A St. Charles commission could decide later this month whether to recommend a $65.5 million tax subsidy for the $385 million Plaza at Noah's Ark proposed at South Fifth Street and Interstate 70.
The City Council approved rezoning and development plans for the project four months ago, but developer Gregg Whittaker is asking the city to create a tax increment financing district to help fund the project.
The multi-use development is planned on 26.8 acres occupied by the former Noah's Ark restaurant and motel and a small subdivision. The area was developed in the 1960s, but the restaurant closed in 2000 and the hotel two years later.
Plans include an 18-story high-rise residential complex, an outdoor ice rink, a movie theater, a 150-room upscale hotel, restaurants and a parking garage that could include 1,827 spaces.
The city's 11-member tax increment financing commission plans to conduct a public hearing on the project at 4 p.m. Dec. 20 in the fourth-floor council chambers at St. Charles City Hall, 200 N. Second St.
The commission is expected to then vote on whether to recommend diverting a large portion of the property and sales tax revenues generated by the development over a maximum period of 23 years. The subsidy would provide money for street, sewer and sidewalk improvements.
If approved, the TIF would be the largest in the city and one of the largest in St. Charles County.
The parking garage makes up a substantial portion of the proposed TIF. Several commission members requested that the residential parking spaces not be included in the TIF cost, so they were removed, said Bruce Evans, the city's development director.
The plan also includes the ShowMe Aquatics and Fitness Center, an indoor water facility to be used for warm-water therapy, and expansion of the QuikTrip convenience store and gas station on South Fifth Street.
ShowMe Aquatics, a nonprofit organization based in St. Charles, bought the Noah's Ark property in 2004 and plans to build its facility there.
Whittaker and supporters of his proposed development say a TIF of this magnitude is needed to support the high-density development in an area that has otherwise been unsuccessful. Opponents contend the proposed TIF is too large.
TIF special counsel Tom Cunningham has told commission members the area meets the blighting requirement in Missouri's TIF law. He provided several large-scale photos of the site during the commission's meeting Wednesday.
"This site hits all facets of the blight statute. There is asbestos in the hotel, and there is underground gas tanks from the old Phillips station," he said.
The TIF plan, which has gone through five drafts, also would include demolition, grading and removal of the asbestos and gas tanks.
Brad Goss, an attorney for Whittaker, said a substantial amount of grading would be needed because of the property's severe slope.
"Access is also a problem right now," Goss said. "You are too close to the interchange (of South Fifth and I-70)."
The development would take five to eight years to complete. Cunningham compared the project to the Boulevards development near the St. Louis Galleria.
"It's probably the best analog," he said. "People are drawn to the mix and upscale nature of the site."
Matt Brown, special assessments manager for the county Assessor's Office, has questioned whether public funding of this caliber is needed. Brown has made it clear at commission meetings the county does not favor the proposed TIF.
Goss has said the developer would give the St. Charles School District $1.25 million in lieu of new tax revenue that would be diverted to the TIF fund.
Cunningham said only 24 children would result from the development because, statistically, high-rise residential buildings do not produce as many children. He said he came to that conclusion looking at results from a similar development in Palm Beach County, Fla.
Goss plans to attend the St. Charles Board of Education meeting Thursday at the request of board member Bernie Weinrich. Goss is scheduled to update board members on the project's status.
A brief overview also will be presented during the Dec. 20 public hearing.
In addition to the TIF, Whittaker wants the city to establish a community improvement district that would impose a special property tax and 1-cent sales tax at the Plaza at Noah's Ark. Those taxes are estimated to generate an additional $10 million.
Whittaker also hopes to get state approval to use $10 million to $12 million in state tax receipts for improvements to the property.