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Vandalism and vagrancy threaten Laclede’s Landing redevelopment, developer says

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ST. LOUIS — A Laclede’s Landing developer says trouble with vagrants and vandalism is threatening to torpedo plans for new apartments, shops and restaurants in the historic district next to the Gateway Arch.

Brian and Gretchen Minges, of Advantes Group, said that in recent weeks, somebody has set a dumpster on fire, broken windows in buildings — and walked into restaurants with their pants down. The Mingeses and their staff have watched people break into vehicles, defecate in public, openly use drugs, and harass tenants and tourists alike.

“We are just getting destroyed down here,” Brian Minges said. “If I wasn’t knee deep in this, I would have walked away.”

The Mingeses suspect the problems are tied to a homeless encampment along the riverfront here — city officials have told them some of the individuals are homeless, and the individuals have identified themselves, in some circumstances.

In response, the developers have reached out to City Hall in hopes of having the encampment removed like others were earlier this year, to no avail.

Until something changes, Brian Minges said, the bulk of his company’s plans for the area are on hold.

It’s the latest cry for help from city businesses this summer. Last month brought calls for action on drag racing and other lawlessness downtown, and homelessness, fighting and aggressive panhandling in the South Grand Boulevard commercial district. Schnucks even warned it may have to close its store at Grand and Gravois Avenue if issues with vagrancy and public urination on its property aren’t resolved.

Nick Dunne, a spokesman for Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, said the administration is in regular contact with the Mingeses and other Landing business owners on a number of issues, including the encampment. Social workers visit the camp every week to connect residents to resources, including shelter, Dunne said. About 15 live there at any given time, he said; so far five have accepted shelter from the city.

“Our ultimate goal is to get people into housing and relieve the burden on the shelters,” Dunne said.

St. Louis has struggled to address homelessness on the riverfront and its downtown area for years. A decade ago, three encampments along the Mississippi prompted similar concerns before they were deemed a public health risk and cleared — and even then, a smaller camp popped up the following year. A camp in Poelker Park, near the Stifel Theatre, had 100 residents by the time Mayor Lyda Krewson oversaw its removal in May 2020. And last year, the Jones administration cleared an encampment in Interco Plaza, next to St. Patrick Center, after reports of people using drugs and assaulting each other culminated in a fatal shooting.

The current riverfront encampment, under the pavilion where The Admiral riverboat once moored, came onto the public radar shortly after the Interco Plaza clearing. At first, the city left it alone, saying shelters were full. In late April, officials started moving to clear it along with three other encampments, citing health and safety concerns. But the riverfront encampment was spared, and so its residents have continued to share the area with tourists, residents and office workers on the Landing.

The Landing has been struggling of late, losing many of its restaurants and other entertainment offerings after, first, the Arch grounds construction project made it harder to access, and then the coronavirus pandemic shut down retail and restaurants. The Mingeses have plans to remake the areas with hundreds of new loft apartments, and already have some up and running. But Gretchen Minges says she worries the new problems are driving tenants away.

“We’ve got some people who don’t feel safe any more,” Gretchen Minges said. She said restaurants and retailers considering the area are waiting to see conditions improve.

Abstrakt Marketing Group employees on break Wednesday said they’ve seen trouble, too. Nolan Lantz said he once came out of his office building and found a man smoking methamphetamine. Others said people have come into their building and stolen food from the refrigerators.

Yolanda Holmes, who works behind the counter at the wax museum on Second Street, said vagrancy is also an issue for tourism. “It’s a nuisance,” she said.

But she was careful to note that she hadn’t seen any real violence. And she said an apparent increase in security this summer has been calming things down.

Down at the encampment, Ryan Smith, 27, said he didn’t know what the Mingeses were talking about. The 15 or so people at the encampment keep to themselves, he said. Some are struggling with drug addiction, but not causing trouble.

He put the blame for the situation on the city, which he said hasn’t done enough to provide housing. “They need to give us more opportunities,” he said.

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Austin Huguelet is the Post-Dispatch's City Hall reporter. He previously covered business for the Post-Dispatch and state politics for the Springfield News-Leader.

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