Updated following the show.
Redevelopment of hundreds of acres of north St. Louis has been a discussion topic for more than a decade, ever since developer Paul McKee began acquiring property to fulfill his vision for the region. That vision includes improving infrastructure, building homes, and developing commercial properties in the area bound by Natural Bridge Avenue to the north, Interstate 64/Highway 40 to the south, North Grand Boulevard to the west and North Tucker Boulevard to the east. He projects that the redevelopments will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs.
McKee has put a reported 60 million dollars of his own money in what could be a multi-billion dollar project, and has spent years fighting legislative battles over tax breaks. In that time, he has also been regarded with some suspicion, criticized by neighborhood leaders, and taken to court. But in the end, the courts and legislators responded in his favor, and his NorthSide Regeneration Project is a go.
Paul McKee and his wife, Midge McKee, were live in studio today to talk about the project, and next steps. Here’s what they had to say on a number of topics.
When do we start seeing shovels turning dirt?
The first project will be a street beautification project of North Jefferson Avenue and Parnell Street from Delmar Boulevard to Natural Bridge and Cass avenues from Highway 70 to North Grand Boulevard, Paul McKee said. Then they will repair some of the damage on North Tucker Boulevard near the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.
His company is still finalizing the financing of the first phase of the tax increment financing, which is necessary to begin work. He hopes to see the financing in place by July or August and the road work begun by late fall.
People don’t seem to trust you. They seem to think you’re up to something.
“If that’s the case, we wouldn’t still be here. We would have gone off and left this project a long time ago, cut our losses and said it wasn’t worth doing,” Paul McKee said.
He said he sees the trust of the people within the community as different from the trust of people outside of the redevelopment area, and believes they have gained the trust of the former but not the latter.
Midge McKee’s response to detractors
“I think that what people don’t know they ought to find out about. And Paul has been very open about, if you want to ask me some questions, call me and ask me,” Midge McKee said. “And we can’t change people’s minds. But I want people to know that this, as I said earlier, is a journey. And I think over time it’s evolved to be a faith journey for the two of us.”
Why did you buy land in secret?
“When people like us buy land, we’ve done it this way forever. You don’t walk into an area and say 'Hey, I’m here to buy your land, how much do you want for it?' That’s not how it works. We did that privately for four years. And then, once it was public, we made ourselves totally accessible and everybody knows what we’re doing,” McKee said.
Aren’t you taking money away from other publicly funded projects by receiving TIF money from the city?
“That’s totally incorrect,” Paul Mckee said. “It’s new taxes that we create, not existing taxes.”
The city of St. Louis has granted the NorthSide Regeneration Project $390 million worth of TIF which allows them to “capture a percentage of the new income” the city receives in taxes from the projects they develop for a span of 23 years, Mckee said.
What’s happening with the Clemens House and other historic architecture you have purchased?
“The Clemens House was purchased by Midge and I solely for one reason, which was to save it,” Paul McKee said. “The lawsuits hit and we’ve been sitting with our hands in our pockets for four years ...We now are working with a not-for-profit to do something really, really exciting with the Clemens House. Until they are ready to disclose it, I don’t want to say what it is.”
In response to the idea that he had purposefully let his properties decay, Mckee said that would be illogical, since that would mean he couldn’t use historic tax credits to refurbish them.
What do you plan on doing in Downtown West?
Mckee said he plans on creating a new entrance from the south at 22nd Street and he has tenants interested in being in the area, including tenants in high tech and light industry.
Tell us about your plans to build houses in the region. Haven’t you formed an association of sorts with McCormack Baron Salazar?
Paul McKee said he has no formal arrangement with the McCormack building company but, because of McCormack's role in building subsidized housing in the area, they have been in communication.
The McKees are looking into building homes worth $100,000 to $350,000 each in their project area.
What about displacement? Is your work going to push residents out?
Absolutely not, said the McKees. In response to a call from Eric, Paul McKee denied ever evicting anybody and said if he ever bought a building out, he would pay for the people living there to move somewhere else.
Why develop the NorthSide Regeneration Project? What is your motivation?
“A lot of people would just as soon see [the north side] stay the way it is. That’s not acceptable to us,” Paul McKee said. “We both grew up north. We live here. We’ve lived here our whole lives. Generations of our family have lived here. All of our kids live here. All of our grandkids live here. We want this city to thrive. And we actually believe that if St. Louis is going to be great again it takes jobs and job creation. And the only way I know how to do that is with land. And the only land that’s available is on the north side.”