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Economy & Business

Del Taco closes after aldermen advance blighting of site

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 1, 2011 - At 11 p.m.,Thursday,  the Del Taco restaurants on South Grand Boulevard and McCausland Avenue closed. The closures came as no surprise; the owners had declared bankruptcy earlier.

"After years of hard work and a serious commitment to the St. Louis community, we are saddened to announce the closing of the Del Taco restaurants in St. Louis," said Pat Shields, Operating Partner of DF Restaurants, the restaurant management company in Chesterfield that purchased the two franchises in 2005. 

And in aldermanic committee meeting on Wednesday, the owner of the Del Taco building at 212 S. Grand Boulevard, Rick Yackey, said, "I'm thinking I'm going to have a vacant piece of property in a matter of days." 

The fate of the spaceship-shaped Del Taco building is still up in the air. An aldermanic committee passed a bill on Wednesday that would blight the property and offer a tax abatement to any development. The measure now goes to the full Board of Aldermen to be considered, most likely at its July 8 meeting.

Read the Beacon's earlier story below:

St. Louis aldermen on the Housing and Urban Development Committee voted 5-2 in favor of passing Board Bill 118 that would blight the Del Taco site on South Grand and approve tax abatement for any developer.

The measure now goes to the full Board of Aldermen to be considered, most likely at its July 8 meeting.

Alderman Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward and the bill's sponsor, said the purpose of BB 118 was to approve a redevelopment plan complete with tax abatement.

"The redevelopment plan does not approve demolition," Davis said. "That is not why we are here today."

Still, Davis stressed to the board the problems that have come along with having a 24-hour restaurant in that location. She said there have been 41 police calls to the property and that it has been the site of drug dealing and other criminal activity, including a shooting.

Rick Yackey, the property owner who said he has invested $60 million in developing the surrounding area, said he is currently looking into negotiations with national chains that might be interested in using the building. (Late last year, Del Taco decided not to renew its lease, which had four years left on it.)

Yackey refused to identify any companies since talks are preliminary, but he said he is looking for a way to re-use the building.

"I'm looking for somebody that's going to be conducive to what's going on in this area," he said.

Though Yackey said he is looking for a new business to put there, some questioned how much of a priority that is for Yackey, who said he is probably going to end up tearing down the building because of a lack of interest from retail chains.

"I'm thinking I'm going to have a vacant piece of property in a matter of days," he said.

Yackey says he has no plans currently to demolish the building, but if no one is interested in renting the property, that could be the next step.

Alderman Jennifer Florida, D-15th Ward, said, "I would like to hear that he sees the value in that building and I haven't heard that."

Yackey told the committee that he's been in the development, not demolition, business for years. He purchased the Del Taco building five years ago for $441,000.

"I'm not in the business of tearing properties down," Yackey said.

Davis and Yackey both insisted that legislation to permit demolition would have to be handled by the Cultural Resources Office and Preservation Board.

Mayor Francis Slay weighed in Monday on his blog that "if aldermen ... approve a plan that allows the demolition of the Del Taco building and the developer subsequently applies for a demolition permit, I will ask Cultural Resources Office director Betsy Bradley to review the permit and make a professional recommendation to the Preservation Board about further action."

Still, some people in the audience expressed concern over the historic worth of the spaceship-shaped structure and the chance it would be razed.

"The (historic) district would not have been listed without this (Del Taco) building," said Lindsey Derrington, a specialist in historic preservation. Derrington. Derrington, as well as a few aldermen and many audience members, encouraged the board to remove any phrasing with the word "demolition" from the bill.

Alderman Scott Ogilvie, I-24th Ward, strongly agreed.

"If we were to demolish every building that at one time had a bad tenant, at this point in 2011, we would have zero buildings left," he said, to applause from the audience. Ogilvie later said to his fellow board members to "face the facts" they what they were approving was sending the building down the road to demolition.

Allison Prang, a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is a summer intern at the Beacon.

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