Supreme Court hears St. Louis eminent domain case in upscale area: Legal Newsline, 5/25/07

By Rob Luke

The Missouri Supreme Court has started mulling the idea of "blight" as a relative term.

At issue is whether St. Louis redeveloper Centene Plaza Redevelopment Corp. (CPRC) can seize properties in Clayton, a wealthy St. Louis area, through eminent domain to demolish them. The developer intends building part of a $190 million mixed-use corporate plaza on the land.

The development has been held up by five property owners since 2005, despite the fact that local businesses support the 600,000-square-foot project. The Clayton City Council had declared the five properties on the construction site "blighted."

Justice Richard B. Teitelman seemed especially amused by the idea that anything in Clayton, known for its corporate HQs and fine dining, could be considered blighted.

"If that area is declared blighted, every part of the state of Missouri would be blighted," the AP quoted Teitelman at Tuesday's opener.

One of the property-owner holdouts, Gerard Carmody, told the Supreme Court that the blighted buildings pose no problem. But CPRC attorney Thomas Weaver countered that the buildings' advanced age caused "social and economic liabilities" that constitute blight.

The buildings in question are empty despite occupying some of St. Louis's best-located retail property. The five owners helped form a local pressure group, Committee to Stop Abuse of Eminent Domain, aimed at stopping the Centene development.

Some local residents were already annoyed at the tax breaks already given Centene by the City of Clayton.

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