North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Next Wave of NorthSide Ordinances Delayed

by Michael R. Allen

While the thunder of a showy trial on McEagle’s NorthSide project has marched along, the next round of redevelopment ordinances specific to the four phases of the project apparently have not. The Board of Aldermen was supposed to consider those ordinances before April 1, but they may not come for some time longer. At least, that’s what Jerry Berger tells us:

Most City Hall observers expect McKee and his partners will let the date slip by while the McEagle team continues to acquire properties and wait for answers to his requests for federal and state assistance.

Dale Singer has a sold analysis of the trial in the Beacon. Read it here.

On the matter of federal and state assistance, the city lost its bid for a federal TIGER grant to reconfigure the Jefferson/22nd Street exits downtown. McEagle needs that reconfiguration and a land swap with the Missouri Department of Transportation to start one of the first-phase components of the project.

Brick Theft Public Policy St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Brick Thieves and Brick Dealers

by Michael R. Allen

After this week’s spate of fires in JeffVanderLou, Alderman Sam Moore (D-4th) proposes changing city ordinances to force brick thieves to pay back the amount of damage that they cause, instead of the current maximum of $500. Moore’s proposal makes sense.

The commercial building at 2538 St. Louis Avenue in St. Louis Place, destroyed by brick thieves in August 2007.

Yet a new ordinance should go further. The thieves are only the first — and least compensated — beneficiaries of the money generated by the stolen brick. Penalties for dealers who buy stolen brick are the same as for the thieves. Those should be increased too.

The commercial building at 2538 St. Louis Avenue in St. Louis Place, destroyed by brick thieves in August 2007.

What if dealers caught buying stolen brick permanently lost their business licenses?

Planning St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Mayor’s Budget Suggestions Include Planning Cut

by Michael R. Allen

On January 18, Mayor Francis Slay released a list of budget changes he is suggesting to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to address this year’s shortfall. Neither any alderman or Comptroller Darlene Green released any ideas ahead of the mayor, and none has released any since. Hopefully, we won’t just see a round of orders from the mayor’s menu — take this, leave that. After all, we are not discussing mere numbers but actual functions of government. The budget debate is as much about public service priorities as it is about money.

Readers of this blog will be most interested in the suggestion that the city eliminate the $130,000 annual payment from general revenue to the city’s Planning and Urban Design Agency. According to the mayor’s proposal, eliminating that subsidy will remove two full-time positions from the agency. One of those might be the Preservation Planner position in the Cultural Resources Office created by the Board of Aldermen in 2007. The Planning and Urban Design Agency has not even had a permanent director since Rollin Stanley’s departure in December 2007.

If we actually wanted a strong, pro-active planning agency, we would need more than the current staff level. Cutting two positions to save money is a step in the wrong direction, and the savings realized minuscule. Scratch that one off the list.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Now That McKee Has His Money, City Should Slow Process

by Michael R. Allen

At the end of 2009, developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. received $19.62 million in Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credits. According to the developer’s application, McKee’s Northside Regeneration LLC claims a little over $25 million in assemblage, interest and maintenance costs to date, and projects an additional $66 million in acquisition costs. Only part of the application has been released publicly, so a breakdown of those figures is not yet available.

The $25 million figure corresponds to the amount of a $25 million Second Mortgage and Deed of Trust filed with the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds by Northside Regeneration LLC on December 10. That second deed of trust is guaranteed by Paric Corporation, the construction company founded by McKee and now headed by his son Joe McKee.

Now that McKee has the tax credits he claimed all last year he needed to proceed, what will the developer do with the proceeds of selling them? Pay down his debt.

That use of the credits may surprise those who put stock in the words of supporters of the tax credit, including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who claimed those credits would enable development of north St. Louis. Those who read the tax credit bill realized that it was in effect remuneration for questionable acquisition activity already underway.

Now that McKee has received his first payment and announced his intended use of the proceeds, we know that he will have paid down most of his claimed debt. Since McKee’s company continues to fail to secure and adequately maintain holdings, his holding costs must be minimal. This payment enables him to sit for another length of time.

More importantly, however, this payment enables city government to look more carefully at the Northside Regeneration project. McKee can no longer claim that the Board of Alderman’s lack of action is keeping him from money he needs to survive. The developer has redevelopment rights and TIF financing secured through the ordinances passed in October 2009. Both sides are even. There are going to be additional bills needed to enable redevelopment of the four areas McKee has divided the project into, and to activate the tax increment financing. This time, the Board of Aldermen and Mayor Francis Slay should not rush the process.

