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Readers Split On Supporting McKee-Related Businesses

April 11, 2019 Featured, North City, NorthSide Project Comments Off on Readers Split On Supporting McKee-Related Businesses

After years of waiting, two businesses are open within Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration redevelopment area —- part of a carefully crafted area to get millions in state & local tax credits. ZOOM Gas opened last Fall, GreenLeaf Market opened earlier this month. Both will hold a grand opening this Saturday (4/13) 10am-3pm.

On day two of business, April 2nd

In the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll readers were split on supporting these new businesses. This confirms my conversations with others.

Q: Agree or disagree: To protest Paul McKee I won’t spend money at ZOOM Gas or GreenLeaf grocery store.

  • Strongly agree: 6 [26.09%]
  • Agree: 1 [4.35%]
  • Somewhat agree: 3 [13.04%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 5 [21.74%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 0 [0%]
  • Disagree: 4 [17.39%]
  • Strongly disagree: 3 [13.04%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 1 [4.35%]

I’m torn on this subject, though we’ve been buying gas at ZOOM since moving nearby. We’ve bought a few items at GreenLeaf.

Though I have a strong dislike for how McKee conducts business, I want these to succeed. The people need the work, neighbors need nice places to shop, and the last thing we need is more vacant suburban-style buildings. Both are at the intersection of Tucker/13th/O’Fallon.

— Steve Patterson

 

Blairmont Became NorthSide Regeneration, Received Blessing of Mayor Slay and a Majority of Aldermen

June 20, 2018 Featured, NorthSide Project, Planning & Design Comments Off on Blairmont Became NorthSide Regeneration, Received Blessing of Mayor Slay and a Majority of Aldermen

On Monday I took you back through years of looking into various shell companies involving hundreds of properties, many acres, and lots of secrecy — up to the public reveal in late May 2009. If you missed it, see Before It Was Officially Named NorthSide Regeneration, We Knew It As ‘Blairmont’.

That Fall, during the Board of Aldermen’s 2009-2010 session, two bills (BB218 & BB219) were introduced by then 5th ward alderman April Ford-Griffin and 4 co-sponsors: Freeman M Bosley Sr.(2nd), Kacie Starr Triplett (6th), Phyllis Young (7th), and Marlene E Davis (19th).  Of these 5 aldermen,  only Marlene Davis is still in office.

These two bills, despite significant public opposition, moved quickly through the Board:

  • 10/16/2009 First Reading
  • 10/23/2009 Second Reading
  • 10/30/2009 Perfection, Third Reading

Online voting records only go back to 2015, so I can’t tell you who, if anyone, voted against these bills.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay signs 2 bills for Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project on November 10, 2009.

In November 2009 Mayor Francis Slay signed the two bills at an event held in front of the Clemens Mansion, which was going to be rehabbed by state tax credits (low income and/or historic) didn’t come through. The still-vacant property burned on July 12, 2017.

I was there whenPaul McKee  & Mayor Slay kicked off NorthSide Regeneration, here’s there comments that day.

The two bills became  two ordinances:

After the two bills became ordinances, lawsuits were filed, more legislation passed with more tax credits and so on. In the meantime, the National Geospacial-Itellegence Agency (NGA) picked a sparsely populated area North of the old Pruitt-Igoe site for their new West headquarters, relocating from South St. Louis. See New NGA West Location Will Gut St. Louis Place Neighborhood, Not Revitalize What Remains. As mentioned on Monday, the 5th Ward master plan, adopted in 2002, designed the area for new development.

Wednesdays is when I share the results of the non-scientific Sunday Poll, so here they are:

Q: Agree or disagree: Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration project was the only hope for reviving much of North St. Louis

  • Strongly agree 4 [11.11%]
  • Agree 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat agree 16 [16.67%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 1 [2.78%]
  • Somewhat disagree 1  [2.78%]
  • Disagree 5 [13.89%]
  • Strongly disagree 19 [52.78%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

I’d planned to share my thoughts on what St. Louis should do next now that McKee’s project has collapsed, but that’ll need a separate post. So Monday won’t be about all the issues frim the past 15 years…it’ll be about the next 15 years as I think they should go.

— Steve Patterson

 

Before It Was Officially Named NorthSide Regeneration, We Knew It As ‘Blairmont’

June 18, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, NorthSide Project, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Before It Was Officially Named NorthSide Regeneration, We Knew It As ‘Blairmont’

With the news last week that the City of St. Louis now considers developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project in default and Missouri suing him for tax fraud, I got to thinking about how we got here.

