The Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) is an interesting — and necessary entity. The LRA holds title to nearly 10,000 properties in the City of St. Louis, including more than 1,900 abandoned commercial buildings, houses, and other structures.
Almost all of LRA’s properties were acquired involuntarily. They were abandoned by their owners, taken by the courts for back taxes, and offered for sale by the Sheriff at an auction — and no one bought them.
Because the properties were long abandoned when LRA acquired them, most LRA-owned buildings are in seriously deteriorated condition, and the nearly 7,000 LRA vacant lots need constant attention. Although LRA monitors these properties, much of the maintenance undertaken by LRA is, by necessity, in response to complaints or service requests. LRA does not have the resources to care for these properties as if they were owned by responsible private owners.
When the Citizen Services Bureau or the LRA itself receives a complaint, a maintenance crew is tasked to make repairs or perform a cleanup. Because of the limited maintenance funding, those properties presenting a safety hazard are given priority. If a property is unsafe and past the point of feasible re-use, it is eventually demolished.
From time to time in the past, LRA has acquired a property for a specific purpose.
As more City properties begin to recover their values, I have asked the LRA to take on a more coordinated role in the development process to encourage revitalization and to discourage problem properties.
One challenge of large-scale development in the City is to find parcels large enough to compete with the corn fields and flood plains in the outer suburbs. To assemble large parcels of land for redevelopment, I have asked the LRA to bid at the Sheriff’s sale for key parcels adjacent to its other holdings and for parcels in certain redevelopment areas.
Big projects using former LRA properties have included:MLK Plaza at Grand and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive
The Walgreens at Kingshighway and Natural Bridge
The Ville Phillips Estate located one block south of the former Homer G. Phillips Hospital
The McBride Botanical Heights development at 39th and Lafayette
Murphy Park at 18th and Cass Avenues
The Choate Construction homes north of Cass Avenue between 14th and 18th Streets, and
The Mary “One” Johnson homes on 25th Street just south of St. Louis Avenue
And there are other large-scale projects on the drawing board.
On a smaller scale, a number of single-family rehabs of previously LRA-owned properties and the construction of new homes on previously LRA-owned lots have been completed or are under construction. These include homes in Benton Park and Benton Park West, The Ville, Hyde Park, Old North St. Louis, the West End north of Delmar, and Fox Park. In addition, many of the homes in Lafayette Square and Soulard were formerly LRA properties.
On a few occasions, I have been asked by aldermen to have the LRA bid on abandoned properties in neighborhoods where speculators with no ability or intention to improve the properties have begun to purchase them. In general, I think that’s good public policy. Without such intervention,the properties would remain dangerous eyesores — problem properties and would some day end up back in the LRA inventory.