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Thoughts on McKee’s Northside Regeneration

April 30, 2015 Featured, North City, NorthSide Project, Planning & Design 46 Comments
Northside project area, 2011
Northside project area, 2011

It has been nearly a decade now since Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration plan was first made public. It was July 2005 when Michael Allen disclosed properties owned by Blairmont Associates and affiliated companies. At the time I was in real estate and was able to search & download bulk property records, which I’d given to Allen. At that point McKee had been quietly acquiring properties for a couple of years. In the years since McKee has received a go ahead from local & state official, and survived numerous lawsuits.

A recently filed lawsuit presents another hurdle:

The lawsuit says that the loans, originally issued by Corn Belt in October 2007 for $12 million, went into default in October 2009, but that McKee, his trust, NorthSide and Multibank entered into a forbearance agreement, in which Multibank agreed not to collect on the notes if the forbearance agreement was followed.

But McKee by November 2012 failed to make payments dictated by the forbearance agreement, the lawsuit states. (St. Louis Business Journal)

And unpaid property taxes yet another:

In examining real estate property taxes, St. Louis Public Radio discovered McKee’s company, Northside Regeneration LLC, owes the city more than $750,000 in taxes for 2013 and 2014. That total includes nearly $120,000 in interest and penalties. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Unlike the 2008 collapse of developer Pyramid Construction, I think McKee will find a way to survive. At this point, however, we need McKee to thrive — not just avoid the collapse of his plan. The areas where he has bought properties need to see buildings renovated and new construction going up. Sticking with McKee is a gamble — but backing his creditors would also be a gamble.

If only the city had put together a plan to attract employers, developers to unwanted/underused sites like Pruitt-Igoe and the 22nd Street Interchange.  City planners could’ve marketed the area where the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge meets a rebuilt Tucker at Cass.  Instead the city withdrew from planning, leaving the field open to private for-profit interests.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "46 comments" on this Article:

  1. Decorda McGee says:

    St Louis as one commenter said needs to incorporate more pedestrian friendly modes of transit. Bikes lanes connecting the parks. Do incentives for companies to actually come into underutilized land, allow citizens that are not wealthy to actually have an opportunity to buy a property and secure a home. The city should also however should raise the fines on things such as tickets to get revenue and charge money for entry into museums and such. This would only allow revenue to invest in other endeavors to make the city better. I’m confident that St Louus can come back from despair. Lastly the Pruitt Igoe site should be used as cultivated green space that the community can utilize (park with bike paths, history museum, community center, etc…). These and many other new urban strategies can work. Tower Grove is utilizing strategies on Grand Ave wuth rain gardens and streetreduction to human scale at business corridors, use of buffer zones between cars and pedestrians. Many good things are happening.

  2. JZ71 says:

    I agree with everything except your last sentence. I don’t want to see the city (try and) become an active “developer” or an “equity partner” (in the traditional sense) with any developer. Yes, the city should provide staff resources, limited public funding and guidance in the public interest. No, the planning department should not be “marketing” any area of the city (over any other area of the city), nor should the city be in competiton with “private for-profit interests”.

    Development is inherently risky, and government is inherently optomistic (especially when it comes to spending money). The two rarely work well together – one needs to look no further than the many nearly-vacant “industrial parks” that dot rural America or the other projects the city has been a major partner in (City Centre, the K-Mart on Manchetser, to name two). Leave development to the experts, don’t be wasting tax dollars on irrational dreams that the private sector is wise enough not to chase!

  3. guest says:

    My thoughts on McKee’s Northside Regeneration? That planners have no accountability?

  4. KevinB says:

    “At this point, however, we need McKee to thrive — not just avoid the collapse of his plan.”

    Can’t really agree with this statement, and even if it’s true — how the hell did we get to this necessity? City leaders gave far too much to an individual/company that a) had no actionable plan, and b) didn’t have the experiential portfolio to tackle this type/size of project (sounds a bit like ICM/SummerRocks, huh?).

    It was yet another opportunity to dictate the development requirements, timelines and penalties, and St. Louis’ mayor and Board of Alderman did neither. All it’s served to do is legitimize McKee’s previously clandestine land-banking, further distress an already-disinvested swath of the City, and (maybe) add a four-bed healthcare center.

