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Bus Tour of Dilapitated McKee-owned Properties Ignored Other Issues

This past Thursday morning I attended, as did many others, the press conference and bus tour relating to 500+ properties owned by Paul McKee through various companies in his control. For those of you living under a rock for the last year, McKee had quietly bought hundreds of properties mostly in the city’s 5th ward through companies with names like “Blairmont Associates, LLC” and “Dodier Investors LLC” (see list). Blair and Dodier are both street names in the area. In the last Missouri State legislative session McKee’s attorney Steve Stone wrote a tax credit bill worth $100 million for anyone that assembled large acres of land in distressed areas. All sounds good so far, right?

McKee’s companies were buying not only vacant land but buildings both vacant and occupied. A beautiful warehouse, owned by McKee, at Cass and N. Florissant burned last year. That fire was likely arson. The remains of the building, once highly suitable for lofts, has since been cleared. Nearby the historic Clemens house, also owned by McKee, continues its rapid decline. Scores of other buildings, some say, are left with their windows and doors wide open to encourage them to be scavenged and deteriorate at a much faster rate than if properly secured. An old trick is simply to ram the back corner of a building with equipment — just enough to break the corner open. Once this happens the brick thieves will show up as well as the elements to quickly take down an otherwise sound building.

I’m oversimplifying the history in order to get to where we are today and to share my thoughts on where we should, and should not, be headed. This summer Gov. Blunt vetoed the large economic development which contained this tax credit. The Missouri legislature is back in special session today discussing the proposed tax credit for McKee.

IMG_1248.JPGThe tour was organized by Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin (D-5th, standing at podium), Alderwoman Marlene Davis (D-19th), State Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (D-60th) and my state Rep, Jeanette Mott Oxford (D-59th). Ald. Grffin has been in office just over 10 years now, being elected in 1997 (Note: I was a 5th ward resident from 1991-1994 when Mary Ross was the Alderwoman).

The press conference and bus tour were far better organized than I had expected. These four legislators had their stuff together, events were on schedule and points were well made. Attendance was good although less than half of the city’s 28 Aldermen were present. Ald. Waterhouse was the only non-northside alderman present.

The four female legislators all spoke passionately and forcefully over their concerns about the tax bill written for Paul McKee and the destructive nature of leaving buildings exposed to the elements and having city crews mow his grass, with payment coming later. All were upset that McKee hasn’t shared his plan with them and the community. All cried out for a more open process.

Yes, members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen were calling out for a more open process. I had to keep from laughing out loud because Antonio French of PubDef.net was next to me getting video and audio of the event (see post). Uh, development in the city of St. Louis is hardly open and transparent. This, from where I sit, smacks of “we aren’t getting any campaign contributions so we are going to block this.” I don’t think the motivations are the same for either state rep — I think they genuinely are seeing the bigger picture in terms of state budget and the bias of this tax credit. I’m not saying the two alderwoman are not motivated by good intentions as I think they are, it is just that if they were at the table with Mayor Slay’s team (Rainford, Geisman, etc…) and McKee they’d be quietly cooperating and justifying a closed decision process.

“I would love to see the bill killed entirely,” said Ald. Davis. Dave Drebes at the Arch City Chronicle called this the “Kill it Coalition.” Drebes is very correct when he says they are demonizing McKee which may or may not be effective. Just remember that Drebes says he likes progressives but still favors more low-key deals over vocal activism.
Ald. Griffin talked about McKee’s track record;

“What he’s done in St. Charles is create a golf course with expensive homes around it. So we have to assume thats what you want to do here. And then look at the track record of trying to force our people out by buying property and letting it crumble intentionally and then go and tell the state to give you the money and reward you for doing business that way. That’s not acceptable.”

Rep Nasheed commented said that McKee “has been fined $300,000 dollars for neglect in North St. Louis, so why should we reward a man that will come in our community and continue to have our community look like Iraq.” Hmmm, I’m not sure Iraq looks this bad.
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Above, on the bus tour Ald. April Ford-Griffin, just behind driver, narrated what we were seeing. Griffin was able to easily identify McKee owned properties for two reasons. Clearly she had been keeping track of the growing list of properties and, as she pointed out, the many new boards on the formerly open windows.

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It is alleged that buildings have been left completely open to thieves, vandals, drug dealers and such. In advance of the tour, buildings over a wide area were boarded presumably by McKee’s crews — or perhaps by the city at the direction of Mayor Slay. Hundreds of very intact buildings remain in the overall area in question. The red cast iron storefront above is wonderfully original.

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The back of the row house structure, from the previous picture, is falling down. It is not uncommon for the single back gutter to be clogged or, if copper, to have been stolen. If so, water pours down back walls until it finally begins to collapse. However, it is said that bobcats have been used to ram the corner of the building to assist in the deterioration. This would not surprise me in the least as many of these brick buildings appeared to be too solid to have such a corner fall in — decay seldom happens so selectively to one corner.

OK, so let’s assume for a moment that McKee really is using scare tactics to get owners to sell, forcing out tenants, leaving buildings wide open for anyone to destroy and even hiring guys to help the process along with a nudge or two. The area still needs major investment. And like it or not, he owns a good bit of the city’s near north side.The tour did include driving past recent investments in mostly the 5th ward. New homes along North Market in Old North St. Louis are urban in form — they are pulled up near the sidewalk like their historic neighbors and are vertically oriented. In short, they fit well.

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Above, an example we saw of new construction next to a soon to be renovated house. Note how the new has a similar relationship to the sidewalk and public space while employing newer materials. Budget usually prevents much new construction from having full masonry but pulling a building forward doesn’t cost anything.

In other parts of the ward, the new investment is lacking in good sense and is as bad if not worse than anything McKee would build.

