Several large developers, including companies associated with McEagle’s Paul McKee, have spent the past several years acquiring vacant properties in north St. Louis. Together, they have invested tens of millions of private dollars, and control hundreds of properties. They envision neighborhoods where people can work, shop, play, and pray close to home. They hope to revitalize the area and create good jobs.
These private holdings in north St. Louis, however, are dwarfed by those of the City itself. For decades, City agencies have acquired, by default, titles to properties abandoned by their previous owners. Over these years, the City - always with the support of the alderman in whose ward they were located - has sold or given away some of the properties from that inventory to neighbors, developers, churches, businesses with plans for them. During all that time, the supply of abandoned properties has greatly exceeded the demand for them - so, the City remains the largest single title holder in many north St. Louis neighborhoods.
It is unlikely (read: impossible) that any large-scale private project in these neighborhoods can succeed without the inclusion of at least some of the properties owned by the City. That reality is the largely unremarked issue in most of the accounts of the acquisitions by McKee, et al. To date, they have not been sold a single property held by a City agency. Such a sale can only be done by ordinance and with the approval of the Board of Estimate. That is a very public process.
I strongly support new investment in north St. Louis. The problems and challenges in north St. Louis were created by private disinvestment, (which is why there are so many abandoned properties.) They can only be addressed by private investment.
A billion dollars or so of public and private investments have been made in north St. Louis in the past several years. Even so, some people believe that enormous amount of money has only made a dent in the problem. That belief certainly demonstrates the size of the challenges facing developers-- no matter how far reaching their vision might be. It also demonstrates why it is in everyone’s interest - especially the people who live in or near these neighborhoods - that these private developers be successful.