Why Did Someone Apply To Demolish the Cotton Belt Building?

Katie ArnoldJP In The News, News

From the Riverfront Times.

St. Louis News and Events | Riverfront Times

Who wants to demolish the Cotton Belt building? - STEVE TRUESDELL

Earlier this month, someone applied to demolish the Cotton Belt building.

But it wasn’t the owner of the building.

Now, the demolition permit is on hold as St. Louis officials investigate the application’s origin.

The developer that owns the building, the housing non-profit Justine Petersen, has no desire to demolish the long-vacant, mural-covered former train depot, it turns out. Galen Gondolfi, Justine Petersen’s chief strategy officer, says the situation has prompted the organization to call in its lawyers.

“It’s utterly surreal,” he says. “We were absolutely, totally unaware of this occurring and staunchly opposed.”

The Cotton Belt building lies just north of downtown on the Near North Riverfront. Its massive mural of blue and orange birds greets St. Louis-bound drivers on the Stan Musial Bridge, and plays the backdrop to the annual Artica arts festival.

The application for demolition, filed on February 14, still appears on the city’s Building Division page. The estimated cost for the demolition was listed as $910,000. Under “owner,” the permit application listed “JUSTINE PETERSEN PROPERTIES LLC-C/O BRAN.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported on the existence of the permit last week. It revealed that the full name of the truncated “Bran” who filed the application — supposedly in care of Justine Petersen — was Brandon Costello, an energy executive at Ashley Energy, which runs facilities neighboring the Cotton Belt building to the south.

However, as Justine Petersen was quick to clarify to the Post-Dispatch, Costello doesn’t work for the non-profit and had no authority to submit an application in care of it. (Riverfront Times unsuccessfully sought comment from Costello’s office this week.)

On Wednesday, City of St. Louis spokesman Nick Dunne confirmed to RFT that “the permit has been put on hold,” as the Building Division looks into the circumstances.

“It’s not going to move forward in the process whatsoever,” he added. “It’s frozen.”

For Justine Petersen, the permit application raises even more questions. Gondolfi says that Ashley Energy has had no interaction with the Cotton Belt building, through Costello or otherwise, until now.

“What’s incredibly troubling here,” he adds, “is that if you can get this far filing a demolition permit, what’s stopping someone from filing a permit for their neighbor’s house?”

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com