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For example, we passed by Pyramid’s Sullivan Place prison senior housing, shown above from March 2006. This complex, while new, clean and surrounded by green grass, is worse than anything I’ve seen in McKee’s maligned Winghaven. How can Ald Griffin speak about McKee’s intention when this was allowed to happen? This is a big X drawn on a block and a half of the city — buildings were razed and a block of a street & alley were removed to accommodate this out of scale project. If McKee wants to take this from Pyramid by eminent domain I’d be fine with that — I can’t imagine this large site being any worse. At least weeds would help hide the building which has no relationship with the sidewalk or neighboring buildings.

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Other newer construction toured included an entire area of highly suburban houses with front facing garages, shown above. Yikes! This was the part meant to demonstrate that good things have been happening in the ward. It is true that these homes were well maintained but geez these are so wrong for the city. I can understand buyers that seek a new home but such development within sight of downtown is just horrible.

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Not far away is the above street. The old building along North Florissant in the background is the only clue you are not out in O’Fallon (Mo or IL).

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Other new construction, such as the above homes on St. Louis Place, have runway length driveways to attached rear garages. Owners must get out of their cars to open their back gates or leave the gates open. Personally, I don’t get it — a detached garage will let you safely open the door from your car (or scooter) as well as create a private backyard space. Say it is raining, you are going to get wet either opening the gate or going from your garage to house. The good thing, with these homes, we can come back later and rip off the attached garage and build a detached garage toward the rear of the property — creating a yard where parents can watch, from the comfort of inside the house if they like, their children safely playing in the yard or patio.

Now people will talk about “the market” and justify the attached rear garages because the house sold. Well, that is BS in my view. The houses sold because people wanted a new house and the price was right for the size. Tax abatement never hurts. I think an attached garage has a certain appeal to those that have never before had any garage but it is my contention that if you had two displays side by side, one with an attached garage and the yard paved as driveway and the other with a detached garage and a courtyard type backyard, that the majority would select the detached garage. Developers will often say, “buyers had the choice of a detached garage.” The problem with that rationale is that buyers often can’t visualize something — they often select that which is shown to them. Thus, to a degree, the market becomes what we’ve built or shown via displays.

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Above we have more new homes going up but without any relationship to existing buildings which have a better relationship with the sidewalk and street.

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These new homes, while having acceptable facades, are inappropriately set back from the street. They don’t need to align exactly with older buildings but should be closer.

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As you can see above, the two remaining homes on this street are not exactly the same distance from the sidewalk but they have a similar relationship. The new homes, however, are completely set back to create a suburban front lawn.

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The suburban front lawn, however, comes at the expense of a usable private backyard. These homes are set so far back on the lots that a small deck off the back of the house is all they have for a back yard — other than the driveway. Again, owners must get out of their cars to open their gates before they can enter their garages. I know when I had a garage where I had to manually open the doors I would leave my car running while I did so — risking someone running into my car and stealing it. This also places people at greater risk if they are getting out at night to open these gates. Again, I just don’t get it at all — why have a useless front lawn with no backyard and a gate to open to access the garage?

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Above, more new homes being built with rear garages. Driveways will pave most of the rear yard.

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And near all this new construction is a newly created object placed in the center of an intersection to divert traffic. From where I sit the current folks leading and building in this area are already doing a poor job of creating a viable urban neighborhood. Sure, they’ll talk about how many millions of dollars were spent but that doesn’t mean the development was any good from an urban viewpoint. It also doesn’t guarantee the area will have long-term success. I do not believe this is what the market wants.

Ald. April Ford-Griffin also talked about the 5th Ward plan and how McKee is not following it. But she also says we don’t know his plan. So which is it? I’d think we’d need to know his plan before stating it doesn’t comply with the 5th ward plan. And speaking of that plan, the above stuff such as the fortress known as Sullivan Place and all those suburban houses — they fit in the plan. Of course, the plan was drafted in the late 90s and adopted in 2002. Since then the ward boundaries have changed.

Still, the plan did call for some good things such as zoning changes to ensure the plan would be followed. Despite having over five years to do so, Ald Griffin has not enacted any new zoning guidelines for the area as called for in the plan. Sure, the city adopted the plan but until the official zoning for the area is changed all development will continue to follow the old guidelines. Meanwhile, the Alderwoman is complaining about not being at McKee’s table for developing his still secret plan. Well, perhaps you should have created your own table and set in motion changes to zoning and other mechanisms that McKee or anyone else would have to follow!

But clearly, based on the construction being allowed in the 5th ward (Old North excepted), Ald Griffin is clueless about good urban design. I continue to be mortified for what passes as “investment” in the city and much of the 5th ward is a case study in what not to do. Sorry, but I don’t trust Ald Griffin anymore than I do Paul McKee to ensure that however the area gets developed that it will be a quality urban environment.


Links to other articles regarding the tour & tax credit:

I’m sure I’ve missed many others but the above are the main points of reference.


Below are a few additional images from the tour:IMG_1338.JPG

Above, State Senator Harry Kennedy (left) and Architect John Burse (right) look at the decaying Clemens Mansion owned by one of McKee’s companies. Burse is President of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and an appointed member of the city’s Preservation Board.  Seated next to Sen Kennedy is La’Shonda Turner-Brown from Revitalize St. Louis.
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President of the Board of Aldermen, Lewis Reed (above left) shakes hands with Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman following the tour.

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Above; Ald. April Ford-Griffin (D-5th) & Ald. Marlene Davis (D-19th) talk as the tour bus pulls away.

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Above; Ald. Bennice Jones King (D-21st), Ald Charles Quincy Troupe (D-1st), Ald Marlene Davis (D-19th) chat on a corner following the bus tour. Historian, author and coffee proprietor Lynn Josse talks with Anthony Coffin and Matt Fernandez on the far corner. The grouping of the four raised basement houses in the background could be quite cute if rehabbed.

