St. Louis Public Radio News
10:48 am
Tue February 16, 2010

North Side redevelopment trial underway

St. Louis – The numbers used to support developer Paul McKee's request for $400 million in tax increment financing were at the center of the trial Tuesday that challenges whether the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and city's TIF Commission followed the law when they authorized the public money.

McKee plans $8 billion in redevelopment in two square miles of north St. Louis, including new homes, businesses, and infrastructure. Opponents want to halt the project, saying the numbers McKee generated have no basis in reality.

To back up that argument, the plaintiffs hired Michele Boldrine, the chair of the Washington University economics department, to evaluate McKee's proposal. Boldrine called the documents sloppy and arbitrary, telling the court that McKee presented no evidence to back up the predictions that 80,000 to 100,000 people will eventually live or work in the redevelopment area.

"In downtown, I already see lots of office space and lofts that are on the verge of failing because they cannot attract buyers," Boldrine said. "Where do they expect to get 100,000 people?"

Attorneys for McKee argued that the professor could not fairly determine if the numbers were incorrect because he had not done his own study.

But an attorney for the plaintiffs, D.B. Amon, said Boldrine was only asked to determine if the request followed the law.

"And he was overqualified for the representation that the redevelopment plan submitted was basically a whistle in the dark type of document," Amon said.

Boldrine also challenged the ability of the Bank of Washington, under federal law, to provide the $3.5 billion in financing it has promised. An attorney for Paul McKee, Paul Puricelli, called the argument short-sighted.

"The plan speaks of not only the Bank of Washington's commitment but the moneys already invested by Paul McKee and his related entities which is tens of millions of dollars, and then the investments of further public subsidies," he said.

A separate court case in Jefferson City is challenging one of those subsidies - a tax credit many believe was written specifically for the North Side project. McKee received $19 million in those credits on New Year's Eve and is eligible for millions more this year.