Developer Paul McKee plans to push for more state money for his NorthSide Regeneration project in north St. Louis. And he’s hired a small army of Jefferson City insiders to help him get it.
Seventeen lobbyists filed paperwork Monday to represent the huge-but-stalled project in the Capitol, according to filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission. That’s as many people as represent Ameren Corp. and Anheuser-Busch, combined.
The lobbying blitz comes as lawmakers launch a legislative session that promises to feature a heavy dose of debate around economic development incentives. And McKee confirmed in an email to the Post-Dispatch that he plans to push for the extension of the controversial Distressed Areas Land Assemblage tax credits.
The tax credits pay back the cost of buying and maintaining land for redevelopment in poor urban neighborhoods. They were created in 2007 to help finance the NorthSide project and are set to run out in August.
“Renewing DALATC gives other areas of Missouri a chance to address and meet challenges similar to challenges faced by the city in its game-changing undertaking and allows the city and its developer the time needed to complete its assemblage,” he wrote.
Right now, McKee’s 2-square-mile NorthSide project is the only development in the state that is large enough to qualify for the credits.
He has claimed roughly $40 million worth of credits since 2009, including $10.5 million in December, but NorthSide’s slow progress has meant he’ll leave tens of millions of dollars on the table if the credits expire in August as planned.
The program has been controversial almost since its creation, and was targeted for elimination by a state tax credit panel in 2010.
McKee has floated the idea of extensions in the past. And some Kansas City-area lawmakers have occasionally proposed tweaking the program to allow for its use there, too. But changes have been shot down by Gov. Jay Nixon and deficit hawks in the Senate.
Now McKee will have some of Missouri’s most prominent lobbyists working on his project’s behalf.
Among the names who filed to represent NorthSide on Monday are veteran heavyweights such as John Bardgett and Mark Rhoads, former state representatives Gary Burton, James Foley and Christopher Liese, and Andy Blunt — son of Sen. Roy Blunt and brother of former Gov. Matt Blunt.
The list also includes former state Rep. Rodney Hubbard Jr., whose father runs a nonprofit organization that owns a stake in NorthSide and who has worked closely with McKee since leaving office in 2009.
And the 17 new lobbyists don’t count James Harris, a former Matt Blunt aide with close ties to House Republican leadership who has represented NorthSide since March.
NorthSide also recently hired a respected Jefferson City policy analyst, Brian Schmidt, to author a series of white papers on north St. Louis that have begun circulating around the Capitol, providing a sort of policy support for the project.
Meanwhile McKee and his associates were big donors on the campaign trail last year — and not just to frequent recipients such as Mayor Francis Slay and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, but to Senate newcomers such as Scott Sifton (who received $10,000 from McKee’s law firm Stone, Leyton and Gershman in 2012) and Jamilah Nasheed ($4,500).
Still, opposition to the program remains fierce from skeptics such as Sen. Brad Lager, who said recently he’d fight any effort to expand the Land Assemblage credit.
“I opposed it the first time, I’m gonna oppose it this time. Of all the priorities we have in government, funding Paul McKee is not one of my priorities,” he told the Post-Dispatch.
“We were promised all these great things were going to be happening down there. We’ve spent millions of dollars and we’ve yet to see a shovel of turned dirt.”
That doesn’t mean McKee won’t try. And this time he’ll have a lot of lobbyists working for him.
Virginia Young of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.