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Tax Help Approved For Laclede Gas Move

Maria Altman
Citizens in opposition to the $8 million TIF held signs.

The St. Louis Tax Increment Financing Commission voted in favor of an $8 million tax incentive Wednesday to redevelop a downtown building that Laclede Gas may occupy.

The Koman Group---which is seeking the TIF---plans to rehab the building at 706 Market St. for an estimated $46 million.

Laclede officials have indicated they would like to move from their current headquarters at 720 Olive St. to the building just a couple of blocks away.

Laclede Vice President of Governance and Standards Ellen Theroff told commissioners that Laclede, which is working to acquire more utilities, could move to another city.

"Frankly, if this doesn't work then we're going to have to step back and say 'where do we go?'" - Laclede's Ellen Theroff

"Frankly, if this doesn’t work then we’re going to have to step back and say 'where do we go?' because we have done the asbestos and lead paint tour of the city," Theroff said. "We have gone everywhere and looked at everything because we really want to stay here, so we’re really trying, but for us it’s about our culture, our shareholders, our customers, and our employees."

Several people in opposition to the TIF scoffed at the possibility that the St. Louis-based company would actually move.

"Laclede threatening to leave the city smacks of the problem that has worked St. Louis into the rut of decline over the last 50 years," Zach Chasnoff of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment told commissioners. "Who really runs this city?"

The conservative think-tank the Show Me Institute also went on record in opposition. Financed by Rex Sinquefield, the institute opposes TIFs in general.

Policy analyst David Stokes told the commission the city is hallowing out its property tax base with TIFs.

"I can certainly understand that for any one project it seems like a tough choice to risk losing that earnings tax money, but that type of a long-term process has not been good for the city of St. Louis," Stokes said.

Others with the group Take Back St. Louis asked that the commission hold off on taking a vote until the public could consider a ballot initiative that would prohibit the use of TIFs for “unsustainable” energy producers. It’s expected to go on the ballot in April.

In the end the commission approved the TIF with four voting in favor and one abstention.

You can follow Maria Altman on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.