UNIVERSITY CITY • After an overflow crowd kept an estimated 100 people from attending last month, a commission considering $70 million in subsidies for a $190 million retail-anchored development gave the public another chance to weigh in Wednesday night.
The University City Tax Increment Financing Commission heard more than three hours of comments from a room divided between supporters who say the development could boost property values in and bolster the 3rd Ward, long the poorer area of town, and opponents concerned it would oust long-standing businesses and homeowners in a diverse area at little benefit to the community.
The commission took no vote on the project but set a third public hearing for 6 p.m. June 22 at University City High School.
Revamping Olive Boulevard, the unofficial Chinatown of the St. Louis region, has dogged developers for decades. But more momentum is building.
Novus Development, the Webster Groves-based developer pitching the project at Olive Boulevard and Interstate 170, strongly hinted the development would be anchored by a Costco and surrounded by other retail, offices, apartments and a hotel.
To do it, Novus is seeking $70 million in TIF assistance. And it also needs the city’s blessing to help it acquire some 50 acres, including businesses and more than 60 homes at the interchange. Some homeowners have indicated they are being offered well over what their homes are worth, but some business owners have worried about losing their longtime locations at the interchange.
University City officials, though, say the proposed location needs a jolt of activity. They plan to use the TIF to direct some of the future taxes generated by the development into 3rd Ward neighborhoods for home improvement grants and loans.
Initial estimates indicate some $13.8 million in TIF funds would go toward neighborhood development in the ward while an additional $5 million would go to upgrades along Olive Boulevard.
Several people opposed to the project pointed out it could become another instance of many residents of a predominantly black neighborhood being moved to make way for a retail development. Others worry about losing part of the international flavor that characterizes the restaurants along the Olive Boulevard corridor, or that not enough TIF money will go to neighborhood stabilization.
Changes in state law have give St. Louis County more authority over municipalities establishing TIFs, but county executive may have deferred to University City on Olive and Interstate 170 proposal.
Backers said it’s the only chance to generate enough money for University City to finance real improvements to the neighborhoods north of Olive, something the municipality has been talking about for decades.
Other commenters said that if the project goes forward, it must include a community benefits agreement to allow more direct input from residents and a guarantee the construction would include minority representation and union contractors.
The region’s planning organization has said subsidizing retail development in a slow-growing metro such as St. Louis often just shifts retail spending around instead of generating new spending. While it may be good for University City, the new shopping center could well hurt nearby retailers, long a problem among the dozens of sales tax-hungry municipalities throughout St. Louis County.
The University City TIF Commission must vote on a recommendation before the inner-ring suburb’s City Council decides whether to approve the TIF, a mechanism that allows developers to use future tax revenue generated by their project to finance construction.
A negative recommendation from the TIF Commission severely limits the activities the TIF can be used for and would require a supermajority from the University City council to pass.