    As is, the City has no teeth to bear in the progression of Northside. And if the stadium deal goes through, this recognizably BAD development partner will actually be rewarded for his negligence when the Bottle District immediately becomes highrise-worthy.

    I don’t necessarily believe the City needs to be the leader in marketing the area for development, but it should be the City’s providence to detail the general use of this land — i.e. identifying business corridors, transit connections, street improvements, height/density requirements and restrictions, etc.

    • If the city doesn’t lead/plan — which they haven’t — then the options are 1) do nothing 2) let big business (McKee) set the agenda.

      • guest says:

        Again, planners have no accountability.

        • Community based urban planning can be highly accountable.

          • guest says:

            How so? There’s a plan for McNorthside – who’s accountable for that? McKee is highly accountable – and is on the hook for millions of dollars of activity draw on maps by planners, but not executed by the developer. All the risk and accountability seems to backup on the developer/banks/investors, but not the planners. What risk do planners have and what is their accountability?

          • Planning in other regions includes accountability — St. Louis must change to get to that point.

          • McKee’s plan is a result of the lack of accountable municipal planning.

          • guest says:

            You still haven’t explained how the accountability works. What is the cost to a planner who fails? They get paid regardless.

  5. guest says:

    A good example of the lack of accountability in planning is the $800,000+ spent so far on plans for the new riverfront football stadium. If that planning doesn’t pay off, who’s on the hook for the $800 thou? Planners get to plan with someone else’s money.

    • You’re blaming the planning profession for the highly dysfunctional St. Louis political process. Planning can be accountable to the public — it is in other regions.

      • guest says:

        Steve, you still haven’t explained how the accountability works. You talk about planning being accountable in other regions. How? Where is the accountability? In California, they know they have a housing crisis; planners have detailed it for years. So where is there any accountability for California’s ongoing housing crisis?

        • In Dallas this week attending the Congress for the New Urbamism conference — using my phone mostly. To answer your question requires more time and my computer at home.

        • JZ71 says:

          The bulk of California’s housing “crisis” lies with the voters, who have enacted, either directly, through initiatives, or indirectly, through their elected officials, a whole series of land use regulations and restrictions that have significantly increased the costs of developed lots, increased fees for development and increased property taxes, all of which are directly reflected in higher housing costs. Combine that with a growing population, limited water supplies, upside-down mortgages and the impacts of rising student loan balances, and you have the “perfect storm” for making housing unaffordable, especially for first-time buyers: http://www.housingwire.com/blogs/1-rewired/post/31866-this-is-why-california-is-in-the-middle-of-another-housing-crisis . . “Planners” can identify the problems, they can even come up with viable solutions, but they are neither God nor Dictator. It’s up to the politicians, the developers and all of us, individually, to create the reality we want!

          • tbatts666 says:

            Right so true.

            Zoning and land use regulation is not a hot topic.

            Try to bring parking minimums or sewer finance up at a party… But anyone who cares about the future of their communities should be somewhat aware.

            It’s up to all of us to help build awareness.

    • JZ71 says:

      The alternative would be to say to the Rams, the NFL AND the voters, “just trust us, we’ll provide a top-tier stadium”. If you’re thinking about spending $1,000,000,000, spending $1,000,000 to see if it “works” makes sense!

  6. JZ71 says:

    Planning, in itself, is not a bad thing. Planning, whether it’s for a city, a home or a vacation, usually yields much better results than not planning does. Planning for specific outcomes is also far easier than planning for abstract ones, and also why urban planners have a much more difficult time justifying their “worth” than other design professionals do. Engineers and architects are usually retained to “solve” specific problems, for specific clients, and to create a finished project. Urban designers are retained to address much larger, dynamic issues, ones that are never truly “solved” or “completed”, for a much larger audience, one that rarely has a unified vision. Developers play in both arenas – they need both the “big” vision and they need to pull all the small, mundane parts together. And the bigger the project, the more variables there are, the more challenging and risky things become, the need for expertise increases in parallel with the potential for failure, in part or for the whole project!

