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By Tim Logan email@example.com 314-340-8291
ST. LOUIS • In what may be the closest thing to progress yet in his decades-long bid to rebuild much of the city’s near north side, developer Paul McKee said this week that he has reached agreements with five home builders to construct housing for his NorthSide Regeneration project.
McKee and the quintet of builders have plans for 79 homes – mostly new construction – on a few rebuilt blocks along St. Louis Avenue, just west of North Florissant Avenue, in the city’s St. Louis Place neighborhood. It’s intended to be the first phase of residential construction that will grow as – and if – McKee’s vast vision becomes reality.
The progress is fragile. Previous plans to launch NorthSide – like one to rehab the Clemens House mansion on Cass Avenue – have become false starts. At roughly $200 million, the five blocks of housing would be the largest development McKee has yet announced in the 1,500-acre footprint north of downtown since he started buying land there eight years ago.
But all McKee’s plans hinge on the fate of NorthSide’s $390 million in public subsidies, in the form of a tax increment financing package that will go before the Missouri Supreme Court next month.
McKee selected the builders – Fischer & Frichtel, Rolwes Co., Rubicon-Bruno Homes, X3 Design Build and Gateway Development – in a competitive process earlier this year. They are a mix of companies with experience in new and rehabbed homes in both suburban and city neighborhoods. But they say they are planning on building “urban-style” homes on what are now mostly vacant blocks between 20th Street and North Florissant Avenue – land McKee bought quietly over several years, then combined with a massive purchase of city-owned land earlier this year. Some existing, occupied homes will remain there.
Several of the developers said they were attracted by the chance to be part of starting something new in the battered neighborhood, and by the prospect of a large-scale redevelopment. McKee’s plan ultimately proposes thousands of new homes and vast swaths of new office, industrial and retail space across the area.
“I’ve seen so many plans come and go in the city of St. Louis,” said Jerry Meyer, director of development at Rubicon-Bruno. “This is the first one I’ve seen that addresses education, infrastructure, jobs and housing. We can create another real option for people here.”
“This area needs life,” said X3’s Kevin Logan. “It’s a great opportunity for us to participate in that.”
Pricing is still being worked out, but it’s likely these homes will cost far less than the $400,000 average price estimated in McKee’s 2009 TIF application. Greg Sommerhof, a Wentzville builder who is working on market analysis, says he sees a strong target market in teachers and city police and firefighters. He held focus groups with all three groups, and found a lot of interest in quality new construction in the city.
“Overwhelmingly, people found it attractive,” he said. “Security concerns were holding them back. If we can provide that, we’ll have a great start.”
The developers also have got a lead on financing. St. Louis Community Credit Union has agreed to lend to buyers in the project, said credit union spokesman Michael O’Brien.
“Hopefully the opportunity will come to fruition,” he said. “We’re a locally owned credit union. Our focus is primarily the city. So it’s a natural for us.”
McKee said he could start construction in the spring. But of course, all of this depends on NorthSide’s giant subsidy, which has been in legal limbo since a circuit court judge ruled in July 2010 that it was vague and overbroad.
The TIF would generate about $390 million for streets and new sewers and other infrastructure across the two-square-mile area, money McKee says he needs to get his project done. Upgrading infrastructure for this patch of housing alone would cost $2 million, he said.
McKee has been trying to access that money for two years now, first proposing more specifics to allay Judge Robert Dierker’s concerns, then bringing the case to state Appeals Court, which in June passed it up to the Missouri Supreme Court. Oral arguments there are scheduled for Nov. 28, with a ruling likely several weeks after.
“If that doesn’t go our way,” McKee said, “We’re dead.”
R. Buckminster Fuller worked with Washington University Professor of Architecture James Fitzgibbon. Here is a portion of text by Fuller discussing the project:
Having undertaken the solution by artifacts of the world’s great housing crisis, I came to regard the history of cities. Cities developed entirely before the thought of electricity or automobiles or before any of the millions of inventions registered in the United States Patent Office. For eminently mobile man, cities have become obsolete in terms of yesterday’s functions-warehousing both new and formerly manufactured goods and housing immigrant factory workers. Rebuilding them to accommodate the new needs of world man requires demolition of the old buildings and their replacement of the new and now obsolete real estate, streets, water and sewer lines, and yesterday’s no longer logical overall planning geometries. I sought to take on this challenge and developed plans for an entirely feasible and practical new way for humans to live together economically. Old Man River’s City is one such design.
