Mayor Slay Missouri Legislature Northside Regeneration

Look in the Mirror

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday, Mayor Francis Slay endorsed the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act in the State of the City address. What do we do today?

First introduced in February, the legislative proposal is just over two months old. In two months, a lot can be done. People can identify problematic legislation, lobby for amendments and work to secure major changes — or defeat. Obviously, though, people working alone or in small groups do not effect such changes. People need lobbies or organizations to catch the attention of elected officials.

With the Distressed Areas tax credit, a whole host of issues was raised. Land use, displacement of low-income owners and renters, historic preservation and the use of government to benefit single developers all came up. There are numerous advocacy groups doing work in these areas, but none took the tax credit proposal or Paul McKee’s north side project seriously enough to invest in a formal position.

Here we see the inherent inaction in the local political culture. Rather than risk losing a political fight, the guardians of the establishment would rather resign themselves to fatalism than make a decent effort to invest in an issue. Fatalism, after all, is intellectually respectful (and profoundly lazy). No one ever lost a bet by promising to do nothing.

Clearly, the location of McKee’s project enables the culture of complacency. The middle and upper classes of the region have long forsaken north St. Louis, or outright supported its annihilation. This attitude has enabled decades of decline then blamed upon stereotypical poor and African-American people willing to hold neglected areas together. These same classes control the organizations that could have provided a voice on the tax credit issue. The apathy is thus not surprising.

Those who have participated in organizations before who might recognize the urgency of the tax credit issue are elsewhere. Leadership in St. Louis is unsustainable, and new voices are quickly recuperated into the morass of complacent inaction or rejected outright. Those who are new to the game find little guidance and support and much cynicism here.

Meanwhile, the failure of political leadership leads to neighborhoods left undefended, people left without advocates, buildings left wrecked and a city ultimately cast into middling status by default. We can blame Mayor Slay or Lewis Reed for bringing us down all we want, but their victories are symptomatic of a culture of apathy everyone seems to cultivate. They are easy scapegoats for the self-righteous, and ascribing to them and their minions unlimited powers helps us feel better about not taking responsibility or aiding our friends who are trying desperately to create change.

If the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act is an inevitable legislative proposal, that means that we have taken the last two months and wasted opportunities to form a coalition to change the proposal into one more appropriate to St. Louis. Of course, accepting the inevitability of the proposal still does not excuse further inaction. However, from the Century Building battle on back to the Gateway Mall we see a string of isolated instances of activism where the leadership on the issues withered away and critical mass was fleeting. The irony is that these battles have reinforced the point that sustainable long-term vision and strong organization is needed to even get a seat at the decision-making table, let alone change the discourse of the establishment so our ideas are truly considered.

What do we do today? A better question may be what can we do? The need to create sustainable organizations related to urban development issues is crucial. The need to foster progressive political leadership is essential. Are these things within our grasp? Do we want them to be?

Mayor Slay Missouri Legislature Northside Regeneration

Mayor Slay Supports Landbanking Tax Credit, Other Incentives

From the State of the City speech by Mayor Francis Slay:

I strongly believe that we have to be prepared to provide incentives to spur development in our more challenging neighborhoods. If the private sector was going to invest in those neighborhoods without assistance, it already would have done so. We must find ways to jump start that development.

There are three specific ideas that, working together, will do just that.

First, I have made passage of state legislation to establish a tax credit to assemble land for new development in low-income neighborhoods one of our highest legislative priorities.

Such a credit would make it much more likely that neighborhoods that cannot attract new investment on their own will see the same new life that trendier neighborhoods are already enjoying.

Second, we have set aside nearly $2-million dollars in Community Development Block Grant funds to spur neighborhood development in challenged neighborhoods in north St. Louis. Now that elections are over and all of you are firmly seated, Barb [Geisman] will be working with you to see that these funds are put towards uses that have long-term impact.

Third, I intend to work with you and President Reed to continue to use tax increment financing to attract private investment to those City neighborhoods where it is most needed and where TIF will work. And he and I will oppose any blanket policy that seeks to ban or restrict residential TIFs.