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Above; Missouri State Rep. Jamilah Nasheed and License Collector Mike McMillan agree on heading to Crown Candy for lunch following the tour.

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Maria Hickey of KWMU, above left, interviews Missouri Rep Jeanette Mott Oxford following the tour.


 

Currently there are "46 comments" on this Article:

  1. awb says:

    Good job, Steve. Antonio’s post is also very enlightening.

    Sadly, I think this part of the bill will pass the legislature, not so much because of ignorance (although there’s lots of that) but because of greed. I’m sure McKee and his minions donate a lot of money to politicians. Plus, he’s publicly labeled as a Christian, so perception is going to trump the reality of his actions and motives.

    The thing that still escapes me is this: McKee gets money for property he already owns. Then what? No minimum standards for affordable housing, density, walkability, transit. Just free cash to a slum-creating campaign contributor who intends to build disposable housing that can’t begin to compare with the brick structures he so flippantly conspires to destroy?

     
  2. Thor Randelson says:

    Do I like that McKee is allowing the City’s tremendous built environment to rot away so that he can come along and redevelop it within the decade?

    No

    But looking at those pictures and the lack of any comprehensive planning in the 5th ward area (and I am sure if any plans did exist they would support the [email protected] that passes for development in the area), I am hard pressed to understand how what McKee might build would be any worse that the haphazard suburban style development that already exists.

    At least if McKee got the land, the area would be united under one plan/ vision and the built environment would/ could be consistent in what is promotes.

     
  3. Adam says:

    “I am hard pressed to understand how what McKee might build would be any worse that the haphazard suburban style development that already exists.”

    what he BUILDS may not be any worse, but the tragedy will be what he DEMOLISHES.

    [SLP — We’ve been tearing down wonderful stuff for decades, on a small and large scale.  Nothing has changed really except this time the local aldermen are not part of the discussion.]

     
  4. Matt B says:

    Excellent post Steve.

    In all the criticism of the Blairmont affair, the main contention is that McKee will turn North St. Louis into some McMansion suburban oasis, but no one actually knows what his plan is. Perhaps his previous developments have been suburban because they are in the suburbs.

    What we do know is that so far new development on the northside has largely been the suburban crap that everyone is afraid will somehow ruin these neighborhoods. And it is suburban crap done poorly as you have pointed out so well.

    My hope is that Mr. McKee sees his faux-New Urbanist Winghaven getting outsold by New Urbanist New Town, and figures he can do it one better. Certainly this needs to be done right, but right now its not being done at all.

    ONSL has been the exception, but to say that growth is organic is a stretch. The development subsidies in that area have been numerous, and are proof that subsidies can work if used correctly.

     
  5. Tim Ekren says:

    Great post, gives someone like me with an intereset but with no formal background an understanding of urban development and zoning (the good and bad!). I can’t form an opinion on McKee with this one. Property ownership on this scale really screams some kind of communication to the public or least to the neighborhood. But, then again, who is else is buying enough property in this area that has the resources to do a lot right things in short period of time.

    Personally, I think McKee is given too much credit for the economic development bill’s tax credit. Blunt and Slay could have driven something much different and still give McKee tax breaks. Just disappointed that the possible tax credit as it stands now would severely limit instead of expanding the number of developers.

    Tim

     
  6. Kevin S. says:

    I believe the tax credit in the revised economic development bill cuts the area needed for the tax credit in half, from 100 to 50 acres, that should give some more developers a shot.

     
  7. constant change says:

    50 acres = 25 blocks.
    I still don’t see how someone smaller (24 1/2 blocks and below) can work in the same general area and have competetive chance. An incentive of this size needs to spawn multiple legs of development. The proposed seems to cut them off.

     
  8. dude says:

    I firmly believe if McKee could promise Slay 5k middle class families, Slay would give him the keys to city hall no matter how new development jives with traditional urban settings. With some of current construction already looking surbanish without too much outrage, you have to wonder what the source of the outrage is because it probably isn’t the type of development he would put in. One can only wonder.

     
  9. thehill says:

    What if McKee proposes to build 3,000,000 square feet of warehouse and trucking facilities to employ say 3,000 low-skilled workers? Everyone is assuming he’ll build residential. Based on what? Other than the land assembly tax credit, there’s little incentive to build new construction of residential housing in the city, especially at the scale of fifty acres at a time.

     
  10. Matt B says:

    3,000 new jobs for an area with the highest unemployment and lowest income in the region.
    That would be horrible!

     
  11. thehill says:

    Matt B, are you trying to be sarcastic? Or are you serious? How about the others? Would most UR readers favor a major, light industrial/truck-friendly economic development project for the area?

     
  12. Samuel says:

    First thing, we need to get away from the mentality that boarding up buildings is an improvement. Personally, I would advocate fining building owners who do not replace broken doors and windows with DOORS AND WINDOWS. At least then the neighborhood wouldn’t look so distressed.

    Second thing, tax credits should be to encourage things we want as a community. This tax credit does one thing, it encourages someone to own large tracts of north city. Once McKee gets his tax credit for that, watch him go back to the trough for tax credits for building something. In the end, my prediction McKee will have ended up conning the state and city to pay for everything he wants to build. I have to admit, he is pretty clever. If only our elected officials were half that clever…

     
  13. barbara_on_19th says:

    dude wrote…
    “You have to wonder what the source of the outrage is because it probably isn’t the type of development he would put in. One can only wonder.”

    You can stop wondering, dude. If you have been following this issue at all, you will know that the outrage is NOT over architectural styles or development types. It is over the callous, inhumane and in some cases criminal activities that have gone along with the (already nearly accomplished) destruction of the social and physical character of the St Louis Place neighborhood. This destruction has also negatively affected the still amazing growth in ONSL and has slowed revitalization efforts in JVL.

