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Poll: Current Thoughts on McKee’s Northside Regeneration Project?

January 30, 2011 NorthSide Project, Sunday Poll 30 Comments

northside regeneration mapFriday 5th ward alderman April Ford-Griffin introduced Board Bill 278 regarding Paul McKee’s stalled Northside Regeneration project:

An Ordinance authorizing the execution of a project agreement between the City of St. Louis and Northside Regeneration, LLC; prescribing the form and details of said agreement; authorizing other related actions in connection therewith; and containing a severability clause.

This agreement would cover only a fraction of McKee’s overall project:

The proposal includes cleaning up 14 vacant lots, tearing down six empty buildings and rehabbing seven more, including the old Greyhound Bus station at Cass Avenue and 13th Street. It also would build a $750,000 materials recycling center on 10th Street near Interstate 70, where bricks, wood and other materials from demolished buildings and ripped-up roads would be stored and sold for reuse. (Post-Dispatch)

This is in response to a legal delay last July:

A St. Louis judge threw out a city ordinance Friday that authorized $390 million in tax increment financing – the largest in the city’s history – for Paul McKee Jr.’s $8.1 billion NorthSide redevelopment.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert Dierker ruled in favor of city residents who allege in a lawsuit filed last fall that the Board of Aldermen did not comply with state law when it approved a tax increment financing (TIF) package for McKee’s massive project. (
St. Louis Business Journal)

So McKee’s Northside Regeneration project is the subject of the poll this week (upper right of blog).

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "30 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    Given the scope of the challenges the city faces, especially north of Delmar, I like the audacity of McKee's efforts. While there have been more than a few smaller-scale successes, at the current rate, true progress seems unlikely without this type and scale of megaproject. Much like the Pearl District in Portland or Stapleton in Denver, having a large, well-designed project succeed does wonders to boost the surrounding areas an the larger city, as well.

    • Douglas Duckworth says:

      Redeveloping brownfields, infilling a viaduct, and an New Urbanism on an abandoned airport is a little different than what McKee is doing. This is Le Corbusier's urban surgery with a Jane Jacobs facade. You might not appreciate this audacity absent any delivery if you lived next to one of the slumlord's properties.

      • JZ71 says:

        True, all politics are local, and every construction project within spitting distance of one's home is personal. Change, especially on a personal level, is hard for many people to embrace. I guess our perspectives all depend on whether we view the project area as a potential brownfield site or as a viable neighborhood(s) with a positive future potential.

      • Chris says:

        Doug, I agree with you. It seems like WAY too many people have forgotten how McKee acted in the early stages of this project. Many, many people were treated very poorly by his agents, and many people saw their already fragile neighborhoods destroyed right in front of their eyes. It's easy for people to just chalk their suffering to “making an omelet by breaking eggs,” but I doubt they would say that if they were one of the victims of his land acquisition methods. I also know a lot of people want to pretend that the entire North Side is some sort of “empty quarter” with no one living there and therefore is a blank canvas for the genius of a millionaire to paint on, but that was just not the case. His stupid project is never going to happen anyway.

        • Douglas Duckworth says:

          Yes. This guy let the anchors of streets — stable corner buildings — be demolished for their brick. Streets which he claims are going to turn into pedestrian-scaled mixed use. Why, in an environment of Historic Tax Credits, is McKee saving so few historic buildings when far many more exist within his holdings? Perhaps because the real focus of the project is not housing but rather sprawling warehousing and commercial which requires land assemblage? An urban planner can devise a plan yet this practitioner does not drive the process nor determine what gets built. McKee does and his priorities are self-evident.

          • JZ71 says:

            Because he owns them and it's his money? Not yours or the city's?

          • Douglas Duckworth says:

            Does Monsanto have the right to pollute the Mississippi because it's their money?

          • JZ71 says:

            Monsanto doesn't own the river – bad analogy, try again.

          • Chris says:

            McKee doesn't own the City of St. Louis; he, like everyone, has to work within the confines of the law.

