Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flying saucer sighted!

The hot new debate in St. Louis concerns the planned demolition of the saucer-shaped Del Taco on South Grand Boulevard. This story has at least three overlapping issues:

The first issue is the large number of people who want to save this "classic midcentury building" from the wrecking ball. In economics jargon, their claim is that the building has a positive externality; i.e., its classic midcentury architectural significance provides benefits to the community that are not captured by the market. The building has always been a bit of an eyesore to me, but I lived through the heyday of this architectural style so I've had my fill of it.

It doesn't yet appear that any of the building's facebook friends are going to pony up the money to buy it, so they're appealling to the city government, which might oblige them. This brings up the second issue, which is whether the government should interfere with the property owner's right to do what he wants with his property. Would the owner be compensated for this taking, or would his property (or at least part of its value) be taken without compensation.

Finally, as outlined by Audrey Spalding, the whole episode began when the building was declared blighted to make its redevelopment eligible for tax increment financing. Legally, a blighted property is "[...] an area which, by reason of the predominance of defective or inadequate street layout, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, deterioration of site improvements, improper subdivision or obsolete platting, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors, retards the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability or a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare in its present condition and use." Wow, a building like that hardly sounds worth saving.