Tuesday, June 30, 2009

STL: Most change resistent and nonprogressive US city?

Reading the comments section following Tim Logan's latest Post Dispatch article on NorthSide sheds light on one of NorthSide's greatest challenges: St. Louis' resistence to change.

Half the comments having nothing to do with the project, but rather the historic problems of north St. Louis. Many St. Louisans do not believe anyone would move to North City.

While NorthSide faces challenges of obtaining substantial private financing, community support, and political support, how does the project overcome the negative stigma of North City?

Monday, June 29, 2009

McEagle releases NorthSide YouTube video, launches project website

McEagle has released a new YouTube video about the NorthSide project. In the 7 minute, 41 second video, Paul McKee describes his intentions for the Clemens House, his anticipated construction start date, and the need for community, financial, and political support.

YouTube NorthSide video, chapter one

McEagle has also launched a project website:


The website is still under construction. Check back periodically as the site becomes fully operational.

Too big to fail?

When magazines and universities do their 2009 year-in-review lists, one of the things they're sure to write is that we never want to hear the expression "too big to fail" again. What with Citi, AIG, Chrysler and GM, we've had our fill.

But what about McEagle and NorthSide? Are they "too big to fail" as well? Maybe by December, St. Louis will be getting tired of NorthSide. Or maybe more people will be on board with the project. We're just going to have to wait to see what happens.

Tim Logan of the Post Dispatch has a story in today's paper detailing more of the background on the proposed NorthSide plan. Logan poses the question: is NorthSide too big to fail? There's no guarantee the project will be a success, but if it's not, we all lose.

What are the ways you see the project succeeding, and what potential challenges do you see getting in the way?

Friday, June 26, 2009

NorthSide's first course

Not much has been heard from NorthSide's promoters in the past few weeks. We have never received a return call from the community engagement office. The developers are most likely working to get some of their first initiatives off the ground.

If you were advising McEagle, what key first steps would you recommend? What specific tasks would give you added comfort with the project? How does McEagle start broadening community support for their vision?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

McEagle seeking stimulus funds

The Post Dispatch ran an in depth article Sunday, June 21, about McEagle's push for stimulus funding for the NorthSide development. The article pointed out the many competing projects seeking funding, and the difficulty of making the case for NorthSide as a shovel ready project.

McKee is hoping the city prioritizes NorthSide for stimulus funds, which he says will reduce the amount of local funding required to rebuild infrastructure in the project area.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Other mega project comparisons

San Francisco's Mission Bay:

San Francisco Redevelopment Agency info

Marketing info

Mission Bay Wikipedia site

San Francisco's Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard:

San Francisco Redevelopment Agency info

Marketing info

Bayview - Hunter's Point Wikipedia entry

Denver's Stapleton:

Discover Stapleton

Marketing info

Analysis of the built environment

What are the lessons learned from these projects which might aid the NorthSide effort?

NorthSide's McEagle raises the bar

The fact that McEagle has spent tens of millions of dollars on predevelopment costs for the proposed NorthSide project demonstrates that the city's overall position in encouraging redevelopment efforts is strengthened.

For years, it was commonplace for developers in St. Louis to ask the city to put in up front money and assume predevelopment risk. McEagle's predevelopment investment in NorthSide demonstrates renewed private sector confidence in the city of St. Louis, and raises the bar on other potential developers considering city projects.

Developers will be expected to have their money and time invested in a project before the city considers their plans. McKee has well established NorthSide in this regard.

With reportedly $46,000,000 in out of pocket costs already invested, McEagle is very much at risk on NorthSide. With so much private capital invested, the city has a great opportunity to influence the planning and implementation of the project.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Radio contact

The two calls I have placed to the community engagement coordinator for the NorthSide project have not been returned. When calling, I requested copies of the notes from the small group breakout sessions and a copy of the power point presentation from the May 21, 2009 community meeting.

While I am still waiting for feedback from project representatives, perhaps others have had responses. If you have dialed the community engagement telephone line for NorthSide, please relay your experiences here. For this thread, anonymous comments will be removed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Atlantic Yards Report

"Atlantic Yards" is a multi-billion dollar urban redevelopment proposal, this one located in Brooklyn, New York. Follow the "Atlantic Yards Report Blog" for similarities and comparisons to the NorthSide project in St. Louis.

To explore best practices and lessons learned from other large scale redevelopment efforts, please forward information and/or links about such initiatives and we will add them to the links section here at NorthSide blog.

Hat tip to Michael Allen for the referral to the Atlantic Yards Report.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Divergent views

Last Thursday, Paul McKee, principal for McEagle Properties, developers of NorthSide, was in the studio for an on-air interview at KMOX. Mr. McKee gave a broad overview of his vision for NorthSide, emphasizing the job creation oppportunities, the scale of the redevelopment, and his passion for the total project.

