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Wessels sees aldermanic support for NorthSide TIF plan and possible amendments

Freeman Bosley Sr.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Beacon | 2013
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This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 17, 2013: The St. Louis Board of Aldermen will decide later this fall whether to approve a proposal that could jump-start developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project.

And the chairman of the committee that will likely consider the tax increment financing proposal says he believes the proposal has enough support throughout the board to pass. But he wants more details and some other aldermen may push for amendments.

“I know there’s surely some skepticism, but to me what’s the alternative?” said Alderman Fred Wessels, a 13th Ward Democrat and chairman of the board’s Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee. “There isn’t anyone else who seems to be prepared to invest on the scale that he’s envisioning. I think there will be a majority of aldermen that will want to move forward with it.”

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.)

Tax increment financing will be used to improve infrastructure -- such as streets, sidewalks and sewers -- for the site. Last Wednesday, the St. Louis TIF Commission approved a proposal that, among other things, would “activate” two portions of the NorthSide’s footprint. Two other parts of the TIF area were activated in 2009.

Remaining questions

Wessels said he wants to hear more details on what McKee plans to do as far as residential and commercial development. McKee told the TIF Commission last week that retail and industrial entities have expressed interest in setting up shop within the NorthSide footprint.

“I understand. This is a work-in-progress. And he’s just starting it,” Wessels said. “So I don’t expect to have something that looks like ... Winghaven, which he developed on farmland in St. Charles County. But I would expect that he’s got some homebuilders that are ready to begin to build. And also, he should be able to give us more information on the commercial development.

“I’d like to know where that’s at and what else he has planned and when they’re going to start,” he added.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Zach Chasnoff of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment said his group would try to convince aldermen to amendment to the TIF plan to do such things “grandfathering” property taxes for residents. He also wants some TIF money “earmarked for residents of the area" so they can make property improvements.

And Alderman Scott Ogilvie, I-24th Ward said it might be a “pretty reasonable thing” to steer "a sliver of the TIF proceeds” to a community development agency that could provide grants and loans to people for home repair.

“It wouldn’t take a huge amount of money to make an impact. But we’ll see,” Ogilvie said. “My takeaway is the Board of Aldermen passed the first TIF four years ago. I can’t believe that there’s nothing we can improve on ... with four years of hindsight.”

For his part, McKee spokesman Jim Gradl told the Beacon that “we have not anticipated changes to the TIF.” And Wessels said that while it’s possible for aldermen to alter TIF Commission recommendations that's not a very common occurance.

"I guess there have been some minor changes to TIFs over time, but I can’t remember any. I think will be some attempts to amend it," Wessels said.

Bosley still wants 'input'

While McKee told reporters that he expects the TIF proposal to get through the Board of Aldermen, one obstacle could be Alderman Freeman Bosley, D-3rd Ward.

During a standing-room-only public hearing on the TIF plan  last month, Bosley sharply criticized the proposal -- even going so far to say that he'd block it if it came to a committee he chairs. Bosley’s statement was notable because of “aldermanic courtesy," which gives some deference to an alderman leeway when his or her ward is affected by legislation.

The long-time alderman says he’s sticking by those comments, telling the Beacon late last week that he still wants McKee to provide more insight to residents of his ward and give them more input.

“I would have to hold it until the people that live in that area – particularly in my ward – have an opportunity to find out what’s going on,” said Bosley in an interview after last Friday’s Board of Aldermen meeting. “They all want change. We all need change."

But he said many of the people in the area stuck with the city when others fled. “So we don’t want to ... tear the whole block up and run those people out. We want to give them an opportunity to have some input on what’s going to happen that’s going to make the neighborhood better where they are.”

(McKee said in August that "between the various factions of city government, as well as our own doing, we have held over 146 different meetings" about the proposal.)

McKee said last Wednesday that he has not talked recently with Bosley, whose ward makes up a decent chunk of the area affected under the TIF plan. Gradl told the Beacon on Monday that “Mr. McKeehas reached out; and he and Alderman Bosley are planning to meet very soon.”

Bosley said on Friday that “nobody else has the money that Paul has nor are they interested in doing anything with that area. ... So what we’ve got to do is work with him, because nobody else that lives in that area has the financial capability to be able to write the check, borrow the money, get the legislation passed, go to the state, get TIFs. We can’t do that. He was able to do that. So we’ve got to work with Paul McKee.”

“There’s got to be some give and take on both sides,” he added.

Wessels noted that Bosley initially objected last year to adding the Bottle District to McKee’s NorthSide proposal, but was persuaded after meeting with McKee.

Master association questions

Both during and after last week’s meeting, McKee provided details of a “master association” that he says would provide public input on the redevelopment area. Besides allowing residents and business owners to have input, McKee said the association – made up of commercial and residential property owners – would provide “design review” and launch public beautification projects.

Ogilvie said that proposal – which McKee said last week is still being formulated – has meritorious goals. But he questioned the idea that property owners who wanted to be part of this would have to pay a fee.

“The idea that we formalize an input mechanism for current residents is a good idea,” Ogilvie said. “But it’s kind of backwards to expect people who are there to pay a fee in order to have some sort of input. The fact is, these homeowners associations are typically for homeowners. And there’s a huge rental population in that area.”

"I think they could craft an input mechanism that doesn't include fees for homeowners or for renters," he added.

Wessels said the master association “sounded more like a subdivision agreement” where “homeowners would pay into it and they would determine certain restrictions on landscaping or what-have-you within their boundaries.”

“I don’t know how you implement something like that in an existing geographic area,” Wessels said. “Now, apparently McKee’s got some ideas on it. And then how do you get the existing homeowners to buy into it? If they need to pay money, I don’t know. I don’t understand how it will work.”

One alternative, Wessels said, is to implement a community improvement district. That’s described by the Missouri Department of Economic Development as a mechanism that can finance “a wide range of public-use facilities” and establish and manage policies and public services “relative to the needs of the district.”

Wessels said while a CID would still be "controversial," he added it would "wouldn’t require 100 percent agreement."

Gradl said that the Master Association requires “city input and approval.” He added the goal “is to determine the structure and operations of the not-for-profit association" after the board passes the TIF plan.

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

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