Foundation established to develop more green space in Sunset Hills

Staff Report

A new foundation is setting its sights on developing more green space in Sunset Hills.

The purpose of the Sunset Hills Conservation Foundation Inc. “is to preserve, acquire and assist in the development of green space for the citizens of Sunset Hills,” according to Mayor Bill Nolan.

The foundation was established earlier this month as a nonprofit corporation following a meeting of roughly 20 people at a local bank.

“As an individual, I went out and solicited the support of a number of individuals to be the initial incorporators/directors of the foundation,” Nolan told the Call.

“Talking with them, their reaction was incredible. Everybody thought it was a wonderful idea,” he added. “Some people reacted by saying it’s time we had something in Sunset Hills that reached out to everybody in Sunset Hills to be involved in, something that’s not part of the city, that’s not city government.”

At the Aug. 12 meeting, Frank Pellegrini accepted the post of temporary chairman and Ross Burlemann accepted the post of treasurer, according to Nolan.

Those present also authorized Ron Hack, an attorney, to incorporate the foundation.

“As mayor, I’m not on the board. Although I started the meeting, we turned it over to Mr. Pellegrini to run the rest of it immediately,” Nolan recalled. “They asked about my involvement and I told them I just wanted to be the first member. So I handed them a check and became the first person to join the foundation as a member only …”

At the group’s next meeting, tentatively scheduled for early September, officers will be elected, he said.

With one exception, former Lindbergh Schools Superintendent Jim Sandfort of Ballwin, all of the initial incorporators/directors are Sunset Hills residents.

They include:

• Butch Thomas, Jack Ryan, Tony Nacrelli, Doug Kirberg, Bill Schicker, Joyce Franklin, Joseph Lipic, Rich Wagner, Denny Long, Tim Keane, Mick Redohl, Kermit Starnes, Bob Beumer, Bob Baer and John Primrose.

As a nonprofit corporation, the Sunset Hills Conservation Foundation would be able to receive grants and gifts, which could be used to pursue its goal of developing more green space in the city.

In the city’s July newsletter, Nolan noted in his Mayor’s Memo that discussions were under way to create the foundation, which he wrote would be patterned after Forest Park Forever.

The mission of Forest Park Forever, a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1986, is “to restore, maintain and sustain Forest Park as one of America’s great urban public parks, for the enjoyment of all — now and forever.”

Two opportunities to acquire green space also were cited by Nolan in his Mayor’s Memo — the Paraclete Fathers property at 13270 Maple Drive and the Hadley Estate property at 12216 Hadley Hill Road.

“Sunset Hills has two opportunities to acquire additional parkland and preserve two historic Sunset Hills’ properties,” Nolan wrote. “The first, the ‘Paraclete’ property on the crest of the Gary Player/Maple Drive hill, consists of 10.5 acres and the monumental stone carriage house built by ‘Pappa Joe’ Griesedieck, when he used it as his summer home. It was built around 1905.

“When the ‘Paraclete Fathers’ put the property on the market last year, there was interest from various people to develop the property. Sunset Hills resident and city founder Al Moore stepped in and acquired the property at a premium in the hopes it can be purchased and preserved as a park by our city.

“The second opportunity arose when the heirs to the Hadley Estate expressed a desire to the Sunset Hills Historical Society that they would like to see the family estate preserved as a park. It is 31.5 acres behind Sunset Country Club,” Nolan wrote. “It contains many varied buildings, mansions, stables and the ‘jewel’ is a home built for Ms. Von Eime in 1852. That’s over 100 years before the founding of our city.”

Nolan told the Call that after he was elected mayor, he was contacted by Willis Hadley’s attorneys, who asked, “Did the city still have an interest in the property? I assured them we did.

“But we also didn’t have the money to buy it. They said Mr. Hadley was entertaining the idea with his lawyers that he might donate the money to the city to buy the property …”

Nolan noted that ownership of the Hadley Estate was transferred into a limited liability corporation administered by Bank of America. The LLC’s shareholders are the heirs to the estate, he said.

“So if that property is ever going to go to someone, they’re going to buy it from the Bank of America,” Nolan said. “There is no offer on the table to give us the property by the Bank of America …

“There is a possibility that Mr. Hadley, Willis Hadley, could donate the money to the city and let the city buy it from the Bank of America …”

If that were to occur, Nolan said, “… There’s development that needs to be done, streets, parking … things that need to be maintained and the question is can the city accomplish that as well? So we talked about developing a foundation and I went out as an individual — not as mayor — because this foundation is not part of the city of Sunset Hills, doesn’t answer to the Board of Aldermen and the mayor is not a member of the board … There’s no formal relationship between the foundation and the city of Sunset Hills …”

Without the donation of money to purchase the Hadley Estate, Nolan said, “We’re looking at a $4 million or $5 million purchase. I don’t anticipate the foundation’s going to be able to raise $4 million or $5 million like that. So we may miss that opportunity.

“We may be able to buy a small part of that property that includes the historical building,” he continued. “But there is green space in Sunset Hills — other areas in Sunset Hills that at some point in time are either going to be developed or they’re going to be become common ground to the city, common to the people, and the purpose of the foundation is to get the citizens involved in getting it done.”

The Sunset Hills Conservation Foundation can make a real difference in improving the quality of life in the city, Nolan said.

“… The whole idea behind this foundation and the reason that I drafted these people is I think collectively this group can make something happen …,” the mayor said.