U City TIF advances after months of contention over future of 3rd Ward | St. Louis Public Radio

U City TIF advances after months of contention over future of 3rd Ward

Aug 24, 2018

The University City Tax Increment Financing commission approved a proposal Thursday that would release millions of dollars in money for development in the 3rd Ward. The commission voted 10-2 in favor of the financing plan.

But residents remained split on how the city should bring those improvements to fruition.

Much of the redevelopment proposal hinges on the first phase of the plan secured by local company Novus Development. The plans would bring big box retail and high-end living to a location near Interstate 170 and Olive Boulevard.

The developer has requested a combination of TIF and Community Improvement District funds totaling $70 million to begin the project.

Mayor Terry Crow said the purpose of the proposed development is to secure the economic future of the community.

“This project was never supposed to be about Novus, Jonathan Browne (the developer), or Costco (the proposed big box retailer),” Crow said. “This proposal was about two things. It was about stabilizing and increasing our tax base and allocating funds for investment in the 3rd Ward to help our citizens. That’s the genesis of this project.”

City Manager Gregory Rose said at the meeting that $10 million dollars of TIF funds would go to home improvements and home ownership initiatives in the 3rd Ward. Another $5 million would go to Olive Boulevard improvements.

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Months of community meetings still haven’t changed some people’s minds about the three-part project along Olive Boulevard that would cost nearly $190 million. Proponents of the plan say investment is needed in the area that has struggled to rebound from the recession.

“I have invested my life savings and my retirement funds in property in the 3rd Ward,” said resident Kathy Straatmaan. “I mean, seriously, my neighbors have lost equity and value in their homes and if this doesn’t go, there is no place to go. This is what we have to do.”

Straatmaan and other advocates for the proposal, including both 3rd Ward council members, said they fear continued decline in the area, without public and private investment in housing and business.

But opponents to the proposal said they worry gentrification and eminent domain could erode the city’s racial, cultural and socioeconomic diversity. The city has rebutted these claims at various meetings, including at Thursday’s public hearing.

For example, officials said that eminent domain would not be used in the case of owner occupied homes. The developer has negotiated contracts with most of the homeowners in the first development area, RPA 1, to buy their property, though.

Patricia Washington has been a vocal opponent of the proposal advancing without a Community Benefits Agreement. Some residents share her views, calling for a contract between residents and the developer that would secure affordable housing and jobs during development. TIF commissioners questioned relevance of such an agreement and who would oversee it.

“There was never any expectation, at least on our part, for those supporting and advocating a CBA, that this commission would do anything other than what they just did,” Washington said after the commission’s vote to recommend the proposal to the council.

University City Council still has to review the tax financing proposal.

“We recognize that this is only the beginning," Washington said. "There are many people in this community that will continue to voice their concern, file lawsuits, engage in direct action, do what is necessary to get (the elected officials) to at least listen and come to the table.”

Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland (Oregon). Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.