By. Chris Stritzel
The day has come that we all have been waiting for, the City of St. Louis has defaulted on Paul McKee's failed Northside Regeneration. It is a spectacular take down to the man who was once heralded as the savior of the Northside. A man who was heralded by Lacy Clay (D-MO 1st) just last week about helping save the Northside, "This is not the time to change course with a developer that secured the anchor federal facility, a grocery store in a food desert and a hospital in a medical care desert. All of us, SLDC included, should be lining up behind Paul McKee, not playing a dangerous game that could derail all that he has worked so hard to build for north St. Louis".
McKee's experiment, which began in 2002 with the assembly of and on the Northside and backed by the city in 2009, was full of lies and false promises to bring the Northside back and make it a destination that was stable and safe. The idea was hard not to like but the snail's pace that the project was driven at coupled with a gross amount of incompetence took the project and derailed it ultimately. Not to mention the fact McKee took advantage of the system to get more tax breaks and money for the project that never came. It was a disgusting show of greed by a man who helped develop Winghaven. It all seemed so perfect till the effects and lack of anything being done were felt.
Over the course of 9 years, McKee presented plans for a office building on North Tucker, redevelopment of the Tucker and Cass area, hundreds of new homes by the future NGA, preservation of existing buildings, the 22nd Street Interchange, "Life Works", Bottle District (with Clayco) "Healthworks Village" on the Pruitt Igoe site, a gas station and a grocery store. Only the gas station and the grocery store have begun construction. Pruitt Igoe was cleared of trees for Healthworks Village but nothing else seems to be happening there, yet Paul McKee and Lacy Clay believe he's done a ton for the Northside and the City of St. Louis when in reality, McKee has done nothing while neighboring neighborhoods develop themselves and come back slowly (Old North). Oh, and the NGA, McKee deserves NO CREDIT on that project, just because he owned the property doesn't mean he reaps the benefits.
GALLERY: McKee's Dreams
But as troubling news came out of Paul McKee's dealings (from earlier) the City grew fed up and passed a resolution unanimously removing his tax credits in late April. It was big victory then and I wrote story titled, "Paul McKee Screwed Over St. Louis. Now What?" I smacked him down in that story and stated, "The man has been given to many chances and, at some point, the City and Paul McKee need to part ways". That time for the City to part ways has finally come. After being scammed enough, the City announced it would Default with McKee over the Northside Regeneration development. They cited the lack of progress on the development and the dark use of tax money and credits to do whatever he wanted.
Even though the Default would have to be approved in court (as this would nullify the development agreement), victory has never been so close to touch on this project t those who have opposed McKee. It puzzles me how and why the City let McKee's agreement go on like this for so long when they knew that Northside Regeneration LLC was screwing over and hurting the City and, the already vulnerable, Northside. As the sun sets on North St. Louis and the City of St. Louis, a new era is ready to rise. The post McKee era could, and I expect it too, open up the flood gates for redevelopment projects on the Northside. The over 1500 acre swatch of land divided the Northside and it will be reunited as last (maybe).
The Northside has potential and with the biggest problem pushed out of the way, or at least is on the way out, that potential will be unlocked. The story of Paul McKee's failed development stops here on the planning board, but the controversies and set backs will forever live on as the worst deal the City has ever made. Paul McKee's Northside Regeneration LLC will not be missed to those who have opposed of it and who once supported it, but now regret supporting it. And if somehow the Northside Regeneration does happen, it will have a suburban vibe to it as the urban model may not work well in a project of this size and scale. But who am I to speculate on that?
Now, Paul McKee's land will not be acquired back by the City so maybe having the City cut ties with him will allow McKee to kick development into high gear. While I am not holding my breath, there is a part of me that still has hope that McKee will do something truly significant up on the Northside, but the civic government could very well be putting McKee under stress. Either way, I have reached out to all McKee affiliated companies to have a one on one with him to discuss the future of Northside Regeneration.