Halt Incarnate Word Convent Demolition or Resign
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Four months after commencing a rushed and unorganized Request for Proposals (RFP) process, UMSL officials rejected a $7.7 million proposal to renovate the former Incarnate Word Convent (Normandie Hall) that would have awarded the university a $1.5 million dollar lease and tens of thousands of dollars in annual rent. The proposal fulfills all of the UMSL's strict requirements, allows for the university to retain all property rights, is led by one of the community's most respected and experienced developers and would restore the first floor of the building to its founders, Incarnate Word Academy, for office space. The remaining floors would be renovated for senior living, allowing aging Bel-Nor residents to stay in the community they've called home for decades. What could UMSL possibly lose by allowing someone - anyone - to pay the university $1.5 million dollars to attempt to renovate a building they were planning on demolishing anyhow? They would gain $2.5 million just by saying "yes."
In a March 10th article of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch titled "Historic convent slated for demolition" UMSL officials said $300 million in deferred maintenance have left them with no choice but to spend an additional $1 million to destroy a St. Louis landmark that more than 1,500 community members have implored them to save, lease or sell. Yet, no matter how you do the math, demolishing the former Incarnate Word Academy Convent to make way for a vacant lot just doesn't add up.
UMSL could save $1 million by simply leasing it back to Incarnate Word - or any other deserving non-profit - for $1 per year. The precedent certainly already exists: earlier this year UMSL purchased Normandie Golf Course at a cost of $1.4 million and awarded a 10-year management contract to a for-profit corporation for $1 per year without any public bidding process. Was their $300 million deferred maintenance, $2 million budget shortfall and current hiring freeze not part of that decision-making process? Yet just last week a charter school partnered with UMSL expressed interest in renovating the building with approximately $3 million in investments, creating a new educational center for children. The charter school would bring new jobs and commerce to the community, yet UMSL denied the charter school's staff an opportunity to even tour the building. Why isn't the convent receiving the same kind of opportunities and favors? The demolition isn't making space for a new building or announced thoroughfare; it will be a vacant lot indefinitely. So, what's the rush?
When senators and members of congress misuse or abuse hundreds of thousands of dollars tax payer money, we rightfully call for their resignation. The public officials at the tax payer-funded University of Missouri should be held to the same standards. Our community, our city and our state entrust UMSL officials - and pay them handsomely - to protect our assets, especially our most treasured pieces of architecture and history. The former Incarnate Word Convent is one such asset, so exquisitely designed and constructed that it will never be replicated or reproduced. We provided UMSL officials with nearly $2 million (adjusted for inflation) when they purchased it in 1993, we funded its negligent care for 22 years and, if UMSL has the final say, we will pay for its costly demolition because the current administration would apparently rather destroy something beautiful than admit they are incapable of managing their own assets and our collective cultural history. Developers, businesses, employers and patrons are lining up to invest in the building, yet UMSL officials seem intent on ignoring all logic at our expense. Their costly plans are shameful. The UMSL officials prepared to award a $1 million demolition contract as soon as this week - including Chancellor Tom George, Betty Van Uum, Jim Krueger and Bob Samples - should either halt demolition plans or offer their resignations for mismanaging tax payer's money, the student body's tuition and our city's invaluable history and heritage.
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