    Yes, that was past tense. Much of the destruction is complete, as tenants have been illegally evicted, the disabled and elderly have been defrauded, homeowners have been terrorized, demoralized and ultimately bought out, suspicious fires have been set, homes have been destroyed, basic community standards of health and safety have been disregarded, residents have been terrorized, churches and local leaders have been treated with contempt when they attempted to offer an olive branch in good faith.

    All this across the color line in the 4th most segregated city in the nation. Folks, I do not exaggerate when I say I have lived through the ethnic cleansing of St Louis Place neighborhood over the last 4 years while the Blairmont companies have been assembling their 100 acres of land.

    Which, by the way, *they already own*. I agree with the posting about McKee’s cleverness. When McKee states publicly that “he” does not own 50 acres, he is quite correct. As 30% owner, he only owns about 30 acres. This parsing of the truth is nearly worthy of a justice department official.

    You do realize that a good 70 acres of land within a mile or so of downtown are now owned by silent partners in a mystery consortium which is going to be paid a 100% tax credit by the state no matter what they choose to do, or not do, with the land and buildings? Why does ANYONE think this is a good idea?

    To the state legislators who have just agreed to turn over our tax dollars to these folks…

    “Can I ask you one question, is your money that good?”

    Barbara

     
  14. Kevin S. says:

    Hmm, the light industrial/warehouse suggestion is interesting, I hadn’t considered it. A project that was maybe 1/2 light industrial/warehouse and 1/2 tasteful residential (not like some of the ranches pictured above, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be new urbanist either…there are plenty of examples of decent infill in n. city) could go a long way to providing some decent jobs to low skilled residents, and of course the area benfits from its proximity to I-70. We need to be realistic in our expectations of how much dense residential the city can support and maybe look at mixing some uses like this into large projects instead of the knee-jerk reaction of rows and rows of new urbanist housing/retail.

     
  15. dude says:

    I don’t know where exactly St. Louis Place is but I suspect it destroyed itself. Who benefits may be Paul McKee but he wasn’t the cause. It is an outrageous situation but I wouldn’t kid myself to direct my outrage at him just because he’s the target requiring the least amount of marksmanship. If there should be any outrage at all it should be from a wealthy man getting a break from politicians to make him wealthier. But their willingness to do so goes back to the begginning of my original post. Slay’s goal is to build up a middle class not to preserve the past.

     
  16. jane doe says:

    best comment so far, dude, “I don’t know where St. Louis Place is.” In other words, the commentary is either from mr. ocd, who can’t see the forest for the trees, or duds who are writing from the perspective of outer space… neither who know much about either development or north St. Louis

     
  17. a.torch says:

    Spot on Dude. You ‘don’t know where St. Louis Place is’, you don’t seem to know where North St. Louis is, and you don’t seem to know what is going on there, so maybe you should stop commenting on it!

    Barbara is correct and speaks with authority on the issue. McKee is HINDERING development in these locations and many folks and smaller developers/urbanists are not going to sit by and watch it happen any longer!
    (p.s.-I would love to have that c.1900 red cast iron-facade storefront property that Blairmount owns!)

     
  18. barbara_on_19th says:

    OK dude, CALL ME! I will give you the tour. I’m serious about this. What if I said, I’ve never been to Ground Zero, but I suspect it destroyed itself because obviously people just like to pick on disaffected Mid-Easterners? Wouldn’t it be so much better if you could say, “I’ve been to St Louis Place and you are wrong.” Argue from the evidence, I will show it to you. You can keep running down the near northside after you have been there, OK.

    If you want to give yourself the self-tour, St Louis Place is between Jefferson and Florissant, north of Cass, south of Natural Bridge. Or, go to Crown Candy, buy an ice cream cone, and walk west across Florissant until you get to a big long park and walk north or south along the park. I do this pretty regularly with my puppy.

    This is not snarkiness… call or email now!!!

    Barbara Manzara
    [email protected]
    238-4032

     
  19. creative says:

    Barbara,

    You are quoted as describing the public’s role for providing input on the future project as a “tiny wormhole of opportunity”. Since the state legislature is turning approval of all development plans over to the city, are you satisfied with the compromise?

     
  20. “I’m not sure Iraq looks this bad.”

    New pro-clearance T-shirt slogan?

     
  21. Turd Ferguson says:

    I’ve been through this area several times, both on foot and by car (hope that’s enough to give my comments some cred with the thought police), and I agree the core of the St. Louis Place neighborhood should be preserved and even extended through infill. However this still leaves blocks upon blocks that could stand redevelopment. If McKee has done something illegal by harassing tenants or whatever, then that should definately be dealt with by law enforcement, but the issue of large scale redevelopment of the near north side should be very much on the table. The problem is that people seem to have their ideas about what they want “the city” to look like and nothing else will be good enough even if it brings middle class families back and stabilizes an awful neighborhood. Personally I don’t care for the suburban style houses, but the area is so bad right now and is such a drag on the city as a whole that I can look beyond aesthetics for the greater good. Besides, those newer houses are set back what, an extra 20 ft? It doesn’t make that big of a difference in the walkability of the area, just an issue of personal style preference if you ask me.

     
  22. Jason says:

    The photo of the St. Louis place houses (rear attached garage) was one of my biggest gripes when driving through Winghaven (among many others). Here they took the trouble to make alleys and bring houses forward on the public street, but then have this landing strip for a back yard with no windows to see kids or enjoy a garden view if one wishes to have it back there. I completely agree with the comment about status quo and if the spec home has an attached garage, even if given the option (albeit a $40k upcharge) they would go with the attached garage over the detached because they saw it on the spec home.

    I don’t want to completely vilanize McKee even though his actions to date resemble something vile and terrible for the city. He now owns the property, and like it or not you have to work with him or continue to live with what is there, or worse, much less than what is currently there. We need the mayor and our representatives to engage him and gently persuade him to see other sides of the issue. We don’t need to hear it can’t be done, because the more that is said the less likely anyone will be willing to start a dialogue to get this thing back on track. Work with him and succeed or fail fighting.

