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City negotiating with McKee over land and redevelopment rights

(Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)

The city could pay developer Paul McKee for his redevelopment rights, as well as his land, if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency chooses the north city site.

St. Louis Development Corporation executive director Otis Williams confirmed that this week. He told St. Louis Public Radio the city is negotiating with McKee over both.

“The city’s number one goal is to be selected the site of the NGA’s relocation and we’re reviewing all our options,” Williams said.

McKee has been involved in the NGA project from the beginning when he and Bob Clark, CEO and chairman of Clayco, responded to a Request For Proposal by the federal agency. They offered both NorthPark in north St. Louis County and the former Pruitt-Igoe site in the city. The city became involved when the NGA said it needed more space, and the project shifted to 100 acres north of Cass Avenue.

But even as the Board of Aldermen debated a bill allowing the city to take out a $20 million loan to help buy land within the proposed NGA site, city development officials didn't mention publicly that McKee might be paid for redevelopment rights. Nothing was said in two long hearings before the Housing, Urban Development, and Zoning committee.

Alderwomen Megan Green (15th Ward) said she first heard that possibility in a meeting days before the final vote.

"I was very surprised to learn about that, and the fact that we didn’t have a firm figure of what those redevelopment rights would be worth was also very disconcerting to me," she said.

Green, who voted against the loan bill, said she asked whether McKee’s redevelopment rights could be rescinded. The Board of Aldermen gave him those rights back in 2009. Green said she was told it was too late.

Still, she said she’s looking into it.

"I’m still having conversations with some aldermen to see what possibilities exist," Green said.

The last-minute discussion of McKee’s redevelopment rights caused Alderwoman Cara Spencer (20th Ward) to change her vote on the city’s loan for the NGA project.

Before the HUDZ committee vote, Spencer specifically asked Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff, Mary Ellen Ponder, to guarantee that McKee would not profit from the loan. Spencer voted yes after Ponder said the city would do everything it could to be responsible with taxpayer money.

Spencer said she heard nothing of McKee’s redevelopment rights until just days before the final floor vote and was told there was nothing to be done.

"That’s precisely why I voted against it, specifically because of these redevelopment rights," she said, explaining her final floor vote.

The alderwoman is skeptical that those redevelopment rights can be rescinded, but she is hopeful it will lead to better development agreements in the future.

"We really should have safeguarded our city’s redevelopment rights better initially," Spencer said. "When this was crafted they should have given the city the right, if a developer is failing over multiple years, in multiple ways, to recapture this."

St. Louis Public Radio reached out to McKee’s spokesman but received no comment.

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