Friday, July 31, 2009

Update on Soulard as a Tax Haven and our Apologies

Readers will remember that a recent blog posting noted that property owners of several main line bar/restaurants in Soulard were in arrears in their real estate taxes.

To recap, the owners of: (1) 1923-31 S. 12th, the location of Nadine’s Gin Joint, owe $29,560.65 for the years 06, 07 and 08; (2) 1027 Geyer, the location of The Great Grizzly Bear, owe $23,386.77 for 06, 07 and 08; (3) 2001-2003 Menard, the location of Clementine’s Bar - Oh My Darlin’ Café, owe $10,708.77 for 07 and 08, and (4) 1200-1214 Russell, the location of John D. McGurk’s Irish Pub, owe $24,191.66 for 08. This is per a check of the City of St. Louis web site at 8:45 a.m. on July 31, 2009.

That is a total of $87,847.85, penalties included.

Madame Chouteau checked the St. Louis City Revised Code Chapter 8.02: Licenses and read that: The License Collector shall not issue any merchants, manufacturers, franchise, business or occupational license or renewal thereof, to any person, partnership or corporation, or anyone who contracts for personal service to be performed by individuals within the City, which under the law the License Collector is empowered to issue, unless and until the applicant for such license produces a written statement of clearance issued jointly by the Collector of Revenue and the License Collector certifying that no current or past personal property, real estate tax, payroll tax, business license taxes and/or earnings taxes are due and payable to the City and a statement from the Director of Revenue of the State of Missouri certifying that the applicant is in possession of a retail sales license, if such a license is required.

Madame Chouteau’s interpretation of this boilerplate is that a license to do business will be granted providing that real estate property taxes, among other items, have been paid and are not past due. This sounds reasonable.

The fact that property owners on which some bars and restaurants sit in Soulard are in arrears in their property tax payments, according to City of St. Louis records, is puzzling.

Then everything was made clear, thanks to an excellent column titled "Political Eye," found on page A11 in the July 9 - 15, 2009 issue of the St. Louis American under the headline "License to do business as usual" and the subhead "Scofflaws welcome."

The column explains that Missouri Auditor Susan Montee had released the week before audits of several City of St. Louis departments, including the Office of License Collector, headed by Michael McMillan. There were some miscellaneous problems revealed by the audit, including some problems with procurement policies, etc. The column went on:

"The real eye opener in this audit report, however, is that you really don’t have to have a business license in order to do business in the city of St. Louis.

"The report notes, ‘Of the 3,208 businesses reviewed, 700 operated without a valid business license for at least two years due to deficiencies noted during the clearance process. Of the 700 businesses noted above, 235 operated without a valid business license for at least three years.’

"That’s fully one-quarter of the businesses reviewed!

"McMillan’s response is typical in local politics. If it’s my fault (and I’m not saying it is), then everybody else is doing it.

"‘As indicated, this has been a long standing problem. It is a City and State problem, not just a License Collector’s Office problem,’ he writes.

"‘Businesses in this category have paid for their business licenses. The non-compliant status usually relates to compliance deficiencies with other city departments such as the Collector of Revenue, the Building Division and the Health Department or to the State of Missouri for sales tax.’

"McMillan goes on to admit that the City is so desperate for tax revenue it is willing to waive the license requirement rather than close down scofflaws.

"The report states, ‘According to the License Collectors office, this problem has continued to exist partly because the City has been hesitant to close non-compliant businesses when it is already difficult to keep existing businesses and bring new businesses into the city.’"

So there you have it. Madame Chouteau applauds the administrators of the City of St. Louis for not enforcing their own laws in order to avoid discomforting city businesses, which apparently are in short supply. And we especially thank the St. Louis American for explaining this and making it clear. And we hope that business property owners are not deducting from their income taxes the expense of their unpaid property taxes.