     
  23. barbara_on_19th says:

    Turd, your point of view is not too different than mine. I want to see new development of cleared blocks, new infill in partly vacant blocks, and rehab of existing blocks. I want large-scale investment in North City, and I want robust discussion of what it should look like.

    What you don’t is things are *already* happening up here. You can’t see the big investments that have been nailed down in the last 6-9 months as ground is just now being broken. Projects within 1 block of me just hit 1M spent in the last 18 months. This is repeated in many, many blocks. We have a red-hot market up here, even with the downturn, and this exact economic activity is what has attracted McKee in the first place. McKee is a businessman who is going to make some money on the same investment I bought into… the near northside. And good for him, I am a big old capitalist and don’t see anything wrong with people making money.

    But, while I had to follow code enforcement and fair housing rules in my project, he has been allowed to ride roughshod over the neighborhood by our delightful Mayor Slay. I agree, illegal activity should be investigated by law enforcement. Ask yourself, why did city taxpayers foot the bill for the demolition of the Brecht Butcher Supply buildings after they were torched? Why was there no investigation into who torched them and why? Why were multiple CSB complaints about the security situation ignored prior to the fire?

    I have said all along, since the fall of 2006, that the McKee project is fait accompli. Even without tax credits, he has had site control of the near northside for a good 10 months now. (This is like somene owning Soulard, Benton Park and BPW.) Yes, we all understand that we have to work with him on what will be built. Hence the lobbying and activism to make our voices heard and ensure that there will be at least the tiny opportunity to have community involvement through our alderwoman. I called it a “wormhole”. That’s what it is, not a window or a door, just a worm’s eye pinhole for the public to be involved. St Louis P&Z does not ask for public input or generally hold public hearings prior to making decisions. An alderperson not in the 5th or 19th Wards could propose the ordinance to raze those areas, and it could pass over the protests of the local alderperson. However, given the current political situation, we hope this amendment will force at least ONE community meeting where McKee’s plans are aired prior to him being able to collect the tax credit for the blighting he has already done. So no, not satisfied, not even hopeful, pretty much resigned to losing my home but hoping for a vestige of democratic process to be preserved.

    PS, I am not the thought police. I haven’t said that dude should not be allowed to disagree with me. I have responded to his comments with the facts that are missing from his own experience, and have offered to help him remedy his admitted lack of first-hand knowledge. I have also encouraged him to continue to disagree with me as a member of the reality-based community rather than talking out his ass.

    Barbara

     
  24. creative says:

    Barbara,

    With the tradition of aldermanic courtesy, it is highly doubtful that an alderman from a foreign ward would propose a redevelopment plan in the 5th or 19th.

    Also, any proposed redevelopment plan must first be approved by the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee of the Board of Aldermen. They hold public hearings, as does the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority who first approves redevelopment plans prior to sending them to the Board of Aldermen.

    Beyond that, your neighborhood organization is free to hold neighborhood meetings on planned area developments, which likely would be attended by both the 5th and 19th ward aldermen.

    Already in place are the 5th ward plan and the City’s Strategic Land Use plan available online at the St. Louis CIN website.

    It would appear all interested parties would have many opportunities to engage the process and voice their concerns, goals, dreams, etc.

    Rather than considering the opportunity for community engagement a tiny window, it would appear the process is just now getting formally underway.

    With the proven track record of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood, it would appear its collective voice would be heard very clearly through this process.

    Community empowerment is within our reach.

     
  25. barbara_on_19th says:

    creative, Those are the exact reasons why we pushed so hard for this amendment in the first place. The previous version of the bill allowed a “local muncipal authority” to make all decisions. This LMA was made up of a committee appointed by the mayor, YIKES. Since the BoA is now officially involved, McKee is thankfully off the unimpeded mayoral fast-track and on the bus with the rest of us. We know the alderwoman is listening to us and we know how to make our voices heard in normal city politics. This does not mean my home is safe, just that I now know where and how to fight this fight.

    However, none of this changes the fact that McKee can get the tax credit without doing any development work. He can jus cash in on the first, completed part of the acquisition phase and let this 650 properties up here rot.

    Barbara

     
  26. thoughts from south grand says:

    dude,

    Paul McKee represents all of the bad things that come with urban sprawl. McKee has expressed his believe in sprawl recently with his pro-sprawl “Urban Choice Coalition” http://www.urbanreviewstl.com/?p=3146

    It is sprawl and the fact that a large amount of stakeholders moved out of the north st. louis area and took the tax base and businesses with them from the late 50s thru the late 80s because they were afraid of the black families who were moving into the area that caused the area to decline.

    Now McKee stands to profit from this situation while exploiting the neighborhood once again to represent for his gated-street generation.

    This is what is fundamentally wrong here. That and the guy should not be allowed to destroy historic buildings, one of the few raw assets of this city.

