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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

McKee May Appear at Metropolitan Congregations United Meeting at Holy Trinity Church

Developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. may speak about his acquisitions in north St. Louis in public next Thursday, October 25 at Holy Trinity Church in Hyde Park. McKee is an invited guest to the next regular public meeting of Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU), the interdenominational Christian alliance formed to promote social justice and high quality of life for the region's urban core. According to MCU members, if he appears, McKee will state his agreement to a number of conditions MCU has set for their endorsement of his plans for north St. Louis.

While McKee's willingness to make a public appearance is laudable -- and some might say is an appropriate response to recent criticism of his silence -- the fact is that the meeting is not a public forum intended to expose affected north side residents to the developers whose plans have altered their neighborhoods.

Given the format of MCU's public meetings, a reasonable expectation is that McKee will make a brief statement of his intention and why he needs MCU support. A representative from MCU will list their conditions for support, which had been agreed upon by McKee and MCU prior to the meeting. McKee will state that he will abide by the four standard MCU conditions for supporting development: respect for urban character, not displacing people, affordable housing, and community participation.

Hence, the format does not allow McKee to present any substantial information. He will not be taking questions, or listening to comments. The audience will be composed mostly of MCU members, with a smattering of any near north side residents who manage to learn about the event and bother to attend. Residents whose homes are within McKee's project area had a greater chance for engagement at the public meeting hosted by elected officials on August 30 at Vashon High School. McKee is not coming to the north side to address residents; he is coming to symbolically accept the political support of the influential MCU. Residents of north St. Louis will have to keep waiting for a meeting with McKee that is truly public.

In the meantime, perhaps MCU can consider the message sent by endorsing plans with details are unknown to the residents of the areas the plans affected; with an acquisition program fraught with allegations of fraud and deception; that has created nuisance properties on healthy blocks, driven down property values and led to displacement of poor residents; and that has created a climate of uncertainty and resignation in an area showing strong signs of revival. Does it not bother MCU leaders to endorse a development plan long before people affected by it eren know what it is?

MCU missed the chance to hold out their endorsement until McKee gave affected residents a chance for real dialog. Instead, MCU is stepping over residents of Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou. Hopefully McKee won't do the same, and will meet directly with residents.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Old North St Louis is hardly a part of McKee's plans.

Anonymous said...

^Sure, maybe ONSL is safe like Lafayette Square. But just as Gateway District has become mostly a mess across South Jefferson, one can only imagine the looks of a WingHaven west of North Florissant.

JFK said...

First Anonymous:

How do you know?

Why does McKee own so many buildings and lots in ONSL?

Anonymous said...

To second anonymous: What is Gateway District? What's "mostly a mess" about it?

To JFK: How can you tell McKee's plans hardly include ONSL?

All you have to do is look at EOA's maps of McKee's holdings.

The vast bulk of what he has acquired is west of North Florissant, in areas where there is hardly any organized neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

that is the point. The best communication that McKee can make is the footprint of his plan. In fact, most of the conditions that MCU has asked McKee to sign on to are meaningless. What most people in the area want is to know whether they are in or out. Sadly, MCU is taking on steps to provide this sort of information. At a minimum, this should be the condition before even talking to McKee.

Anonymous said...

It is presumptuous on the part of MCU to be providing a forum for McKee and having meetings with him as a representative of the community without first having the community on board as part of the MCU coalition.

They are free to convene any meeting they like, however, it seems they have failed to do their homework in engaging this situation.

However, from the words of Fr. Creason in the RFT blog column, it sounds like this is an intentional act.

Are we seeing "guerrila activism" by McKee and MCU?

Their plan is obviously aimed at seizing the public's attention, no matter how briefly.

Chris said...

I don't want to steal "Anonymous #2's" thunder, but the Gate District is a swath of land west of Jefferson Ave and the Lafayette Square neighborhood between 40 and 44. The "Gate" part of the name comes from the series of different looking gates that anchor various parts of the "District." The housing is mainly from the 1980's, with a small smattering of older, historic homes. I believe back 20 years ago, it was an attempt at urban renewal.

