With nearly 7,000 vacant buildings in St. Louis, the $1 million the city spends annually on demolitions does little more than chip away at decades of white flight and neglect.
It can afford to knock down about 200 or so buildings each year in a long, slow effort to pare its housing stock more befitting a city of 320,000 people, rather than the 850,000 of 65 years ago. A bond issue that included more money for demolitions failed in August, and the recession erased years of progress.
“Prior to (the recession) we had actually seen it going down, and we were making some headway on it,” St. Louis Building Commissioner Frank Oswald said in an interview.
But in coming years, St. Louis may be able to count on some help from a source that sees other benefits to removing some of the urban asphalt and rooftops that once served a much larger, denser city.
The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District wants to spend $13.5 million of its own money to tear down vacant properties. Grassy lots would let stormwater slowly percolate into the ground instead of rushing into the combined sewer system that serves much of St. Louis.
While it could take several years to spend down the money, even the longest spending scenario would amount to a near doubling of St. Louis’ demolition budget. And areas where MSD sees the most benefit in terms of runoff and watersheds also are the areas – primarily in north St. Louis – where the city’s vacant properties are concentrated.