          • Douglas Duckworth says:

            Yeah and the externality, market failure, of their pollution imposes a cost as does McKee's neglect. This is why we have preservation review. Read the enabling ordinance.

    • gmichaud says:

      Exactly what it the evidence McKe'es project is well designed? That is the core of the problem here and in part why the justice system rejected his proposal. I might also add that if the general public was offered the tax credits Paul McKee has gotten for himself, it is quite likely a more organic, diffuse and diverse redevelopment would be occurring. McKee is far from the only solution for redevelopment. Soulard and Lafayette Square are a couple of neighborhoods that come to mind that were redeveloped in a more democratic manner.
      Nor do I see any audacity in McKee's efforts, anyone can mindlessly buy up property if they have the money.
      Of course there is serious fault on the City of St. Louis for not having a viable planning framework for McKee or any developer. But that is another issue. When you figure out why McKee's project is well designed, please let readers of Urban Review know, could you?

      • Tpekren says:

        I believe Old North St. Louis got its share of assistance, tax credits, you name it. Take their dollars apply per block and or even per sqaure footage and then apply that ratio to Northside plan. I think most people be surprised how much tax dollars and assistance it took to redo Old North Saint Louis on an apple to apple basis.

        How long did it take Lafayette Square and Soulard? Where those neighborhoods in as much disrepair as some of these northside neigbhorhoods?

        Lafayette had the fortune of its squre. However, even now it is stalling, little has been developed outside of its boundaries let alone its edges and the association wants to put up fences to protect their turf. Its becoming a suburban gated community in the middle of the city!!

        As far as Soulard, it was the one spot that maintained St. Louis and has a unique french/cajun heritage and was never decimated by white flight. It has also maintained a niche commercial/bar/tavern to keep jobs.

        I hate those comparisons because ignores the bigger fact confronting St. Louis as a whole. That it is essentially a city with less then half the population then what the infrastructure was built for. It can't support itself on that fact and doesn't have decades hoping that small scale block here and my block there attracts litterally the thousands of people it needs back to the city.

        As far as McKee's Northside, I do think he has a viable plan for the size, duration, and scope of work. Its multi phase with initial phases that concentrate and focus on commercial centers that are outside of residential areas as well as recognizes the infrasctructure available either it be a new Mississippi River Bridge or rebuilding the 22nd street interchange to tie in west downtown/Jefferson Street better with I-64/Hwy 40. I think it is niave to assume that you could plan lot by lot for ten years or fifteen years out when the first and foremost item that needs to be on the agenda is it to attract jobs back to the city.

        Finally, the ironic part is that the lawsuit was brought in the name of resident who has a relatively new house built to match a surburb while enjoying the fruits of a ten year tax abatment.

        • gmichaud says:

          Who cares who filed the lawsuit? It is immaterial. Nor did I suggest to planning lot by lot. I am suggesting the need for just the opposite, an overall plan that benefits the future of St. Louis that our buddy McKee fits into.
          You say he has a viable plan, Judge Dierker did not think so, nor have I seen it.

          I lived in both Soulard and Lafayette Square in the late seventies, they recovered significantly in 20 years, equal to or less than what McKee proposes. And no they were not as in bad shape, but if you talk to redevelopment specialists at CDA, they prefer new build over rehab of the old, and in fact McKee's back door neglect/demolition of properties is caused by this preference for building the new over the rehab of the old.
          However this is not about architecture, it is about the plan, first JZ and now you are saying how great McKee's plan is, well let's see it, I've seen nothing but junk so far. Although, as I said previously, the city should already have a planning framework in place.
          I have studied many successful cities around the world, and that is how it is usually done.
          And no the North Side has not gotten the same tax credits or assistance as you claim. That is another question altogether, call the northside aldermen and women and get their opinion.

          Finally you don't seem to understand a dynamic, comprehensive plan that includes transit routes and a plan to connect transit to the physical environment will do far more for economic development than any other method you can describe. This is not just theory, it works in other cities. In fact you can trace many of the planning principles back to antiquity.

