe all those mythical suburbanites just aching for an Old Post Office retail experience served up better at the Galleria.

Ignored in all this feathery glory is the geographical reality of a brand-new parking garage just a short, short St. Louis block away. That would be the convention-center-hotel parking garage, just north of Ninth and Locust streets.

Two points to ponder while forking up your crow fricassee:

The convention-center-hotel parking garage is a 850-slot monster, still getting built with state money put up by the Missouri Development Finance Board. But Frankie the Saint is asking these same folks to put up more state money to build another white elephant close enough to spit at from the top deck of the existing garage.

Perhaps more damning are the worries state officials already have that the hotel garage won't draw enough cars to pay off its state bonds. When this deal was put together by wizards such as Stogel, the state insisted on a contingency fund of nearly $2 million dollars, insiders say.

No such contingency plan exists, insists Robert Miserez, MDFB's executive director. But Miserez appears to be playing semantics -- he admits there's an operating reserve but doesn't say how big it is.

Again, the insiders say, Miserez is shoveling horseshit and crow feathers.

There's a big pile of rainy-day money, they say, covering scared state bucks staked on a garage that only has a commitment for 375 spaces from the convention-center hotel itself and another 150 spaces claimed by the nearby Merchandise Mart. That leaves 440 spaces with no guaranteed customers -- close to the maximum amount needed at night by the Webster students and more than double Stogel's estimate of the daytime needs of judges and academics.

So, you gotta ask -- why the hell would the state go into competition with itself with a second garage when it's already worried about the first one's being a losing proposition?

Don't bet on getting a straight answer from City Hall.

To hear the false babbling of Stevie and Francis and them, you'd think the Old Post Office was located in a Sahara of parking.

Pure camel piss.

There's a river of space for cars.

With more on the way.

"That's why nobody can finance a garage without government money, because there isn't a market for it," says one insider.

But the benighted hounds of Frankie the Saint keep yapping for more.

Hard to keep barking that tune with a mouthful of refried crow, though.

Hard to get re-elected with this much stench fouling the political airspace.

Sniff, sniff -- can you say St. Single Term?

Speedloader can.

Enjoy the meal.

Save room for dessert.