Mayor Slay Missouri Legislature Northside Regeneration

Mayor’s Campaign Website Polling on Landbanking Tax Credit

by Michael R. Allen

The Mayor Francis Slay’s campaign website now features a “mini poll” on the current session of the Missouri legislature. One of the questions is interesting:

A bill being considered in the Missouri legislature would establish a tax credit to assemble large tracts of land for new development in low-income City neighborhoods. Is this a good idea?

Here are the choices for answers:

_ Yes, spurring large-scale development in City neighborhoods that have seen years of disinvestment is a good idea
_ No, the tax credit idea is fine, but the scale of the new development worries me
_ No, it’s just wrong to use public incentives to encourage private development

See it for yourself here. Perhaps the mayor’s stance will be influenced by the result of the mini poll.

Missouri Legislature Northside Regeneration

Another Bill Containing Landbanking Tax Credit Now In Joint Conference

Meet HB 327, which “modifies provisions of certain Department of Economic Development programs.”

This is yet another Missouri legislature bill in which one finds the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit. When in doubt, place your language in as many bills as possible — especially those that other people want for less controversial reasons. The difference is that this bill has proceeded to joint conference today, and has seen a lot of action in the Senate and House, making it the most likely avenue of passage for the large-scale landbanking tax credit.

St. Louisans on the joint committee are Sen. Harry Kennedy and Rep. Fred Kratky.

More later.

Missouri Legislature North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Bill With Landbanking Credit Provision Moves Forward in State Senate

by Michael R. Allen

Today in the Missouri Senate, SB 282 (Now described as “Modifies provisions of certain Department of Economic Development Programs”; formerly the Quality Jobs Act) was placed on the informal calendar for perfection. The bill includes the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, the program backed by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and reportedly sought by developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. that would provide tax credits for land assembly projects of 75 acres or greater.

Proponents of the land assemblage credits have cited north St. Louis as a good place for its use. Residents of north St. Louis and urban design critics have voiced opposition based on the effect that large-scale programs would have on disruption of architectural fabric and displacement of residential populations as well as the secrecy associated with the bill and its support from the office of Mayor Francis Slay. Through chief of staff Jeff Rainford, Slay has indicated support for the bill although he refuses to make public statements on the controversial “Blairmont” acquisition project Paul J. McKee began in 2003 in north St. Louis — and publicly denied until this year — long before the tax credits were proposed. Residents of Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou have long complained about the neglect of property, questionable tactics of real estate agents and negative impact on revitalization the “Blairmont” project has created. Furthermore, the City Counselor’s office is currently investigating the code violations associated with the over 637 properties acquired by McKee’s companies in north St. Louis.

While McKee created and implemented the “Blairmont” project, the tax credit law could encourage similar attempts to amass property in north St. Louis. As McKee’s project shows, such attempts are messy and potentially could discourage people from wanting to live in targeted areas during long acquisition phases.

The Senate could consider making the bill more appropriate for use in urban areas by
– limiting the size of eligible projects to a maximum of forty acres
– inserting stricter limits on acquisition of owner-occupied units
– reducing the amount of credits that can be applied to occupied housing units purchased for projects
– requiring that eligible parcels are up to local codes
– prohibiting use of the credits on liens and bills for maintenance from local government
– requiring projects pursue historic preservation planning

You can contact the St. Louis senators and offer your views on the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act. (Senator Maida Coleman represents the area where McKee’s companies have acquired property.) When the bill is on the floor of the full senate, any senator can offer an amendment — and vote against the bill. Senator Smith’s commentary on the bill, “How to Turn a Bill Into a Christmas Tree,” suggests that he might oppose the final version.

St. Louis Senators’ Contact Information

Sen. Maida Coleman (D-5th)
(573) 751-2606
(314) 535-5999

Sen. Harry Kennedy (D-1st)
(573) 751-2126
(314) 481-5857

Sen. Jeff Smith (D-4th)
(573) 751-3599
(314) 361-4333

Missouri Legislature North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Landbanking Bill Also Pending in the House

by Michael R. Allen

Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton is the sponsor of HB 991, the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act. The bill is identical the Senate Committee Substitute section of the same name in SB 282 introduced Senator John Griesheimer (R-26th). The bill has been scheduled for a hearing by the House Special Committee on Job Creation and Economic Development. (SB 282 awaits a vote by the full Seanate.)