To my knowledge the first blog post about Blairmont was Michael Allen’s July 21, 2005 entry titled Seeking Blairmont, here’s a snippet:

Blairmont owns many properties on the Near North Side of St. Louis and is notoriously hard to reach. No one can find out anything about Blairmont except that a man named Harry Noble supposedly owns the company — but even that isn’t verified. A search through the Missouri Secretary of State’s corporation registry reveals that the “CT Corporation System” registered the name “Blairmont Associates LC” on behalf of an anonymous party or parties.

Many of Blairmont’s properties seem to be vacant lots in Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and other neighborhoods, although the company recently purchased a vacant St. Louis Public Schools property at 2333 Benton.

Other people report needing to make agreements with Blairmont to repair shared utilities or utilities that run through Blairmonnt properties, and having difficulty finding a phone number. 

If you know anything about Blairmont, please post a comment here and maybe we’ll be able to help Lyra and others who are interested in contacting the company.

Many wrote about Blairmont, but Michael Allen was most prolific. For example, in December 2005 he wrote:

The July 15 Quarterly Report of the Jordan W. Chambers 19th Ward Regular Democratic Organization reveals some interesting information about its contributors. Namely, that the following contributors, all real estate holding companies, share the same address:

N & G Ventures LC
Noble Development Company
VHS Partners LLC
McEagle Properties LLC
West Alton Holding Company LLC
Oakland Properties, Inc.
Blairmont Associates Limited Company

That address is 1001 Boardwalk Springs Place in O’Fallon, Missouri .  1001 Boardwalk Springs Place is the address of the largest office building in the sprawling WingHaven development. This also happens to be the mailing address for Paric Corporation and McEagle Development, the well-known companies founded by wealthy developer Paul McKee, Jr. (Paric is now led by McKee‘s son Joe.)

In the above post Allen lists how many properties were owned by each entity. At the time I was in real estate so I could look up all the properties owned by name. Using Allen’s list of names we were quickly able to create a list of hundreds of properties involved. The data was exported in XLS format so he could create a master spreadsheet.

In the meantime, BJC Healthcare was wanting development rights to Hudlin Park — a former piece of Forest Park with their underground parking garage. The local neighborhood group, for which the park was a part of, was to hold a meeting on BJC’s plans.

In April 2006 I wrote:

I just love how all this works:

1) Hatch evil plan around self interests but tied concerns about higher taxes if not accepted.
2) Get politicos on board with plan. After all, that is why we give them contributions!
3) Get local group on board now that they are used to our annual grants.
4) Oh yeah, almost forgot, hold some sort of public meeting now that all the decisions are made. Solicit “input” without laughing.
5) Wrap up song & dance and return to doing whatever we feel like secure in the knowledge the alderman and neighborhood are eating out of our hands.

What a system we’ve got.

Keep the above sarcastic playbook in the back of your head. Blairmont moved from blogs to print on January 10, 2007 when the Riverfront Times wrote about it, here’s a quote on Allen:

Michael Allen has tracked the company’s comings and goings on his Web site, www .www.eco-absence.org. He says that the Blairmont group of companies (which operate under names such as VHS Partners, N&G Ventures and Noble Development Company) has accumulated nearly 400 properties — more than 1,000 acres — in the Fifth and Nineteenth wards. 

“They show no signs of slowing down,” says Allen. 

Among Blairmont Associates’ properties are the historic James Clemens Jr. House at 1849 Cass Avenue, which is a stately-but-crumbling mansion, and the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings at 1201-17 North Cass Avenue, which were gutted by fire last October. 

Residents first identified Blairmont as a neighborhood force about three years ago, says Sean Thomas, executive director of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. The nonprofit group, which was established in 1981 to help revitalize the area, grew uneasy because Blairmont didn’t seem concerned with upkeep.

That same day, on January 10, 2007, I saved a PDF of Paul McKee’s bio on the McEagle website. Two issues, BJC/Hudlin Park and hundreds of vacant/derelict properties had one connection: Paul McKee. Ten days later the RFT had part 2 of their Blairmont story:

Before the 2007 legislative session, the developer met with Republican state senator John Griesheimer of Washington. Griesheimer, who chairs the Economic Development, Tourism & Local Government Committee, says a mutual friend suggested the confab to smooth things over with McKee, who had lobbied last year against a tax increment financing (TIF) reform bill the senator favored. 