Old Man River’s City, undertaken for East St. Louis, Illinois, takes its name from the song first sung by Paul Robeson fifty years ago, which dramatized the life of Afro-American blacks who lived along the south-of-St. Louis banks of the Mississippi River in the days of heavy north-south river traffic in cotton. Cessation of the traffic occurred when the east-west railway network outperformed the north-south Mississippi, Mexican Gulf, and Atlantic water routes, which left many of its riverbank communities, such as East St. Louis, marooned in economic dead spots. East St. Louis is an American city overwhelmed by poverty. Its population of 70,000 is 70 percent black.
I originally came to East St. Louis to discuss the design and possible realization of the Old Man River’s City, having been asked to do so by East St. Louis community leaders themselves, being first approached by my friend Katherine Dunham, the famous black dancer. At the community leaders’ request I presented a design that would help solve their problem. It is moon-crater-shaped: the crater’s truncated cone top opening is a halfmile in diameter, rim-to-rim, while the truncated mountain itself is a mile in diameter at its base ring.
African Americans living in St. Louis housing projects may have been subjected to radiation-laced spraying by the U.S. military during the Cold War.
In an effort to study how biological and chemical agents might spread, the U.S. Army conducted “Operation Large Area Coverage.” The project consisted of spraying zinc cadmium sulfide, which was not considered harmful, across various parts of the country.
But in the housing projects of St. Louis, which the Army considered a “slum district,” the spraying included radioactive particles, according to sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor. The spraying took place from February 1953 to January 1954 and 1963-1965.
Martino-Taylor uncovered the information while working on her doctor of philosophy dissertation for the University of Missouri-Columbia, which studied how “ethical lapses” can allow members of a large organization to ignore the harm they are doing to innocent and unwitting people. In the course of her research, she obtained Army documents through the Freedom of Information Act.
The government admitted in 1994 that it used St. Louis as a testing ground because its architecture and climate were similar to cities in the Soviet Union. But it never revealed anything publicly about irradiated materials. Instead the Army claimed that the tests had been experiments to see if smoke clouds could be created to hide American cities from Soviet attacks. In reality, the military was testing offensive measures, not defensive. The tests, among other goals, were meant to discover “the penetration of the aerosol cloud into residences at various distances from the aerosol disperser, and to determine whether there is any residual background or lingering effect of the cloud within buildings.”
The experiments were meant to begin in Minneapolis, but met with resistance from residents. When the program moved on to St. Louis, they chose a low-income area because, according to historian Leonard Cole, “poor people were less likely to object to strange happenings in their neighborhood, and if they did, the police would be there to control them.”
In 2009, researchers in St. Louis discovered cardboard boxes filled with 85,000 individually labeled baby teeth that had been collected in the late 1950s and early 1960s to study the effects of radioactive fallout. Children born in St. Louis in 1964 had about 50 times the amount of strontium-90 in their baby teeth as those who were born in 1950.
Missouri’s U.S. senators, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt, have asked the Army to produce more information on the testing in St. Louis.
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Sick: Government Sprayed Radioactive Chemicals on Poor People in Science Experiment, Study Claims (by Laura Gottesdiener, AlterNet)
Missouri Senators Demand Details on Military Testing in 50s and 60s (by Bill Lambrecht, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
The Manhattan-Rochester Coalition, Research on the Health Effects of Radioactive Materials, and Tests on Vulnerable Populations without Consent in St. Louis, 1945-1970. (by Lisa Martino Taylor, University of Missouri-Columbia) (pdf)
The following article is from National Geographic:
In the developed world, we are used to the idea that we created the model of industrial and economic progress which other countries must follow. Many of our big ideas about development rest on the assumption that the West cracked the formula for economic progress sometime in the 19th century, and what we need now is for the developing world to ‘catch up’. Even the language we use encapsulates this idea, in the division between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’. But new innovations are challenging the idea that development requires handing ideas down from developed to developing. In banking and finance, the big ideas in cashless transfers and mobile, flexible exchanges are not to be found in Geneva or London or New York. A revolution in mobile money transfer has occurred, but not in these financial centres. Instead, it’s happened in Kenya, with m-Pesa.
“How does violence affect students’ ability to learn? That’s what eighth-grader De’Qonton Davis and his classmates set out to investigate as part of the NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs project in partnership with PBS station WEDU in Tampa. The students produced a unique video report that they hope President Obama will see.”