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Mayor gets smoking, northside redevelopment bills

By Rachel Lippmann

St. Louis – The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has sent Mayor Francis Slay legislation authorizing a 1500-acre, $8 billion redevelopment for North City.

The bills, approved Friday on a voice vote, set out the conditions Paul McKee must meet as he develops nearly two square miles of the city. Eminent domain is not allowed without additional authorization from the Board of Aldermen, and money from the city's general fund is not at risk to pay off the construction bonds. The bills also established tax increment financing districts for the area, but no public money will be distributed until more detailed redevelopment plans are completed.

McKee promises to build houses, shopping centers, schools and office space on the land, as well as pour millions of dollars into infrastructure like sewers, electrical lines and streets. Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin, whose ward includes most of the land, said the project will be good even if McKee can only deliver on half of his promises.

"This is talking about bringing institutions as well as various developments within the area that other areas already have," she said.

Two aldermen - Terry Kennedy and Antonio French - opposed the bills over concerns about McKee's secrecy throughout the process.

"This was that it was done is not a way that really breeds trust in these communities, that this way that it was done damages in fact these neighborhoods in the short run. And even now, we don't have a clear picture of just how long the short run is going to be," French said, though he did praise Griffin and other sponsors for securing protections for residents in the area.

McKee plans to start work on the first two portions of the redevelopment project next April. He's also seeking state and federal tax credits, as well as money from the stimulus package.

Aldermen on Friday also approved a bill banning smoking in most public places in the city. Casino gaming floors are exempt, and bars of 2000 square feet or less get a five-year reprieve. It would not take effect unless St. Louis County voters approve their version on Tuesday.

The county legislation completely exempts small bars, which concerned Alderman Stephen Gregali. He supports the bill's premise,he said, but not its content.

"If we close one business because of this poorly written bill, shame on us," he said. "We should really take those things into consideration. We are going to be at such an economic disadvantage with the county because of the differences in the bill."

The American Cancer Society, and the American Heart and Lung associations are opposed to both the city and county measures because of the exemptions. The city's sponsor, Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, has called the measure a pragmatic one

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