          • Tpekren says:

            While I'm not privy to the information nor sought it out – family & work and I get only so far – additional information was provided to the judge that provided much more details on where and how the TIF funds were to be used, what infrastructure to be rebuilt such as the 22nd interchange, what streets, sideways, etc. I for one think its a big mistake on McKee's part to have hold onto any such information the first go around and sure you wouldn't mind seeing it also.

            At the same token, I agree that specifics are lacking in terms of what and how will the commercial take shape? what businesses would popluate them? Is their any major tenants expressing interest? His residential plan for a later phase of 5 to 10 years out is even more vague as the ordinance/agreement with the city has protective langauge but like all things can change. However, your back to the same problem. Plop the Lafayette Square in the scope of his development, hope you can get that type of comeback in 20 years, two decades, and then see the rest of it continue to crumble.

            As far as transit, correct I don't have a planning background. But, last time I look Metro still operates and will continue to operate transit through the northside and if not mistaken it is still Metro or more formally Bi-State Development that operates it. In other words, transit exists. I can only assume that you think that no development shall occurr unless it incorporates a fixed transit system beyond buses. Unfortunately, even TIF funds will only go so far when you have to replace everything from old pipes, to streets, to sidewalks. I think the thought on waiting for any development until you find a way to fund fixed transit will only add years to getting something accomplished in the northside nor do I see small scale development being hold that standard.

            As far as future fix transit, I do believe the north south line is already planned and will run through a portion of this area and, like the loop trolley, McKee's plan does discuss future street car/trolley line on Jefferson. Is it well planned out engineered item? No, the north south line is not either and the loop trolley has been years in the making and still no construction. Even with a 25 million dollar grant and TDD voted upon by established businesses. .

            As far as parites to the lawsuit being irrelevent only makes a mockery of the legal system and the judge. The appeal process will agree with one of our opinions.

            What I can't speak to is the decision of the Alderman and what they feel is their right to approve and establish as they did with the northside TIF. They are elected and accountable to the voters who want to show up at the poll. I do think voter participitation is something that is very much lacking in the city and has done get harm to the city in the last decade or two in my opinion. With more voters involved, who knows if their would have been different aldermen and with different aldermen even a first reading of McKee's plan.

          • JZ71 says:

            McKee has a plan. Like any plan, not everyone will be happy.

            The city apparently has no plan, especially not a comprehensive one.

            And, apparently, your plan is just more of the same, an “organic” one.

            It may have worked in Soulard and in Lafayette Square, back in the day, but it appears that only small pockets are blossoming on the north side, even today. If I thought like many of the people in the region do, I'd just say screw it, and focus on protecting my own little corner of the city or county – let the northside fend for themselves. But I tend to look at the bigger picture. Outside of the region, we're viewed as a high-crime, dying, rust-belt city in fly-over country with a pretty-good baseball team, Clydesdales and an arch. (I can't count the number of times I've heard, “Seriously, why did you leave Coloardo and move to St. Louis?!”) One of the many reasons we struggle with underemployment and poverty is, duh, a lack of good jobs. And as much as we value our old neighborhoods and old buildings, they don't work for and/or don't appeal to too many people because, duh, again, if they did, they'd be being snapped up and put to use, not sitting vacant and disappearing brick by brick! We've tried the status quo for fifty years, now – maybe something different would actually be an improvement!

          • Douglas Duckworth says:

            Why is this different? At the best it's shifting jobs to the core with no regional gain (no going to happen people don't want to work in the City) and at the best it's demolishing everything that makes the City our City (might work if you turn it into Earth City). McKee has no plan. It is a vision. Suppose he has land use mapped out, well if so then he's an idiot as he's demolished buildings which would work within his plan. McKee should stay in the suburbs as he has no experience with large site planning otherwise this would have never ended up in court.

          • JZ71 says:

            This ended up in court over financing issues, not design issues (at least not directly). And since significant public monies are involved, this level of scrutiny is certainly appropriate, including requiring a certain level of specificity.