  7. guest says:

    Another prime example of unaccountable planning efforts is this whole Gravois street closing debacle. The project apparently started with EWG, then the city, then MoDOT. Who knows how many tens of thousands of dollars of staff time has been spent on this plus design and engineering contracts, to only have the thing blow up at a public meeting last night. If this project is shelved, who’s accountable for this wasted time and money?

    • Again, the St. Louis examples aren’t planning — their politics. Other regions have real planning.

      • guest says:

        Steve, you’re ducking the question. Still waiting to hear accountability is enforced when it comes to “planning”. You say there’s accountability. How? How does it work? Let me try to answer my own question. “Plans” are restrictive. They restrict what can be done. The accountability comes more in terms of enforcing the restrictions. Planners end up being more like zoning officials. This sort of “planning” is a lot different than planning for “growth”. Plans to revitalize areas are much more speculative. Where is the accountability there? Is there any?

        • I’m ducking nothing! As I said, I’m at a conference working on my phone.

        • JZ71 says:

          The “accountability” lies with our politicians, the ones we elect to spend our money, wisely!

        • JZ71 says:

          The flip side is that urban planning is much like meteorology – with so many variables and an inherent amount of imprecision, both a weatherman and an urban planner can “miss the mark”, even by a wide margin, and still be “right” (enough), more often than not, to still be considered to be a credible “expert”. Bottom line, guest, what sort of “accountability” are you looking for, exactly? Urban planning, by its very nature, is imprecise, so expecting to hold any planner “accountable” for anything and everything that a plan includes seems like a mighty big “reach” . . . .

          • “A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.”

            — Frank Lloyd Wright

          • guest says:

            I guess more market driven plans. Often times plans seem rather pie-in-the-sky thinking than driven by market reality.

    • JZ71 says:

      So doing absolutely nothing is your “plan”?! If nothing changes, sure, there will be no “planning” costs, just the salvage and demolition costs, as the rest of the world moves forward. There were multiple plans (both good and bad, implemented and not) to get to where we are today, and as much as you apparently want to see stagnation, planning needs to continue to move forward!

  8. gmichaud says:

    Ultimately the accountability is with the people, you and me. In fact the democratic process is not set up to utilize the voice of its citizens. After all don’t citizens want prosperity also? The lack of public inclusion in the process as an ongoing voice misses the opportunity in a positive way to improve results and success. Instead citizens are corralled like cattle at public hearings to accept whatever they are told.
    I mentioned previously Core Strategy of the City of London in which desired results are articulated in a way to unify a city plan. The original London Unitary Plan was modified with city input every 10 years, now with the new Core Strategy revision the time for citizen input is now 5 years.
    The planning document does not hand tie developers, but rather it describes preferred outcomes in throughout the city supporting the idea of say successful transit in certain districts, walkablity in other urban goals according to the neighborhood. Thus the idead and concepts behind the planning of the entire City of London is in writing for both developers and citizens to review at will.
    Another excellent reference I have mentioned previously is Vallingby and Farsta by David Pass. He describes the process of creating two suburbs in the sixties and seventies outside of Stockholm. Essentially they are towns from scratch, something like McKee is attempting on a much smaller scale here in St. Louis.
    David Pass describes how the government coordinates the various development interests to satisfy home builders, department stores, the inclusion of transit and its relation to commercial, residential with walking and park amenities. It is a good report showing both problems and success and how they varied in the two communities. It is the description of a planning process that works.

  9. gmichaud says:

    Someone mentioned the Gravois closings has proposed. They have asked for public input now that the project seems to be a foregone conclusion. It is a perfect example of the lack of accountability on part of public officials.
    Shouldn’t the first question be whether scarce money should be spent on transit rather than automobile traffic? Where is that debate?
    In turn this goes back to the lack of understanding what it is St. Louis as a city is trying to accomplish. It is hard to figure why shutting off streets should be a priority. It seems to me it should be something more than it is inconvenient for MoDot because of the signals.
    Right now look at how aimless all of urban planning is in the City of St. Louis, McKee on the Northside and the proposed Gravois closing indicate a government that is unresponsive to the current needs of the city and its citizens. Its almost absurd the level of negligence on part of government officials.

