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One step closer to demolition for Del Taco

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 9, 2011 - When the St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted 15-9 in favor of a 10-year tax abatement plan this Friday for the saucer-shaped Del Taco building on South Grand, the reasoning was a study in contrasting response to constituent pressure.

The vote itself was on a bill sponsored by Alderman Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward, to grant tax abatement for development of a complex of buildings that includes Del Taco. She repeatedly emphasized during debate that this was not a demolition bill and that the board did not even have the power to pass any legislation that would cause demolition.

But owner and developer Rick Yackey has said that, while he was looking for a tenant for the saucer-shaped building, he did not think he was going to find anyone interested because of the structure's impracticalities, such as its limited parking.

This potential for demolition has caused a sizable group of people to rally in support of the building. Many of them note that it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

If Yackey does decide that he wants to demolish the building, he will have to get that approved by the Cultural Resources Office and by the Preservation Board.

Speaking against the bill, Alderman Scott Ogilvie, I-24th Ward, criticized Yackey for taking the tax credits that come with historic buildings in 2007 when the Council Plaza area, which includes the Del Taco building, was listed in the register and then coming back in 2011 saying he is thinking of demolishing it.

"He wants to tear down a building that he placed in the National Register for Historic Places," Ogilvie said. "He made a decision that he benefited from."

Olgilvie agreed with Davis that the bill does not specifically approve demolition but said that if Yackey decides to demolish the building, the Cultural Resources office will consider the ordinance passed by the board.

Ogilvie also pointed out the high interest from the public to preserve the building and said he also wants to hold Yackey accountable.

Speaking for the bill, Alderman Stephen Conway, D-8th Ward, said, "Throughout the city, we have a dedicated group of brick-kissers that believe that everything should be saved at all costs," he said. "The unfortunate thing, is that I open the Post-Dispatch and those people with the spaceships on their head, they live in the 8th Ward."

Conway said he was going to have to go against his constituents to send the message that if people want to save a building like this, they need to work to find someone to take it or come up with a better way to handle the situation.

But constituent support did affect at least one alderman. Joseph Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward, said though he supports the concept of the bill, due to the high amount of phone calls and emails he received from his constituents about the issue, he cannot actually support the bill.

"I'm not going to support it only because of the amount of emails and phone calls I got," he said. "Because the constituents matter."

Allison Prang, a student at the University of Missouri Columbia, is a Beacon intern.