Disdain, Misperceptions of Winghaven Lead Urbanists to False Criticism, Strawman Arguments on NorthSide

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Winghaven proves that developer Paul McKee can rebuild a large portion of North St. Louis, or it proves that he can’t. This all depends on who you are.

If you’re reading this it is likely that Winghaven, Paul McKee’s 1,200 acre mixed-use development in St. Charles County does not represent your ideal community. And to any objective observer Winghaven is a lot like New Urbanism without the “urbanism”. It’s anethema for those who preach the benefits of dense development. Therefore it’s a failure. But this disregards the sentiments of residents and other measures.

Many are very happy with their decision to purchase a home and live at Winghaven. This is highlighted by Rachel Lippman’s report as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s “Building on a Promise” series this week. If you missed it, here’s part of what was said:

“We have developed literally hundreds of friends here,” said Tom Shepherd, the president of the WingHaven Residential Owners Association. “There’s a retirement aspect to it, but you have a lot of first-time homebuyers, you have a lot of new families here with young kids, and that sort of keeps I think the community young at heart.”

“A lot of people I work with have all left the city,” O’Fallon City Council member John Haman said. “A handful of them say all the time if Paul McKee is able to do half of what he’s done in WingHaven to north St. Louis, they’d love to go back into north St. Louis.”

The fact is that Paul McKee built Winghaven for a targeted audience, an audience who were looking for a Winghaven. Mix equal parts disdain of suburbia and North St. Louis exceptionalism and you get unsubstantiated and misplaced fear of NorthSide. The refrain is often a version of “whatever he’d done he’s not proven he can do it in North St. Louis.” And how should this be proven?

The current development plan would break up the redevelopment into phases and address any city guarantee of TIF and eminent domain to separate legislative bills. This would seemingly allow McKee the opportunity to prove that he can complete developments in the city. And yet some would like development to occur sooner and for residential development outside the “job centers” to happen early, if not first. This would not make sense in terms of a viable development plan as residential will succeed only if there are jobs and retail within reasonable proximity.

There do remain serious questions about the preservation of historic properties owned by McKee within the NorthSide project area and current residents should continue to do everything possible to hold McKee to the same standards of maintenance as any other property owner in the city.

So Winghaven doesn’t prove that Paul McKee can’t rebuild North St. Louis, but it also doesn’t prove that he can. What Winghaven does show is the McKee can navigate a 1,000+ acre development, identify potential buyers and complete the project, and that those buyers remain very happy about their decision.

The full NorthSide TIF application can be viewed here.

The TIF application hearing is open to the public:
Tax Increment Financing
Monthly Meeting
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
6:00 pm
City Hall
1200 Market St.
Room 208

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