I would have to agree that the Gate District is a sorry excuse for a neighborhood: suburban style, cheap materials, and a general lack of any sense of place.

The Gate District could very well serve as an archetype/model for what McKee is planning for the Near North Side.

Anonymous said...

The formula for the Gate District, designed by famed urban designer Andre Duany, was to introduce affordable housing to reestablish the market in an area where the market had bottomed out.

Implementation of the plan was supported by a local community based organization, a long time Buder area resident named, Laverne Foster, and then supported by SLACO in partnership with CF Vatterott.

CF Vatterott and SLACO formed a for-profit partnership and built about 100 affordable homes. These homes sold in the early '90s in the $80,000 range. They paved the way for other developers to enter the market.

These other developers, including Pyramid in its pre-downtown days, built market rate housing in the high $100,000 to mid $200,000 range. Later still, SLACO and Vatterott built their own market rate housing.

Today, there are active neighborhood groups serving the residents of the area.

The population has been restored, working families fill the area, many more households are contributing to the tax base and the overall vitality of the city.

Yup, that sure sounds like a dismal failure, doesn't it?

Chris said...

The Gate District might be a nice place to live now, but from a preservationist's viewpoint, it represents the height of failure: the wholesale clearance of an entire neighborhood of most of its historic structures.

I just looked at some of the MLS listings for the Gate District; many new houses are now going for $300K+. Will this neighborhood still be mixed income in ten years?

Likewise, there is very little commercial development in this area, which Andre Duany would argue is a necessary component of a healthy neighborhood.

I like some of the newer architecture in the Gate District, but I have to ask, what did we lose so many years ago amongst the vacant lots?

Anonymous said...

The Gate District is bounded by commercial corridors, including S. Jefferson, Chouteau, and S. Grand.

What was lost was lost years before the Duany planning even began.

LaVerne Foster lived through the years of abandonment and neglect. She survived the decay, and worked to set the vision for the renewal.

In terms of diverse housing opportunities, the original Buder Place homes would still qualify as moderate housing, while the Eads Park and St. Vincent projects are more middle and upper middle income housing.

In addition, there is a signficant amount of rental housing, including low income elderly and family housing in the area, some supported by Section 8 rental subsidies.

To look at the Gate District today and call it a failure is to insult the work of LaVerne Foster and her volunteer supporters over the years who worked together to bring the area back from the void.

Incidentally, look at the area closely today, and what do you see? The ubiquitous double headed eagle of the Gills investment group. The birds are painted over the boards of many historic 2 and 4 family buildings near the SLU medical complex.

Seeings how private investors have now returned to the area and are rehabbing these buildings, without historic tax credits, is a testament to the vision and hard work of many community development partners over the years.

Think of the history over the last twenty five years...from Laverne Foster to Andres Duany to SLACO to Vatterott to the Gills.

M said...

Sorry, but a neighborhood such as this with little to no commercial or office activity is indeed a failure in the sense of creating a neighborhood. Yes, there are plenty of residential homes that have sold and are occupied, but a single use neighborhood such as this will never survive the test of time and become a good, true neighborhood. Everyone has to get into their car to do pretty much anything. That is not good for a city, especially St. Louis.

Anonymous said...

Couple of comments...

In reply to Chris:

"The Gate District might be a nice place to live now, but from a preservationist's viewpoint, it represents the height of failure: the wholesale clearance of an entire neighborhood of most of its historic structures."

Bringing up the "preservationist's view" when preservationists did squat to preserve the original building stock in the old Buder area demonstrates what? Maybe preservationists didn't care, were irrelevant, or "preservation" wasn't even on the table of priorities when the neighborhood went down the tubes through the 60s and 70s.

Citing a failure because there wasn't an emphasis on preservation at the time seems to be viewing a late 20th century real problem and challenge through 21st century glasses. An academic exercise at best.

To "M's" comment:

"Sorry, but a neighborhood such as this with little to no commercial or office activity is indeed a failure in the sense of creating a neighborhood.

