NorthSide Trial on Tuesday
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Interactive NorthSide Map
Another round of challenges to the $8.1 billion development of the city of Saint Louis’ north side will be heard in court tomorrow.
If you’re about to skip reading this post because the word “development” seems boring, hold on a moment. The project, put forward by developer Paul McKee, is contentious because it’s enormous — about two square miles — and because it has been approved for a large amount of public financing. McKee has asked for about $380 million in city tax increment financing (TIF), received approval for more than half, and will likely receive the rest in a few years. In late December, the state granted the development company, NorthSide Regeneration LLC, more than $19 million in tax credits (which can be used dollar-for-dollar to pay off taxes). Interestingly, the Department of Economic Development did not issue a press release, which it generally does when it issues tax credits.
One of the issues that will likely be raised at trial tomorrow is whether NorthSide unfairly characterized the area as being blighted. In its TIF application, NorthSide submitted a blighting study that systematically categorized more than 4,600 properties within the redevelopment boundary as being blighted. Along with its classification of properties as blighted for being dilapidated, unsafe, or unsanitary, the company also included blighting factors for properties with excessive vegetation, properties that had neither increased or declined in assessed value between 2003 and 2005, and properties with an increase in assessed value that totaled less than the city average from 2003 to 2008.
Another issue that could be raised at trial is that of eminent domain. McKee, along with the city aldermen who backed the project and pretty much every other public proponent of the project, have sworn repeatedly that eminent domain will not be used on owner-occupied property. What that means for the fate of non-owner-occupied properties within the boundary is less than clear.
Publicly available court documents also reveal some interesting details:
- NorthSide is curious about how the plaintiffs’ court costs are being financed, and requested that Sheryl Nelson and Elke McIntosh (two of the plaintiffs) reveal how they’re paying for litigation. Judge Robert Dierker did not grant the request.
- Both sides have taken deposition from Michele Boldrin, an economics professor at Washington University.
- NorthSide submitted a letter of interest from the Bank of Washington (in Missouri) as evidence of financial backing of the development. However, NorthSide has not submitted evidence of a contract with the bank, which has less than $800 million in total assets.
- According to NorthSide’s application for state tax credits, the company has spent about $25 million to purchase property in the redevelopment area.
The trial will start at 11 a.m. in Division 18 of the city’s Circuit Court. Judge Dierker, who quoted economist F.A. Hayek when rejecting the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction, will hear the case. You can read that ruling here.