There needs to be a full and open debate of whether or not the project’s boundaries are appropriate, whether eminent domain restrictions need to be stronger, whether historic preservation planning ought to be included in additional ordinances, and what happens to McKee’s holdings outside of his project boundaries in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.

Let’s lay this all on the table before passing more enabling ordinances.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Public Policy St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Alderman French Looking Toward the Future of North City

by Michael R. Allen

This video footage from Friday’s meeting of the St. Louis Board of Alderman shows Alderman Antonio French (D-21st) stating why he would vote against both board bills 218 and 219 which enable the McEagle NorthSide project. French’s words on the problem posed to the rest of north city by the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit are right on.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Board of Aldermen Urban Assets LLC

On Public Record McKee Denies Connection to Urban Assets

by Michael R. Allen

Douglas Duckworth posted this video that he took at yesterday’s aldermanic Housing, Urban Development and Zoning committee meeting. Toward the end of questioning by Alderman Antonio French (D-21st), Paul J. McKee Jr. — on public record — denies any intention to purchase land outside of the NorthSide project area and any involvement in land-grabbing shell company Urban Assets LLC.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Aldermanic Hearing on NorthSide Project Tomorrow

by Michael R. Allen

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow on the two board bills — 218 and 219 — that would enact a redevelopment agreement for the McEagle NorthSide project and allocate Tax increment financing to the project’s first two phases.

The meeting will take place at 10:00 a.m. in the Kennedy Room, formerly the City Council chamber when the city had a bicameral legislature (Room 208).

Word is buzzing about lawsuits against the project and a recall effort against Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin (D-5th), but the legislation that will give McEagle development power marches along. Does the haste to pass the bill and the fervor to kill it create a situation where smart changes will have little political support? No doubt that McEagle has the votes it needs to pass these ordinances as they have been introduced. The only part of the deal that would probably fail at the Board is public guarantee of the TIF, and that proposal has not been introduced as a bill. Many aldermen have stated total opposition to public guarantee but support for the project itself with the TIF currently proposed.

Thus, there is only a small amount of time in which real changes to these bills can be crafted and proposed. Let’s get those changes on the table quickly. What should they be? Post them here and bring them tomorrow morning.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Board of Aldermen

An Update of Sorts on NorthSide

by Michael R. Allen

Dale Singer’s article “Questions still being raised about McKee’s north side development” (St. Louis Beacon, August 31) provides an update on the politics of this redevelopment project.

A few items jump out at me.

No Eminent Domain on Churches

Paul J. McKee, Jr. lays to rest one of the rumors circulating: that his companies plan to use eminent domain on churches. McKee says:

“We’ve bought some churches from people who want to sell them. If they want to sell them, we’ll buy them. But can you imagine asking for eminent domain for churches? That would be short of insanity. We spend a lot of time putting to sleep those kind of rumors.”

Indeed, many churches have voluntarily sold parcels and church buildings to the developers, and others are actively supporting the project. Those that remain could enjoy great benefits to their surroundings should the plan come to fruition. The origin of the church rumor was nothing more than the poorly-prepared list of parcels needed for the project that was released by the St. Louis Development Corporation. Seriously, that list looked less like a sinister plot than a cut-and-paste job with owner-occupied parcels removed and everything else retained without a final proofreading.

What Happened to the Forum?

McKee’s comments about McEagle’s removal of the public forum on his website is lacking. Here’s what the article reports:

McKee also defended the fact that a website for the project shut down an area where people could go on and make anonymous comments. He said the forum had degenerated and was not serving any constructive purpose.

In reality, McEagle moderated every aspect of the site. Julie Guignon at McEagle had to approve requests to set up an account on the board, and either Guignon or someone else deleted inappropriate posts. The only posts that were ever published were all thoughtful, intelligent requests for information or maintenance, and were made in response to leading questions like “What Information Do You Want to See?” posted by a site moderator. None of the suggestions or questions ever got a real response.

McEagle’s formerly open media strategy had received kudos from the St. Louis Social Media Report. As an often skeptical observer of the project and its public relations blunders, I was quick to praise the unconventional move.

Let me retract that praise and call the media strategy a bizarre failure. McEagle tapped into social media like no developer before, received praise even from long-time critics, posted some content and then…killed its own momentum (and new found good will) by closing up shop prematurely.

CBA Group Opposed to Any TIF?

The Northside Community Benefits Alliance seems opposed to any form of tax increment financing for the NorthSide project. Keith Marquand, the group’s treasurer, is quoted:

“Ronald Reagan had the saying, ‘Trust but verify,’ ” he said. “I don’t understand why we should have any basis for trust whatsoever. Look at the city’s record with TIF projects. … The city doesn’t have a very good record of enforcing agreements with developers.”

