St. Louis struggles to sell vacant schools

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A sputtering economy and the shortage of available historic tax credits are hampering efforts in St. Louis to sell nearly a dozen vacant schools.

Six of the 11 former city public schools went on sale in late May. The other five will go on the market in July.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that uncertainty over the future of state tax credits for historic preservation may be influencing interested developers. State lawmakers considered additional restrictions to the tax credit program earlier this year and are expected to again discuss such limits.

Churches and charter schools are among the prospective tenants being sought by St. Louis officials. Until 2009, the city school system had a deed restriction prohibiting the sale of its buildings to charter schools.

"We do think there's a market for these buildings," said Jose Cerda, who represents six charter school operators looking for buildings in St. Louis and is vice president of a Chicago-based nonprofit that lends money to schools and other nonprofits. "The question is price and process."

Developer Peter Katsinas considered buying a shuttered school from the St. Louis system two years ago. That same building is back on the market, but Katsinas said he is not interested in the Gardenville School on Gravois Avenue — even though he considers it an ideal housing project.

"Nothing will make economic sense unless they keep the state and federal tax credits in place," he said. "Without those, just empty a gun in your head because you will not survive."

Peter Newton, a Hilliker Corp. broker long involved in selling surplus city schools, said an inability to get tax credits would make rehabbing the old buildings more difficult.

"What is going on in Jefferson City is strangling us," he said. "We've got all these historic buildings. (Rehabbing them) only makes sense with the tax credits."

The vacant schools are listed for sale at $10 to $20 per square foot. Katsinas said those prices are reasonable but added: "Even if you give it to me and there's no demand for it, what am I going to do with it? Real estate is very, very weak."

Developers note that job growth remains sluggish among young adults, a key demographic for developers considering remodeling shuttered schools as apartments or condominiums.

A member of a non-denominational church was among those who recently toured the 101-year-old Lyon Elementary School, which is listed for $860,000. Further tours of the listed buildings are set for June 22, with sealed bids due July 15.

Student enrollment at St. Louis Public Schools has fallen from a peak of 115,543 in 1967 to about 24,000 this year. Records show the district has sold 17 buildings since 2005.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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