Paul McKee’s Role in the Rellcoation of NGA Headquarters
The impact the National Geospatial Agency’s (“NGA”‘s) new headquarters has had on St. Louis’s “Northside” is hard to overstate. The construction of an approximately $2 billion corporate campus and thousands of high paying employees that come with it will generate an immediate demand for shops, restaurants and service providers in an area that currently more closely resembles war-torn parts of Syria than it does the rest of the St. Louis Region. The impact Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration Project had on the NGA’s decision to construction their new corporate headquarters can similarly not be overstated. A 2016 statement from then Mayor of St. Louis Francis Slay confirms this fact “Without the site assembled, we would not have even been in contention for NGA and these guys knew it and were using it as leverage”(1). Lacy Clay’s statements go even further and claim that ““the city came late to the NGA party — and then only at Paul McKee’s invitation and insistence”(2).
In the months since the NGA relocation to the Northside of St. Louis has been solidified, demand to develop what was previously one of the most impoverished and high crime areas in the Country has increased substantially. Unfortunately, the City’s Board of Alderman had already granted exclusive development rights for almost the entire region to Paul McKee at a time when he was the only private entity showing any interest in redeveloping the area.
In hindsight granting McKee exclusive development rights and providing substantial government subsidies to McKee with almost no mechanism to ensure results was a terrible decision on behalf of the Board of Alderman of the City of St. Louis that will almost certainly increase costs and slow development of the region. Instead of admitting to their mistakes publicly and working with McKee in private to negotiate terms that allow other developers to partake in the areas redevelopment the City’s Board of Alderman has opted to publicly chastise McKee, issue rushed and sloppy amendments finding McKee out of compliance with his development agreement with the City and disregard other legally binding obligations previously made with McKee regarding payment of subsidies.
Alderman of the City of St. Louis Prioritize Political Expediency Over the Wellbeing of Citizens
After years of allowing aspects of McKee’s development agreement to go unenforced without penalty (i.e. maintenance standards) the City has abruptly determined that this failure creates noncompliance issues so vast and important they can only be remedied through dissolution of the entire agreement. The correlation between the increased demand for development as a result of the NGA relocation and the City’s sudden about-face toward McKee is clear to anyone following the situation closely. This action has already resulted in multiple lawsuits filed by some of the most highly regarded economic development attorneys in the region on behalf of McKee and the Bank of Washington that will likely take years to resolve and cost the City millions in legal fees while the Northside property remains dormant. Unless something is done to efficiently and effectively remedy the situation the Board of Alderman’s willingness to publicly attack private sector partners and casual disregard for the importance of a binding contract the City’s reputation among private interests of all types could be tarnished for decades to come.
The most commonly cited reason the Board of Alderman site when defending their childish decision to declare the McKee agreements void are highlight McKee’s inadequate maintenance and neglect of his Northside properties. The tweet shown below from alderman Cara Spencer uses a pie chart to illustrate McKee has failed to properly maintain the yards in the majority of his Northside properties. A virtual tour of the properties making up McKee’s Northside regeneration district (courtesy of photos from google maps) provides an illustration of just how neglected and dire the current status of St. Louis’s Northside. They also illustrate the ridiculousness of criticising a property owner for improperly maintaining a yard that in the majority of cases house an abandoned building with some combination of broken windows, boarded, nonfunctional HVAC system, partial collapse or serious environmental issue.
The idea that landscaping and maintenance has had any tangible impact on the 1,500 acres of land that make up one of the most poverty-stricken, high crime areas in the country is laughable at almost every level. The manufactured outrage used by Cara Spencer and her allies to justify their decision to illegally refuse to comply with a written and binding contract entered into on behalf of the City is an amateurish political manuever that would not be tolerated on a volunteer home owners association board.
The importance of private businesses ability to rely on the City of St. Louis Board of Alderman to abide by its written contracts regardless of the political climate and to make every effort to handle disputes privately and/or professionally can not be overstated. I urge residents of the City of St. Louis to move past partisan headlines and demand their elected officials handle themselves with the professionalism and decency we would require of our adolescent children.
A Virtual Tour of McKee’s Northside Regeneration District