County officials consider demolition of World Trade Center

Prop S bond issue, construction details two separate issues, Wrone tells Call

By Kari Williams

Clayton’s World Trade Center, 121 S. Meramec Ave., may no longer be standing if a proposal to use the site as a staging facility during construction of a new family justice center moves forward.

County Department of Highways and Traffic spokesman David Wrone said, at this point, the plan is to demolish the World Trade Center building because of a lack of vacant ground in the area.

“(The court facility is in a) highly urbanized location,” Wrone told the Call. “There’s simply no room to stage the equipment, material (or a) construction headquarters trailer to build this type of structure …, which is why we’re contemplating demolishing the 121 building.”

Mac Scott, spokesman for County Executive Charlie Dooley, told the Call the “initial thinking” is the World Trade Center “has essentially reached the end of its useful life.”

“It costs more to keep it operating than it actually brings back …,” Scott said.

However, Scott said none of that is “etched in stone.”

“These are all sort of initial design ideas about how to proceed …,” he said.

The operating cost for the World Trade Center, according to information the Call obtained through a public records request, is “just under $700,000.” That amount includes utilities, contract services, such as elevator repair, and materials.

Wrone provided operating expenses for the third and fourth quarters of 2011 — July through December — which total $347,542.

Cost tracking changed in the middle of the year, Wrone stated in the public records response, but to “account for the entire year, one could assume that this number is double.”

Wrone told the Call the World Trade Center does not generate any revenue for the county.

Construction of a new Family Justice Center is being funded through Proposition S, a $100 million bond issue approved by county voters in April. Prop S, which did not require a tax-rate increase, also is expected to fund safety improvements and renovations to the existing County Courthouse.

Sixth District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, told the Call he was unaware of the county’s plans to demolish the World Trade Center until after Prop S was approved, but he did not have much of a reaction to the news.

“I’m kind of waiting to see what the detailed plan looks like, and we don’t have that yet,” he said. “I would withhold judgment on that until I knew everything. There may be some explanation as to why that’s necessary.”

Wrone said the specifics of the construction plan were not included when making voters aware of Prop S because the bond issue “just gave (the county) the financial wherewithal to pursue this project.”

“The issue itself didn’t go into specifics on that level,” he said.

Additionally, the bond issue and the construction details are two separate issues, according to Wrone.

“We were basically asking for the public’s permission to allocate the money necessary to do the project,” he said. “It wasn’t a specific situation where we were saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do.'”

Furthermore, the bond-issue proceeds are not related to the demolition of the World Trade Center, according to county officials.

Other staging-area alternatives have been considered, but Wrone said demolishing the World Trade Center is the “best option” for the time being. He also said he does not have exact addresses for other facilities that were considered.

Discussion regarding the demolition of the World Trade Center has been “entertained for some time,” Wrone said, and the county was “always aware that that was a possibility.”

In a May 23 letter addressed to Dooley and provided to the County Council on June 5, Dennis Coleman, president and CEO of the St. Louis County Economic Council, states it is necessary to relocate all county departments and “other tenants” who occupy the building at 121 S. Meramec so that building and the building at 111 S. Meramec can be demolished.

The following county departments and tenants, among others, will be relocated, according to Coleman’s letter: Highways and Traffic, Public Works, Planning, Family Court, Human Services, Administration, Economic Council and the World Trade Center.

Coleman’s letter also states that “to cover the capital costs associated with the acquisition of replacement facilities for the above-mentioned county department and entities, we further understand that these costs would be covered through the sale of certain county-owned properties, including the existing family courts site, the parking lot located at the corner of Central and Carondelet avenues and the 111 S. Meramec and 121 S. Meramec sites.”

In the information provided to the council, Coleman asked the council to take legislative action to allow St. Louis County Port Authority to “assist with property disposition and the acquisition of certain replacement properties” in relation to the “proposed construction” of a new family courts facility.

He also asked for Port Authority assistance with tenant relocation “in connection with the passage of Proposition S that authorized the issuance of bonds to support the planned construction of a new St. Louis County Family Court Facility and renovation of the existing St. Louis County Circuit Court building,” according to a letter Dooley provided to the council.

The county health department and county police crime lab, at 111 S. Meramec, already are in the process of relocating.

The health department is expected to move into a new facility in Berkeley off Airport Road in early August, according to Wrone, and a new crime lab is being built in Clayton. The crime lab will be constructed at the corner of Meramec and Forsyth Boulevard and is expected to be ready in 2013.

Regarding Coleman’s letter, in a June 5 letter to the County Council, Dooley wrote that Coleman requested “legislation to authorize property disposition and tenant relocation activities in connection with the passage of Proposition S …

“It is my recommendation that the St. Louis County Council authorize the actions requested.”

The County Council was scheduled to vote Tuesday — after the Call went to press — to consider the perfection of legislation authorizing the county executive to “execute a contract with the St. Louis County Port Authority for selling of certain county facilities and acquisition of property for use by county, the family court, the St. Louis County Economic Council and World Trade Center.”