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McKee hopes to kick North Side project into gear

300 pixels Northside regeneration project
Beacon archives | 2013
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This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: St. Louis' Tax Increment Financing Commission approved a public hearing for  the controversial Northside Regeneration plan, a move that could kick the stalled project back into high gear in the coming months.

On Wednesday, the TIF commission unanimously approved a public hearing at 8 a.m., Wed., Aug. 28 at the St. Louis Development Corp.’s downtown headquarters. Developer Paul McKee told the Beacon that the hearing is the first step toward “starting the TIF clock” on two areas of the project, which he added “releases the TIF for the entire site.”

As conceived, McKee’s project would use $390 million in tax increment financing as part of a 23-year, $8.1 billion redevelopment of 1,500 acres in north St. Louis. Tax increment financing will be used to improve infrastructure -- such as streets, sidewalks and sewers -- for the site.

If all goes as planned and the Board of Aldermen approves the TIF commission’s recommendations this fall, construction on the infrastructure would begin in late winter or early spring, said McKee.

McKee’s plan had been tied up in court until earlier this year, when the Missouri Supreme Court threw out St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert Dierker’s ruling putting the brakes on the proposal. The high court unanimously ruled that Dierker erred when he ruled in 2010 that the city's tax-increment financing ordinances  did not conform to state law.

With the litigation over, McKee said it’s “absolutely” full speed ahead on the project.

“What I like to say to people is we’re open for business,” McKee said.

McKee said that he’s been hearing some interest about opening retail developments in the project area. That’s especially the case, he said, since the new Mississippi River bridge is nearing completion. (The redevelopment project has four phases, with one of the first being near where the new bridge lands on the Missouri side.)

“All of a sudden, a lot of the retailers are realizing this is a place to be,” McKee said. “Traditionally at this early stage, they’re going to say there’s not enough rooftops and that kind of stuff – plus we’re going to have to get the infrastructure in place. Usually the progression goes ‘add more housing and then retailers come.’ But there’s such a pent-up demand, we think the retailers will come early.”

Asked if that would include “big box” stores like Wal-Mart or Target, McKee said it would include “every name you just mentioned – and some that aren’t here in St. Louis – that are national kind of retailers.”

“We’re going to market to them as well and bring new products to St. Louis,” he added.

One key incentive for the project was the state’s land assemblage tax credit, which is aimed at revitalizing large tracts of property. But the General Assembly didn’t reauthorize or extend the incentive this year,and it is set to expire in August.

If the tax credit gets reauthorized or extended, McKee said his company would be able to purchase more land for the project. He said he was hopeful that the legislature could pursue something next year.

“We still have more land purchases to make," McKee said. "By letting it sunset, it has delayed things. But the whole economic development bill didn’t get passed this year. We’re hoping that gets re-energized next year.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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