ST. LOUIS — After unseating a nearly 10-year incumbent this month, incoming 5th Ward Alderman James Page says he will take a new approach to an area north of downtown where some of the region’s most significant redevelopment projects are in the works.
That new approach will reflect the fact that, unlike his predecessor, he has “no personal interests in any of these developments,” Page said in an interview with the Post-Dispatch last week.
Page, 71, retired from a career in finance and accounting for the U.S. Postal Service in 2011 and is a 20-year resident of the Downtown portion of the ward, where he serves as the head of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. He cut his political teeth volunteering for the 2012 Barack Obama campaign and has worked on climate change issues with the Sierra Club.
The former alderman, Tammika Hubbard, is part of a politically powerful family that, until four years ago, also held the Missouri House seat covering the area as well as the ward’s Democratic Central Committee posts. The Hubbards have been closely involved in the ward’s major projects, several of which are regionally significant — the federally funded rehab of the Preservation Square housing complex, the controversial NorthSide Regeneration plan, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
As those construction projects advance in a neighborhood hollowed out by urban decay and population loss, Page’s win could shake up the relationships the area’s big developers — sometimes cozy, sometimes rocky — have with the ward’s alderman, whose cooperation is critical in St. Louis.
One of those projects, the 15-year-old NorthSide Regeneration plan, has relied for years on Hubbard to sponsor bills related to its tax increment financing subsidies, zoning and other matters. The company, led by developer Paul McKee, acquired hundreds of parcels in the area with grand plans for redevelopment. Some projects have been built, but neighbors complain some of the buildings NorthSide owns are crumbling nuisances.
Hubbard’s father, Rodney Hubbard Sr., runs the Carr Square Tenant Management Corp., a nonprofit that owns several apartment complexes in the area. Carr Square owns a 2.5% piece of NorthSide Regeneration, the McKee-led company that purchased hundreds of acres in the area with grand redevelopment plans.
NorthSide’s partnership with Carr Square allowed it to funnel tax credits through the nonprofit to reduce its tax liability. That tax credit program was steered through Jefferson City by Rodney Hubbard’s son, Rodney Hubbard Jr., now a lobbyist who has worked for NorthSide.
Even the NGA, the $1.7 billion federal intelligence installation being built in the 5th Ward, involved the Hubbard family’s interests. To assemble the site for the NGA, the city had to buy much of the site from NorthSide — property that the city’s land bank had sold to McKee just a few years before.
Page said NorthSide has had some “tangible” results, including the GreenLeaf Market and Zoom convenience store on Tucker Boulevard and a three-bed urgent care under construction on the site of the former Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, owned by a NorthSide affiliate. But he said one of his top priorities is securing and stabilizing the ward’s vacant buildings.
“A lot of those blighted buildings are within the footprint of the NorthSide Regeneration project, and I’m very concerned about that,” Page said. “Ultimately, how that area is developed is a much bigger issue and question. I just want to make sure that the ward, the neighborhoods remain livable while the NorthSide Regeneration project moves forward to whatever conclusion it’s moving toward.”
Another project in the area is developer McCormack Baron Salazar’s rehab of the Preservation Square low-income apartment complex. Tammika Hubbard sponsored legislation to block construction permits for the project, and the developer says she also blocked its request for tax abatement and refused to sponsor bills vacating city right-of-way.
The dispute between the Hubbards and McCormack burst into the open within the last year. Carr Square sought a share of McCormack’s development fees on the Preservation Square project, but the two sides were unable to reach a deal. The Hubbards say McCormack broke its promises. The developer says the hang-up was over legal controls Carr Square’s lawyers — attorneys at Stone, Leyton & Gershman, the same firm deeply involved in NorthSide Regeneration — wanted over the project.
Preservation Square is almost entirely taxpayer funded, a package that includes a $30 million federal grant with a deadline at the end of 2023. McCormack has said the lack of cooperation from Hubbard threatens its ability to spend the funds in time.
Overall, Preservation Square is a good project, Page said.
“My goal is to remove the roadblocks from potential loss of those federal funds so the project can go forward,” he said.
Page said he has had “get-acquainted” meetings with McCormack Baron Salazar representatives about the project. Three of its top executives donated $1,000 each to his election fund in the final days of the campaign.
He added that he’s known the Hubbards for years, and he plans to listen to “all sides.”
“My goal is to seek solutions that work for the majority of the people,” Page said.
Page’s campaign unseating Hubbard was helped by the progressive faction on the Board of Aldermen, which claims his win along with three other challengers this month could give them a slim majority on the 29-member board. Page’s campaign hired Meyers Okohson Political Consulting, the same firm that worked on Tishaura Jones’ winning mayoral campaign. Page said he considers himself a moderate, but also that he’s working with the progressive faction on the board.
“I’ve kind of been claimed by that wing, and I’m working with them, but that does not say that every issue that comes up, I cannot guarantee I will take a progressive stance,” Page said.
Page’s win is the second loss in less than a year for politicians close to McKee and attorneys at Stone Leyton & Gershman. Former U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay’s former chief of staff Darryl Piggee works at the law firm, and Clay ran one of his political action committees from the firm’s office. Clay, often at McKee’s ribbon-cuttings and a defender of the developer, was beaten in the August Democratic Party primary by another progressive challenger: Cori Bush.