Northside appeal
3:14 pm
Wed February 1, 2012

McKee case in the hands of Mo. Court of Appeals

A wait-and-see game is again underway for opponents and supporters of an $8 billion plan to make over 1,500 acres of north St. Louis city.

The developer himself, Paul McKee, watched in the courtroom as attorneys for both sides argued a July 2010 ruling that struck down city legislation authorizing the development. Judge Robert Dierker, in a ruling that spanned more than 50 pages, agreed with opponents that McKee had not provided enough information.

"There must be at least one defined project approved at or before the approval of the [redevelopment] plan," Dierker wrote. "Unless an area, a plan, and a project or projects coincide, a city may not approve a tax increment allocation financing."

In court today, McKee's attorney, Paul Puricelli, called Dierker's ruling "unworkable," and said it would limit the use of tax increment financing to small, one-time projects.

"There is no need, on day one of a plan of this magnitude, for the city to pin down bricks and mortar," Purcielli told judges Mary Kathryn Hoff, Robert Dowd, and Sherri Sullivan. When Judge Hoff asked if there were specific projects in case the appeals court accepted Judge Dierker's ruling, Puricelli answered yes. McKee backers also argue that Dierker overstepped his bounds in his ruling because the issue of specific projects was never raised at trial.

The tenor of the arguments was business-like until Bevis Schock, an attorney for the opponents, took his turn in front of the trio. Puricelli's arguments, he said, can best be described as "shed a tear for Paul McKee."

"The defense of the home is the issue here," Schock said, bringing up the blight declaration that is needed to get tax increment financing and the specter of eminent domain. (Neither of those topics was necessarily germane to the arguments in front of the court). "My clients are saying to McKee, if you want the TIF money, if you want the power, you have to follow state law." He told the court that even if they agree that Dierker should not have rejected the legislation based on a lack of defined projects, there were plenty of other flaws, including a lack of financing commitments.

There is no timeline for the appeals court to issue its ruling, though Schock said afterward he expects a decision relatively quickly.

"I think they understand that it's an important case, and they've got to give it their attention," Schock said. "It requires time to consider, time to write, time to revise, but I don't think it's going to be one that they set aside and say, 'we're going to work on it next summer.'"

The appeals court could throw everything back to the original judge. Both Schock and Puricelli say they’re ready no matter the eventual ruling.