On the front page of this week’s paper we are publishing the Missouri History Museum’s response to the editors of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch concerning the Post’s coverage of a land deal that museum president Dr. Robert Archibald signed off on in 2006 before the economy tanked in 2007. The museum’s letter, signed by board chair V. Raymond Stranghoener, was not directed to us originally but to the editors of the Post, who declined to print the museum’s response. Wanting a valued institution like the Missouri History Museum and a concerned community leader like Bob Archibald to get a fair hearing in the public record, we want to share the museum’s side of the story without the ill-spirited innuendo that has typified much of the Post’s coverage of this land deal.
The Post’s news report that first described the deal potted together a few facts that connect Archibald to one of the sellers of this much-discussed parcel on the north side of Delmar, former mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., who is now an attorney, political columnist and – in this case – a man out of some money on a barbecue joint that didn’t work out, looking to maximize his returns from a willing buyer who had come to him sight unseen.
Melanie Adams, who has emerged as one of the museum’s core staffers for public programming, was then a consultant working with Archibald and the museum board to expand their reach a few blocks north across the symbolic barrier of Delmar. It was to be a major new community facility that would be the focus of a capital campaign to raise more than $12 million to build and launch the center. As Adams told us, “There weren’t ‘For Sale’ signs out on any of the sites we were looking at.” The museum did what endowed buyers do when venturing into a real estate market where there are no known and willing sellers – it contracted with a real estate consultant, who bid three times, including a second bid on the parcel Bosley co-owned after Bosley and his partner rejected the first, and the museum had acquired the right sized parcel in the right location for its expansion.
The Post built its case against this purchase based largely on the drastically smaller sale price for a slightly smaller adjacent property. That site, owned by the St. Louis Public Schools, was sold on sealed bid by a willing seller, which creates a different real estate micro-market than when an eager buyer approaches a few slumbering sellers. But the Post report does not attempt to understand this real estate transaction or why it was a defensible opening investment in a major attempt to expand that only looks embarrassing after a global economic recession killed the capital campaign that might otherwise have added a new jewel to the city’s fine roster of museums – importantly, a new jewel on the other side of Delmar.
The Post’s innuendo at the root of its reporting and opinion-making, if you haven’t noticed, is that Bob Archibald did some dirty deal with Freeman Bosley Jr. There could be no other reason to accent the fact that both served on a charter reform committee that Archibald also chaired for a time, or that Archibald was an elected school board member (of course, Bosley was the city’s first black mayor and is a long-time feudist with the Post-Dispatch). We are reminded of the “swirling rumors” of corruption in St. Louis County government that went “all the way to the top” (to County Executive Charlie Dooley) – that is, according to unknown sources the Post never named, yet the story ran as attention-grabbing front-page news. In fact, Dooley has never been identified by any official or named source as the subject of a corruption investigation. More recently, the Post indicted former state legislator Rodney Hubbard Jr. as the ghost lobbyist in a corrupt city contract, on the basis of no named source, yet again no criminal action against Hubbard has been announced. But if the Post is your primary source of news, you would think Dooley, Hubbard and now Archibald and Bosley are all crooks, doing dirty deals.
We have heard from a wide range of people who are offended by the Post’s rush to judgment against Bob Archibald, who has impressed and touched everyone from civil rights activist Percy Green II, who signed copies of his new book in Archibald’s museum, to the city fathers who have worked with Archibald on projects like charter reform and know him to be a well grounded man, a compassionate person and a sharp thinker. If the Post-Dispatch really wants to compete against Bob Archibald – regionally or nationally – for credibility, fairness and visionary leadership, then we have a piece of swampland in Sauget to sell them.