Read the full text here.

Recall that the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act creates a $100 million tax credit program for redevelopment projects of at least 75 acres in federally-certified distressed areas, administered by the Missouri Department of Economic Development. The program was first proposed in February by Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, who stated to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that sections of north St. Louis resembled Berlin after Word War II and needed such a credit for urgent revitalization. Both Kinder and Griesheimer have admitted that developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. wants to use the credit in conjunction with his controversial north St. Louis project commonly known by the name “Blairmont.”

As with the senate version, the credits are available to any applicant who is appointed redeveloper by a municipal authority or any applicant who has already incurred expenses and assembled parcels meeting the requirements of the bill. McKee almost definitely would qualify for the credits even if St. Louis city government does not appoint him redeveloper of the area in the St. Louis Place, Old North St. Louis and JeffVanderLou neighborhoods where he owns at least 637 parcels through holding companies. Also note that the tax credit application does not require any redevelopment plan beyond site assembly, meaning that even if a parcel remains vacant in ten years an applicant will be able to get the tax credit up front.

Among the co-sponsors of HB 991 is Representatives Rodney Hubbard (D-58th), whose district includes most of McKee’s holdings. Other city Representatives listed as co-sponsors are Thomas Villa (D-108th), Connie Johnson (D-61st), Robin Wright-Jones (D-63rd), Rachel Storch (D-64th), Fred Kratky (D-65th), and T.D. El-Amin (D-57th). Kratky and Hubbard are the only St. Louis representatives on the Special Committee on Job Creation and Economic Development.

Four city representatives are not co-sponsors: Jamilah Nasheed (D-60th), whose district includes the remainder of McKee’s holdings, Jeanette Mott-Oxford (D-59th), Mike Daus (D-67th) and Michael Vogt (D-66th).

Contact information for state representatives can be found here.

Mayor Slay Missouri Legislature North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Post-Dispatch Breaks Details of Kinder Proposal Through Editorial

by Michael R. Allen

A Kinder tax breakSt. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 17, 2007

Read today’s editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch if you want your heart broken. Decades of progress on the near north side are threatened by a proposal that does not prohibit the use of eminent domain, even in rehabbed areas like Old North St. Louis.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, posing as some sort of urban hero, and Mayor Francis Slay have not once addressed letters, phone calls or emails from residents or community leaders afraid of the impending attack on the near north side’s fabric. Yet they find the time to let the editorial board know they support a policy proposal designed to benefit one developer that has not been reviewed by St. Louis city planning officials, neighborhood organizations or St. Louis legislators.

Here we see that our region’s lack of leadership on development issues is staggering. As painful as it is to admit, the only “leader” here is Paul J. McKee, Jr., who assembled the land on his own according to a very well-developed plan. After ignoring citizen complaints and growing media coverage of the debilitating effects of McKee’s plan, Slay now quietly jumps on board for this tax credit proposal. Republican Kinder has watched his party attack the poor and urban residents of the state without helping, but now acts as if he is enacting a grand gesture that is in fact a reactionary proposal.

Meanwhile, McKee’s companies are still acquiring properties at a fast pace and phony eminent domain letters are circulating in some parts of St. Louis Place, although the source is unknown. The near north side is wounded and suffering, and the leadership needed to heal those wounds is hard to find. Even if such leadership emerged, the Kinder proposal is a blueprint for unending pain and community-busting.

Here is a challenge: Lt. Gov. Kinder and Mayor Slay should come meet with residents of the near north side in a public forum to hear their concerns, fears and hopes. So far, these leaders have not countered the rhetoric of this being a “unpopulated area” nor have they responded to the citizens whose lives they affect. What we on the near north side assume as a result is that we do not matter to them as constituents, and our removal is their end goal. After all, not once has the full text of Kinder’s proposal circulated around here where it will have its biggest impact. Not one letter has been answered. Not one statement has come from these men that shows respect for the largely poor, African-American near north side population.

Our assumption may be unfair, but we will never know without communication.

