St. Louis Public Radio News
5:51 pm
Thu February 25, 2010

Blight early focus of second day of McKee trial

St. Louis – A parade of St. Louis city aldermen were on the hot seat Thursday in the trial challenging their approval of $390 million in public financing for a massive redevelopment of north St. Louis.

Attorneys opposing the project say the plan from developer Paul McKee does not include segments required by law. The $8 billion plan would construct houses and businesses, and rebuild infrastructure in a two-square mile chunk of the area. They want to what some of the aldermen were thinking when they cast votes in support of the plan.

Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett was the first of three aldermen to take the stand Thursday. She was unsure if specific documents were among the hundreds of pages McKee submitted to the aldermen. But she said she had always been aware that the legislation approved in October contained just the broad outline of the development. Specific projects - exactly what McKee will build - will come at a later date. Opponents say that violates state law, which requires specific projects to be included in legislation authorizing development that is using tax increment financing or other public money. They also say McKee's plan does not conform to overall city planning documents.

The most contentious issue in the trial is the part of the redevelopment plan that declares the entire two square mile area "blighted." Opponents say the word has negative connotations that are hurting property values in the area. One of the plaintiffs, Cheryl Nelson lives in a home that was built in 1997.

Triplett said blight is a procedural tool that allows developers like McKee to access incentives.

"And what was demonstrated today is that the main client of those that have brought the case has benefited from having a blighted property," she said, referring to Nelson. Nelson and other homeowners in her neighborhood did not have to pay property taxes for 10 years because of a tax abatement. In order for the developer to receive that abatement, the area had to be declared blighted.