Developer plans 265 apartments, retail around Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink

An Indianapolis developer plans to transform the block around the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink station with a $70 million development adding 265 apartments and 34,000 square feet of retail.

The Bi-State Development Board of Commissioners on Friday voted to proceed with the project. The Bi-State-owned parking lot at the northwest corner of Forest Park Parkway and DeBaliviere Avenue along with the drop-off lot on the east side of DeBaliviere Avenue are targeted for new apartment and retail buildings.

The privately owned strip mall to the north of the Bi-State parking lot is also part of the project, slated for a four-story, 106-apartment building with 16,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.

The Bi-State parking lot will be turned into a six-story building with 108 apartments and almost 13,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. Metro’s drop-off lot across the street would become a five-story, 51-apartment building with 5,000 square feet of street-level retail. Plans also call for public art and streetscape improvements.

“We are excited to partner on a project that will completely transform the area around one of Metro’s most popular transit centers and bring new resources and amenities to the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood,” Bi-State President and CEO John Nations said in a statement.

Pearl Cos. Principal Jeff Tegethoff said his firm made an “unsolicited” offer for Bi-State real estate and has been working for months on a deal. Pearl has site control over all the real estate, including the strip center owned by DeBaliviere Community Center LP, Tegethoff said.

MetroLink will share some of the 342 parking spaces planned for underground garages in the development and have, “at a minimum,” as many as it does now on the surface parking lot, Tegethoff said.

Tegethoff, a St. Louis native whose firm has recently embarked on several major developments in the region, said the project will be “catalytic” and “change the narrative for public transit in St. Louis.”

Other than downtown MetroLink stops, the Metro Landing senior living development in Swansea and the recently built Sunnen Station Apartments near a stop in Maplewood, the Forest Park-DeBaliviere station would be one of only a handful of the region’s light rail stops immediately surrounded by dense residential development.

Joel Fuoss, principal at St. Louis-based Trivers Associates Architects, which is designing the project, said he commuted on MetroLink for 10 years and tried to design the development from a commuter’s perspective. Unlike many MetroLink stops, a “prominent” residential neighborhood surrounds the Forest Park-DeBaliviere stop, he said.

“It’s in a really great spot for this to happen and to have a developer who’s really tuned in to the urban fabric and what’s going on in other cities … you add those things together and the willingness of the partners who have been involved and you see stuff like this happen,” Fuoss said.

The project still needs final approvals from St. Louis and the Federal Transit Administration. The structure of the deal is still being finalized, so it wasn’t immediately clear whether Bi-State would sell its lots to Pearl Companies outright or lease the land to the firm. But the neighborhood has already expressed its support for the proposal.

The Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood plan, adopted by the city last year, envisions the MetroLink parking lot being “developed into something more substantial,” said Brandon Sterling, executive director of the Skinker DeBaliviere Community Council. He said the neighborhood hopes “the project will be something the whole region will be excited about.”

Located on the northern edge of Forest Park, the development would also be on the recently opened Loop Trolley line, which runs between the Delmar Loop and the Missouri History Museum, in addition to MetroLink.

“We understand we’re right smack dab in the middle of it all. We’re surrounded by some of St. Louis’ best amenities,” Sterling told the Post-Dispatch. “We really want to show off the neighborhood and have a project that serves as a great entry point and an anchor. It’s time.”

Pearl hopes to begin construction by the third quarter of 2019 and complete the project by the end of 2020.

“Pearl has recognized the opportunity to bring national focus to St. Louis by transforming the existing Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink Station and adjacent retail center into a catalytic transit-oriented development,” Tegethoff said in a statement. “The result will have lasting impact on St. Louis for generations.”

Fed study of labor participation finds U.S. at full employment

The U.S. labor market doesn’t have much more room to tighten, according to a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco that examines trends in the number of Americans who are either working or looking for jobs for clues on remaining slack.

“Our estimates indicate that the aggregate labor force participation rate is at its trend as of 2018,” the regional Fed bank concluded in an Economic Letter published Monday. “Combined with the low unemployment rate, this argues that the U.S. labor market is operating at or beyond its full potential.”

