On Tuesday the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a ruling by a Libertarian judge who went against procedure to block $390 million in tax increment financing (TIF) that the City of St. Louis awarded to a developer with plans to transform 1,500 acres of North St. Louis. The redevelopment agreement and the TIF funding were just restored after almost three years of paralysis. So there was jubilation in the city, and especially on the North Side, right?
Not so much. The developer, Paul McKee Jr., was understandably pleased, as were his deal partners in the Mayor’s Office. But McKee’s many enemies – many of whom care deeply about the very neighborhoods that stand to benefit from the new investment – went back to grinding their axes against him, claiming he is a fraud and a privateer.
Their fear is understandable, given who McKee has had to deal with. Few who care about North St. Louis credit Mayor Francis G. Slay as acting in the best interests of the North Side, but McKee has had to deal with the mayor to get his deal done. Many are skeptical about the intentions of Rodney Hubbard, but when McKee was developing his project Hubbard was both a state legislator with close ties to Republicans who steered legislation in Jefferson City and the son of the most powerful political family in McKee’s redevelopment area. In many ways it would have been stupid for McKee not to have worked with Hubbard.
In short, McKee has done business with the people he had to do business with to get his project done here, now. You don’t enter into a redevelopment agreement with the partners you wish you had, but with the partners you need to have to get the deal done. The community might say the same about McKee at this point. We might wish it were an African American from the city who had the vision, bought the land, obtained the tax incentives from the state and city, bought some more land and set about to transform the near North Side. But it wasn’t. It was a white man based in St. Charles whose development projects have been exurban (Winghaven) and suburban (North Park). For many, this is the wrong mayor, the wrong North Side power broker and the wrong developer. But they are the ones we have.
As the young 24th Ward Alderman Scott Ogilvie has said, “Paul McKee’s problems are our problems,” because North St. Louis’ problems are St. Louis’ problems, and McKee has invested so substantially in this problematic terrain that he is going to be a part of the solution – or a part of the problem. We think the energy that has been devoted to defeating McKee should now be devoted to working with him – with the caveat that he must include the community in his decision-making process, include African Americans on his executive team and make sure workforce and contracting in his redevelopment area are inclusive and representative of the neighborhoods where the work is being done.
If anyone is waiting for Superman, he is not expected anytime soon. In the meantime, Paul McKee Jr. owns the better part of 1,500 acres on the near North Side and hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent to improve its infrastructure. Now is not the time to file useless lawsuits or post hateful screeds. Now is the time to get involved.