     
  27. Jim Zavist says:

    I remain conflicted on this whole issue. The track record doesn’t bode well at many levels, but as several have already noted, this ain’t the suburbs, so it’s makes sense (even in a developer’s eyes) to tailor the product to the market. What seems to be driving everybody crazy is the “secrecy”, followed by the apparent concept of demolition by neglect. Taking a collective step back, we (I?) see a developer with very deep pockets investing a LOT of money in a part of the city that doesn’t fit the typical development “model”. Knowing a little about how developers think, I’m betting that there is no grand “plan” in place, and there never has been. Multiple concepts and scenarios? Of course, but no set-in-stone “plan”. Heck, look at how Cordish keeps massaging Ball Park Village in response to changes in both what will “sell” and what financing vehicles are available. As a community, we walk a fine in placing too many hurdles in front of a developer willing to risk millions to improve OUR community versus receiving a banal, ugly, unsustainable “new” urban environment. Personally, I’m not all that exercised about the “secrecy” – I’m a big believer in private property rights – ownership brings prerogratives, including the right to plan how to develop one’s properties within the bounds of existing zoning and financing (hopefully predominantly private). Just because this is the 800-pound gorilla doesn’t strip him of the right to play by the rules everyone else plays by! And choosing to “play” in a part of town that carries a lot of baggage in the minds of many potential buyers means that cranking out more of the same old [email protected] likely won’t be the best scenario for success. Look at what’s happening all around the old industrial areas in Chicago and Tampa and San Diego and yes, even in parts of Oakland and Newark – twenty years ago, yuppies and Gen-Xer’s wouldn’t be caught dead (or might have been) in many of the neighborhoods they now call home. These changes were driven by crass economics, choosing to live close to work and many entrepreneurs creating trendy businesses and transforming moribund neighborhoods. Both little guys and big guys are making it happen – it would be great if we could make something similar happen here!

     
  28. Soulardx says:

    Well put, Jim. Whatever McKee’s plan–nebulous or not–if word leaks about that plan, the costs rise, potentially quite a bit. If he shows his cards, more real estate speculators buy properties he may need. Why would he talk?

    Like Jim said, it’s very doubtful that his plan is set in stone. I’m willing to, at this point, give McKee the benefit of the doubt for ideally, more middle class families in St. Louis. The region can’t keep building new large-scale residential developments in the exurbs. Sure McKee should maintain his more historic properties, but there are many areas in NSTL with nothing for blocks.

     
  29. GMichaud says:

    JZ you’re right up to a point, but when the developer gets a huge subsidy that precludes any competition the whole process is phony, unethical and if not illegal, it should be. And has been pointed out elsewhere there are no requirements to do any development, just accumulate land.
    One solution is to develop a North St. Louis city plan, inclusive of residents that McKee or some other developer has to follow. As Steve’s photos demonstrate the current plan is clearly inadequate,The housing Steve has shown above is the result of the developer making the decisions.
    I wonder where Stanley Rollin, the city planner is in all of this? In any case an architectural competition to develop a plan would be a good start in demonstrating the possibilities of urban development. I would like to point out that tourists and corporations looking to relocate are turned off by what Steve has photographed also. No outsider is going to be attracted to the same suburban crap they have elsewhere. The same goes for businesses, no one would make a trip to St. Louis to visit a Walgreen’s, on the other hand they might come to visit a Crown Candy. And I’m sure around Easter some people from out of town do make that trip.
    Aside from the question of urban planning, there is still questions about capitalism. What is capitalism? What we are seeing is a giveaway for one man to insure his profit. If he was going to develop 50 acres at one time it might be excusable. However the law is written so the money is disbursed over a ten year period. A lot can happen in ten years and McKee will have development locked up for that period of time, no matter what he does. And again who in the hell can compete with a 2 million dollars an acre subsidy?
    Private property, yes that is true, it is private property, but his neglect and the subsidy put it squarely in the public interest.
    So what we have in the end is some sort of communistic hand out to the wealthy, with few requirements and far, far from any notion of private property or capitalism that you claim are so sacred.
    Paul McKee could have been a hero in all of this if he presented some sort of dramatic plan to improve the area. He actually might have made it work. Instead he looks like a greedy, unethical developer; the state legislators pushing this thing through at his behest look like incompetent crooks and the Governor is in danger of reversing any goodwill he has built up in his complicity.
    Make no mistake, North St. Louis could use additional investment, but at what cost to the integrity of the political process? And in fact a differently written bill would attract many local developers (who wouldn’t be interested in a 2 million dollar subsidy per acre) Thus there is no need for a 800 pound gorilla.
    I personally don’t understand how the feds can not investigate this whole charade. From the manipulation of city resources to do emergency board ups and clean ups before a bus tour by representatives to the obvious hand off of 100 million dollars of tax money to one man and his companies, this whole episode has been one to heighten the distrust of government at all levels.
    JZ do you really think he is playing by the same rules everyone else is?, I see no indication of that, in fact that is the underlying problem. If this bill passes, everyone will understand clearly how bankrupt the system really is. It is not a government for the people and by the people, it is a government for the favorites and by the favorites. There are no rules, except for the citizens.

     
  30. john says:

    This story is sickening and yet insightful. It is a great example of citizens’ journalism and activism at work. It wasn’t our local PublicDisgrace newspaper or tv networks with the stories but the work of bloggers, especially EOA,…hats off! What is so disgraceful about this story is what it again illustrates about the StL attitude. Whether it’s the destruction of homes for the New 64, the destruction of pedestrian walkways by MetroLink, the incompetence of MetroLink management, the ridiculous sums spent for a new runway, the Page extension, MetroExtension, etc. the people of StL sit back and let it happen. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the public demonstrations for “we won’t take it anymore”? I suppose we should all be happy that a few more people receive their paychecks from the public money trough and shop at Macy’s?

     
  31. Adam says:

    an “amen” for GMichaud. this is not capitalism; where’s the competition? if this passes it is straight-up aristocracy.

     
  32. soulardx says:

    What big project doesn’t get tex benefits/subsidies these days? It hasn’t been a level playing field for any developments in decades.

     
  33. Jim Zavist says:

    Like many people, I do have a major problem with this tax-credit legislation, especially when it only benefits one person. But what I see are 3 distinct issues – the tax credit (smells of special-interest politics), developing plans in “secret” for an entire area or neighborhood (the balance between being sucessful and inclusive) and the whole demolition/neglect/reuse issue.

