There is a story on the front page of the local newspaper about substantial investment in some neighborhoods of north St. Louis by Paul McKee, developer of WingHaven and other local projects. Maybe you read it?
The story, by political writer/blogger Jake Wagman, is a thin web of half-facts, rumors, and tenuous connections that would have benefited from better editing and less careless reporting. It does, however, contain a large, colorful map, which will be useful to readers who are unfamiliar with north St. Louis.
I am a great admirer of Paul McKee. He has been active in local community projects for years. His development and construction companies have accomplished good things in several City neighborhoods, including the Downtown loft district. He is a generous donor of time and money to a range of civic enterprises. He is a mainstay of several Catholic charities. In fact, until he decided to spend money acquiring privately owned vacant lots and empty buildings in north St. Louis, he has been either feted or unnoticed. For whatever reason, this particular good deed has earned him the enmity of the local newspaper.
I don’t know in any detail what Paul has in mind for the properties he has acquired so far — but, I do know that he is buying properties that no one else has even looked at in decades. The work already accomplished by others in north St. Louis is undoubted and important. But it has been slow, rather than fast, and thousands of vacant lots and buildings still dot the landscape.
Paul has spoken in general terms of building new homes and schools, adding green space, attracting new businesses, and restoring historic properties. Whatever he does with his properties will end up being subject to a battery of commission and legislative approvals, and a forest of hearings and meetings. If he is able to use a new state tax credit program designed to stimulate investment in the state’s poorest areas, he will have to agree not to use eminent domain to acquire properties; not to displace most current residents; and to build on a scale that will change the area’s character quickly, rather than over decades.
No project in north St. Louis, no matter how significant, will be able to treat current residents or employers unfairly. No property owner, no matter how substantial his holdings, will be immune to the City’s regulations. And should there ever be a redevelopment plan for the area, current stakeholders must be included in the process.
If you do read the newspaper’s story, ask yourself these questions: If Paul McKee is chased away, who will invest in north St. Louis on a large scale? Who will do something today with the thousands of vacant lots and buildings there? And, finally, ask yourself why developers would ever do anything in the most challenging neighborhoods of the City, when they could more easily invest their money in other neighborhoods or the suburbs and exurbs if this "coverage" is what they get?