Big political weight was behind two NorthSide Regeneration bills that went before a St. Louis aldermanic committee Tuesday morning, but no vote was taken after four aldermen failed to attend.
Congressman William Lacy Clay Jr. stepped to the podium first, testifying strongly in favor of the bills that would activate the last two phases of the controversial project in north St. Louis. The chairman of the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning committee said it was the first time in his memory a congressman has appeared before the board.
The Democrat compared opposition to NorthSide, which was passed by the full board in 2009 then held up by lawsuits, to the current conflict in Washington over the Affordable Care Act.
“This TIF legislation has passed through rigorous legislative process,” Clay said. “It was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court and ultimately given judicial sanction. Now we must implement the law.”
No-Shows Means No Vote Taken
But the two bills did not go to a vote on Tuesday morning after only half of the committee’s members showed. Of the four aldermen who did not attend, two were excused, but Aldermen Antonio French and Chris Carter were not.
The committee members heard testimony and agreed to vote Wednesday on the bills.
In his testimony Clay said he supports the $8.1 million development plan by Paul McKee because he wants to be part of change in north St. Louis. He pointed out that while Pruitt-Igoe was imploded 40 years ago, nothing has been done with the land.
“I think that has become the reality for residents,” Clay said, “That it’s OK to have all this barren land; that it’s OK to have brownfields throughout your community. But it’s not OK. It’s not how you function as a city.”
McKee is promising 22,000 full-time jobs and 40,000 construction jobs in the redevelopment that covers two square miles.
A Change Of Heart, And More Mayoral Support
One opponent to the plan, Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr., announced in the meeting that he has had a change of heart. Much of Bosley’s 3rd Ward is within the development. He said he had been against the measure because of all the complaints he received from residents.
“Most of them, 99.9 percent of them didn’t even live over there,” Bosley said. “I took a ride through that area and you had mostly vacant land over there, and here’s an opportunity for the city to realize a real increase to people coming into the city and having a very positive place for them to come.”
Mayor Francis Slay, a longtime supporter, announced two amendments to the bills, including $250,000 for private residential home improvements and $1 million for planning outside the project’s footprint. The money would not come from the TIF itself, but from the city’s economic activities fund, according to Alderwoman Jennifer Florida.
The 15th Ward alderwoman called the money a “big give,” but Zach Chasnoff with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment disagreed during a testy exchange.
“It’s a good start,” Chasnoff told the committee. "But it’s not a big give.”
Lasting Effects On Residents
Chasnoff asked the committee to add more amendments to the bills, including setting aside 5 percent of the TIF for residents' home repairs.
He also asked that a tax freeze be put in place for the nearly 9,000 residents who live within the development area currently, so they are not priced out of their homes as values increase.
Committee Chairman Fred Wessels said there is no local or state measure that would allow such a tax abatement.
The Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee will meet again Wednesday at 11 a.m.
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