    In some (many?) ways, the tax credit legislation is just another form of TIF. While the legislation, as written, would initially benefit just one entity, nothing in it precludes anoher entity doing something similar in KC or Festus – it just takes deep pockets and assembling a big-enough project. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of how we’ve gotten to the point where every developer comes to a city with their hand out, expecting the city to be a “partner” in every deal, but it’s today’s reality until the voters speak up and end the practice, at least on this level.

    You know my thoughts on the second point – I’m conflicted, but willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until I’m proven wrong – they’re at least trying to make something big happen in a “challenging” area. And, yes, the public should have some input, but I think it’s better accomplished through comprehensive planning by the city (along with enforceable and enforced standards) than it is in villifying a developer based on fears and speculation.

    The third point is the one that probably needs the most discussion – acquisition, demolition and renovation all have different expectations and perspectives. The city already asserts its right that occupied structures must meet certain minimal maintenance standards. Unfortunately, this means, in many parts of town, that leaving structures vacant and unboarded is simply not a viable option – with vandalism, squatting and scavaging not being all that unusual, unsecured = unsafe. That leaves a choice between boarded-up-and-vacant or demolished. (Yes, leasing to low-income tenants is another option, but it gets back to the bottom line – why invest in a property that you’re planning to tear down?)

    There does seem to be a direct relationship between the size of a developer/development and a reluctance to reuse existing structures – the smaller guy will tackle the challenges of selective reuse, while the big guy would just as soon knock everything down and “start clean”. This gets translated into what’s happening here. Assuming that this developer wants pretty much everything gone, it’s simply cheaper to board up and secure for the interim and then to do one massive mitigation and demolition project as a part of the larger redevelopment than it is to demolish upon acquisition.

    Which gets us to the crux of this discussion – how much say should a neighborhood have over acquisition and demolition? I don’t think we want to say “You can’t buy if you plan to demolish”. But can or should we have some say about how demolition proceeds? IF demolition will be the ultimate outcome, are we better off if it happens immediately OR are we better off with vacant and boarded-up buildings for multiple years? (Yes, I know reuse is and probably should be another alternative, but the reality is that many viable developers simply don’t want the headaches associated it.)

    I don’t have an/the answer. St. Louis is not lacking in old buildings. And while every one has a history and a patina, there comes a point where it’s simply not profitable to try and “save” every one. (And yes, profit is the key word – without profit, you won’t find very many developers willing to reinvest in our city.) Undoubtedly, waiting one or more decades may make certain areas (and their structures) more attractive, but we’re here today, and we can’t wait forever . . .

     
  34. religion says:

    Many would fight over every last demolition. Others would say we’re better off tearing down the derelict buildings rather than subsidizing their rehab.

    Here’s a question: What if the rehab/preserve option requires $100,000,000 in subsidy, while the demo and build new option requires only $50,000,000 in subsidy?

    What then?

     
  35. Adam says:

    JZ, in this case i think the secretness is directly related to the special-interest-ness of the tax credit legislation. McKee knows what he is doing is underhanded and probably illegal so of course he’s going to keep it quiet until he pockets the cash.

     
  36. Adam says:

    religion, over what period of time are we talking about? the revitalization of the north side does not have to be an instantaneous process! it does for McKee because he wants to make his money and get out. more gradual investment can still achieve the same results, but in this case it will also preserve the history, functionality, and aesthetics of the existing infrastructure and produce LESS WASTE.

     
  37. barbara_on_19th says:

    JZ, when you say that you don’t like to see someone vilifying the developer, do you think that the neighbors are making this stuff up? WE LOVE DEVELOPERS. Most of us are not particularly preservationist, or even urbanist, as evidenced by all of Steve’s photos of total suburban style projects. We just want to keep the neighbors we have while adding new ones. If he were buying and buying, yet reassuring the neighborhood that residents will be treated fairly, through quiet talks with ONSLRG or other leaders, I think most would be pretty cool about it. But, when our leaders did get a meeting with him, he just showed complete contempt.

    You also discuss the theoretical cost-benefit of causing the neighbors to endure a block with a vacant-boarded building vs the cost of maintaining and letting “low income” tenants rent. Two fallacies there. One, we are not talking about vacant-boarded buildings. We are talking about proactively unsecured buildings which have suspicious fires and are destryed by illegal demolitionists who claim to be paid by people who are known Blairmont agents. McKee himself admitted in a conversation that values went up too fast in the area and he was “forced to blight some blocks” (yes, this is secondhand, but I trust the source). “Forced to blight” is an awful phrase to hear when you know someone who owns and lives (with kids) in a rowhouse attached to a McKee property which was torched. For God’s sake, would you want this to happen to your kids?

    Two, a small one-bedroom shotgun apartment goes for $400 a month in Old North, and you pretty much have to be wait-listed to get it. Don’t believe me? Try to find an apartment in Old North. Just try. If you succeed, let me know, I have 3 friends looking right now. I just personally boarded up one of McKee’s houses which was in a fine condition to be making him $900 a month as-is — until all the doors and windows were mysteriously destroyed one evening by guys in a nice new shiny van who did not even bother to take the metal scrap with them. This is a mixed income area. I have neighbors who are architects, teachers, bankers, truck drivers, IT people, carpenters, artists, execs, masons, social workers, hospital staff, you name it, we have it. Thinking we are all “low income” is wrong.

    If McKee had showed up driving a bulldozer and built a new home next door to me, with or without vinyl siding and a snout garage, I would have been busy finding him a buyer. If he had offered me a great price for my property, even knowing he would knock it down, I might have sold if he could have shown me the development plan. I am all about the greater good, I get it. Now, however, after the way we have been treated, he has pretty much burned his bridges with a good chunk of the neighbors. I’m saving my money for a good lawyer for the coming eminent domain fight, figuring out the best way to “chain myself to the doors”. I’m thinking I could hold out on the roof making a spectacle for CNN for a month or two. And I’m a boring middle aged woman with bad knees who works in financial services… who is now spitting mad because people I know and like have been hurt.