I think that McEagle has the votes to pass even a $410 million TIF through the Board of Aldermen. The TIF alone doesn’t upset me because I think that TIFs were designed exactly for the purpose proposed by McEagle: renewal of truly distressed areas. The real problem, of course, remains the scale of development, resident displacement and lack of solid urban design and historic preservation guidelines.

What is questionable, and what does not likely have a majority of aldermanic votes, is city backing of half of the TIF. After St. Louis Centre’s failure and the city’s wise refusal to grant backing to Ballpark Village, McEagle faces an uphill battle on that point.

Of note in the initial TIF application is that without city backing, the developer projects a 3.21% profit on the project, and with such backing projects an 8.21% profit. Hence, the project is still profitable without the city backing the bonds.

On the other hand, if the City of St. Louis had to pay $205 million should the developer default — and remember, no one assumed that Pyramid would ever fail — the city government would go bankrupt.

New York City Planning St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Can St. Louis Lure Small Businesses?

by Michael R. Allen

This week New Geography published an interesting article by Steve Null entitled “New York City Closes Shop”. The article reports that under the anti-small business policies of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, over 83,000 small businesses have been forced to close since 2001. That astounding figure represents just the recent effort to “crack down” on commerce that predecessors Rudy Giuliani, David Dinkins and Ed Koch all enforced as well.

Has this trend pushed small business out of the Big Apple? If so, what can smaller cities do to lure some of the entrepreneurs that might end up looking for a more encouraging urban business environment?

While Chicago has been a beneficiary of New York’s terrible policies, St. Louis could lure some of the business. St. Louis has an abundance of historic commercial districts, where old buildings offer cheap rents and low purchase prices. Small business owners can afford to rent a small space in New York and maybe an entire building in Chicago. In St. Louis, they can buy a building — or two. The low cost of living is a base incentive.

The 8200 block of North Broadway in the Baden neighborhood, 2006.
However, St. Louis needs more than a low cost of living and old buildings to draw businesses from larger cities. We need better urban planning policies to promote commercial districts by retaining storefront buildings and keeping out fast food, drug stores and other uses that break up urban streetscapes needed to draw shoppers. We need public sector investment in infrastructure like sidewalks, alleys and lighting. The business license fees and sales tax rates in the city are too high, especially on food and drink. Most of all, we need to break down the ward-by-ward differences in business and license policy with strict citywide standards that make sense to people from the outside world.

I’m not suggesting that a wave of would-be New Yorkers are coming. In fact, many of the small business owners we need to attract are those who chose Clayton, St. Charles or Belleville — or Memphis, Cleveland or Kansas City — over the city proper. The bottom line is that we have to create a city that not only has sensible small business policy but actively encourages small business to keep our neighborhood commercial districts thriving.

I would be very interested in comments from city small business owners.

Central West End Demolition Mid-Century Modern St. Louis Board of Aldermen

San Luis Plight Gets National Attention

by Michael R. Allen

The national publication The Architect’s Newspaper covers the San Luis Apartments demolition in its blog today. The coverage shows how the issue resonates on a national level, with its questions of preservation law, mid-century modern preservation and politics.

Amid reasonable quotes in the blog post, Alderwoman Lyda Krewson (D-28th) makes one error. (While I clearly have a major disagreement with the alderwoman here, I understand her perception of the political quandry of the matter and am not intending to attack her.) Krewson states that “it’s not a contributing building [in the Central West End Historic District]. Until recently, there was no outcry about the architectural wonders of this building.”

Actually, the building is indeed a contributing building in the Central West End Historic District. That local district was created by ordinance in 1974 and the ordinance does not exempt a single building from its standards. The standards laud modern buildings, expressly state that imitation-historic architecture should not be built in the district and require that parking be shielded by being placed behind or to the side of buildings and not visible from the street.

Krewson would be correct to point out that the San Luis is not noted as a contributing building in the 1979 certification of the district by the National Park Service. That certification, however, serves a different purpose than the local historic district: it defines which buildings are eligible for the use of state and federal tax credits tied to federal historic status. That’s it. Just because the San Luis, only 16 years old in 1979, was not considered contributing then does not exempt it from the provisions of a local law.

Also, the certification is out-dated and based on a 1979 rule of thumb. Why would the federal government permit the owner of a 16-year-old building to reap the benefit historic tax credits? The equation changes greatly when the same building becomes 46 years old and its architectural significance more clear across time. However, the local district ordinance (fundamentally a design ordinance) still applies.

I concur with Alderwoman Krewson that local preservationists should have been less reactionary on this issue, but why fault today’s crop for the inaction of a past generation? Additionally, the San Luis was hailed at the times of its construction, but that shall be the subject of another essay.