"M" needs to get our more. The Gate District is surrounded by the uses M desires. The SLU med school has thousands of workers and students in the neighborhood. Downtown is a short bike ride away. If Jefferson Avenue is ever to come back as a strong commercial area serving both Lafayette Square and Gate District residents, then purchasing power based in the Gate District will be significant part of the customer base.

Let's turn the tables. Chris, rather than looking at things from a 2007 perspective, say its 1985, you live in the old Buder neighborhood, 70-80 percent of the original building stock around you has been demolished and few people remain. What do you do?

And to M, since you're convinced the Gate District is an abysmal example of how to rebuild a neighborhood, what would the Gate District look like if it was developed according to your best ideas for a revitalized neighborhood? Be fair though, and start based on the working economics and demographics of 1980s near southside St. Louis.

barbara on 19th said...

Mckee owns a lot more of ONSL than you can see in the EoA maps. The acquisitions are concentrated west of 19th and north of Hebert. The maps on EoA are quite old. I live in ONSL and am surrounded by Blairmont blight. Unsecured buildings which had people in them at the time they were purchased by Blairmont. If you want to come up here and see how much of ONSL is under the yoke, give me a call.
Barbara Manzara
manzarbe@hotmail.com
238-4032

Stop Yer Whinin' said...

Let's see if I've got this right. MCU has effectively gotten Paul McKee to come to North St. Louis and agree, in front of neighborhood residents, the media, and a score of public officials, that he will:

- show respect for the urban character of the neighborhood
- not displace people
- provide affordable, mixed-income housing
- and invite community participation

Isn't this a huge step in the right direction? He's going to commit to not use eminent domain ("not displace people") and to allow community participation in his plan.

I understand that McKee has been guilty of a lot of underhanded manuevering so far, but isn't it better to have him committed to the above than to have him continue in his bad old ways. I mean, I don't know MCU from a hole in the ground, but it seems to me they've got McKee right where north St. Louis wants him.

Face it, McKee may be the devil incarnate, but he's holding all the cards. He has the option of letting all his northside holdings sit there and continue to rot and decay, but it looks as if he's ready to commit to something differnt. He doesn't have to do a damn thing he doesn't want to do, but yet he is willing to commit to those four points. I say let him stand there and commit to it all and then hold his feet to the fire. And that means the north side community as well as the politicians.

Stop Yer Whinin' said...

Let's see if I've got this right. MCU has effectively gotten Paul McKee to come to North St. Louis and agree, in front of neighborhood residents, the media, and a score of public officials, that he will:

- show respect for the urban character of the neighborhood
- not displace people
- provide affordable, mixed-income housing
- and invite community participation

Isn't this a huge step in the right direction? He's going to commit to not use eminent domain ("not displace people") and to allow community participation in his plan.

I understand that McKee has been guilty of a lot of underhanded manuevering so far, but isn't it better to have him committed to the above than to have him continue in his bad old ways. I mean, I don't know MCU from a hole in the ground, but it seems to me they've got McKee right where north St. Louis wants him.

Face it, McKee may be the devil incarnate, but he's holding all the cards. He has the option of letting all his northside holdings sit there and continue to rot and decay, but it looks as if he's ready to commit to something differnt. He doesn't have to do a damn thing he doesn't want to do, but yet he is willing to commit to those four points. I say let him stand there and commit to it all and then hold his feet to the fire. And that means the north side community as well as the politicians.

Anonymous said...

To the whiner:

He has the option of letting all his northside holdings sit there and continue to rot and decay

No he doesn't. A property is not allowed to let property rot. He must maintain the property according to the building code. If he expects any cooperation at all, letting his property sit as a rotting nuisance is a dumb shit thing to do.

He doesn't have to do a damn thing he doesn't want to do

Wrong again. If he is looking to do business in the city and develop property, he will have to do a lot of things he doesn't want to do. He's not a dictator. He will have to meet community standards to do anything.

Michael R. Allen said...

I want to clarify: MCU is not asking McKee to pledge to never use eminent domain.

His pledge against displacement is useless since he is reaching the end of the need to buy occupied housing units. That pledge would have made a difference in 2004, but now its almost stings.

Anonymous said...

OKAY, so what did he say last night?