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NFL stadium and military moves threaten St. Louis buildings

The St. Louis Stamping Co. sits in the shadow of the proposed NFL stadium in St. Louis. The six-building complex, at Cass Avenue and First Street, Florida and Collins streets, was built in 1871 and 1913.
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The St. Louis Stamping Co. sits in the shadow of the proposed NFL stadium in St. Louis. The six-building complex, at Cass Avenue and First Street, Florida and Collins streets, was built in 1871 and 1913.

Much has been made of what St. Louis could gain with a new NFL stadium, but what about the things it could lose?

The proposed plans for the stadium include demolishing two dozen buildings, including the St. Louis Stamping Co. buildings and the Cotton Belt Freight Depot. Both are part of the National Register of Historic Places, but that doesn’t provide protection — it denotes the building has historic significance.

“These buildings actually represent an opportunity, a great opportunity. If the stadium project is to move forward, I’d love to see the stadium planners try to incorporate a lot of these buildings into creating a more vibrant, interesting neighborhood for the stadium to be in,” Andrew Weil, executive director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Wednesday.

Being part of the National Register of Historic Places does come with some tax incentives, though, for redevelopment.

“Rather than having local money pay to tear the buildings down, we could be using federal money to rehabilitate them,” Weil said.

In addition to the buildings near the proposed stadium, Weil said he also is concerned about the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s upcoming move from the grounds of the old St. Louis Arsenal. The arsenal predates Jefferson Barracks and is one of the oldest continuously operating military installations in the U.S.

“That place is the reason for the name Arsenal Street,” Weil said. Cleverly, the street ended at the arsenal.

The NGA has said the site is too old and no longer feasible for its high-tech missions. The compound includes several buildings; the oldest was constructed in the 1830s. The NGA is contemplating sites in St. Louis and across the river, closer to Scott Air Force Base.

“The levels of history embodied by the historic core of the arsenal, they’re really just outstanding,” Weil said. “All the way up from the Indian Wars of the early 19th century and the period of the westward expansion and the Rocky Mountain fur trade, through the Mexican War and the Civil War, and all the way into the war on terror. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has done a lot of work, including modeling the Abbottabad (Pakistan) compound of Osama bin Laden. So we’re talking about 200 years of continuous, important American military history at this site.”

Once the NGA moves out, Weil would like to see the site opened up to the public, either as a state or national historic site.

The Landmarks Association publishes an annual list of 11 endangered buildings or communities. The James Clemens house and Hempstead School are two of Weil’s favorite buildings on the latest list.

The Clemens house, 1849 Cass Ave., a mansion once owned by Mark Twain’s uncle, was designed in 1858. It was sold in 1885 to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who built a chapel next door about 10 years later. It was used on and off until 2000, when it was a homeless shelter. But the house and chapel are facing hard times, Weil said, and may require complete reconstruction. “I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet, but it’s getting pretty rough.”

The Hempstead School, 5872 Minerva Ave., was built in 1907.

“It’s really on (the list) because it’s emblematic of a citywide problem of vacant school buildings,” Weil said. “These buildings are incredibly beautiful, incredibly useful and really very definitive of St. Louis on so many levels. We have to figure out something to do with these buildings.”

In addition to noting the city’s endangered buildings, the Landmarks Association also recognizes the city’s “most enhanced” buildings. They range from multimillion-dollar renovations of downtown warehouses into lofts to smaller single-house projects. The Landmarks Association will present awards on May 28.

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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