And, of course, Madame Chouteau apologizes for misunderstanding the situation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mugged in Broad Daylight on S. 12th Street

"My mistake was that I gave two young black men the benefit of the doubt," explains Judy Johnson, long time Soulard resident, who was mugged early Saturday evening.

Judy relates that she was returning home from work. The time was approximately 7:10 p.m. She parked two doors up the street from her home in the 2300 block of S. 12th Street - between Shenandoah and Lami, the cross streets. After exiting her van and locking it, she was accosted by two young black men - "they seemed to be about 18 years old" - who asked for directions to a restaurant on "Tucker."

"They were very polite, calling me ma’am. They stayed six feet away from me, and I did not feel threatened at all," Judy relates. "I told them that this was not Tucker, but S. 12th Street. The one who did the talking said he was from Mississippi and that was why he didn’t know that Tucker had a name change when it branched at Gravois. He spoke softly and with a Southern accent. Both were clean cut and casually dressed," Judy notes.

"I was weary from the outset, but they apologized for taking up my time. Then they turned and headed south. I turned north to approach my house, and I heard the talker say: ‘I’m joking, bitch,’ and I was immediately hit between my shoulder blades by a fist or an open hand," Judy says.

"He really hit me hard, and I was pushed several feet, but I did not loose my footing, fortunately," she continues. "He grabbed my purse and yanked, but he did not get it. The second time he did. Then they ran south and turned right on Lami," Judy says.

Judy immediately got in her van and drove to the police substation on S. 11th and Barton, hoping to find a police presence. Unfortunately, there were no police cars there. She drove back home and parked in the same place. When she got out of her van, she saw that a neighbor, Bob Williams, was in front of his apartment. She told him she had just been mugged, and he said that there was a woman’s purse in the alleyway between his building and the next one. Judy said that it was probably hers, and it was.

She inventoried the contents and found that the only thing missing was her cash, which amounted to $4 or $5. She went inside her house and called police, who arrived quickly. She surmises that the muggers turned right on Lami, turned right into the alley and circled into the dogtrot at Bob’s house, went through the purse, dropped it and possibly went north on S. 12th, passing the scene of the event, and cleared out. The policeman - Ofc. Williams - hypothesized that they had an auto nearby and used that to exit the neighborhood. "The officer was very professional, very kind," Judy notes.

Oddly, Judy thinks that the perp hit her so hard that he dropped his cell phone. "It broke, and Bob picked up the pieces that were left and gave them to the policeman," she adds.

The person who did the talking and who attacked her was approximately 5' 10" to 6' tall, very solidly built and his skin tone was "extremely black," she comments. "Also, his teeth were very crooked, and one front tooth was growing over another one at an angle. It was almost as though he was wearing Halloween teeth," Judy says. "The other man was shorter and lighter," she observes.

"These guys gave me no hint that I was going to be nailed. They used the element of surprise. I should have stayed in my van when I saw them. Instead, I gave two young black men the benefit of the doubt, and that was my mistake," Judy concludes.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Armed Robbery, Lami between 12th and 13th

A Soulard renter was robbed at gunpoint at 11 p.m. Wednesday evening, July 1 in the well lighted parking area of his building as he returned from a business related social event in Illinois.

"I turned off Lami into the alley and the parking lot, parked, put the club on my steering wheel, exited my car, and opened the back door to pick up some clothing," the victim related. "While leaning inside the car, the perp came up behind me and placed the revolver barrel against my head," he said.

The three and a half year Soulard resident is an A-B contractor. " I really enjoy Soulard, and I can walk to work," he notes. He has rented the same apartment since arriving in the neighborhood. His age is about 30, he works out and he weighs about 135 pounds.

"With the metal on my skin, he told me to turn around. I complied, and he told me to give him my money, my wallet and my cell phone. I dug out some money in a clip. It amounted to $20 or $30. I handed it to him, and he then demanded my wallet and my cell phone. I gave him my wallet, but I told him I did not have a cell phone. Actually, it was buried in the pocket of my cargo shorts," the victim remarked.

