Once-silent McKee now uses various social media to discuss north St. Louis development
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 30, 2009 - Paul McKee and his NorthSide redevelopment project, which flew far under the radar for a long time, have gone public in a big way.
McKee has done a video for YouTube , describing his vision for the project and explaining why some of the properties he has bought in recent years have gone untended. The project is on Twitter, at NorthSideSTL.
And the vision that McKee shared at a public meeting in May is now online at www.northsideregeneration.com, which remains incomplete but includes extensive information on the project.
In the unpolished, homemade-looking video, McKee talks for 7:41 -- welcoming the audience into his office at McEagle Properties, acknowledging the uneasiness he caused by the way he acquired properties in north St. Louis surreptitiously and admitting that maintenance of the property he owns hasn't always been the best. And he asks for the public's help in keeping the properties in good shape.
Saying that he has spent $1.4 million in property upkeep -- "from grass cutting to board up to some replacement" -- he pledged to do even more.
"We will continue to maintain them," McKee said, "I know many of you think that we have not been maintaining them properly. Maybe a few years ago we hadn't, but we've worked very, very hard to do this and to do it right.
"I think what's being confused is many people think we own all of the derelict buildings on the north side, which is certainly not the case. We own a few of them, or quite a few of them, I might add. But not all of them. But you're able to put my face with the name of those properties you think need to be maintained.
"To help you with that, if any of you find any squatters, any board-ups that need to be done, any weeds that need to be cut, if you see brick thieves trying to demolish any of our buildings, please get ahold of us."
As of this coming weekend, McKee said, his company will have tended to all of the properties at least once.
Reviewing the process of getting approval for the redevelopment plan, McKee said he expects it to take between five and seven months to be designated development partner for the district, then McEagle needs to win approval for tax-increment financing and state tax credits.
"At this point," he said, "our goal is to start some infrastructure work in the early spring of 2010. In the meantime, we'll be maintaining these properties the best we know how."
He also noted that of the 4,300 parcels in the area, more than 60 percent of them are fine and will be kept and rehabbed, including the historic Clemens House, which could be redone for mixed use or museum space.
Finally, McKee addressed what may be the biggest question about the NorthSide regeneration plan: Why it will become a reality in the wake of what he called so many "grand plans in the city" that have failed.
Admitting that it's a "great question," he added:
"I don't think these things have failed, but they haven't gotten to the completing that you all desire....
"After spending five years and millions of dollars buying land and analyzing the vision and trying to create a vision, I firmly believe this project can happen. Can it happen without you, the community. No? Can it happen without the community and the political support? No. Can it happen without financial support in the marketplace? No.
"But it's no different than any other project at this point in time. We have to take all the best, get to something we all can get behind, and then try to get it done. And I'm convinced, and the business and my family are convinced, that we can make this happen."