Griesheimer says McKee seized the opportunity to float the idea of a tax credit to encourage development in distressed areas. The senator ultimately inserted the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act into an omnibus economic-development bill that now awaits the signature of Governor Matt Blunt. A spokeswoman for Blunt says that because there are so many provisions to consider, the governor will take his time signing. His deadline is July 14.

Although I’d read about Blairmont, and worked behind the scenes with Michael Allen on identifying properties, I hadn’t written about it…yet.

My post from February 9, 2007 was my first to use the word ‘Blairmont’, here’s how I opened the post  “Blairmont Scheme” Is Fulfillment of Official City Plans:

Much has been written lately about the sinister plot, known to many as “Blairmont”, to bulldoze North St. Louis (specifically the St. Louis Place neighborhood). The focus has been on various straw companies such as Blairmont Associates, LLC and part owner Paul McKee. McKee is a founder of well known commercial contractor Paric, an officer in McEagle Development and current Chairman of BJC Healthcare. In other words, a prominent citizen for all that’s worth.

The major issue has been these companies are buying hundreds of properties, including some very historic structures, and letting them sit empty and decaying. A few have had some devistating fires. Nobody has been able to track down any more information on the motives & intention behind these purchases. Interestingly, the answer was under our noses the whole time.

This is all part of a public plan, one of many actually. 

The following was an example I cited:

In 2002 the city’s Planning Commission adopted the 5th Ward Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan. It should be noted the boundaries are the old 5th Ward, not the boundaries as changed around the same time as the plan was being adopted. Anyway, in the plan a large swath of land just north of the long vacant Pruitt-Igoe site is shown hatched out with the designation “Proposed Large Land Use (for further study).” In other words, level anything remaining and start fresh. There it is, fully adopted after numerous public meetings and everything.

Fast forward to Monday May 11, 2009 when McKee was to finally attend a North side resident meeting and talk about his plans. So how did the meeting & presentation go? I’ll let Alex Ihnen explain:

Well today the plan was offered to select attendees at meeting on the North Side. The press wasn’t allowed and even Steve Patterson of Urban Review STL was asked to leave as a member of the press. Well, well, bloggers have come a long way huh?

So what’s on the table? 

  • $400M TIF
  • Mixed infill residential with commercial centers
  • 22,000 permanet jobs and up to 43,000 temporary jobs mostly in construction 
  • Commercial centers located near 22nd street & I-64, Jefferson & Cass, Jefferson & Natural Bridge, and the new I-70 bridge terminus. 
  • Light rail and the requisite bike lanes
  • Preservation of existing historic buildings

So what’s missing? Just developers and financing, that’s all. It appears as though McKee will be asking for concessions from just about everyone and I’m not sure that people are clamoring for development on the north side enough to give him carte blanche. This is just the first word, but it appears that the potential $400M TIF will be up for a vote as early as this coming Friday.

Yes, I was asked to leave a meeting. Never mind that where I lived then is where I live — which became part of the 5th ward after the last redistricting. I got into my wheelchair , left the meeting, and joined the press outside.

Sign outside meeting where I was asked to leave

The next week another meeting was scheduled for May 21, 2009  — the press was welcome to attend.  That morning I wrote:

Today “shrinking cities” are studied and various techniques are debated.  In the 70s in St. Louis the Team Four plan was seen as a racist plot to deny services to a minority population.  We know more today about how to adjust to shrinking populations.

Tonight we will see another, a huge heavily subsidized redevelopment plan.  Many are opposed simply based on the history of the project to date.  I for one plan to go with an open mind. I have reservations about both the developer and the political leadership.  Griffin’s view on the role of zoning doesn’t give me a lot of hope for what may be presented in pretty artist renderings actually being completed as promised.  A good framework of a zoning code can help ensure the promised vision develops into reality.

Source: McEagle

Six days later I shared my thoughts, the following is part of what I wrote:

For five years now Paul McKee of McEagle Properties has been acquiring properties in a large swath of land in the near North side of St. Louis.  These were purchased through a long list of holding companies such as Blairmont Associates LLC.  The first few years this was under the radar. But people, notably Michael Allen, began to notice the properties and their common ownership.

Many are upset about how events transpired.  Quietly buying property, little to no maintenance, and so on.  These issues have been hashed out here, on other sites and in the meeting on the 21st when a guy stood and called McKee a f-ing liar.  I’m not going to rehash it all again.  Instead I’m going to jump into the proposal.