            And, as much as you want me to say that McKee has a great plan, I'm not going to. I'm saying that he has both -a- plan and an audacious vision, something no one else has apparently advanced recently for this part of town, plus he's willing to put his money where his mouth is. I get the feeling that the opposition is made up of people envious of McKee's wealth, resources and jutzpah, people who believe that they know best on any and every issue anywhere in the city, and people that are simply afraid of change, more willing to trust the devil they know more than the one they don't. Unfortunately, that's been our history here for the past half century, and if you're happy with the results, let's just keep doing what we've been doing!

          • Douglas Duckworth says:

            Robert Moses had audacity, he was wrong, but he got things done. McKee said on tape at an ONSL meeting he would walk away without subsidy. It's not his money and he doesn't care about the area. Otherwise, again, he wouldn't have let his properties be dismantled. Despite the amount of public financing, this is not participatory otherwise April Ford-Griffin and McKee wouldn't frame the project as this or noting else.

            Envious of McKee's wealth and resources? Maybe some elected officials looking for a payoff, but I don't think you've talked to many in the project area who are worried about expropriation. Again the degree of resources are questionable.

          • gmichaud says:

            You are the one that seems to envy those with wealth. You bend over backwards to excuse them no matter how obnoxious their proposals. Money talks seems to be your mantra and screw the welfare of society.
            No one is happy with the results thus far and no one is afraid of change. Your insinuation that anyone who would dare disagree with you and your hero Paul McKee are not looking for changes is false and an insult to everyone's intelligence, get real will you? That comment is the biggest joke yet.

            Yes of course the major underlying problem is the lack of a planning framework by the City of St. Louis. I have said this over and over. Nor has McKee offered a viable substitute. It is the one way he could supply leadership the city has not. It would expose the incompetence of city leadership.
            I have suggested many times on Steves' blog that the Unitary Development of London Plan could be a good model for St. Louis. It gives specific strategies in all areas of planning, but to quote the implementation section. “Much of the development in the City is carried out by the private sectors….the Plan's policies are consequently intended to provide general guidelines for development….to ensure that development makes a positive contribution to the City's environment and activities.” Without writing a long analysis, it should be noted many policy strategies are very specific.

            In lieu of that the approach something like the Master Plan of Reykjavik, Iceland could be used, for example “if heights of buildings were to be left to the accident of individual choice…the result would be fatal to the appearance of the town as a whole”. In general the Reykjavik approach is more specific than London
            Given the corruption of America and St. Louis, perhaps the London approach would be subject too many payoffs.
            I cannot go into the coordination of all planning elements in these plans here, but suffice to say St. Louis can learn a lot from other cities. Apparently there are forces that prevent thinking by government officials, or alternately policies must conform to the needs of wealthy backers.
            You mention Paul McKee's vision, well his vision is too make money and hell with anything else (it does not matter if a more sophisticated plan in the end could bring in more money, immediate gratification is the goal).
            That is the vision you seem to love and condone.
            In fact your contention that he is using his own money doesn't fly, with rough calculations he should be close to break even with the money he has received from the state already. A few more years of state tax credits and he could walk away with profits and abandon the whole project.
            Nor should we ignore the general corruption of state government that gave him his personal tax credit scheme to start with, it should have been a general tax credit program that individuals and small business could tap into. Projects would be underway right now if that was the case.

            But yes, lets celebrate the audacity of Paul McKee in his snookering of city officials and the people of St. Louis. He is very audacious. And the citizens of St. Louis will have to live with the results for the next 50 years.

            In your view, he only needs to present vague plans, nothing is more important than McKee making mega bucks since he has his “own” money. Certainly neighborhoods, communities and their people have no value. In war terms, collateral damage is inevitable and it is unamerican to get in the way of McKee from taking huge profits.
            Kumbaya, all together now, McKee doesn't need a viable plan, Kumbaya, all now:, let's give him more and more money, Kumbaya, Kumbaya, our king has arrived, all bow down. Kumbaya, he is our savior of the northside, Kumbaya, Kumbaya

          • Rick says:

            I don't mean to sound crass, but Paul McKee is in his 70s and this is a 20 year project. I'd like to hear more about who is going to be running this project when Mr. McKee retires.