The perp, a black male dressed in a white tank top and black shorts, late 20's, 5'8" to 5'9", muscular and stocky, apparently accepted this and "pointed down the alley toward Shenandoah and told me to run that way, which I did," the victim observes. "When I hit the street, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed 911. When I checked the time of the call next day, it was at 11:07," he explains.

The police arrived in 10 to 15 minutes. A police dog searched the area but found nothing.

"At about 11:30 I called my bank to report the loss of my credit cards. By the time I was through talking to them, the perp had already used two credit cards at the BP station on South Broadway near the White Castle," the victim observes. The victim has informed the police that the perp may have been recorded on a camera at the gas station.

Lessons learned, mistakes made: "When I pulled into the alley and into my parking space, I did not properly evaluate my surroundings," notes the victim. "This man knew exactly what he wanted and he was in and out very quickly, as though he had done this before. My evaluation is that he was in a vehicle with others and that he followed me in, left his car, and came into the parking lot. After he sent me packing, he exited the alley, got back in his vehicle, and left the area. Only if he was in a car could he get to the BP station, which is a mile and a half away or so, that quickly, to use the credit cards."

The victim concludes with the most important advice: "Be more cautious, and try to be aware of what is going on around you. And try to remember to check your mirror to see if it appears anybody is following you."

When was Soulard declared a Tax Haven? Nobody told Madame Chouteau

In addition to being an entertainment district, Soulard apparently has morphed into a tax haven. Some owners of properties which house local entertainment/business establishments seem to feel that paying their property taxes is a low priority.

Those curious can visit the website described as that of the City of St. Louis Assessor’s Office, Property Database Search ( After entering an address, visitors have the option of going to "Tax Payment History - view summary," a database maintained by the office of Gregory F. X. Daly, Collector of Revenue. According to informatiion provided as of 7/6/09 at approximately 9 a.m., when we checked, property described as 1923-1931 S. 12th Street is in arrears on property taxes for three years. The bills are: 2006: $10,941.03; 2007: $9780.59; 2008: $8,839.03, or a total of $29,560.65. The property is owned by NTM Partnership LLC, located at that address, and the building is the home of Nadine’s Gin Joint, a bar and restaurant.

Similarly, the records indicate that 1027 Geyer owes $8,658.61 for 2006; $7,736.58 for 2007, and $6,991.58 for 2008, or a total of $23,386.77, as per the time we checked on 7/6/09. The records indicate that the owner of the structure is Great Grizzly Blues LLC, 2 Clara Ave., Webster Groves, MO. The building is the home of The Great Grizzly Bear, a bar and restaurant.

Another address is 2001-2003 Menard, the address of Clementine’s Bar - Oh My Darlin’ Café. The owner, as listed on the Assessor’s website, is Clementine, Inc at that address. They are in much better shape, with past due taxes listed for 2007 as $5,625.25 and for 2008 as $5,083.52. The total is $10,708.77.

Finally, we note that 1200 Russell Blvd owes $24,191.66 from the 2008 tax year, as per a check of the Assessor’s Office web site, also on 7/6/09 at approximately 9 a.m. Everybody knows that is the address of John D. McGurk’s Irish Pub. The owner is listed as McGurks-Soulard LLC, 2000 S. 8th Street. They make that much money in a half and hour selling booze on Mardi Gras Grand Parade Day or St. Patrick’s Day.

It should be noted that, according to the web site, the information on the web site is updated weekly.

Why is this happening? Do these property owners perceive that Soulard entertainment district businesses are too big - to important - to have to be bothered with keeping their property tax payments up to date? The coffers of the City of St. Louis are not overflowing with cash. St. Louis may declare a fiscal crisis so city government can furlough employees and eliminate jobs.

Did the 2009 Mardi Gras income not meet expectations? Was the neighborhood turned into a trash bin and a public urinal for nothing because some business owners were not satisfied? They didn’t make enough money from the debacle, so they sent the tax man a rain check?