Mayor Slay Missouri Legislature Northside Regeneration

Landbanking Amendment Sails Through Senate Committee

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday, amid the local smokescreen of “land trust”, the Griesheimer amendment to the Quality Jobs Act (SB 282) unanimously passed the Economic Development, Tourism & Local Government Committee of the Missouri Senate.

Here is the available summary (full text has not been publicly released):

This act creates the distressed areas land assemblage tax credit program, administered by the department of economic development. Tax credits issued under the distressed area land assemblage tax credit act, are non-refundable, fully transferrable [sic] income, corporate franchise, and financial institutions, tax credits. Tax credits issued under the act will be equal to fifty percent of the acquisition costs for the land, and one hundred percent of the interest costs. The tax credit program is capped at one hundred million dollars and the total amount of tax credits issued annually is limited to twelve million dollars.

Numerous St. Louis citizens sent letters and made phone calls urging senators to delay the vote until there could be more local discussion, especially in the areas of north St. Louis currently affected by the “Sheridan Place” (or “Blairmont”) land acquisition project Sen. John Griesheimer used to justify the new credits.

As far as this writer knows, the only reply came from the office of Sen. Wes Shoemyer (D-18th), who inserted a citizen letter in the floor book for the bill. The St. Louis delegation was unusually silent on this very local matter.

Comments in the press from Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Mayoral Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford made no mention of the hurry to pass this bill and the lack of citizen input, or the silence of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay in the face of impending physical and social upheaval hitting the near northside of his city.

Mayor Slay Missouri Legislature Northside Regeneration

"Land Trust" Discussions Should Cover All of the Facts

by Michael R. Allen

Expect much discussion of the near northside and “land trust” development in the next few weeks. This discussion could draw attention to the failure of our city’s current charter to handle large-scale redevelopment in a responsible and compelling manner. The discussion might point to the wonderful development opportunities inherent in vacant land. The discussion could lead to a plan for action acceptable to many parties.

However, don’t be sidetracked to the point that the facts become overwhelmed by rhetoric:

– This is a discussion started by the news that in the last four years Paul J. McKee, Jr. has accumulated over 400 parcels in a concentrated section of north St. Louis.

– Many of the properties of the project are in violation of city ordinances.

– The city of St. Louis fronted thousands of dollars to board up, demolish and otherwise maintain property owned by McKee. While the fees are reimbursed, due diligence for maintenance and security have been lacking.

– The agents working on the acquisition project utilized secretive and questionable means, did not conduct due diligence in answering concerns from neighboring property owners and did not disclose the name of the actually responsible parties to community leaders and property owners.

– The property acquisition has included multiple cases where properties sought by other developers were purchased — including properties in known redevelopment areas.

– City officials have not yet responded to concerns of citizens and community leaders who have asked “why has this been allowed to happen?”

– Hundreds of mostly poor African-American residents have been relocated from Old North St. Louis, JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place. (Some of this may have been inevitable, given housing conditions under prior owners.)

– Historic properties like the James Clemens, Jr. House (in danger of roof collapse) and the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings (under demolition) have been allowed to deteriorate under this project.

– No legal policy directed the purchase of these properties.

Obviously, the language used by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and mayoral chief of staff Jeff Rainford in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch article is encouraging as far as development of the Griesheimer amendment is concerned.

As far as dealing with “Blairmont,” that work has yet to be done. McKee’s ambitious project may turn out to be a mixed blessing from which good can come. Hopefully a full discussion of developing a “land trust” will include the facts of record in the “Blairmont” matter. Only then can everyone work together to create sensible policy for the near northside and for large-scale land acquisition.

Mayor Slay Missouri Legislature North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

"Land Trust" Idea Gaining Support

Tax credits could revive land trusts – David Nicklaus (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 14)

Kinder says the tax credits won’t work for a developer who wants to displace residents. No more than 5 percent of the acreage in a targeted area can consist of owner-occupied homes, and Kinder said he’s willing to consider language that will protect renters, too.

Jeff Rainford, Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff, says he’s excited about the proposal. “This would be a bold stroke,” he said. “We are cobbling together a lot of cool stuff in this city already. This would allow for something really innovative and imaginative and comprehensive.”

One immediate question:

Does “innovative and imaginative and comprehensive” include Paul McKee’s plans for the near north side?