Audrey Spalding
What a difference a few months make. The Saint Louis Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) held its monthly meeting today, and there were a number of positive changes.

First, the LRA reduced the price it charges homeowners attempting to purchase the vacant property next door. According to the new policy approved today, side lot purchasers will pay 3/8 of the LRA-calculated full price. The change amounts to a price reduction of 25 percent, which will hopefully encourage more individuals to purchase vacant city property.

Second, the LRA approved offers at an unusually high rate. Since 2004, the agency has never approved more than a quarter of the offers it considered during the course of a year. However, this month the LRA approval rate soared. The LRA voted to accept nearly 40 percent of the offers that it formally considered. (I don't count deferrals one way or the other in this tally.) For comparison, the LRA's acceptance rate in December 2010 was 13.8 percent.

If the LRA continues on this path, the agency could end up accepting a greater percentage of offers than it has since at least 2003. And, accepting more offers is the first step toward selling more property — which could result in more development, and certainly lower property maintenance costs for the city.

These reforms are in line with what I have suggested here on the blog, on the radio, and while speaking in public. As my research has shown, between January 2003 and December 2010, the agency rejected offers to purchase more than 2,000 different vacant city properties. If Saint Louis is serious about encouraging all types of development, the LRA should work to sell more city property to people making substantive offers — as it seemed to do today.

Finally, I can't cite any numbers to "prove" this, but I have to say that today's LRA meeting was more amicable than any others I've ever attended. Many times in the past, the discussion between LRA commissioners and a would-be buyer has become extremely heated. The source of those confrontations was almost always the fact that the LRA was rejecting a person's offer, or because the agency was asking for a much higher bid.

For example, consider this exchange between  former Commissioner Howard Hayes and a would-be buyer in May 2010:
Person trying to buy property: "The LRA hasn't told me what it would take. ... how many properties would I have to buy?"

Hayes: "Right now, we see almost a whole block that could be used for development. ... come together as a neighborhood and move on that entire block instead of just a property."

Today, LRA commissioners and staff members seemed to be more willing to provide more information and a rationale for their decisions to would-be buyers. These communication changes aren't quantifiable as a hard statistic, but they are what make me most optimistic about the future success of the LRA. If agency commissioners and staff members continue this open approach, they may find more people showing up to purchase LRA property.

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Audrey Spalding