McKee Continues Work on NorthSide, Northside CBA Continues to Stumble

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{a view along a portion of 20th Street – image courtesy of Built St. Louis}

An initial public relations push beginning at the end of June lasted no more than a month as the NorthSide website discussion forum was removed and no further updates on Twitter, YouTube or the website have been forthcoming. Click here for Urban Workshop coverage. Will it matter? According to the St. Louis Beacon Mr. McKee doesn’t seem to think so. The Beacon has a few words from representatives of the Northside Community Benefits Alliance as well.

The Urban Workshop remains in favor of transformative development in North St. Louis as a recognition of the significant disinvestment this area has experienced over the past 50 years. But we want to see the development done right as well, for the future residents and businesses and for everyone who currently calls North St. Louis home. That’s why it’s encouraging to see groups like the Northside CBA become engaged. However, a community group that does not effectively advocate for real-world community benefits can be self-defeating.

But first, McKee seems to believe that he has the support from North St. Louis residents and community leaders that he needs. From the Beacon article:

“I did not expect the black community to embrace this the way they have,” he said in a recent interview. “They finally believe that something real is going to happen. I’ve had great, great support from them. That’s been pleasant. This community has needed development for a long time.”

He also addresses the shutdown of the NorthSide online forum, saying that too many comments were “vile”. He’s probably right, but we wish that even a heavily moderated forum were in place for those of us who feel we sit in the middle of this issue and would like more information.

And then come comments from Northside CBA representatives that we feel fall short of effective advocacy:

“If the alderwomen and McKee were operating in the realm of transparency, the community would have had a clear understanding five years ago,” said Sheila Rendon, president of the community benefits alliance.

This simply is not grounded in reality. What developer is going to conceive a plan and present the plan to the public (and competitors) before acquiring any of the needed land? Would you advertise to other potential buyers how much you are bidding on a home before bidding? Doubt it.

And more from Rendon:

“We view this behavior by the city of St Louis as unorthodox and could very well be seen as a difference in treatment and a systematic dismantling and depletion of the North Side. Would the city have allowed McKee to amass such a huge swath of the South Side or the Central West End, then allow said properties to sit and rot for five years dragging down the quality of life for its residents? I think not. Would this land baron be allowed to operate in this fashion in Clayton or Ladue? Again, I think not.”

This is simply incoherent and completely ignores the reality of parts of North St. Louis. If you do not have a basic understanding of economics you cannot serve as an effective advocate on this issue.

Keith Marquard, treasurer of the North Side CBA decided to play the City/County card:

“A big development like this, if it really went through, would raise my property value and raise the rent I could charge. But it’s also my tax dollars that are going to the project, and I don’t want to see my tax dollars thrown down a rathole to bail out a developer from the county.”

And why is it relevant where the developer resides? Statements like this greatly weaken the CBA’s message.

The challenge for any community-based organization seeking concessions from a big developer with political support is how to establish credibility and while maybe not achieving all desired goals, ultimately getting substantive, meaningful benefits. The messages being sent from the Northside CBA are not likely to meet this challenge.

(Eco-Absence has a quick commentary on the Beacon story and NorthSide here as well.)

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