A huge proposed redevelopment in North St. Louis, in the works for years behind closed doors, is going public as the developer starts meeting with residents and public officials. Conceived by McEagle Properties, the NorthSide would encompass much of one city ward and parts of four others in the blighted, historically black area. The company, which has already spent $46 million and purchased 900 properties, plans for the development to encompass 500 acres, with 4.5 million square feet of new office and retail space and 10,000 new homes.
Helmed by CEO and Chairman Paul McKee, McEagle is first tackling an explanation of its secretive process of property acquisition, under which it used several front companies to buy and leave numerous buildings without maintenance for years, causing angry residents to demand answers at a recent public meeting.
One of the properties that has seen visible decay is the Clemens mansion, built in 1858 by a relative of famous Missouri son Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.
“In order to make the project feasible, we had to buy property under the radar screen,” said Bill Laskowsky, chief development officer. “Economic development takes land.”
Close to downtown but with many vacant lots and abandoned buildings, the area is a clear candidate for redevelopment. Several concepts have been floated through the years, going back to the 1940s when a planner urged that huge areas be cleared. At that time, the city’s population was still on the rise, peaking at 856,000 in 1950. The census now puts the city at 355,663.
The 15-year McEagle plan wants to draw people and businesses back. In addition to rebuilding the decayed infrastructure with the help of tax increment financing, the company plans on a 40-story office tower and four “job centers,” essentially large corporate campuses.
“I think it’s a good vision. I don’t think I would call it a plan,” said Michael R. Allen, assistant director of the Landmarks Association. “We’re at the very starting point. We don’t have detailed drawings or even detailed site plans.” Allen moved to North St. Louis three years ago during the peak of the property acquisitions, and saw entire blocks go vacant. “What is disappointing is that neighborhood rehabilitation always involves displacement of existing populations,” he said.
Laskowsky said that with the new construction, keeping the architectural style, particularly for infill areas, “would be the order of the day.”
Allen said he thinks there is a lot to like about McEagle’s plan, but has serious concerns about the boarded-up properties. “A lot of the buildings aren’t in good enough shape to last.”