Why the Secrecy?
It took awhile to find in today’s paper, but the Post-Dispatch had a good article about developer Paul McKee’s $8 billion pitch to redevelop Saint Louis’ north side. As I wrote before, this development involves Tax Increment Financing, eminent domain, and debate about the role that city agencies should play in the real estate business.
Tim Logan, author of the McKee article, did a great job of talking to the people involved. There’s also some good context. But my recent experience at a public meeting about the development, held at Zion Lutheran Church by McKee, Alderman Marlene Davis and Alderman April Ford-Griffin makes me doubt the thrust of Logan’s article.
Is McKee really winning people over?
At his meeting at Zion Lutheran Church, which was open to the public, Ford-Griffin actually told a journalist to stop recording. When McKee spoke, he told a girl in the back of the church basement to stop videotaping, because it makes people “uncomfortable.”
McKee said then that he doesn’t ask media outlets like the Post-Dispatch to attend such meetings. I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure area journalists know this. In order to fairly characterize the community response to this proposed project, you have to go see what community members are saying to the developer himself. I hope some Post-Dispatch journalists have at least tried to attend.
If McKee is winning over the north side community, and there is really a sea change, why doesn’t he want the media to come to meetings and see that? Why would an elected official tell a journalist to shut off his microphone at a meeting open to the public?
Well, in the case of the Zion Lutheran Church meeting, the meeting didn’t go smoothly. Some attendees muttered about the aldermen’s chances at reelection. Others stood and made long speeches about eminent domain. There was some shouting.
In response to some community members criticizing her by name, Davis said, “No one is in love with anything. This is business.”
To be sure, there were some vocal critics at the church who make it a point to go to all of McKee’s meetings and attempt to cast the development in a bad light. However, I’ve been to a number of meetings organized by the critics. I know their faces. And there were a lot of other faces at Zion Lutheran Church that I hadn’t seen before.
I personally can’t wait for the updated TIF application to come out tomorrow. McKee, Davis, and Ford-Griffin say that the use of eminent domain has been ironed out of that version. If that’s the case, then north side residents will know that their property won’t be taken away from them by the government for the use of a private developer. But I’m still wary. After all, if the application is the answer to all of the critics’ concerns, why wasn’t it made available for scrutiny as soon as possible?