    • JZ71 says:

      The Gravois “issue” is as simple that different citizens (and different governmental agencies and representatives) have different priorities. People who live on a side street that will see a change (either more or less traffic) have an opinion. Cyclists and pedestrians have their opinions. Transit users have their opinions. And people who drive their own vehicles have their opinions. Add in businesses and their conflicting interests. Add in a defined budget. There is no consensus, no unanimous opinion, so there will never be one answer that will make everyone happy/happier. And like many public processes, there have been many, albeit sparsely-attended, public meetings prior to this month. The people speaking up now were, for the most part, not involved until now. Should their opinions be minimized because of their late entry into the process? Or, should the government just reopen the whole process, throw out everything that’s been done, to date, and just start over (paralysis through analysis)?! And this is just a microcosm of urban planning at the city level – while you and I will both, likely, have many strong opinions, why would any of ours be more important than any other citizen’s? What is more important? Proximity? Passion? Book learning? Claimed expertise? A constituency? Whoever shouts the loudest? Whoever has the best political connections? The most money? Planners spend a lot of time “herding cats”, trying to reach some sort of consensus, and someone is always disappointed, or worse . . . .

      • gmichaud says:

        Okay, lets talk about Gravois and the MoDot street closing program for a minute, it does mirror the failures of McKee, not surprisingly. I guess, since the same group is running things, sort of a business, government coalition if you will.
        The angle of Gravois supports transit. Gravois often meets both north south and east west streets at, or near the same point, these are ideal locations for transit connectivity. In transit system design the hypotenuse of the triangle, allows for a more efficient system and can act as collection points for quick movement through the city.
        The basic flaw then is the lack of public discussion about Gravois, as with McKee and the Northside, public hearings should be one aspect of an already acknowledged public understanding of what is going on in their city. A document similar the Londons’ Unitary Plan should be the backdrop to public hearings.
        So what is the planning strategy on the Northside?What is the planning strategy along Gravois? What is the plan for the utilization of important transit connection stations along Gravois?
        Despite being called the Department of Transportation, MoDot is strictly about the automobile. This attitude harms the City of St. Louis significantly and is in full display along Gravois. This mismanagement of resources shows up as street closings which are prioritized over all other transportation needs.
        No doubt there are different points of view, most can be accommodated if the automobile worshiped in a way that puts an intimate object over the interests of humans.

  10. guest says:

    Back to McNorthside and the lack of accountability in planning, try this. McKee had done everything right, sort of. He organized all the real estate into a manageable area. A big area, true, but he wanted to do a BIG project. However, as soon as he brought in the planners, that’s when everything got sideways – and sideways to the market. McKee brought in a nationally known planning firm from Denver, the same one that did the Stapleton new town plan. They proposed a similar approach in St. Louis: to develop an urban oasis, filled with all sorts of wonderful amenities. It was eye candy for the people. Despite whatever dastardly deeds McKee had done during his assembling of the area, most people were wowed by the “vision” of McKee’s “Northside Regeneration”. The problem was then and is now, there was no market for this “plan”. In sexy, high cost, Denver, there’s a market for new town development over old airports. In north city St. Louis, apparently, there is not. On the other hand, had McKee done his planning based on market reality, instead of the plan for some new urban mecca, he probably would have come up with a different plan, and proposed, maybe, a massive, boring but efficient, warehousing and distribution center, close to rail and highways. With the new bridge coming, and negotiations for St. Louis to be *the* US “China Hub”, it might have worked. Market forces were lining up in support of an idea like that. He might even have attracted billions in Chinese investment. Instead, for whatever reason (maybe sentimentality – who knows – he grew up in the footprint of McNorthside), McKee and his planners went all eyewash, giving St. Louis pretty pictures of a “regenerated” Northside, with all the blight, decay, and poor people washed away and a new “Oz” built in its place. Failed “planning” at its best.

