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GreenLeaf grocery store soft opening

Developer Paul McKee greets guests at the soft opening of the GreenLeaf grocery store at 1400 North 13th Street on Monday, April 1, 2019. The store is part of McKee's NorthSide Regeneration plan. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — The Board of Aldermen gave final approval Friday to channeling as much as $8 million in subsidies to a proposed health care facility in north St. Louis tied to developer Paul McKee.

The move comes despite city officials’ ongoing efforts, now tied up in court, to strip McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration firm of the development rights it has held over a much larger 1,500-acre swath of the north side.

The new measure, which passed on a 23-2 vote, will help fund a three-bed urgent care center at Jefferson and Cass avenues that, along with infrastructure improvements, will cost about $21 million. The site is part of the larger 1,500-acre tract.

Mark Vincent, a lawyer connected to the project, has said United Bank of Union, Sterling Bank and the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council would provide a combined $8 million in loans to get the project underway. He said developers can close within 60 days.

Under a revised bill negotiated last week with city development officials, developers must prove by the end of 2021 that they have financing for a larger second phase beyond the initial three-bed facility in order to qualify for all the tax-increment financing, or TIF, subsidies.

That second phase — a $73 million, 103,000-square-foot hospital with a medical school — would have to be completed by June 2023 before some subsidies are paid. The agreement authorizes up to $4.6 million from the larger NorthSide Regeneration TIF beyond the site of the health care facility as long as developers can complete the second phase.

Supporters of the bill, led by sponsor Tammika Hubbard, D-5th Ward, said the project would help one of the city’s poorest areas.

“This is for access to health care for people,” said Hubbard, whose ward includes the site. “This is to fill a void in our community that we experienced since Homer G. Phillips closed.”

That was a reference to the city-run hospital that served many black St. Louisans from 1937 until it was closed in 1979.

Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward, said “this is what tax subsidy is supposed to be used for — a development in disenfranchised and marginalized communities.”

The two who voted against the bill — Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, and Bret Narayan, D-24th Ward — didn’t speak in floor debate.

But in interviews they said while they agreed that north St. Louis needs health care facilities, they had concerns about McKee’s track record on following through with his plans in that area. So did Annie Rice, D-8th Ward, who abstained from the vote.

McKee’s projects in the area so far have been limited to a $20 million grocery and gas station on North Tucker Boulevard completed this year. “I ran on TIF reform and ultimately this was a TIF that I had some concerns about,” Narayan said.

Aldermen had approved a 2017 agreement with many of the same terms for the health care facility but the project was delayed and development deadlines weren’t met.

Spencer and Rice also questioned whether the urgent care facility would serve everybody, not just people with private health insurance. Hubbard said Medicaid recipients would be served.

Mayor Lyda Krewson’s administration last year sought to cancel a 2009 development agreement with NorthSide Regeneration for the 1,500 acres. Administration officials cited the lack of progress and the developer’s use of a now-lapsed state tax credit program. The city move sparked lawsuits pitting McKee’s largest creditor, a Washington, Missouri, bank, against the city.

A top aide to Krewson has said she will sign the compromise bill for the smaller health care site that was passed Friday.

During debate Friday, Hubbard and Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, criticized the Post-Dispatch for reporting on campaign donations from McKee lawyer Steve Stone and companies affiliated with Stone to Boyd and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed.

Reed cast a key committee vote Oct. 2 to send the bill to the full board and asked Boyd to be involved in negotiations between city development officials and the developer.

“This has to do with elevating the quality of life of African American people in the city of St. Louis,” Boyd said.

“The print media, shame on them for targeting black leadership ... trying to assert an assumption that the only reason black leadership supports this project is because they got a financial reward years ago.”

Boyd and Reed, who hasn’t commented on the donations, are black.

Jacob Barker of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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