Labor force participation measures the share of people aged 16 or older who are either in work or seeking employment. It started declining in the U.S. around 2000 and the trend accelerated during the 2007-2009 recession, though the rate has since steadied.

The gauge offers a hint of where the economy is operating relative to full employment: if it had room to increase, that would give employers a wider pool of potential candidates to hire and the labor market would be less tight than the jobless rate alone suggested.

Central bankers care about that because an overly-tight labor market could spur higher wage gains that eventually show up as unwanted inflation. U.S. unemployment is currently 3.7 percent, the lowest level since 1969, though inflation remains at the Fed’s 2 percent target.

The study noted that the labor force participation rate since 2015 had stabilized around 62.8 percent. After examining the underlying changes in the U.S. population, including in terms of aging and of educational attainment, it concluded that this level represents the long-run trend level of labor force participation. The study also predicted this would decline about 2.5 percentage points over the next 10 years.

“Almost the entire projected future decline is driven by population aging,” the authors wrote.

Corrected: Charter Communications accused of discriminating against a black TV network

Corrects an earlier version of this story, which incorrectly reported that the case had been decided. In fact, the case has not yet been argued, and the ruling by the Ninth Circuit decided a procedural question that will allow the lawsuit to continue.

A bias lawsuit involving one of the nation’s largest cable companies will be allowed to proceed after a black-owned provider of television programming alleged it had been discriminated against, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Not only did animus pose a plausible factor when Charter Communications repeatedly rejected negotiations with Entertainment Studios, the TV programmer, but the First Amendment cannot be used to throw out the suit, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The three-judge panel’s decision on the free speech issue holds particularly sweeping implications, some legal experts say, because it could undercut a rising trend of companies citing the First Amendment to defend business practices or to attack regulation.

The opinion on Charter’s motion to dismiss also marks a victory for the 25-year-old programming firm founded by comedian Byron Allen, which bought The Weather Channel in March and accused Charter executives in court of hurling insults at Allen and other black Americans in numerous encounters.

In one alleged instance, Charter chief executive Tom Rutledge called Allen, who is black, “boy” at an industry conference and advised him to change his behavior, according to court documents. In another alleged example, the court said, Charter’s senior executive in charge of programming, Allan Singer, approached a group of black protesters outside Charter’s offices to tell them to “get off of welfare.”

Charter told the court that its decision not to carry Entertainment Studios was not related to race but rather other factors, such as that the company lacked operational resources.

The court sided with Entertainment Studios, citing arguments that Charter had negotiated or struck lucrative agreements with white-owned companies even as the black-owned company was denied the same opportunities.

“Corporate red tape, inconsistent decision-making among network leadership, and even boorish executives are not themselves necessarily indicative of discrimination,” the court said. But Charter had not done enough to prove that bias played no role in its decision-making — only that it was not the most important factor, the court said. For Charter to win the motion to dismiss, the judges said, the company’s explanation would have had to render Entertainment Studios’ allegations implausible.

Without addressing the substance of the dueling claims, the court said, Entertainment Studios received the benefit of the doubt.

Charter’s next steps in the legal battle are unclear. But in a statement on the decision, the company vowed to continue fighting, calling Entertainment Studios’ lawsuit “a desperate tactic that this programmer has used before” and promising to “vigorously defend ourselves against these claims.”

A spokesman for Entertainment Studios didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

As part of its defense, Charter had told the court that by choosing which channels to carry, the company was engaging in a form of editorial discretion protected by the First Amendment. Therefore, it said, the court would have to use a stricter standard to evaluate Entertainment Studios’ claim of a legal violation – a standard that might result in the claim being rejected.

The Ninth Circuit said otherwise, saying that just because Charter engages in corporate speech when it selects which channels to carry does not “automatically” require the court to use the tougher standard.

Consumer groups hailed the court’s move, saying it is a necessary check on industries that have cited corporate speech as a reason to eliminate regulation.

“In a time when the First Amendment is often ‘weaponized’ to serve the business interests of large corporations instead of furthering free expression, this is a welcome decision,” said the advocacy organization Public Knowledge, which noted that telecom and cable groups have supported a lawsuit that argued the federal government had infringed on Internet providers’ free speech rights when it approved a series of tough net neutrality rules in 2015.