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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

McKee's Holdings Ready for Development

In a written statement sent to Riverfront Times reporter Kathleen McLaughlin, developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. remarked of his north side holdings, "what we do own, with a few unremarkable exceptions, is owned in small, undevelopable scattered sites."

McKee is wrong on several counts:

- The most desirable and sustainable development in any urban area is precisely done in small, scattered sites. Great cities are built through accumulation, not master planning -- the same goes for great redevelopment. McKee's 662+ parcels were each developable, or they never would have been surveyed and divided as parcels. These are not good sites for large buildings or homes with generous front lawns, but they are perfect for dense urban infill construction.

- With property values rising throughout the city, all property in the city is "developable" -- especially land as close to downtown as McKee's holdings are. Even what he owns now could lead to an extremely profitable develoment program.

- McKee owns dozens of historic buildings in the Murphy-Blair, Clemens House-Columbia Brewery and Mullanphy National Historic Districts -- many adjacent to rehabilitated buildings or soon-to-be rehabilitated buildings. Obviously, he's already eligible for an established and proven state development tax credit: the historic rehabilitation tax credit. His Paric Corporation can been seen all over the city serving as general contractor on numerous historic rehabilitation contracts utilizing the tax credit, and that company does good work. He could proceed with rehabilitating all of his holdings eligible for the state historic tax credit and make a huge and qualitative difference in north St. Louis.

- In Old North St. Louis and the eastern side of St. Louis Place, McKee's holdings fall among rehabbed buildings, maintained houses, businesses and new construction. Large-scale development is not only unfeasible in these areas, it's not needed. There already is development activity scattered in these areas. On some blocks, everything is in good repair except the holdings of McKee and the city's Land Reutilization Authority. Surely he can put together development projects on a small scale where they will make such a critical difference.

Overall, McKee's holdings are a remarkable development opportunity as-is. Rather than wait for big political deals to take shape, the developer is posed to start now on meaningful development based on community needs and sensitivity to the existing urban fabric. In fact, if he only rehabbed every building eligible for the state rehab tax credit the difference on the near north side would be clear. If that statement doesn't seem true, one need only look at the result of the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance's CONECT project on North Market and Monroe streets in Old North St. Louis. There, scattered rehabs using the state historic rehab tax credit and other existing financing mechanisms changed the character of some blocks from hopeless to hopeful. Simultaneous construction of new houses helped make the difference bigger. Some of these blocks are unrecognizable in their renewed states.

As such good changes take place, they spread -- fast. Private development is at an all-time high in Old North St. Louis. Within a few years, the 14th Street Mall will be reopened and dozens of historic buildings will be rehabilitated as part of that project. In short time, figuring out what to do with all of the vacant land in the neighborhood won't be a problem; the gaps will fill in. This won't happen in even ten years, but I'd be surprised if it takes more than thirty. Given the magnitude of the decline of the neighborhood, that is remarkably fast.

With careful planning, McKee could identify other potential historic districts among his holdings and carry that momentum westward into JeffVanderLou. That process seems to coincide with Mayor Slay's statement that historic preservation is part of what will happen in development of McKee's holdings.

The large scale on which McKee has operated is hardly visionary any more. We have watched decades of such projects fail. In the meantime, we have seen developers make bigger differences in reversing decay by tackling the city on a parcel-by-parcel basis -- the same way the city was first developed. McKee has the chance to do something unique by putting his resources and energy behind smarter urban development projects. No matter what happens, development of his parcels will take decades. Why not start now and work steadily doing something no other developer can do?

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

The challenge will be to align the vision described in your post with the vision of the developer.

The area may be ready to proceed with development according to the vision you've set forth, but what is McKee's vision?

Should McKee's vision matter? It's his project.

Anonymous said...

McKeetown has been an iceberg slowly looming off of the port of the near northside. The reaction of residents and local political leadership in suggesting that McKee was "raping" the community and that he wanted "total control" of the community is as obligatory and predictable as the mayor warning residents that if they don't play nice McKee would gather up his toys and go home. Well, at least we are well past the point where ignoring McKee or denying his holdings was a productive strategy. Only time will tell whether the "public" planning that is sure to come deals meaningfully with the sort of opportunities and constraints that Michael mentions, or simply parses off of the most desolate part of the 5th Ward as McKee's new playground.

Anonymous said...

OK, so why does he need the state tax credit and the city-owned land?

other news said...

Good idea at the end.
http://www.pubdef.net/2007/07/mckee-in-mexico-ledger.html

Jen G said...

I agree that McKee is in a unique position to do something great for St. Louis. He is also in a position to do great harm. If he would just adopt a development model for NSTL that coupled rehabilitation with infill, rather than wholesale clearance, in thirty years there would probably be a park named after him up there!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

What makes me so frustrated is that so many investors (like McKee) are seemingly well-intentioned, yet they are so misguided. I want to know SPECIFICALLY what plans are in store for the Blairmont properties. Why don't neighbors of these properties know what the plans are for their community? What I fear is that McKee will tear down these structures, many of which have legitimate historical significance, and in their place construct a suburban-style development vis-a-vis Winghaven. That would forever mar the city's potential and it would annhilate its competitive advantage: solid, affordable, viable homes for independent rehabbers to reclaim. Mr. McKee and his associates need to realize that they can't save neighborhoods by tearing them down. This is not a game of Monopoly. This is the past, present and future of real people's lives that they're dealing with. They must allow the North Side the opportunity to enjoy the same organic resurgence that has proven successful for other parts of the city.