          • gmichaud says:

            Actually your query is not crass at all. It is a question the state and city should be asking of McKee. The corporation probably has a succession plan, but that does not mean they will care about the northside project after McKee.
            It only makes it more important that the city and state insure a planning framework that any developer can step into, as well as make sure monies disbursed to McKee are related to work that is accomplished.

            It is hard to say that is happening now except for the fact McKee has received millions in state tax credits to date without accomplishing anything.
            The public seems to be taking all of the risk in this project, not McKee as suggested by other posters. Of course McKee's lawyer wrote the law, so it is no surprise it favors McKee over public interest.

          • JZ71 says:

            Hey, I agree the city needs to do a much beter job of planning and coordinating development. I do disagree with your assertions that “No one is happy with the results thus far and no one is afraid of change.” You may or may not, but I, for one, am very happy to see McKee taking the inititive to bring jobs back into the city. Is he doing the usual developer things to get government subsidies? Absolutely! Do I like subsidies? Not at all, but that's the way the game is played in our region. Realistically, the only way that's going to change is either convincing every local government to just say no (or not nearly so much) or to convince our state legislators to rewrite the laws to end the current shell game.

            I also need to disagree, partly, with your assertion that “Money talks seems to be your mantra and screw the welfare of society.” I do believe that money talks, but I also believe strongly that government's role is to act as a counterbalance to lowest-common-denominator development. My frustration, like yours, is that our aldermen seem to wield power way outside their abilities (when it comes to development), so even though we have both good laws and good people working for the city, every development gets politicized and a lot of crap gets built because there's no reason to do anything else. Combine that with too much supply and too little demand, and yes, money does talk – we're so damn afraid of not getting a new Starbucks or Wendy's, even those get credits!

            The fundamental problem with McKee's plans aren't that they're vague, it's that the city is willing to both move forward and to let a developer essetially dictate the approval criteria! The problem isn't McKee being a developer, the problem is a city so starved for reinvestment that we're showing absolutely no spine. This can be a win-win. Step one is/was getting a developer to present soemthing they view as financially viable. Step two is to intergrate his greed-driven vision into the fabric of the city. We're at that point now, the proof will be in how that is handled!

          • gmichaud says:

            We basically agree although I don't think providing jobs is a reason to allow McKee to walk all over the Northside. The city recently lost the Democratic Convention, I maintain this in a large part due to having allowed the city to deteriorate from an urban planning standpoint. A Paris on the Mississippi would have encouraged the selection of St. Louis. While the city has pockets of beauty, it is far from a whole city. McKee's project is a missed opportunity to rebuild the city in a sustainable and attractive manner.

            In fact Haussman in Paris in the mid 1800's rebuilt much of Paris and yet maintained urban planning concepts that improved the city to the extent it is considered one of most beautiful in the world today. It required heavy oversight by city officials so that apartment houses along the new streets “had their horizontal lines emphasized, and then harmonized by the intervention of city officials, to enhance the perspective effect.” What's more “developers responded willingly to the authorities' views on the appropriate type of development, partly because it was in their financial interest to be absorbed into the broader planning strategy linked to the official street-building program.” (Paris, An Architectural History by Stucliffe)

            In the same way if St. Louis officials had an overall framework for McKee to plug into, other developers would also more than likely be interested in investing. They would see a coherent program of building and urban planning that made them part of a larger, successful vision.

            The problem with relying on McKee and his job program is that it could end at that point. There would be nothing for other developers to build on, and the way everything is now managed it is the responsibility of each developer to come up with his own vision. This process has given us a chopped up urban environment in St. Louis, undesirable to Democratic conventions, super bowls or to the individual citizen.
            Another excellent book on the role of government and the private sector is Vallingby and Farsta by David Pass. It is about the building of two new towns outside Stockholm. In it the major role of government is evident. Down to ensuring that population density was high enough in each new town to attract developer dollars for major department stores for each community. (One town is North of Stockholm, the other South)

            In short, no matter how many jobs are generated at first and no matter how much investment really happens at first the city government is at fault for letting McKee call the shots. It may turn out okay, but judging from what little he has offered so far, it does not look promising.

