This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Without any debate, the Board of Aldermen gave its final blessing, by a vote of 21-3, to legislation kick-starting tax increment financing for developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project.
It’s a move that finally ends a legislative process that began exactly four years ago -- in October 2009 -- when the board approved bills for the first two phases of the redevelopment plan.
McKee’s proposal would use $390 million in tax increment financing as part of a 23-year, $8.1 billion redevelopment of 1,500 acres in north St. Louis. McKee’s plan had been tied up in court until earlier this year, when the Missouri Supreme Court threw out St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert Dierker’s ruling. (See a timeline of the development.)
Tax increment financing will be used to improve infrastructure, such as streets, sidewalks and sewers. Among other things, Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard’s bills would “activate” two parts of the NorthSide’s redevelopment area.
Aldermen passed a second bill to revise the NorthSide redevelopment agreement without taking another roll call vote.
The bill now goes to Mayor Francis Slay, a longtime supporter of the proposal. Other key backers include U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, organized labor, religious leaders and all the aldermen with wards within the development's footprint.
McKee has said numerous times that Hubbard’s bills were crucial to getting the project back on track. He’s told reporters and the city’s TIF Commission that he’s had interest already from retail and industrial businesses to set up shop in the NorthSide footprint.
While McKee’s proposal received overwhelming support from the board, it still has critics. Some, such as Alderman Tom Villa, D-11th Ward, have questioned whether McKee can get the financing for the project. Others, like Alderman Antonio French, D-21st Ward, wanted to include deadlines for McKee to list buildings within the NorthSide area that would be rehabbed or weatherized.
For his part, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, voted for the bills.
“We cannot afford a loss, period,” Reed said. “Because a loss will reverberate across the region. One of the biggest challenges we have is attracting good, capable, competent developers to the north side. So with a big public project like this where we’ve been at this for multiple years, I think we run a lot of risks in seeing this development fail at this point.”
“I hope (McKee) proceeds in a very methodical manner,” he added.
Still, Reed had some reservations, which he thought that French’s amendments would have addressed. He said it would have been good if the board had established “a specific end time when you, the developer, will give us a list back that says these are the buildings that we plan to preserve and we’re going to board them up and we’re going to secure them.’
That's important, Reed said, because "if you have a developer that holds so much property within a consolidated area, if he’s not boarding them up or making sure they’re secure, everybody that has property around that area [ends up] being impacted.”
“It was important to have that in the bill and obviously that did not pass,” he added. “So I had some misgivings about that.”
Ultimately, though, said Reed, “At this point, we need to make sure this project succeeds.”