Jeff said...

There are so many great examples of urban development done RIGHT. One only needs to look north to Chicago to see all the innovative infill projects that are occuring there. They are modern, URBAN, and they respect the context of the existing fabric. St. Louis seems way behind in terms of new development. We need to have HIGH STANDARDS for new development. It's an insult to the great architectural legacy of our city to bulldoze our greatest asset only to be replaced by exurban-model development such as WingHaven.

Andrew said...

Something that blows me away is the fact that Republican lawmakers and developers are trying to create 100 million dollar tax incentive for development in the city when the free market and existing tax credits have already proven to be an effective development model. Fiscal conservatives my ass.

caliope said...

i am seriously offended that one man stands to benefit at the expense of potentially great neighborhoods. these buildings should be renovated, not neglected. i personally know of many people including myself who would love the opportunity to take back these wonderful old homes. under blairmont, their fate is almost certain...demolition.

Rich said...

slum·lord /ˈslʌmˌlɔrd/
-noun-
Pronunciation: [sluhm-lawrd]

1. A landlord who owns slum buildings, esp. one who fails to maintain or improve the buildings and charges tenants exorbitant rents.

2. An owner of slum property, especially one that overcharges tenants and allows the property to deteriorate.

3. Blairmont Properties.

Antonym: Good corporate citizenship.

A multi-million-dollar tax credit for a slumlord? Can we say BACKWARDS!!!??!

Lindsey said...

Seeing as we can't do anything about McKee's owning his properties, bill passage or not, this kind of constructive criticism is absolutely the track that needs to be taken. The most dangerous thing that could happen would be for everyone opposed to McKee's potential WingHaven plans and his business/political tactics to dig their heels in and to keep screaming the same attacks. The situation is what it is, and we have to work with what he have. Which isn't to say that any potential illegal activities on McKee's part shouldn't be tracked down, or that his secretive and rather corrupt strategies shouldn't be blasted in the open for the public to see- he doesn't deserve any personal breaks. Or maybe he will if he takes the advice from those who actually understand cities to do something positive on the near north side. Until then, I have to say, he's about the most villianous character in the metropolitan area- now even county housewives are buzzing about what's going on up there and with even KMOX reporting on it, you can sure that a lot of people are going to have their mistrustful eyes on McKee to see what he'll do next. No matter how many of his friends write editorials to the Post defending his character, for those in the county even with the least amount of connectedness to the city, it's pretty clear that what McKee is doing is entirely wrong no matter what good deeds he's done in the past. And they're the ones with the money and the voting power that he depends on to get his boys elected.

rb said...

^good points there. My suburban-dwelling friends and family were pretty up in arms when they read about McKee's shady project too, which is good because it shows that people are paying attention from well outside the neighborhoods involved. That tells me that the implications of what does or doesn't happen in North St. Louis could have serious fallout all over metropolitan St. Louis. People don't like abuse of power in any form, especially when public information is supressed.

Anonymous said...

Anyone still thinking Paul McKee may build something urban need only turn to this recent quote of his to see he's obviously planning large-scale redevelopment.

Anonymous said...

I just heard St. Louis on the Air on KWMU and it was all about this very topic. I am encouraged that most of the listeners calling in are vehemently against the prospect of Paul McKee and his cronies succeeding with a large-scale redevelopment project in North St. Louis. I am so happy there are so many concerned people who will not let their neighborhoods be ruined by egocentric political muscle. Strongarmers beware! You have an uphill battle ahead!

B.B. said...

I had the same experience with people in the county knowing about Blairmont. At a bbq this past weekend a friend who lives in Ballwin brought it up and said that he thought the whole thing looked pretty shady. Come to think of it, an acquaintance in San Diego who watches STL from afar brough it up recently too. It is nice that people are really starting to take notice and the press has finally gotten involved.

Anonymous said...

It would be nicer if all these caring non-city residents moved into the city.

James said...

I was just thinking, everybody can agree that the North Side needs investment and re-development, but why should a single developer be handed this opportunity AND given a golden safety net? A tax credit for redeveloping North Stl should be available to anyone who has a legitimate plan. This includes individual homeowners, re-habbers, and developers. If this tax credit was made available to everyone, re-habbers would be crawling all over eachother to start working on the North Side. Why should McKee be the only one who is eligible?? Is it just because he is politically powerful and gives money and favors to legislators?

ccSTL said...

True that. The fact that Slay is all over this "plan" as if he even knows what the hell he's supporting. It's a farce. This should be an open process and an RFP should be issued for the project.

Anonymous said...

Check it out

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/shitty_neighborhood_rallies

chris said...

Nice, Gov. Blunt just vetoed the McKee 100 million dollar tax credit. Awesome and very surprising as I thought Blunt was on the take from just about anyone who had $$$.

Anonymous said...

April Ford Griffin lobbied the governor to veto the bill. She wants the people in her ward to have a voice in the planning process.