    So if by “vilify” you mean “tell the truth about bad acts”, keep using it. Otherwise, call me a liar if you like, but the truth is the best defense against accusations of slandering. I’ve got names, dates and addresses for everything I have alleged. Don’t you think if all this was a bunch of lies, McKee would have shut us up by now?

     
  38. Kevin S. says:

    powerful stuff Barbara, thanks for the post. There is a right way and a wrong way to go about investing in an area, and it has nothing to do with aesthetics.

     
  39. b says:

    Extremely doubtful that a bobcat would intentionally try and hit the corner of the building.

    All these bldgs have flat roof which slant away from the front and one drain pipe at one corner of the building. This corner is usually the first to go because of neglect of cleaning the gutter and failure to tuckpoint when necessary.

    Only takes a few years of a clogged gutter to start some very serious damage to a corner of a building–especially next to a drainpipe, Steve.

    [SLP — Yes, a clogged gutter can be a problem.  Even worse is when the copper thieves steal the downspout!  But one can generally tell the difference between a water issue near the top of the wall, often quite visible, to bricks being knocked out near the bottom of a wall.]

     
  40. Jim Zavist says:

    Barbara – I agree with all you’re saying, you’re just reinforcing a big point I was alluding to – would we, as a city, be better off if we required owners to demolish all vacant buildings instead of attempting to keep them secure for multiple years? We already have the laws that require owners to secure and maintain their property. If the Blairmont cartel is not doing so, either there’s favoritism or incompetence or both happening on the city level. If intentional blighting is happening, it has nothing to do with financing at the state level, but it has a bunch to do with local actions and inactions (and their agendas).

     
  41. barbara_on_19th says:

    I don’t have any problem with financing at the state level. I traveled to Jeff City last week to testify, and the first thing I said was that I support state investment in north city. What I want is more careful language so that a developer cannot be paid simply to buy and blight. The bill should require actual development to occur before payout. There should be a recapture provision if that does not occur. I also think the minimum acreage should be something like 10 city blocks, not 25, to keep the playing field level for non-profits and mid-size developers. I’m no radical, just someone seeing what bad legislation is ALREADY doing to the neighborhood, and it hasn’t even been passed yet.

     
  42. Adam says:

    “would we, as a city, be better off if we required owners to demolish all vacant buildings instead of attempting to keep them secure for multiple years? We already have the laws that require owners to secure and maintain their property.”
    .
    don’t you think that would be ridiculously wasteful? when public interest is involved, if you can’t/don’t feel like taking care of it, you have no right owning it. this is not like owning a bicycle. if i let my bicycle go to hell no one else is effected; if i let my apartment complex go to hell i am inviting crime which in turn effects the neighbors.

     
  43. landuse says:

    There is a huge disconnect between the Kill It Coalition and the Republican/pro-tax credit forces. The Republican controlled, pro-tax credit forces see the area as totally blighted, needing a complete and massive overhaul. The Kill It Coalition sees the area as needing much smaller scale intervention. These are 180 degree opposing positions. Unfortunately for the Kill It Coalition, the pro-tax credit forces have the votes to pass their legislation at the state level. If you’re sitting at the approximate demographic center of the St. Louis region, call it Lindbergh and Highway 40, which side in this debate do you think you’d support? I’m guessing the Republican version. So far, most media sources seem to be taking the pro-tax credit side.

     
  44. GMichaud says:

    Demolition may be necessary is some cases, the real problem is a lack of a city strategy for targeting what buildings to save. A strategy might include saving certain blocks, perhaps high visible streets or buildings around landmarks such as Hyde Park. Without a strategy you get what occurs now, haphazard demolition that has no meaning. Until the city develops true planning strategies it will be hard to determine which structures should really be torn down. The buildings are all assets and will never be duplicated.
    As far as the tax credit law is concerned there are a number of possible consequences if it is passed as it stands. McKee may not develop anything at all, but will tie up development in the near north side for a decade or more. A subsidy of 2 million an acre translates to approximately $200,000 a house assuming 10 homes to an acre. Developers currently working in the area such as Judy Wolverine and Old North St. Louis (ONSL) will be at a disadvantage and in fact may be stopped altogether. McKee could sell a 3000 square foot house for the same price other developers charge for a 1700 square foot house, discouraging competition. The law provides for 10 million a year in tax credits for 10 years. That translates into around 50 houses a year at the above density.
    And if in fact he is selling that many, he could increase production leaving other developers unable to compete.
    The other problem is that McKee can outbid anyone on any available property with the subsidy. In short the way this tax law is written is a disincentive for the other developers that have been working in the area to continue. So it is quite possible that the tax credit will result in a net loss of additional new units.
    There are numerous ways to improve the law. Barbara mentions a few in a post above, requiring actual development to occur before payout and a recapture provision. But that still leaves all other developers at a tremendous disadvantage. The only way to really improve the bill is to lower acreage requirements and with a ten year payout it would make sense to divide 10 into 50 acres and make 5 acres the minimum development. With that you would have developers lined up from Crown Candy to City Hall applying for the tax credit. Another possible revision would be to allocate 1 million a year to ONSL, they are already have a large targeted area, it is a nonprofit with a good track record and the think tank at RHCDA has helped them develop a nice infill urban plan that works well with the urban environment. That million a year would probably be the most valuable money spent in the North side.
    Finally I would like to point out the Land Assemblage tax credit is misnamed. If you have to have 50 acres to qualify for the credit, the land is already assembled. So the bill should be named the Developer Maintenance and Property Improvement Tax Act.
    Since McKee’s properties are not contiguous, in reality there is no advantage in using 50 acres as the benchmark, it only serves to limit competition.

     
  45. Jim Zavist says:

    And limiting competition should scare everyone!

     

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