An earlier published version of this story inadvertently misstated the Board of Aldermen's final vote on the project. That error has been corrected below, and we apologize for the oversight.

The Saint Louis Board of Aldermen voted to perfect and approve an $8.1 billion development of the city’s north side, along with $198.6 million in tax increment financing (TIF) for the first half of project, for the next 23 years. The second portion of TIF money, $192 million, will be considered by the city at a later date, in order to conform to the development company’s project schedule. Only a dozen people were in the viewing balcony to hear the vote.

Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin of the 5th ward delivered the perfection motion for adoption of the redevelopment project and general development for the TIF. In her statement, she addressed previous community concerns about the project and reaffirmed her belief that the proposal was in the best interest of the city and its residents.

“There is no eminent domain. There is no city guarantee [of the TIF monies] and there are no exclusive rights [to redevelopment].”

Alderman Ford-Griffin emphasized the importance of multiple developers throughout her statement. Northside Regeneration LLC, represented by developer Paul McKee and his development company, McEagle, would be prohibited from developing more than 75 percent of the area.

Alderman Antonio French of the 21st ward raised the only opposition opinion at the meeting. He voted against final passage of the bills. At an earlier committee hearing of the project, Alderman Terry Kennedy of the 18th ward voted against the project. At the Friday meeting, French brought up concerns about the message the vote would send to other developers aggressively buying land, specifically noting Urban Assets LLC.

“I think we should send a message to future developers buying in my ward and others that this is not the proper way to go about this,” he said. “The way it has been done is not the way it will be done in the 21st ward.”

McKee and McEagle began considering the north side project in earnest in 1998, said McEagle Chief Development Officer William Laskowsky in an earlier interview.

“We’re projecting 15-year build-outs in our models. We wouldn’t want to start C and D and lose 10 years due to inactivity. So that was an effort to preserve the timeline on the TIF.”

At the Board of Aldermen’s meeting, Alderwoman Ford-Griffin said she believed that the redevelopment would take longer than the 15-year projection, and acknowledged that it would be difficult to complete all that is included in the proposal.

“I think if we were to get half of what is in this plan, we will get a lot for Saint Louis.”

For projects undertaken with TIF monies, the bidding process would be public, Laskowsky said. However, the remainder of the project would involve private business contracts.

Laskowsky said McEagle had conducted its land acquisition business in the north side under different company names, so as not to attract attention.

Had property owners known that one company was conducting a large-scale buy up, property owners would likely have raised their asking prices. If a project is announced early, it often becomes subject to uproar from community members and city officials, Laskowsky said. In that case, a project “becomes not feasible.”

Announcing a large-scale project before buying properties, Laskowsky said, is “just backwards.”

There is not yet a definitive list of which properties are needed for the development, Laskowsky said, because as business deals are made, locations and space requirements may change. The list is “very fluid,” he said. “It gets you in the ballpark for what’s possible.”

Laskowsky said that legacy properties — properties that McEagle is intent on preserving — account for 50 percent of the project, or more than 2,000 properties. “The fact that they’re in the boundary only means good for their property values,” he said.

McEagle is only interested in about one third of the remaining properties, Laskowsky said.

“Already half of the land is stuff we love,” he said.

Laskowsky said the company is reticent to publish an existing property list, because it could spur vandalism, brick thieves, and fires. “It’s like putting a bull’s eye on them,” he said.

If the project goes ahead as planned, then in about six months, Laskowsky said, there will be an evaluation of properties. Specifically, he said, about 60 properties with buildings are being considered for possible rehabilitation.

If any properties are deemed unsalvageable at that time, Laskowsky said, they would be put on a demolition list. According to the TIF application, the development company has committed to demolishing all properties by the end of 2010.

Caitlin Hartsell, a student at Washington University, is an intern at the Show-Me Institute.

 

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Caitlin Hartsell