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02.27.2012
Rumble in the Rubble
Developer to buy hundreds of lots and the Pruitt-Igoe site in St. Louis.
Aerial photo of the Pruitt-Igoe site in north St. Louis before demolition.
Michael R. Allen / Flickr

In an effort to advance his redevelopment plans for north St. Louis, developer Paul McKee is pursuing the purchase of more than 1,200 city-owned properties. If the Northside Regeneration organization, which is run by McKee’s McEagle Properties, is successful in this bid, almost 165 acres will be acquired for just over $3.2 million, which will more than double the organization’s current holdings in the district.

Most of the properties are now empty. The area is sparsely populated and primarily offers barren lots and crumbling structures, but McKee ultimately plans to transform 1,500 acres of the neighborhood into a highly sustainable, mixed-use model of urban renewal.

Announced in 2009, the scope of this planned redevelopment was made public only after McEagle had already secured an initial 800-acre foothold in the area.

McKee’s proposal includes infrastructure, up to 10,000 residential units, 5.5 million square feet of retail and office space, and multi-modal transit options like 20 miles of bike and pedestrian paths and a trolley system.

 
Abandoned lots in north St. Louis.
Brian Newman
 

Shepherding this endeavor has proven to be arduous and is increasingly fraught with complex issues, including the potential displacement of remaining residents.

Further, a critical 33-acre grouping of parcels for the redevelopment district is the location on which the Pruitt-Igoe housing project once stood. Abandoned for more than 30 years, the site was home to one of the country’s most notorious modernist experiments. It is now a dense forest surrounded only by the sprawling empty lots and underused buildings that have come to define much of St. Louis’ north side.

This nationally important site, which serves as a poignant reminder of both the promise and the failings of large-scale urban renewal and architectural theory, will likely be purchased by the Northside Regeneration organization for less than $1 million. McKee plans to locate the retail core of his redeveloped district on these parcels.

Despite the cool reception McKee has received from some of the public and local media, the City of St. Louis sees no mismanagement or misleading intentions on the part of McEagle or the Northside Regeneration organization as they continue to purchase large swaths of land. Jeff Rainford, who serves as chief of staff for St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, recently told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “We’re not giving him these properties. We’re not selling them at a discount. McKee is buying them for what we think these properties are worth.”

Brian Newman