UPDATE 6/26/14: Here is Guzzardo's lawsuit filed 6/19/14, which adds many details to his story and even mentions this blog post:
MACOMB, IL -- Can a digital artist and urban designer reclaim the ideas that are driving the development of a high end arts district in St. Louis, Missouri, ideas that could define the historic legacy of this rusting, rust belt city?
Paul Guzzardo, an artist, designer, attorney and media activist is engaged in a legal battle with some of the biggest names in the Midwest and the USA over the development of Grand Center in St. Louis.
Guzzardo has termed what he hoped to achieve in Grand Center as a WikiStreet. The WikiStreetblends info-era new knowledge with the built environment. This “street encyclopedia” uses multi-media, sculpture and other art forms “in a face off with big data.”
Grand Center in a historic St. Louis neighborhood would seem to be a perfect laboratory for Guzzardo’s ideas. It was set up by the city’s elite, led by Emily Pulitzer, the Pulitzer of the media fortune, said to be worth over $2 billion.
THE MONEY. Grand Center, Inc. is a not-for-profit urban redevelopment corporation that covers about 300 acres. It was rebooted in 2003 when it became tax increment financing district, a TIF.
Pulitzer’s Grand Center-based foundation is linked to The Monsanto Fund and prominent politicians of both parties.
Former St. Louis mayor Vincent Schoemehl, now the executive director of Grand Center, stated the goal was to establish it “as a national tourist destination, a cultural tourist destination.”
Grand Center was modeled after Chicago’s Millennium Park, and like Millennium Park it was to be propped up by both philanthropy and millions in tax exempt bonds. But this St. Louis playground may have turned out to be a playing field for self-dealing directors.
Guzzardo’s ideas are still driving the Grand Center development.
But he’s been tossed out, and can only watch while his work is appropriated by others, and as he described it, “mangled.”
Guzzardo who is a visiting Fellow at the University of Dundee now is in Macomb, Il, working on a book Hackerspace for Myth Making – The Manual, and caring for an elderly parent while the lawsuit creeps forward.
His lawsuit to reclaim his intellectual property has revealed the underside of this elite development, and how the investors holding and trading those Grand Center municipal bonds, ultimately guaranteed by the city of St. Louis, could be affected.
If you think this situation would be big news in St. Louis, think again. Pulitzer and Monsanto money touches everything, from the Post Dispatch to the NPR and PBS stations. There’s been no publicity and likely won’t be any until the story hits the national media.
THE VISION. It all began a decade ago when Schoemehl, the former three term St. Louis mayor, asked Guzzardo to design and manage a showcase project. It was going to be a key piece of the Grand Center arts district. Backed with $130 in TIF bonds, it looked like a desirable gig.
When the ex-mayor came calling Guzzardo had been running the not-for-profit Media Arts Lab downtown. He wanted to move it to Grand Center, and call it the Media Box.
The property he was slated to acquire and use was across from two not-for-profit museums, The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Blvd. and CAM, Contemporary Art Museum, next door.
The PFA is Emily Pulitzer’s private museum, of sorts. Back when it opened the New York Times did a story about this “sort of ” museum. Its board of directors in addition to Pulitzer family members include William Bush, brother of former president George H.W. Bush, and Deborah Patterson, president of the Monsanto Fund.
Schoemehl, who became the executive director of Grand Center, offered Guzzardo a contract. Guzzardo brought in Sung Ho Kim, a young designer who had just arrived at Washington University in St. Louis from the MIT Lab. Kim was to help him move the downtown Media Lab uptown and also do a little housing, Guzzardo said.
The property Schoemehl wanted Guzzardo to develop, at 3699 Olive Boulevard, was occupied by an auto repair shop, a brownfield site owned by an African American. Grand Center earlier had tried to acquire it, but negotiations fizzled. So the gloves came off.
THE BROWNFIELD SITE. Grand Central had eminent domain power, but politics and an $8 million hand-out in TIF dollars soon intervened. The money was slated for a new sports arena that nearby Saint Louis University wanted to build.
But the other big land owner in Grand Center didn’t want the Catholics to have it. The Masons, a historic enemy of the Catholic Church, controlled a line of grand WPA-era buildings right across from the university.
The Masons sued to stop the TIF, citing church/state issues. When they seemed to be losing the case, somebody decided to play the race card, Guzzardo said.
So a campaign was orchestrated in support of the auto repair shop, and against the Media Box, that included stories in the media and City Hall rallies.
“It all exploded” Guzzardo said, adding he was blamed, called a racist and worse. He was forced out of other groups, as detailed in his lawsuit complaint.
To this day, there are prominent signs in St. Louis screaming ‘no’ to eminent domain.
The Missouri legislature even got involved, and amended the state’s eminent domain law to create an ombudsman to protect citizens from eminent domain abuse.