The hosts were guest hosts filling in for KMOX regular morning show host, Charlie Brennan. A caller congratulated McKee for his vision and willingness to attempt such an ambitious project in north St. Louis. Then he went on to chide Charlie Brennan for apparently criticizing some of the McEagle's activities on the north side.

A project of such massive scale is bound to generate controversy, concern, and a variety of opinions, both pro and con. What is the role of critics in this process?

Are they naysayers, unwilling to take a chance on the city, or back McEagle in its ambitious efforts? Or do they raise important issues to be addressed as the project moves forward? What will come of their concerns?

There is an ironic twist to this situation. In general, St. Louisans are loathe to change and are prone to naysaying. There is frequent skepticism about the possibility of good things happening in St. Louis.

Against such a long history of public doubt, Paul McKee presents his NorthSide vision to the general St. Louis community. Pro-city people want good things for St. Louis. They are not against progress. They want population growth, economic development, and reuse of abandoned and underutilized sites.

How does the positive energy of those supporting the revitalization of St. Louis mesh with serious concerns and divergent viewpoints about the NorthSide plan?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Community Involvement or Community Engagement?

There's only so much that can happen through blogging, twitter, and facebook. At some point, you need to be involved if you want to make a difference.

The role of the public in the NorthSide project is still evolving, depending on what happens with the developer's own processes and the City's public hearings and project reviews.

On May 21, approximately 300 people attended a community meeting to learn more about the proposed NorthSide project. The meeting was held at Central Baptist Church, 2843 Washington Avenue.

Speakers included Alderwomen Marlene Davis and April Griffin as well as representatives from the development team. The meeting also marked the beginning of a community engagement process.

The audience was broken up into small groups for roundtable discussions, described on the meeting agenda as "an opportunity for residents to identify concerns, best practices, and unanswered questions".

To organize the small groups, audience members were each given a different colored paper card. I was given a blue card, and instructed to join others from the audience with the same blue cards. Each group was assigned a meeting facilitator. There were probably ten or so such small discussion groups. We were sent to rooms in other parts of the building.

Our group was made up of a mixture of residents from in and around the NorthSide project area as well as from other parts of the St. Louis metro. I felt bad for our facilitator, because when we arrived, the room was not ready for us. There were an insufficient number of chairs and no easel in place, so the facilitator had to search for chairs and figure out a way to prop up his note pad.

We burned about half of our allotted time getting the room ready. By the time the discussion started, participants felt rushed to get their ideas presented. Then we were pressed to narrow our concerns to the top three. Our group did not feel comfortable by such a limit.

When time ran out, we had generated about two pages of notes on a 2' x 3' sheet of paper. After the small group discussions, all the people were reconvened in the main meeting room to hear reports from the facilitators from the various breakout sessions.

Our facilitator went last. His report was very brief and general, with little reference to the specific concerns mentioned from our meeting making it back to the full audience.

A consultant has been hired to facilitate community engagement. The facilitator gave out a phone number to call for follow up information. The facilitator promised that all calls would be returned. The telephone number for the community engagement consultant is (314) 758-4857.

I called the number to request a copy of the Power Point presentation from the meeting and copies of the unfiltered comments from the small group discussions. I have made two calls since May 22, left messages on the answering machine, and to date have not received a return phone call. Since the consultant promised to return all calls, I am keeping faith that my calls will be returned.

In the meantime, the role of the public in the future of the NorthSide project remains unclear. Community engagement and community involvement are not the same thing, especially when community engagement is being carried out by a private developer rather than a public body. At this time, no one knows what the developer plans to do with public input.

Recurring themes surrounding NorthSide to date are accountability and public involvement. The developer's efforts in these areas will be key to building community support for the project.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What a friend said

One of the nice things about the "big small town" feel of St. Louis is that it seems no matter where you go, you're always bumping into someone you know. It's a tight knit community.

So it was last night as I was putting away the music gear from our regular Sunday night ensemble work at a local church. There was a friend from across town sitting with another friend in the middle row of pews.

She's from another parish, so it was surprising to see her there. She wondered what was going on; she arrived at the end of Mass and the place was almost empty. I asked her why she was there, "to see the windows" is what she said. And so we had a few minutes to catch up on things.

She asked me about McKee. It's a topic of conversation, even in far South City. She comes down on the side of historic preservation, so she's concerned about what to expect given the way properties acquired by McEagle for the past few years have been poorly maintained.

It's funny how in this big small town, if you're around long enough, it seems like you get to meeting almost everybody, and knowing just about every building in town. At least it seems that way. Maybe that's just a sign we're all getting older?