If you drive by the St. Louis Galleria on any given day, you’ll find the area is a hive of activity. I’ve spent my fair share of time looping around the Galleria’s parking lot in search of a spot. Yet despite the area’s vitality, the company redeveloping a piece of property across the street from the Galleria is asking for $18.7 million from taxpayers to subsidize the cost of moving in.
This development, Phase II of The Boulevard development, was set to take place years ago, but plans were put on hold due in part to the recession. Now the land is being sold to another investor, and tax increment financing (TIF) is on the table. The Boulevard’s prime location—across the street from the Galleria and at the intersection of I-170 and I-64—is one reason for the developer’s high expectations. Another reason is the average household income of $92,581 within three miles of its location. Residents of Richmond Heights might well ask why a project with a prime location in an affluent area needs to be subsidized by taxpayers.
TIF was designed to reduce the costs of private developers investing in blighted or economically unattractive areas, but the Boulevard development is far from the first instance in which TIF has gone toward a project in an area that would hardly be considered “blighted.” A recent study on incentive use in St. Louis City found that roughly two-thirds of all property tax abatement and TIF has gone toward areas with strong housing markets.
The Boulevard development is representative of the misguided use of incentives in St. Louis during recent years. When well-off neighborhoods are asking taxpayers to subsidize their investments and truly blighted regions are being ignored, it may be time to reevaluate our spending priorities.