A University City commission voted Thursday night for a plan to provide up to $70 million in tax assistance for a $190 million retail-anchored development at Interstate 170 and Olive Boulevard.
The 10-2 vote from the Tax Increment Financing Commission came after a fourth round of public comment and with the city manager and mayor recommending approval. The commission’s vote followed more than two hours of comments from supporters and opponents of the project. The city council will have to grant final approval.
TIFs freeze property assessments and let the owners use the increase in taxes from development to help finance their project. The TIF University City is considering could be worth $70 million over 20 years.
Revamping Olive Boulevard, the unofficial Chinatown of the St. Louis region, has dogged developers for decades. But more momentum is building.
The proposal, by Webster Groves-based Novus Development, would require the buyout of dozens of homes in University City’s predominantly African-American Third Ward. It also would displace some longtime businesses along Olive , known for the international flavor of its restaurants.
”I see the deterioration, but you have had years to fix it,” Marquis Govan, 15, a resident of the ward, told the commissioners.
He said the development would continue a historic pattern of displacement of black neighborhoods instead of helping them. He said he feared his grandmother, 75, would be forced out of her home.
“I oppose the TIF because my grandmother was red-lined into her house 50 years ago,” Marquis said, referring to the historic process of limiting where minorities can live. “She wouldn’t be there if you hadn’t put her there in the first place. And now you have this plan with all these supporters who don’t live where I live, who don’t drink the same water I drink, who don’t breathe the same air I breathe …
“I want investment in my neighborhood, but this isn’t the right type of investment,” he added
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.
But supporters say the TIF could capture an influx of new cash to be earmarked for improvements in the city’s northern neighborhoods, which have seen far less investment than other areas of the municipality.
Kathy Straatman, 67, was one of several people who spoke Thursday in support of the development . Straatman, a Third Ward resident, said the project would help residents by raising property values.
“Me and my neighbors support the TIF because we recognize that bringing up the value of our homes is very important,” she said. “This will help us do that. It will help the whole city.
Nichole Angieri, a 10-year resident of the ward, said she was willing to sacrifice living in the neighborhood to bring investment.
“We need development, we need courage, and we need it to happen now,” Angieri said.
Novus has hinted the development would be anchored by a Costco and surrounded by other retail, offices, apartments and a hotel. It needs the city’s blessing to help it acquire some 50 acres, including businesses and more than 60 homes at the interchange.
In a speech recommending the commission approve the TIF, City Manager Gregory Rose said the first $10 million in revenue from the project would be set aside for “improvements” in the ward and an additional $5 million set aside for Olive .
Rose also said 90 percent of the owners of single-family homes in the footprint of the development had already agreed to be relocated. He promised the City Council would not use eminent domain to move unwilling homeowners out and said he would not recommend any caps to the amount of financial assistance the city would give to business owners on Olive to help them relocate.
Rose also said the city would sue the developer if it did not hold up its part of the agreement.
Mayor Terry Crow said the city would put requirements for minority participation in the construction of the development and for employment at the retail businesses .
“This project was never supposed to be about Novus, (Novus President) Jonathan Browne or Costco,” Crow said. “It was about stabilizing and increasing our tax base and it was about allocating funds to investment in the Third Ward to help our citizens.”
Several people in opposition to the TIF held a protest before the meeting. It was attended by state Sen. Maria Chapelle Nadal and Cori Bush, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay in the Democrat primary earlier this month.
Editor's note: This replaces an earlier version of the story that incorrectly spelled Nichole Angieri's name in the 12th paragraph.
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