Tonight is the big TIF hearing at City Hall. The TIF Commission will have a hearing at 6pm TODAY, Wednesday September 23 at City Hall, 1200 Market Street.
The TIF Commission will decide whether developer Paul McKee, who has spent five years blockbusting in North St. Louis, gets $398,000,000 from our cash-strapped city. He wants the city to back the bonds, meaning we are on the hook if his project fails. In the past, when the city has backed the bonds, we’ve ended up holding the bag.
The City of St. Louis is currently considering firefighter and police furloughs, and has laid off people in the License Collector’s office. My own block currently does not receive trash removal service. The spin is that it’s a “pension crisis,” but yet the city keeps giving out TIFs, to say nothing of this one. We simply do not have the funds to bail out Mr. McKee, who admitted on video Monday that he would not be able to afford to continue the project without this TIF. Well-informed word is that he can’t get any more loans from banks without the TIF. In a city already failing to provide services to many citizens, this is not okay. If I may quote Tom Duda‘s twitter, “Really, please tell me what #STL City services you are willing to give up for Paul McKee.”
After four years of experiencing and witnessing and hearing about McKee’s despicable, manipulative treatment of North Siders, I find myself tired and short on words. I don’t know how to construct a rational response to something so impossible. Two days ago, an older black longtime homeowner from St. Louis Place who came to one of our North Side CBA meetings kept repeating and repeating: “I feel like I’ve been dreaming ever since they told me about it. It can’t be real. Would somebody please pinch me?”
Do not be fooled by this hateful man who calls himself a developer. Do not be fooled by his urbanist-washing of the situation, his silly Powerpoint that he will hastily zoom out from and cry “It’s a vision, not a plan” the very second a St. Louis Place resident starts to ask him why their house and street have both been erased. I have seen many smart folks get distracted by the wind turbines and alleged job creation centers McKee shows in his little song-n-dance, but I have seen nothing to convince me he has any intention of ever delivering on these promises. (To the contrary: He wants condemnation rights to a number of operating, healthy local businesses as a part of this TIF app. Places that have jobs that employ people. My own beloved neighborhood hardware store operator recently complained that McKee’s deliberate emptying-out of our ward has “eviscerated my customer base.” The hardware store survived the Great Depression, but they don’t know if they’ll make it through Paul McKee’s garbage.)
McKee’s so-called vision, at meeting after non-public meeting, seems to change based on what he perceives the audience wants to hear. The pretty pretty Powerpoint is to shoo off the urbanists, who were some of his earliest critics. In private, so-called “community meetings,” he’ll say any damn thing, up to and including agreeing to put in a Sports Authority because someone said they would really like one here.
The only thing on McKee’s TIF app that has a timeline on it is Downtown. He wants to start building there right away. He also has stated that he wants to do all the demolition up here in the 5th ward area by the end of 2010. So, he wants to wipe most of our area off the map right away, but has no idea when he will ever build here. This TIF is not about benefiting us or even the ground upon which our homes stand. We are just a pitiable face, a largely minority face, that he can paste on this request for public money so that he can get his money for Downtown.
After years of “No, I am not Blairmont” why do we believe anything this guy says? Why would we entrust him with $398 million of our dollars? Doug Duckworth captured a very uncomfortable McKee on tape at a meeting about his development in Old North St. Louis on Monday. I was there, and I heard so much bullshit out of McKee. (Only 10-15 of his buildings have been wrecked? Yeah, maybe on the 1900 block of Wright alone!) He thinks that our memories are that short, that no one will catch him in his lies (hence his worries about Duckworth’s camera, to the point of physically rushing him).
Rather than buying over 1,000 properties, McKee could have kept his assets to a number he could maintain and successfully develop. But no, my impression is that he intentionally structured things this way because he was counting on the bailout of the TIF (and the subsequent DALATC bailout from the state, if he gets the TIF and the steps are set in motion).
We can do better than this. Don’t let anybody tell you that bailing out Paul McKee is the only way development will ever happen again in North St. Louis. We need a process that builds on our strengths, not one that obliterates them. The North Side needs help, but giving $398,000,000 to its longtime abuser to continue the destruction is not the first step of the healing process.
Things you can do to help North St. Louis tonight:
1. Come out.
2. Consider saying a few words. Or just standing up and saying that you support us.
3. Wear white to show your solidarity.
4. Bear witness. Bring a camera, bring a recording device, bring your Twitter-enabled cell and don’t let anybody you’re not allowed to record. It’s a public hearing.