Monday, November 20, 2017

What happened to the Penrose Project? Part 2

In order to complete the lease of the property, a law would have to be passed through the Board of Alderman and signed by the mayor. The bill was submitted by our alderman and passed through the board vote. When I got the paperwork, I noticed that the original proposed lease document had been passed and signed. I asked why they changed their minds only to find out they submitted the wrong bill. They quickly submitted a repeal and replace bill (Board Bill 304) which included the correct version of the lease with the shorter term and oversight board requirements. That bill also passed the Board and was signed by the mayor and all required parties.

We were full speed ahead and very excited. We had hundreds of volunteers lined up. It was spring break time and the weather was cooperating. All we needed were the keys. We insured the building, as was required by the lease terms and asked for the keys. We were told it would only take a few days. We started working on the outside of the building. We were cleaning, landscaping and painting. We asked to get let into the building and started removing the trash and debris. The project was on track and looked like it would soon be open.

As we worked with a large volunteer group one day, we were told to leave the premises. Immediately after this my emails and phone calls were not returned. I still did not have keys but I had a signed copy of the lease and insurance on the building. I couldn't understand what the problem could possibly be. Several influential people agreed to look into it for me. Everyone that did would soon stop returning my phone calls and emails. I knew there was a problem but I never expected what came next.

Approximately three months after the lease was signed, over two years since we started the whole process, I got a letter from the city of St. Louis. Are you ready for this? They didn't actually own the building! They had offered an RFP to sell a building that they did not own. They passed two bills through the Board of Alderman, had both signed by the mayor, signed and executed a lease with us, supplied us with copies of all of these documents and did not own the building.

We were floored. We had invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in the project. We had weathered all the issues and obstacles. We accepted the restrictions and the shorter lease terms. We arranged for and scheduled hundreds of volunteers. The cost to us was staggering. We had taken on debt expecting to have facilities for expansion. We shut down our woodshop in order to prepare it for the move. We invested labor and money over a 2 year period. All we got was a letter saying the city didn't own the building so the deal was over. The Penrose Project was dead. 

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