            Nor will he supply the vision, the structure and framework to encourage investment by other developers, both on the northside and throughout the city. In fact a poorly conceived project could set St. Louis back for decades.

            The immediate job jump could cost St. Louis many jobs in the long run.
            As I say the loss of the Democratic Convention and its potential jobs illustrates how these same laissez faire planning policies have already had an impact. And now it has caused the consternation over Paul McKee and his project.
            (There are many problems with the planning approach in St. Louis, a major one being the disconnection between transit policy (East West Gateway) and city planning policy).

          • JZ71 says:

            The relationship between cities and developers is like porcupines mating – they have some common goals, but if they're not careful, the end result won't be pretty.

      • JZ71 says:

        The audacity of McKee's project isn't that “anyone can mindlessly buy up property if they have the money”, it's that someone has both the money and either the confidence and/or the insanity to buy where few, if any others, are willing to!

        I also agree that the city apparently does not have “a viable planning framework for McKee or any developer.” You may view that as another issue, I see it as the core issue. With both economic and urban planning apparently hamstrung by our parochial ward feifdoms, why should anyone be surprised that McKee is acting unilaterally?

        Finally, I've been around urban planning and redevelopment long enough to realize that no plan is ever final, money talks and it takes constant vigilence from the community, empowered city staff and its elected leaders to reach a quality outcome. At this point, all that McKee has really given us is a grand vision – it'a good first step, but there are no guarantees. To get guarantees will require tying finacial incentives to design requirements. Individually, none of us can make that happen, but as a community, we can! The next question is whether or not we have the will, as a community?

        • Douglas Duckworth says:

          When will April Ford-Griffin introduce historic district legislation for St. Louis Avenue west of Florissant? We already have tools available which were effective in other neighborhoods.

          The vision plan exists to ensure financial risk was placed upon taxpayers through subsidy. If not he would have already built something rather than simply bought up land and let buildings get lit on fire. If you look the stabilization figures he put out during public meetings — 1.5 million — that`s paltry compared to the number of properties he owns.

          • JZ71 says:

            We obviously disagree on the value of saving every old building. Many restorations are labors of love and much sweat equity; few developers have that level of love. And remember that McKee paid for each of these properties. If others (or you) had wanted to pay more, I'm guessing the previous owners wouldn't have sold to McKee, but to the highest bidder.

            It's easy with 20/20 hindsight to question motives and results, but the reality is that McKee was and is the only one betting his own money on a major urban project. Whether or not he avails himself to historic tax credits is a personal decision, not a government mandate – just because you think he should, doesn't make it the law of the land!

          • Douglas Duckworth says:

            Have you driven on St. Louis Avenue? Have you seen the buildings in the project area? They are as architecturally significant as their counterparts in South St. Louis receiving fewer levels of protection and opportunity for rehabilitation. Not every building will be saved though the amount of vacant lots makes the project prime for infill absent large corporate centers.

            If the State of Missouri created a $100,000,000 tax credit for anyone to purchase and redevelop property in North St. Louis then others would buy.

            Major urban project. There are quite a few significant projects in North St. Louis which are underway or completed. McKee has done nothing.

            Actually enabling ordinances could mandate stricter preservation controls.

  2. Adam says:

    i just don't want to see the recycled bricks sold to Texas while STL gets a bunch of new vinyl-clad crap.

  3. RobbyD says:

    The successful realization of the potential for north St. Louis will be the difference between the City continuing to tred water and “just maintain” over the next 50 years or actually moving forward as a hopeful midwestern example of what hard work and intelligence creates.

    For all that glitters Downtown, in the CWE and other successful areas of the City, the vast urban blight of north St. Louis is an economic, psychological and investment drag on the entire City and region.

    Let's hope the deep, historic racism has indeed been buried and potential for the northside are realized. We are all dependent in it for future growth and prosperity. As a property owner in Downtown West, I'm more than hoping!


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