by Michael R. Allen
On Thursday, the St. Louis American published pro and con opinion pieces on the NorthSide project in its business section. The American has generally offered positive editorial encouragement, so this is a welcome and useful move on the paper’s part. The pro-NorthSide piece by Demetrious Johnson again is indicative of the wide swath of support that McEagle is building in the African-American community that opponents cannot ignore. The anti-NorthSide — or at least skeptical — piece by accountant Keith Marquard analyzes the first draft of the developer’s tax increment financing application and finds it lacking. I hope that opposition sticks to careful, fact-based analysis like this in the weeks ahead.
An article in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Tim Logan, “Selling NorthSide: Slowly, steadily, McKee pitches plan to the neighborhood he wants to remake” (link to expire because the paper takes content down quickly), draws the focus onto McEagle’s outreach in north St. Louis. The article makes it clear that the developer — personified through Paul J. McKee, Jr. even though a corporation is the actual developer — lacks widespread support or opposition. The supporters quoted still have doubts and questions, and the opponents seem to support the general idea of developing the wide swath of north St. Louis while concerned with eminent domain.
The Post article corresponds well with the tone that I encounter in the affected neighborhoods — lots of skepticism, some support and some outright unbending opposition. Everyone wants better communication and more effective leadership from the aldermen and the mayor’s office. Few people seem opposed to the vision laid out by McEagle, just key details. Some who support much of the plan doubt the developer’s capacity amid a tough real estate economy, news of a foreclosure against McEagle at NorthPark and the scale of the plan.
The picture emerging in early September makes it extremely clear that the NorthSide project is most controversial in part, not in whole, and that the time is here for strong public-side leadership to shape and constrain the project. At this stage, the project is still a vision, and there are no redevelopment bills pending at the Board of Aldermen. It’s easy to change a bill before it is written — if public demand is clear and elected officials are ready to take the lead.