    • JZ71 says:

      I agree, sort of . . . I was in Denver when the planning for Stapleton started, and, at that point, it WAS more “eyewash” than you’d think, given how well the project has come together over the past 15 years. Yes, the economy in Denver is doing way better than the economy here, so yeah, it becomes way easier to make any project “work”. But the Stapleton site was (and remains) bordered on the west and south sides by some pretty sketchy, low-income neighborhoods. Not the bombed-out desolation of north city, but waaaay below the price points needed to make Stapleton feasible. (And to the north and west is/was a mix of low-density industrial and vacant land, greenfield, not brownfield). Whether it’s Stapleton or Northside, many times it takes big thinking to pull together a “game changing” big project. I see a lot of similarities (and potential) between both plans, with the biggest difference being the starting points. Northside has (and plans to retain) the existing urban grid, while Stapleton had no grid, and it was consciously imposed (new urbanism, not suburban cul de sacs). Both sites had/have some old, obsolete structures, but both plans anticipate(d) 95%+ new construction. The crime perceptions were/are different, as well, but far from insurmountable – and what you present as a negative – ” all the blight, decay, and poor people washed away and a new “Oz” built in its place” – is, for many people, a far better solution than destroying the existing grid for a “boring but efficient, warehousing and distribution center”. And I agree, the biggest hurdle remains the damn “market” – people gotta want to be in north city before north city can rebound in a big way, and that’s going to take both marketing (incentives and plans) and fixing the crime issue – daily murders and rolling gun battles do nothing to make any area more attractive, plans or no plans . . . .

      • guest says:

        I suppose the other aspect to this failed “plan” is the utter complete lack of execution on the part of the man himself, Paul McKee. Paul McKee, the man who made millions off of sprawl development in St. Louis and St. Charles counties was so full of hubris, so convinced of his own power, he thought he could saunter into North St. Louis, and turn around decades of blight in North City. When they write the history of STL in the early 21st century, Paul McKee will be remembered as a tragic figure. He tried to rescue north St. Louis but instead lost everything, and in the process became a both villain and person non grata with a name as good as mud. He didn’t have to do it, but he did.

        • JZ71 says:

          I get it, McKee has essentially made no progress in delivering on the promises that he’s made. But I’ve seen few other viable efforts, of similar scale, that have had any success, either (Bottle District?), north of Delmar. Is it because of a lack of a realistic “plan”? Or because this plan (or any other plan, to date) has yet to click with “the market”? North city ain’t the only game in town – everything from Earth City to Fenton, St. Charles (and Warren and Jefferson) County to the counties on the east side are in competition with the city. People make choices, and when they have multiple “better” choices, north city is going to remain on the losing end. It’s going to take more than new urbanism (or old urbanism), an urban grid, walkable streets or great public transit, it’s going to take people CHOOSING to invest in the area. The developer, any developer, can propose – it takes buyers (and renters) to make any proposal reality!

    • gmichaud says:

      So where is this Stapleton Plan McKee did? I missed it, can you supply a link? And also can you give addresses of buildings McKee built but failed with because of this plan. Really I would like to see this “wow” plan as you call it.
      I know the easy the easy answer is to sell America to China, you know free markets and all.
      But I would really like to look at the “failed planning” you are talking about, or is it that you’re the only one privy to this document?

      • guest says:

        It was presented at multiple public meetings.

        • guest says:

          And McKee has literally not done one solitary thing written up in that plan. None of the new green infrastructure, none of the new jobs, none of the new urbanist housing, nothing. Well supposedly he announced some sort of Dollar General or other cheapo small box retail operation targeted at low income consumers, but that hasn’t happened yet, either, has it?

          Pretty soon someone is going to have to start asking the tough questions about the accountability of the $40,000,000+ in DALTCs awarded McKee. Sure, those provided tax credits for land assemblage in distressed areas, but was that ALL they were supposed to provide? No actual development required? Someone check the fine print would ya. There is a tax credit accountability requirement in the state of Missouri for all state tax credits.

          And now there’s word coming out of Jeff City to provide even more state tax credit assistance to get the Defense Mapping agency to move somewhere in the McNorthside footprint, which is an interesting proposition when you consider we are talking about providing tax credits for the relocation of a government agency. Planning! Ya gotta love planning.

  11. tbatts666 says:

    I met McKee and I actually think he genuinely cares about northside.

    But that doesn’t make the proposal a good idea. And the land banking is downright evil.

    • JZ71 says:

      But what’s the alternate? Other places have tried urban homesteading (selling dilapidated properties to individuals for $1) with only limited success. We have a very fundamental supply (high) and demand (low) problem in many city neighborhoods, especially on the north side. Doing nothing sucks, but does it matter if it’s one big owner or multiple small owners doing nothing? The results are still the same.


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