An attempt by some city leaders to keep a federal facility inside the city limits while also jump starting controversial developer Paul McKee’s stalled project has pitted some northside homeowners and businesses against the very government that is supposed to serve them.
The St. Louis Board of Alderman recently passed Board Bill 263 which paves the way for the city to borrow $8-10 million to purchase all the property in a 100-acre area north of Cass Avenue near the former Pruitt-Igoe public housing project. And for those parcels, homes or businesses that do not agree to sell, the city may use eminent domain.
One of those homes belongs to the Taylor family.
“It’s all the stories. It’s our oral history. It’s the love. It’s the values that were put forth and lived before us,” Karen Taylor told KMOV News.
Three generations of Taylor’s familty have lived in the home and they do not want to sell. Taylor’s 79-year-old mother still lives in the house and acknowledges the neighborhood has seen many changes over the years. Neighbors have passed away or moved on and many other homes have fallen into disrepair. Taylor says their family home is still used for reunions, holidays, and she wants to see future generations enjoy it.
“Our family home is definitely a priority. What’s happening in the community is definitely a priority. Even though it is ‘blighted’, we are not blighted,” Taylor told KMOV.
The bill, introduced by Aldermen Tamika Hubbard (5th Ward) and Freeman Bosley, Sr. (3rd Ward) and supported by Mayor Francis Slay, identifies the area north of Cass Avenue to Montgomery Street, bordered by North Jefferson Avenue on the west and North 22nd Street on the east as the area the city plans to submit to the federal government for consideration to relocate the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which is currently located near the riverfront.
This area is one of four locations the federal government will consider as it contemplates a new location for the mapping agency. The other candidates are the site of the old Chrysler plant in Fenton, a site near the Met Life facility on Tesson Ferry Road in Mehlville, and a site in St. Clair County, Illinois adjacent to Scott Air Force Base. St. Clair County officials said that they planned to give the needed land to the federal government for free.
“The problem here is that there is no guarantee whatsoever that St. Louis will be awarded this project. In fact, the likelihood is slim. So to pass a bill that threatens to take the property of longtime homeowners and business owners is nothing more than gambling with the lives and livelihoods of the very people we are supposed to be representing,” said St. Louis Alderman Antonio French.
One business located in the targeted area is Faultless Healthcare Linen. In 2012 Faultless spent $12 million to expand its location at 25th Street. That one property alone would cost more than the $8-10 million the Slay administration told aldermen total land acquisition would cost.
Supporters of the project say the city desperately needs the earning tax revenue currently being paid by employees of the NGA at its current location. However, under the terms of Paul McKee’s $390 million TIF awarded by the city in 2009, half of that earnings tax revenue would be redirected to McKee’s TIF, leaving the city banking only 50% of what it is currently bringing in from NGA.
“I’m afraid the economics of this deal don’t even work out. Nevermind the fact that deals like this is not what eminent domain was intended for,” said Alderman French. “It’s a bad deal and it sends a terrible message about what we value in the City of St. Louis.”