According to recent articles in both the St. Louis Business Journal and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, developers McCormack Baron Salazar may seek the new Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit for the massive Chouteau Lake and Greenway project that they have contemplated for nearly a decade. This possibility is based on the fact that the state Department of Economic Development considers the entire city of St. Louis a distressed area under the legal definition of the tax credit act. Thus, any project in the city that meets the tax credit’s other requirements could qualify.
This probably isn’t what the authors of the tax credit had in mind, but the use would not be a bad thing. After all, the connection between the south side and downtown historically has been weak due to the railyards and Mill Creek before that. While rail lines are important and could see greater use in future times, the visual and physical barrier along the southern edge of downtown is detrimental. On one side, we have downtown and its burgeoning vitality. On the other side, the strong historic neighborhoods of the near south side. Between, we have the rail yards, the anti-urban campuses of AmerernUE and Ralston Purina and countless marginal uses. Making connections across this expanse will be a huge and visionary undertaking.
According to Richard Baron of the firm, he and his partners already control 23 acres in the project area. The tax credit would allow them to acquire more. Their project is unlikely to involve any residential relocation at all, although it may eventually include eminent domain.
While perhaps not the most pressing need for urban development, the Chouteau Lake project could be very good for the city. The details need full and open discussion. That discussion would benefit from the participation of developer Paul J. McKee, Jr., who has big plans for the northern edge of downtown. Unlike Baron, McKee has not published any rendering or discussed many details of his project. McKee has stated that he wants to use the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit in north city. In fact, his attorney Steve Stone is credited with writing the first version of the tax credit act.
These two large projects on the edges of downtown could unite the central city to its neighborhoods. The Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit could enable wonderful urban-scaled projects that resolve big, old problems in the city — or it could enable years of neighborhood fear, deferred dreams and unfulfilled promises. Baron and McKee need to engage the public, each other, city planners and neighborhood leaders so that we don’t let two good opportunities turn into huge failures.