Washington University Professor Challenges Paul McKee’s NorthSide Numbers

As three North St. Louis City residents challenge the “blighted” label given to their neighborhood, several experts are testifying on the issue in court. The definition of “blight” is likely to be the focus of judge Larry Dierker’s decision, but most of the testimony so far appears to deal with other lines of criticism.

There’s no way to prove that 20,000 (or even 20) jobs will be created or that a single person will move to NorthSide. The projections set forth by the City and Paul McKee could be unrealistic, but the criticism leveled at them in court has been no more grounded. If, as many believe, the NorthSide project is obviously flawed, it should be easier to criticize than it is proving to be.

Washington University Economics Department Chair and member of the Federal Reserve Advisory Board in St. Louis stated, “(McKee’s plan) is something that if an MBA student came up with as a term paper, I would throw him out of the office. There are no numbers to back it up.” He also claimed it would be “a miracle” if the project created the economic activity needed to justify the public financing behind the plan.

Now, I’m not an economics professor, let alone the Chair of an economics department at a premier university, but this testimony seems a little thin. I would expect numbers, examples and analysis to counter McKee’s claims instead of a comment about term papers. Clearly the NorthSide project depends on a number of economic events, a growing economy and some changes in the local economy, such as the establishment of St. Louis as a hub for Chinese cargo, the relocation of a major corporate headquarters, etc. For whatever reason, instead of addressing the needed criteria for NorthSide’s success and then challenging the likelihood of these events, the professor chose to simply say that the project would need “a miracle”. At least as reported, the testimony sounds lazy and inarticulate.

Let’s hope that the court case returns to the question of whether the “blighting” of a portion of St. Louis City was legal.