Expect much discussion of the near northside and "land trust" development in the next few weeks. This discussion could draw attention to the failure of our city's current charter to handle large-scale redevelopment in a responsible and compelling manner. The discussion might point to the wonderful development opportunities inherent in vacant land. The discussion could lead to a plan for action acceptable to many parties.
However, don't be sidetracked to the point that the facts become overwhelmed by rhetoric:
- This is a discussion started by the news that in the last four years Paul J. McKee, Jr. has accumulated over 400 parcels in a concentrated section of north St. Louis.
- Many of the properties of the project are in violation of city ordinances.
- The city of St. Louis fronted thousands of dollars to board up, demolish and otherwise maintain property owned by McKee. While the fees are reimbursed, due diligence for maintenance and security have been lacking.
- The agents working on the acquisition project utilized secretive and questionable means, did not conduct due diligence in answering concerns from neighboring property owners and did not disclose the name of the actually responsible parties to community leaders and property owners.
- The property acquisition has included multiple cases where properties sought by other developers were purchased -- including properties in known redevelopment areas.
- City officials have not yet responded to concerns of citizens and community leaders who have asked "why has this been allowed to happen?"
- Hundreds of mostly poor African-American residents have been relocated from Old North St. Louis, JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place. (Some of this may have been inevitable, given housing conditions under prior owners.)
- Historic properties like the James Clemens, Jr. House (in danger of roof collapse) and the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings (under demolition) have been allowed to deteriorate under this project.
- No legal policy directed the purchase of these properties.
Obviously, the language used by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and mayoral chief of staff Jeff Rainford in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch article is encouraging as far as development of the Griesheimer amendment is concerned.
As far as dealing with "Blairmont," that work has yet to be done. McKee's ambitious project may turn out to be a mixed blessing from which good can come. Hopefully a full discussion of developing a "land trust" will include the facts of record in the "Blairmont" matter. Only then can everyone work together to create sensible policy for the near northside and for large-scale land acquisition.