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St. Louis proposed NGA site

The St. Louis sky line can be seen behind a vacant home in the 2300 block of North Market Street in St. Louis Wednesday, March 30, 2016. The 2300 block of North Market Street is located in the area for the proposed new campus of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project won a major victory Friday after the Board of Aldermen voted to extend $2.8 million in tax relief for the project as part of a plan to build a grocery store and gas station at North 13th Street and North Tucker Boulevard.

Completing those two businesses is supposed to be the first piece in the puzzle that McKee has described as a multibillion-dollar redevelopment plan, to include hundreds of new housing units and a health care campus with a three-bed hospital.

Friday’s vote to extend tax-increment financing to the project was fast-tracked, with aldermen voting to skip a step to get the project moving more quickly.

Antonio French opposed fast-tracking the bill, calling on his fellow aldermen to table the issue until fall in order to give north St. Louis stakeholders more time to review the project.

French, along with Alderman Sharon Tyus, also opposed handing out tax relief for a gas station. They argued that St. Louis already has a proliferation of them, that many of their constituents oppose building more and that gas stations are the kind of businesses that don’t need any help from the city.

French, who supports the grocery store, said linking the two businesses together was akin to “a turd wrapped up in a bow.”

“The turd is the gas station and the grocery store is the bow,” he clarified.

The bill’s sponsor, Alderman Tammika Hubbard, urged both fast-tracking the bill and final passage. She argued that it was needed to honor the city’s promise to the federal government to develop the area around the coming National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency headquarters.

Delaying the vote would also jeopardize a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Hubbard said.

She hinted that hard feelings between McKee and some aldermen were fueling some of the resistance.

“Let’s not get caught up in past histories with this developer,” Hubbard said. “This $2.8 million is specifically for infrastructure. It’s not going into anyone’s pocket.”

The bill passed with 19 aldermen voting in favor and two against. French and Tyus both voted “present.”

After the meeting, Otis Williams, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corp., described the plans as a convenience store that sells gas, rather than a straight gas station.

The grocery store will be a GreenLeaf Market run by Good Natured Family Farms, a farmers group that provides fresh food from small family farms around the Kansas City area.

Linking the two businesses is necessary for the project to move forward, Williams said.

“With the way the financing is structured, it would be impossible to do one without the other,” he said.

Williams estimated the convenience store and grocery store phase of the project would cost as much as $19 million and could take up to 12 months to complete. Construction is slated to begin this fall.

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