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April 22, 2010

Jury Awards Pleban & Associate’s client Over $1,000,000

Via St. Louis Post Dispatch

A St. Louis jury awarded more than $1 million Wednesday to a woman whose downtown salvage yard was taken for redevelopment by eminent domain.

Opal Henderson, now 80, lost her property at Seventh and Hickory streets in 2008.

City officials were eager to replace Opal’s Salvage Yard with a redeveloped Ice House District, featuring bars and restaurants just blocks south of Busch Stadium.

Barbara Geisman, St. Louis’ deputy mayor for development, said Wednesday by telephone that there had been complaints about Henderson’s salvage yard for years. “The junkyard was a true problem property,” she said.

The Board of Aldermen had declared the property blighted in 2004, which is necessary in Missouri to use eminent domain.

“They’ve harassed her for years,” said her lawyer, Chet Pleban. “Opal was there before the ordinances. So they couldn’t move her … not for want of trying. So the only remedy they had was to take her property.”

Henderson turned down the city’s initial bid, based on an appraised value of more than $200,000.

Both Henderson and St. Louis’ Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority appealed a condemnation commissioner’s decision that upped the value to more than $300,000, Pleban said, leaving it for a jury to decide.

On Wednesday, after a trial that lasted less than three days, jurors decided the property was actually worth $1,009,000.

Pleban had asked for $1,029,000, representing not only the value of the property but the income she made from the salvage yard.

“Opal Henderson spent 61 years there, six to seven days a week, and she supported seven children … on that income. What they took from her was her life,” Pleban said.

A lawyer for the LCRA and Kara Bowlin, spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay’s office, said that no decision had been made on an appeal of the verdict.

Bowlin stressed that one of the developers involved in the Ice House District, Disper-Schmitt Properties, would be responsible for paying Henderson.

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