I think because of this academic background I’m able to step aside from my anger at the loss of the warehouse at Cass & Tucker and the many other reasons so many are angry.  Three years ago my reaction would have been quite different.   So what do I think of the plan now that I’ve had a chance to see the proposal?

I like it.  I don’t like how we got to this point (Urban Renewal trashing North St. Louis, city dropping the ball, McKee coming in).  Typically we expect government to do what the private market fails to do.  Here we turn this around, the private market is stepping in where the public sector has failed:  planning. I like what it has the long-term potential of doing for the city.

McKee’s plan calls for four job centers — large sites suitable for one or more companies to have a new campus setting.  No surprise here, this is what McEagle does in suburban areas.  This is a chance to get these jobs (and taxes) in the city.

I am excited about the potential this project brings to the city & region. A chance to get some large new employers — or to retain the ones we’ve got.  A chance to change perceptions about North St. Louis.  A chance to fill in the many gaps in our building stock.  A chance to add needed population.  A chance to get a modern streetcar/trolley line connecting the project area to downtown.  A chance to get thousands of parcels of land out of city ownership.

Before someone suggests I was bought off I can assure you I’m still a struggling grad student.  I’ve met Paul McKee twice — the 1st time 3-4 years ago at a meeting of the Dardenne Prairie Board of Aldermen.  The 2nd time was at McKee’s presentation last Thursday.  This 2nd time he knew who I was and he offered his card.  After a couple of emails I got the above images out of him, nothing else.

But while I like the big picture planning involved I have reservations about the follow through on the project.  Paul McKee promised New Urbanism at WingHaven but delivered a half-assed cartoon version.  The St. Louis Board of Aldermen, as a general rule with a few exceptions, do not get what compromises walkable urbanism.  How will they know what to require of McKee? To be sure our old 1947 zoning needs to be tossed aside for this area.  A new form-based code needs to be laid over the project area to guide future development to ensure we get what we are promised.

I want this project to succeed — financially & urbanisticly.  I want to live along the trolley line.  I want St. Louis to be a city of 500,000 people again in 20-25 years.

I’m going to stop here for now, I’ll continue on Wednesday and share my thoughts on what St. Louis should do next.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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Sunday Poll: Any Hope of Reviving North St. Louis Without Paul McKee?

June 17, 2018 Featured, NorthSide Project, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Any Hope of Reviving North St. Louis Without Paul McKee?
Please vote below

Developer Paul McKee had a bad week last week.

In a letter filed Tuesday, city officials say it’s time to face facts.

“After a decade, the promised redevelopment has not come, nor is there any indication that it will,” the letter states.

“Land lies fallow. Taxes go unpaid. Vacant buildings remain dangerous and unsecured….these are not the results the City bargained for when it granted Northside redevelopment rights for the Area,” the letter reads. 

The letter says that McKee and his entities have failed to fulfill numerous promises to the City and claims that McKee is in default.(KMOV)

The following day it got worse:

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley filed on Wednesday a lawsuit against developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration LLC, alleging the company kept $4.5 million in state tax credits despite failing to complete the purchase of more than $5 million worth of properties in north St. Louis.
Hawley’s suit brings three civil counts against the company: tax credit fraud, breach of tax credit application and unjust enrichment. (Post-Dispatch)

Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration is the subject of today’s non-scientific poll:

This poll will close automatically at 8pm tonight.  Come back Wednesday for my thoughts.

— Steve Patterson

 

McKee’s Gas Station & Grocery Proposal Highly Suburban In Plan — Inappropriate Near Central Business District

In a December 2011 post, titled Downtown’s New Entrance, I said the following of developer Paul McKee’s plans along the new Tucker coming into downtown from the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge:

I’m still concerned the new buildings will lack connections to adjacent sidewalks. St. Louis now has a “Complete Streets” policy, but no requirement for adjacent properties to connect. The ADA requires minimal connection but a building can be built and occupied without it, leaving enforcement up to those who complain. If we take McKee, and his consultants, at their word the area will be pedestrian-friendly. My preference, of course, would be a requirement by ordinance. Former 5th Ward Alderman April Ford-Griffin never would initiate such a requirement and I don’t expect any of the three woman running to fill the vacant seat to do so either. The election is December 20th. Good or bad, McKee has the Tucker & Cass area under control. But what about south of Biddle St? The 1986 McDonald’s was just razed and replaced. The new one does have an ADA access route from one of the four streets bordering the property, but it’s still a prototype  best suited for a suburban/rural highway exit.