Or is this just another manifestation of the attitude among Soulard entertainment property owners that they can write their own rules, just like they do for Soulard Mardi Gras and during the rest of the year, staging a peculiar string of phony festivals and corn ball events, all to boost liquor sales, all trampling on the quality of life of residents?

Why are property owners whose businesses make so many neighborhood people uncomfortable allowed to skate on their property tax bills, too?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Look, Ma, We Creamed the Porsche and We had a Good Time, Too

By the early 1970's Soulard was a doomed, inner-city slum, a neighborhood to be demolished as soon as government funds became available. Then rehab took hold and a number of people worked for many years to save the interesting housing stock and to turn the area into a residentially oriented historic district.

Unfortunately, the neighborhood made an unexpected turn. A large number of bars and restaurants took root, latching onto and feeding off the Soulard Mardi Gras. The City of St. Louis supported this development, designating Soulard as an "entertainment district." Residential interests were sidelined.

One of the consequences of evolving into an entertainment district is the tremendous amount of vehicular traffic in Soulard. Sometimes vehicles are driven by careless young people. Some drivers have trouble driving because they have been drinking. For whatever reason, their attentions are elsewhere. The result is property damage.

Thus, we were awakened shortly after midnight on Saturday, June 27, by the crunch of metal on metal and the screech of brakes. Dashing out front, we found that a parked Porsche on S. 12th Street near the intersection with Lami had been smushed by another car.

Later, we were told the story that a woman from Arnold was driving alone, she reached for her cell phone and the rest is history. She passed the breath-a-lizer test, administered by John Law. The explanation for the numbers of people on the scene was that they were friends of hers who were in another auto which was following her, for an unstated reason.

Last year there was a similar accident on Lami, half way between S. 11th and S. 12th. A rather fancy parked car lost a whole bunch of metal and plastic when it was hit by somebody or other in the middle of the night. And, of course, on Mardi Gras Grand Parade day, there was an Infiniti parked on the alley on Lami between S. 11th and S. 12th with its back end half way into the street and the alley. The first cop car passing by called it in and had it towed away. Whoever parked it must have been really smashed, but the car wasn’t.

Cars go shooting down S. 12th at 50 miles and hour and blast through stop signs. Motorcycles do the same, while producing an ungodly amount of noise. On any afternoon or evening, speeding vehicles and loud motorcycles announce the corroding presence of those enjoying the Soulard entertainment district while disrespecting the residential element of the neighborhood.

The fallout from these bars and restaurants - the noise, the litter, the discourteous visitors, the property damage - could not continue without support from neighborhood residents. A party culture has evolved in Soulard. Instead of contemplating how to improve the neighborhood, those submerged in the party culture focus on how to improve their party. In other words, Soulard has lost its focus and the party has become the thing.

The hollowness of this culture can be perceived by their excuse. "Anyone who lives in Soulard isn’t going to be anti-bar. You wouldn’t move here if you were!" That is the comment from "Gary Siddens of the Soulard Restoration Group," as printed in the Sunday, August 29, 2004 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

For years his bombastic and glib sound bite has provided sustenance to the arrogance of Mardi Gras and bar and restaurant apologists, enablers and beneficiaries, supporting and excusing bad behavior and the problems these negative elements cause.

Thus, an additional sound bite would be: "Anyone who lives in Soulard isn’t going to be against having their parked car trashed in the middle of the night. You wouldn’t move here if you were."
Nobody can make a comeback to these comments. The bottom line seems to be that if you move to Soulard, for some strange reason you become part of an excuse for bad behavior You are automatically a supporter of the party culture. And if you have lived in Soulard for years and years, somehow you don’t count. Par-tay trumps quality of life every time. This is the message of the trashed Porsche.
(Top two pictures: a bruised Porsche. Bottom picture: Mardi Gras parking problems.)