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McKee's revised TIF application asks for smaller amount and possible use of eminent domain

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 9, 2009 - A revised plan for Paul McKee's $8.1 billion redevelopment project in north St. Louis says he would not use eminent domain to take property unless it receives specific authorization from the Board of Aldermen.

McKee has said in a previous interview that he "will not take any owner-occupied home -- period." The revised application for tax-increment financing (TIF) released Wednesday said that eminent domain would not be used except in the event that aldermen approve it "if the developer has pursued and exhausted efforts to voluntarily acquire property the Board of Aldermen deems necessary to implement one or more portions of this redevelopment plan and deems critical to the redevelopment plan's success."

In an interview Thursday, he estimated that fewer than 20 properties would have to be taken by eminent domain if it came to that.

The amount of the TIF now being sought for the project is down from earlier estimates, to $397.7 million from $410 million. McKee has said he wants the city to guarantee it would back up to half of the TIF amount; he also plans to take advantage of other government tax breaks.

The new plan says that without tax-increment financing, the area "would not reasonably be anticipated to be developed" because of the costs involved. McKee also says that without the TIF -- and without the city guarantee of half of the amount -- the project is a non-starter.

"It's absolutely necessary," he said Thursday. "You can't get anything done without a city guarantee."{C}{C}

The city's TIF Commission will hold a hearing on McKee's request at 6 p.m., Wed., Sept. 23 in Room 208 in City Hall. If the commission approves the plan, it will go to the Board of Aldermen for final consideration.

The goal of the project, the plan said, is creation of a "mixed-use, walkable, connected, safe and inviting area of the city that is integrated with the remainder of the city physically, socially, culturally, intellectually, and spiritually."

In general, the redevelopment plan paints the picture of a project similar to what McKee unveiled publicly in May after working in secret for many months. Over the summer, he met with small groups in the area of the project to win public support -- an effort with varying degrees of success.

The NorthSide Regeneration project, as it is formally called, includes 4,608 parcels of land on a total of 1,492 acres. The area is generally bounded by North Grand and Glasgow on the west, Natural Bridge and Palm on the north, North Florissant and Interstate 70 on the east and Delmar and Martin Luther King to the south, with an extension jutting down to Highway 40.

As outlined in the plan, the project would be phased in over 20 years in four stages, to reduce blight, encourage rehabilitation and redevelopment of areas where it is appropriate and provide opportunities for jobs, new housing and new commercial centers.

The plan said McKee's McEagle corporation would do up to 75 percent of the development, with others taking over the rest.

The overall project would be broken up into four areas -- a major change from earlier versions, which had as many as 12 stages. McKee said such a large amount of phases had made some people uneasy, worrying that the project would never be completed. He said the city suggested the plan be divided into fewer parts -- a suggestion he welcomed but was difficult to accomplish.

"It caused us an unbelievable amount of work," McKee said. "We've been working our butts off."

The new plan calls for this timeline:

  • The first would center on South 22nd Street, serving as a new western edge of the Gateway Mall downtown. It would be integrated with proposed changes to the Interstate 64/Highway 40 exit near Union Station and is "designed to attract commercial office space and retailers and restaurants to enliven" the area. Construction would begin in 2010 and be completed by 2024. 
  • The second would center on the Mississippi River and Interstate 70 north of downtown in the area where a new bridge is being planned. It would tie into a redesigned intersection at North Tucker and Cass and is being planned as an employment hub. Construction would begin in 2010 and be completed by 2024.
  • The third would be at the intersection of North Jefferson and Cass, the site of the ill-fated Pruitt-Igoe housing project, and is envisioned as "a major neighborhood and regional mixed-use entertainment hub...the active heart of the redevelopment area." Mixed housing is planned for the southern edge along Martin Luther King. Construction would begin in 2014 and be completed in 2030.
  • The last area, centered at North Jefferson, Parnell and North Market, would be the northern gateway to the project, with a mixed-use development of offices and commercial areas. Construction would begin in 2012 and be completed in 2030.

The former Pruitt-Igoe area would use the greatest amount of the tax-increment financing, at nearly $142 million. Next would be the northern section, at $114.4 million, followed by the Union Station section, at $76.8 million, and the Mississippi River section, at $64.6 million
The overall plan also is designed to include open space that would connect with existing areas of open space in the city.

In all, the plan calls for up to 2,200 single-family homes, up to 7,800 apartment or condominium units, up to 1 million square feet of restaurant or retail space and up to 4.5 million square feet of office and business space, including possible hotels.

It also says that as many as 3,900 existing residential units could be retained or rehabilitated, depending on their condition and the demand for such housing.

In an analysis of the area submitted to support the TIF application, the firm Development Strategies said that little has changed in many parts of the designated redevelopment site from 1973, when a City Plan Commission report said it had "the worst living conditions in the city of St. Louis," with high rates of crime and juvenile delinquency.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.