“I got blamed for eminent domain,” Guzzardo said, adding that the property he needed could likely have been acquired by purchase with patient negotiations, and not eminent domain. A St.Louis Post Dispatch story mocks as artistic and elite the Media Box, and pits it against the business of a self-made African American.
The auto repair shop still sits there, undeveloped, an odd companion to the nearby galleries and restaurants.
McLUHAN AND THE BURNT CHURCH. St. Alphonsus Rock Church, 620 N. Spring, known as the burnt church, had been acquired by Grand Center. Destroyed by fire years earlier, its limestone walls remained standing, “great bones” for an artistic development. Schoemehl wanted the Media Box in that gutted church.
Schoemehl was keen on Guzzardo because of work Guzzardo did on Marshall McLuhan, the man Wired Magazine has called “The Patron of the Wired Age.”
And there was a home town twist. McLuhan did his early work in St. Louis. He taught at Saint Louis University from 1937 to 1944. McLuhan while in St. Louis found some like minded guys. It was his first Posse.
Schoemehl felt that by shinning a light on McLuhan and that posse Guzzardo might be able to mark Grand Center as a new media heritage site, the first stop on a Global Village tour. The medium would be the message, in the famous words of McLuhan.
Schoemehl wanted something more than a traditional arts entertainment district. He understood this “heritage mark/brand” would be a significant district asset, the first step in transforming Grand Center into a “Midwest Silicone Alley.”
Schoemehl even had Guzzardo put a McLuhan provision into the contract. In his deposition about Guzzardo and McLuhan, Schoemehl stated:
What Paul explained to me that I had never realized was that Marshall McLuhan had done all of his work at St. Louis University. I had never heard of Father Walter Hong(ONG) before meeting with Paul. I went out and bought all their books. And I thought the Media Box would be a great connector between Grand Center and St. Louis University, and that was really in my mind a very key component of … this idea that, you know, there are lots of lighting technologies and sound technologies, but the idea that he was going to organize it around the teachings and --and the --philosophies of Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan, I found that very intriguing and compelling.
BURNED. It may have been” intriguing and compelling,” but within a couple of months Grand Center told Guzzardo ‘thanks but no thanks.’ Despite the press releases, Guzzardo found out that Grand Center had no interest in Media Box. Guzzardo had become the fall guy, a local pariah because of the eminent domain mess.
Guzzardo left for Scotland and Argentina doing other work. Then out of nowhere a year later while in Buenos Aires, Guzzardo heard from Schoemehl. He asked Guzzardo to fly back to St. Louis to oversee an all-district lighting project.
Guzzardo asked for a contract. He heard nothing. Schoemehl never got back, he said.
Then later Guzzardo learned that Grand Center had retrofitted the burnt church for a three month media art installation, in conjunction with a 2008 installation in Emily Pulitzer’s museum.
Oops. Guzzardo’s Grand Center contract has a specific non-disclosure provision. So Guzzardo contacted a lawyer and sued Grand Center, based on a violation of contract. That contract’s non-disclosure agreement means the ideas should never have been used by others, Guzzardo said.
But he was taking on the elite of St. Louis, who were used to getting their way.
Documents acquired through the lawsuit revealed that in March 2007, just after Schoemehl contacted Guzzardo in Buenos Aires then blew him off, the Grand Center executive board that ran the TIF district and handled the money held a meeting of eight voting directors, including Emily Pulitzer. The other person there was Alan Pratzel, Grand Center’s lawyer.
At the end of the meeting Pulitzer made the motion to borrow $750,000 to fund the stabilization and development of the burnt church, and pledge the church as security. The church is listed as an asset in “Municipal Bond Fund Fact Sheet.” Pulitzer’s motion passed unanimously.
The lender who only works with not-for-profits wrote this at the closing, “It is a pleasure partnering with you as you seek to meet the needs of those less fortunate.” Here are the documents.
Say what? A burned out church as an asset, to help the poor?
So much for philanthropy.
In October 2010, Guzzardo met with his attorney John Papa, to say “we have a smoking gun here.” But Papa shocked Guzzardo by telling him that there would be no more discovery or depositions scheduled in his case.
Months went by, as all communications stopped with Papa. Guzzardo was set to leave on an international lecture tour on McLuhan, that Posse and the WikiStreet, sponsored by the University of Dundee Scotland and the Buckminster Fuller Institute.
But before he got on the road Guzzardo filed a complaint with the Missouri Supreme Court’s Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel against Alan Pratzel, the lawyer presiding over the crucial loan meeting. Here’s the document: Pratzel is now the Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
In May 2011, all the directors who attended the church loan meeting of March 15, 2007 quietly resigned. This time there was no press release. And Guzzardo didn’t find out until a year later.
