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TIF Commission gives green light to McKee's Northside project

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration Project cleared another hurdle Wednesday after the St. Louis TIF Commission approved a measure to jump start the controversial and long-delayed proposal.

With six “yes” votes and one abstention, the TIF Commission approved a plan to “activate” two parts of the site in north St. Louis. McKee said earlier this year that such a move “releases the TIF for the entire site.” (Two TIFs had been approved earlier.) The issue now goes to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

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. 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. (See a timeline of the development.)

“What’s been fascinating is once the (Missouri) Supreme Court ruled 6-0, it was like the lights are on in the north side,” McKee told the commission. “It’s like the community woke up and said, ‘Yeah, this is real.’ So now, rather than us focusing on two areas, people are looking at four areas of the 1,500 acres. So we’ve got to start the TIF in all four areas."

Tax increment financing will be used to improve infrastructure -- such as streets, sidewalks and sewers -- for the site. McKee told the commission that TIF will “really helps us recruit jobs.”

“It’s a huge thing in creating jobs,” McKee told the commission before the vote. “Because who’s going to come with all the busted up infrastructure that’s there? We’ve got to repair that to be able to bring new businesses. And every business we’re recruiting assumes that we’re going to replace the infrastructure.”

After TIF Commissioner David Newburger asked if any commercial development would get underway in the Northside footprint in 2014, McKee said, “Absolutely and that’s the reason for trying to start the TIF.”

“I would rather not name specifics,” McKee said. “There are two retail entities. There’s one major industrial entity that’s about 120 jobs. There’s another major industrial that’s about 130 jobs. Both of those are up in the [two parts of the TIF area that aren’t activated].”

“We’re getting a lot of response from retailers in the areas right now,” he added.

Now the proposal goes to the Board of Aldermen, where it may not find an entirely receptive audience.

Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr., D-3rd Ward, has been a vocal critic. He even went so far to say last August that he would block the proposal from coming to a vote if it were sent to his committee.

McKee said the TIF plan is likely to go to another committee, but he added that aldermanic courtesy “absolutely” matters because it affects the 3rd Ward. Aldermanic courtesy, more or less, gives a specific alderman leeway if his or her ward is affected by legislation.

McKee he hadn’t talked to Bosley personally since the August public hearing. But he added he wasn’t worried about the TIF plan getting through the Board of Aldermen because of what it represents.

“There are commercial users seeking us out. I’m about jobs. That’s what I do,” he added.

Zack Chasnoff of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment told reporters that his group would try to convince aldermen to pursue amendments, such as “grandfathering” property taxes for residents. He also wants some TIF money to be “earmarked for residents of the area to do improvement.”

“If we’re going to do north side development, let’s do it in a way that directly benefits residents of the north side and not necessarily outside forces all the time,” Chasnoff said.

He also said, “Fighting to stop this is probably not the right fight to choose.”

McKee discusses 'master association'

Both during and after the meeting, McKee provided details of a “master association” that he says will provide public input on the redevelopment area.

The association, he said, would be made up of property owners elected by people in the Northside Regeneration footprint. Besides allowing residents and business owners to have input, McKee said it would provide “design review” and launch public beautification projects.

“This master association gives them design standards,” McKee said. “Maybe they want to say there should be three trees on every residential lot. Or on every commercial lot, there should be ‘x’ amount of setback. When you go get a permit in the future inside of Northside Regeneration, you’ve got to get design review from the association and permit from the planning and zoning in the city. You’ve got to do both. That’s the way we do it everywhere.”

McKee said any master association proposal would have to be approved by the Board of Alderman. And he said that it would likely take a few months to get through the process.

“It’s going to be vetted by staff first,” McKee said. “It touches almost every department of city government. It’ll touch streets. It’ll touch parks. It’ll touch planning. It’ll touch legal, because it has to do with boundaries, rights within boundaries and what are neighborhood definitions. So there’s going to be an incredible amount of staff work. This is something that doesn’t exist today.”

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

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