I used the following graphic/caption in that post:

The following message popped up when I went to save this image from the source"Since we are still in the early design phases of the project, we ask that you please not copy our images yet since these designs are not final."
The following message popped up when I went to save this image from the source”Since we are still in the early design phases of the project, we ask that you please not copy our images yet since these designs are not final.”

New buildings were shown up to the streets, with parking behind — the way we should be things in the center of the region. Someone may drive to work, but it makes walking to lunch, for example, feasible.   Constructing new buildings back behind surface parking is typical suburbia — it has no place in the urban core of the region — not minutes from the Central Business District.

Years ago Paul McKee said he wanted to build walkable urbanism — not the drivable suburbia he was known for. Last week he presented a plan for two new buildings, one on each side of Tucker, that are highly suburban in their site planning.

The GreenLeaf Market will be located at 1408 N. 13th St., not far from the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. Right across the street, McKee said there will be the ZOOM Store — a gas station, store and car wash.

“We expect the ZOOM Store to open by Thanksgiving and the other market to open by March 1,” McKee said.  (St. Louis Public Radio)

The worst-case scenario has come true — McKee is planning to build suburbia within minutes of the central business district. Not the pedestrian & transit-friendly vision he initially communicated.

On the left/East is Zoom gas station, and on the right/West is Greenleaf grocery store
On the left/East is Zoom gas station, and on the right/West is GreenLeaf grocery store
Crop of ZOOM gas station: Pedestrians are shown on the sidewalks, but no route to enter the business
Crop of ZOOM gas station: Pedestrians are shown on the sidewalks, but no route to enter the business
View as motorists drive up to the pumps.
View as motorists drive up to the pumps.
Crop of GreenLeaf grocery store. Like the gas station, no route shown for the pedestrians on the Tucker sidewalk to reach the entrance
Crop of GreenLeaf grocery store. Like the gas station, no route shown for the pedestrians on the Tucker sidewalk to reach the entrance
Typical auto-centeric viewpoint
Typical auto-centeric viewpoint

Both would be easy to have a pedestrian access route to a side street — ZOOM to O’Fallon and GreenLeaf to 13th. Technically achieving the bare minimum required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is still a long way from being pedestrian-friendly.

I’ve defended McKee’s efforts to build new urbanism in areas such as the 22nd St Parkway interchange, Pruitt-Igoe, and Tucker & Cass. That was based on him indicating his intention to do something positively urban, not ordinary suburban.  These first buildings will set the pattern for this area.

I’ve been visiting & photographing this area since work on the new Tucker began. Here are some images from 2012:

Looking South at the new Tucker from Cass Ave, both sides have large land areas ready for development. July 2012 image
Looking South at the new Tucker from Cass Ave, both sides have large land areas ready for development. July 2012 image
This land os all North of the proposed grocery store and Cass Ave. How will this be filled in? What route will people who live/work here take to walk to the grocery store? July 2012 image
This land os all North of the proposed grocery store and Cass Ave. How will this be filled in? What route will people who live/work here take to walk to the grocery store? July 2012 image
Site of the proposed gas station, July 2012 image
Site of the proposed gas station, July 2012 image

Last month I went back again:

I knew from my earlier visits that O'Fallon St no longer connected to Tucker. Is this to change if the gas station gets built?
I knew from my earlier visits that O’Fallon St no longer connected to Tucker. Is this to change if the gas station gets built?
A ramp that's too narrow because of plants goes from Tucker down to O'Fallon
A ramp that’s too narrow because of plants goes from Tucker down to O’Fallon
O'Fallon St just currently just ends. Reopening to Tucker would further complicate the traffic intersection
O’Fallon St just currently just ends. Reopening to Tucker would further complicate the traffic intersection
View looking toward Tucker from the site of the proposed gas station.
View looking toward Tucker from the site of the proposed gas station.
Southbound on Tucker, the grocery store would be built on the right past the billboard
Southbound on Tucker, the grocery store would be built on the right past the billboard
View from 13th looking at the proposed grocery store site. The wall is the last bit of the tunnel where the commuter train went under Tucker
View from 13th looking at the proposed grocery store site. The wall is the last bit of the tunnel where the commuter train went under Tucker

How we begin building on these large swaths of land matter, we need to ensure people can walk from building to building in the most direct manner possible — not some circuitous route or through surface parking lots. I’ve already contacted Good Natured Family Farms to tell them I welcome a grocery store — but not in a suburban form.

— Steve Patterson

 

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