Meanwhile, in February 2012, at a White House gala, President Obama awarded Emily Pulitzer a medal for her philanthropy.
By June 2012, attorneys for Grand Center’s insurance company had taken over, and Guzzardo sat for an eight hour deposition. The lawyer did not seem know about the resignations, Guzzardo said.
Before the deposition Guzzardo and Papa met, and discussed the board resignations. According to Guzzardo, Papa said it could be “by chance.”
Guzzardo said ‘that’s crazy.’ As he left, Guzzardo pleaded with Papa to take Vince Schoemehl’s deposition.
The deposition took place in September 2012, but Guzzardo was not notified, and did not attend, and only found out about it six months later. Schoemehl was not asked about the March 15, 2007 meeting, the $750,000 loan, or the mass resignations, Guzzardo said.
THE CONNECTIONS. A little later while in Argentina Guzzardo learned the St. Louis Post Dispatch had published the biggest investigative news story in St. Louis in years. It involved a self dealing transaction between a former mayor, Schoemehl’s successor, and the Missouri History Museum. A grand jury was investigating. The name of the law firm that represents Emily Pulitzer, Bryan Cave LLP, kept popping up in the Post Dispatch stories.
The chair of Bryan Cave is Don Lents, a specialist in securities law. He ran the Grand Center executive meeting of March 15, 2007, the church loan meeting. And he was one the directors who resigned or “stepped down.”
One of the nation’s largest law firms, Bryan Cave LLP is a Monsanto outside counsel. Lents replaced Walter Metcalfe as firm chair. Metcalfe is on Pulitzer’s board.
Metcalfe is also the chairman of the hottest new project in St. Louis, Arch – 2015, the organization in charge of a billion dollar Arch expansion development. But it was dependent on voter approval of a sales tax referendum. The other Arch player was the Metro East Parks and Recreation District, across the river in Illinois. Their attorney was John Papa.
After favorable stories and an endorsement by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the former Pulitzer newspaper, the referendum passed in April 2013, but just barely. Meanwhile Guzzardo had heard nothing from his lawyer for months. Then he discovered that Grand Center’s insurance lawyers took a batch of depositions, and filed a motion for summary judgment, all a surprise to Guzzardo. He didn’t know any of it.
Papa had been sending emails to the wrong address, a dead one, cancelled for six years. Then Guzzardo found out Papa never filed a response to that motion for summary judgment.
Guzzardo jumped in, legal triage style. He convinced a judge to allow him to take Emily Pulitzer’s deposition, which he videotaped in June 2013. Five minutes is on YouTube.
Guzzardo hired new attorneys. They dismissed the lawsuit, to be refilled within a year.
THE ART. As Guzzardo tells it: “This is a story about a place, St. Louis, where the most brilliant minds of the 20th century came together in the late 1930’s and early 40’s. It is where they drew a rough map of what tomorrow was going to look like. I tried to excavate that map. But I was stopped by a rogue and runt elite. The story is important not because of what they did to me, but in order to maintain their empty-headed hold on power they tainted a municipal bond issuance and pushed a regressive sales tax on an underclass. Real Class.”
The centennial of Marshall McLuhan’s birth occurred in 2011. There were celebrations everywhere, except St. Louis. Here's a link -- it's about McLuhan and Guzzardo, in Spanish.
Now Grand Center is in the middle of a multi million dollar building boom, and Guzzardo’s former partner, the architect Sung Ho Kim and his architect wife Heather Woofter are playing a key role. “They are redefining the visual look of one of the main cultural areas of the Midwest,” Guzzardo said. They did the NPR-Monsanto building.
Witnesses in Guzzardo’s lawsuit testified that Sung Ho Kim and his wife Heather Woofter are now very close friends of Emily Pulitzer.
Kim and Woofter have published books with the help of some Pulitzer money. In Specular, an architectural monograph, there’s a doctored photo. It’s the Media Box. But now it’s got a new name, The Media Arcade. And instead of showcasing the original Media Box content - a critique of big data and the national security state (like all good artists Guzzardo was onto that ages before it hit the national media courtesy of Edward Snowden), Kim’s Media Arcade has something new pasted on it -- an anodyne celebration with a corporate logo.
Also like all good artists, Guzzardo has turned his experience in St. Louis into art – using collages and other media.
On his road show Guzzardo tells his audiences that the heritage of St. Louis is not Jefferson and his big land grab out west. It’s McLuhan and his Posse.
Guzzardo is probably wrong. Most likely St. Louis’s heritage is going to be about a cultural elite that fell into a black hole and dragged everybody with them. They should beware. Artists always have the last word.
-- Elaine Hopkins
9/25/13: Here's a comment via email, used with permission:
Comment via email, 9/25/13, from Paul Guzzardo: