Updated at 5:15 p.m. with comments from the committee hearing.
The Housing, Urban Development and Zoning committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen has approved $7 million in tax incentives to redo the General American Building at 706 Market as the new headquarters for Laclede Gas.
The package of incentives is down from an original amount of $8.1 million. An official with Komen Group, the developer, says the assistance is needed to bridge the gap between the rent the market will bear and the cost of the project, which includes a new boiler system and more energy-efficient windows.
The building, which has been vacant since 2004, is on the National Register of Historic Places as an example of the Modern Movement in architecture. Its unique design means it's not well suited to be used by more than one tenant, said Ald. Phyllis Young.
"Having just come through the demolition of Cupples 7, I would say it’s going to be extremely difficult to preserve that building in the future if we don’t do something right now," she said.
Opponents of the TIF asked why the city was subsidizing a move of three blocks.
"Right now, there does not seem to be any public plan for rental of the Laclede Gas building," said Cheyenne Thomas. "So how does leaving one building partially vacant for another help downtown? This is not a company that is moving in from another city and bringing new jobs."
Opponents were surprised by the 6-1 vote, with one alderman not voting. Reginald Rounds of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment says the group believed they had as many as four aldermen willing to vote against the assistance. In the end, just one did.
Rounds said he felt "betrayed."
"We have these officials who are elected. They tend to forget they work for the people and the people don’t work for them," he said. "That’s very much the case here. The aldermen have their own agendas and the people aren’t put first."
Two of the aldermen in question – Terry Kennedy and Antonio French – say they never promised to vote a certain way. French wrote on Twitter that "regardless of the tenant, I found the bill to be a typical TIF. I didn't think who the eventual tenant was mattered as much."
MORE is pushing a ballot initiative that would forbid tax incentives for energy companies.
Were it not for an apology, TIF detractors may have gotten their way. The lone no vote, Ald. Sharon Tyus, was angry that committee chair Fred Wessels refused to allow her to question those who testified even after a supporter of the project was allowed to do so. French, Kennedy and Ald. Chris Carter were prepared to vote no in support.
Wessels later apologized and allowed Tyus to ask her question.
Here is the vote:
- Yes - Kennedy, Florida, Davis, French, Carter, Wessels
- No - Tyus
- Did not vote - Arnowitz
A bonus fact from today's aldermanic committee meeting - a skywheel at Laclede's Landing is officially off the table, for now.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann