NorthSide Is Dead, Long Live NorthSide

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The dream of NorthSide is over. Let’s first admit that. The promises did not and will not come to pass. Perhaps the vision sold was always a bit of a stake in the ground, more aspirational than attainable. But that’s soon becoming beside the point.

The new news is that on the heels of the $1.75B NGA announcement, Paul McKee has announced the construction of 500 housing units. McKee will partner with Telesis Corp. of Washington D.C., Clayco Realty Group and the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust. According to NorthSide, Calthorpe Associates is also a project partner. Construction in the St. Louis Place neighborhood is said to begin next year and be completed by 2022.


National AFL-CIO president Richard Trumpka endorsed the North St. Louis site back in August of 2015. At about that time, McKee stated he planned 235 homes east of the then proposed NGA site. That statement, following many others, was met largely with a shrug.

With Telisis, McKee may have finally found a partner willing and able to build. Working with the local knowledge of CRG, and the funding of the AFL-CIO, there are fewer reasons now than ever that this plan shouldn’t move forward. Still, it’s not possible to completely put away the skepticism. Fool me once, shame on me, fool me two dozen times, shame on NorthSide – or so we say in St. Louis.

Anyway, it’s not exactly clear when NorthSide died. It could have been when the Great Recession began in late 2007. It could have been sometime from 2009-2013 as a lawsuit against the almost $400M Tax Increment Financing (TIF) package wound its way through the courts (McKee would eventually prevail). It could have been when a Dollar General store couldn’t get off the ground, or when NorthSide refused to identify the “legacy” properties it was going to save, or when the roof of the chapel at the Clemens Mansion collapsed, or when The St. Louis Brewery passed on the area, or between one of the new logos and rebranding efforts, or when modest plans for the Bottle District came and went, or when McKee lost properties to creditors, or when a heavily subsidized suburban gas station and grocery were announced for Tucker at 13th Street, or even when the final final NGA announcement came just last week.

The phrase “the king is dead, long live the king” is meant to mark the transfer of sovereignty from one monarch to another. And so NorthSide as we knew it has passed and NorthSide as we will know it is alive and well.

It doesn’t serve any great purpose to dwell on unfulfilled promises, so I’ll be relatively brief: the 1,500-acre redevelopment area was to have three major employment hubs (each more dense than the NGA) totaling more than 4.5M sf of offices and 1M sf of retail and entertainment space. All that activity was to be centered on the vacant Pruitt-Igoe site.

More than 2,000 single-family homes, as many as 7,800 apartments were to be built, and 3,900 existing residential units were to be retained or renovated. A separate, green, water supply and sanitary system was envisioned, as well as sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar. There was to be a robust greenway network, bike lanes, pocket parks, and other transit – it was city-building at its finest. Total investment in the area was tagged at more than $8B. Oh, and the use of eminent domain was not to be allowed. But we knew and know that cities aren’t built that way, right?

As I said, NorthSide is dead. If you require an analogy, NorthSide is now on a path to become Ballpark Village, they built it, but it isn’t what it was to be. But as with Ballpark Village, much of what will be written and said is simply that it was built.

Now we move on. NorthSide is very much alive.

At the time of the TIF application, fully 38% of the 1,500-acre redevelopment area was vacant land. Another 6% was comprised of vacant buildings. This is changing fast. The center of vacancy is to become the 99-acre NGA home. You can cross that off the official vacancy ledger.

The impact of the NGA’s $1.75B project is very real. And it’s beyond whatever a “normal” $1.75B investment would be. The NGA project is a 100-year investment. The agency won’t be acquired, or bought out. Its headquarters won’t move to Ireland to dodge taxes, or scoot to Chicago for better air connections. Its 3,000, or 4,000, or however many employees, will be well paid. They’ll be St. Louisans. The project should break ground next year and be completed by 2023.

Beyond the project itself, which again, is massive, the NGA puts an anchor, OK, some walls, up in north city, helping to define development districts. The announcement is likely to set other developments in motion. It’s big, and along with the NFL Rams leaving St. Louis, provides predictability, answering the two biggest St. Louis development questions of the decade.

We can’t and shouldn’t discuss this development without recognizing that eminent domain is being used. Homes are being taken away from owners. Others aren’t legally being forced out, but are selling under the threat of eminent domain. The scale of displacement is an order of magnitude less than St. Louis’s Urban Renewal past, but the trauma to the individuals is the same.

And so NorthSide is very much alive. The NGA announcement has clearly given St. Louis City Mayor Francis Slay the hook needed to aggressively push for a north-south light rail line in the city. Investment follows investment, and perhaps federal investment follows federal investment. The transit expansion has enjoyed local support for years. A corridor study has sat on the shelf for a full eight years. Perhaps the NGA tips the scales in its favor.

The NGA project itself is expected to create 15,000 temporary construction jobs. More construction should follow, keeping the various trades busy, and likely bringing new jobs to the city over a period of years. And a light rail line? That’s another couple thousand jobs. The construction jobs can’t continue indefinitely, but what if along the way a city is rebuilt? This is what again seems possible.

The good news is that now the development we had hoped for is here, we can argue about site plans, building design and subsidies. That’s not always a happy place to be, but it’s much better than having nothing of value to contest.

So what will we be arguing about? At the south end of NorthSide, the 22nd Street I-64/40 interchange will soon be remade, with infill development planned adjacent to Union Station. It will be good and bad, but mostly good. To the east, any news at the Bottle District awaits a reported $300M hoped for investment at the city’s convention center.

The NGA plan itself will come together and slowly be revealed. The impact of public input on the highly secure facility? Perhaps not much. Further study of the north-south rail line will take place and we’ll debate Florissant, Jefferson, Chouteau, and Gravois alignments.

Infill housing will, especially at first, be underwhelming, but still positive. The north side does already have some good modest infill with Habitat homes and others. We’ll celebrate some historic renovations and continue to wait for any news of Carr School and the Clemens Mansion.

The infill at Pruitt-Igoe won’t do the site justice, but construction at the site will be welcome. And we’ll wonder why Tucker, our city’s new front door, continues to be treated like a back door, like our city’s other front doors.

But these things are good, or at least better. NorthSide is dead, long live NorthSide.


[Click here to read more nextSTL coverage of NorthSide here]

[Click here to read more nextSTL coverage of NGA]

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  • Patrick Kleaver

    Paul McKee announced in March 2016 that he’d be ready to break ground in July 2016 for the Greenleaf Market grocery store and gas station at N. 13th and Cass. In addition to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture guaranteeing 70% of the loan for the grocery, the city’s Board of Alderman has fast-tracked extending $2.8 million in tax relief for it and the gas station. Yet here it is – August 2 – and I just visited the area and see no evidence that as much as a shovel’s worth of dirt has been turned to begin this much publicized project. NorthSide Regeneration can’t even get two relatively simple buildings started on time, yet we are to trust them to start 500 housing units next year. Believing is seeing, and I see nothing that supports having any faith in any of NorthSide’s plans.

  • Single-family residential construction was very strong in St. Louis Place before Northside Regeneration started — and the 2010 Census showed the fruit of efforts to build infill led by McCormack Baron Salazar, Judy Wolverton, Choate Construction, Mary “One” Johnson and others who produced significant new housing in the neighborhood between 2000 and 2009 when Northside Regeneration went public. (St. Louis Place had a 12% population increase between 2000 and 2010.) This project is a continuation of market trend. The density is moderate to low, however, which also continues the earlier trend. The projected density seems incongruent with the full potential of housing adjacent to a possible light rail line. Although St. Louis has lost housing density since the 1950s, and current zoning and incentive (tax abatement, TIF) policies in the city are continuing to reinforce that trend.

  • Brian Ireland

    These jobs could have remained in the region at Scott and prevented residents from being booted out of their homes… NGA will not spark redevelopment. It’s an insular compound. If such things revitalized areas, Ferguson would be thriving b/c of Emerson and the Plymouth Industrial Park on Page would have Wellston humming along. Grassroots redevelopment and beautification is what St. Louis Place needs…McKee is a slumlord. If any housing gets built here–and that’s a huge if–it won’t benefit the lower-income homeowners currently being removed

    • STLEnginerd

      I will say if NGIA will not spur development then why does St. Clair want it so badly…?

      You are probably right though, but moving the NGIA to Scott would have done more harm to the city than it would have done good for St. Clair County. The people getting displaced is unfortunate, but again that is only impactful to the city. The bad of it leaving the city (loss of income tax from roughly 3000 employees) was worse than the bad of it staying (loss of residential homes and urban street grid access).

      Its hard when both your choices are bad but you have to look at it as the best of two bad options. According to the NGIA’s own evaluation that choice pointed them toward staying in the city.

      • Brian Ireland

        Remember, the city, as usual, rebated back a bunch of tax money to keep them in the city. So even that benefit is shoddy at best

        • STLEnginerd

          Yup. If the region wasn’t being played against itself by the threat of moving to Illinois the city & region as a whole would have seen far more benefits.

          St. Clair did offer to give them the land for free as well. So their gains were probably equally shoddy.

  • brickhugger

    Hopefully the 22nd street re-do will happen, and in a way that respects the urban fabric. As for northside residential, so long as I-70 is elevated/tunneled between downtown and the riverfront, the near northside and Laclede’s landing can NEVER take off. better to put the highway in a tunnel from Walnut to Cass, with a landscaped (and wide-sidewalked) boulevard on top. It will be expensive, and technically and politically challenging, but if we are serious about revitalizing this area, then it has to be done.

    • Tim E

      22nd street redo as part or a phase of McKee’s northside plans is/are the best part of it in my opinion. Especially when a rendering of an office tower anchoring the west end of the gateway mall alongside a new tree lined 22nd street blvd was floated… Ideally in my mind it would Wells Fargo Security leading the charge for a new office tower even though they really don’t need it. But cool none the less that a corporation with its west coast history and stage coach anchors the west end of the gateway mall with the Arch framing it.

      City still needs to find a way to rebuild the interchange, get rid of the old sunken truncated parkway that MoDOT doesn’t want, and rebuild the street grid back sooner and later for sake of West Downtown. Unfortunately they don’t have an institution adding some infrastructure dollars to the project for better or worse like you see in CWE My other wishful thought is that 22nd street re-do/relocating union station metrolink stop on the west side of Union station will be part of a West Downtown MLS stadium proposal

  • Ed Golterman

    North and South St. Louis were killed 40 years ago to protect the center from grand avenue to the money sucking, money processing, tax sheltering Forest Park.

    • Riggle

      Where did you crawl out from? Shoo. Go back to your hole

  • Chris Naffziger

    It comes down to the laws of supply and demand. 95% of the US population would never live in St. Louis Place. I have visited the neighborhood hundreds of times over the years, and I love it, making friends with many of its residents, but the simple fact is, most Americans will not be interested in living there. This whole thing is a joke. Being a booster for St. Louis does not require one to ignore reality.

    • brian

      Couldn’t you have said much the same about FPSE 15 years ago?

      • Michael B

        Yup. As a current resident, I hear it all of the time from some of the old-timers. They’re amazed how much it has changed in the past 20 years.

      • FPSE retained a dense historic housing stock. The city has depleted the stock in St. Louis Place, although much remains. The neighborhood’s future will look more like the Gate District, if this plan comes to fruition.

    • Chicagoan

      You could’ve said the same thing about Bedford-Stuyvesant to Brooklynites ten years ago and they’d agree with ya. Now, look at that neighborhood.

      Things change.

      • Steve S.

        The key, though, is that reasons for people to move to the city must exist. (That is, the city needs to have a strong job market.) Like Chicago, Philadelphia has several examples of housing projects surrounded by more affluent neighborhoods — perhaps the MLK Homes in Hawthorne is the exemplar — and the strong housing demand is leading to redevelopment creeping ever further north in North Philadelphia.

        But that demand is driven by a strong job market in the region, and a desire for urban living among those who get those jobs.

    • Larry Guinn

      If 95% of only the Saint Louis metro population refused to live there, that leaves about 140,000 people to potentially move in, so if only 10% of them actually do it, that’s 14,000. That’s a robust neighborhood. This, of course, excludes any new residents from outside of the metro area.
      I have a friend that just started a new job in Chicago, across the street from the former Cabrini–Green projects, much like the Pruitt-Igoe projects and these redevelopment plans. In 20 years, it’s been redeveloped and is a useful part of downtown Chicago. The Saint Louis project can work.

      • Chicagoan

        The thing Cabrini-Green has going for it is the neighborhoods that encircle it, though. Lincoln Park, Old Town, and River North each border what is Cabrini-Green. These are three of Chicago’s most alluring neighborhoods (price-y, too). As each neighborhood has become increasingly unaffordable, people who’d like to own there have bumped outwards into other areas, like Cabrini-Green. The result is all of the new apartments and condos being built. The neighborhood still has a way to go, though. A bunch of empty plot of land awaiting development and a Brown Line station at Division Street is needed.

  • DCWind

    Very well written and engaging. Developing the Northside is certainly a big, decades-long project that will take the involvement of the entire city and its leaders. But as you point out in the article, while the conditions of that development have certainly shifted, new opportunities for remaking a city have presented themselves. It would seem that most cities do not have this kind of opportunity, at least not on this scale. Federally incentivised relocation is without question a good idea, but there needs to be a coordinated effort to provide adequate developments for current and future NGA employees, at a minimum, to relocate to the area. Without that, there won’t be much, as it currently stands, that would encourage local relocation. Mixed uses and mixed incomes, with accessibility to mass transit is key to this area, especially since it was a big part of the NGA’s reasoning for choosing this site. Beyond all of the issues, good and bad, presented by this, I am extremely excited to think about the beginnings of North-South development in the city. It is exciting to think about a St. Louis City future that includes thriving, diverse neighborhoods and districts more than 10 blocks north of I-64!

  • Guest

    Well, it is better than the status quo. 500 residentials seems so small. Why not 5000? More people living in the area could help to stabilize the area. A police substation and a neighborhood watch for that area is needed too. I wonder how bad the crime will increase. Crime seems to go to new development areas. Put those cameras in around the area to help protect it. Maybe hire some security guards.

  • CWE1959

    Interesting read. New construction and infill is welcome. However, I have a few questions. . . What happens to the current NGA site? St. Louis commonly celebrates new construction without considering many of the “new” projects are only shifting resources/occupancy from one area to another. How many of the proposed 3000 NGA jobs are new jobs? It is great that St. Louis is able to keep the NGA jobs, obtain new construction jobs, and the associated earnings tax. However, how many of the NGA jobs will amount to a net gain for the City of St. Louis? It is a bit of a stretch to believe those employed at the new NGA site will naturally move to North St. Louis or the City of St. Louis without improvements in safety and public education. Lastly, the 500 residential units noted by fantasy land Mickey McKee. . . If and when these units are built will they be more low income rental housing units? The JVL and Preservation Square areas provide enough low income rental housing. A good mix of homeowners, and incomes/educational backgrounds are key to quality neighborhoods. Concentrated low income rental units don’t benefit North St. Louis or it’s occupants in the long term. How many of the employment opportunities will be available to those currently residing in the “redevelopment” area? Sustainable “redevelopment” requires “development” opportunities for the people to sustain those communities. I’ll stop there.

    • rgbose

      All very good questions!

      I think the 3,000 jobs number is a net wash. Local boosters hinted that over time head count would grow.

      As far as I know the Feds will hold on to the old facility for a while. Hope that’s not case and it finds reuse and the parking lots there are built upon sooner rather than later.

      I’d be shocked if they didn’t know and have the goal of creating a successful neighborhood means one with a mix of incomes and edu levels.

      I’d hope they’d have some sort of incentive program to encourage employees to live nearby like WashU does.

      • Tim E

        Unfortunately for most Federal properties, especially bases, that transition back to local and private hands is done in a slow tedious mind numbing way as far as I can tell. The idea that NGIA moves and shortly afterwards their current property/location is available for development in short order would be a another win.
        Been living in the Bay area for almost six years now and they are finally building on old bases from Hunters Point Naval shipyard to Treasure Island to Alameda Naval Air Station and even the old Oakland Naval Hospital Grounds. Most of those places have been decommissioned for years if not decades and will support thousands of residential units & commercial space in a market with not nearly the supply for what the demand is. The amazing fact is most of these old bases are located on premium waterfront in good locations on top of it all.

        • Ice_Burned

          Point taken, I’d agree that is how it often goes. But did the Navy site have war history preservation concerns in play and park land aspirations? Actually it would be cool if they expanded adjacent Lyon park here. Barring a new federal use, I’d guess if there’s a motivated buyer the old NGA site will be sold off like an old post office. The adjacent rail yard and highway access should make this site ideal for industrial use like goods manufacturing or chemicals. Maybe I’m over optimistic. Unlike historic bases, there should be little need for contaminant remediation or excavation of things like blast walls.

          • STLEnginerd

            yeah. I HOPE the current building gets bought and repurposed by Sigma Aldrich, and the current parking lot + Lyons Park gets converted to a state park/historic site. Plenty of room in the rest of Koscusiko for new residential development without this site.

        • Adam

          The South City NGIA building has no windows, correct? That’s going to make for a difficult reuse.