After more than a year of debate, the City Council of University City on June 10 approved a plan by Novus Development for a $190 million development at Olive Boulevard and Interstate 170.
After more than two hours of discussion and comments from 20 residents, the council unanimously approved five bills related to the project, including $70.5 million in tax increment financing (TIF).
Those in support of the development say it will be a financial boost to the city, with funding earmarked for infrastructure improvements for an area around the development that has been on the decline for decades.
Those opposed accuse the council of not being transparent, not listening to residents, and claim that the project will lead to gentrification — driving up land prices while driving out residents, many of them African-Americans.
Some also continued to express fear over the possible use of eminent domain to take homes. The agreement does allow for eminent domain, but the council plans to avoid using it.
City Manager Gregory Rose said the project is expected to bring in 250-350 permanent living wage jobs in addition to 400-500 temporary construction jobs. Those employees, he said, will contribute to the success of existing businesses in the city.
Rose said that approval of the project provides some protection should the St. Louis County sales tax pool ever fail. University City receives some funding from that pool. Chesterfield has an ongoing lawsuit to exit the county pool, and Rose said other cities could follow should Chesterfield be successful.
Mayor Terry Crow confirmed for the first time what most residents already knew, that the project’s anchor will be Costco.
“This anchor (Costco) has not closed a store in the Midwest in 22 years and they have only closed 12 units in company history, and that was only because they rebuilt with larger units,” Crow said. “This vote is not just a vote, it’s a long-time relationship that will outlast all of our times.”
Novus President Jonathan Browne spoke after the meeting.
“We ticked off one of the boxes, and now we can move on to the next step,” he said. “We will work on finalizing tenant agreements and land acquisition. The politics are not really my specialty, so now I can get back to what we do best, the development.”
The development plan was introduced at a meeting on Jan. 14, and additional readings and a possible vote had been expected to take place at a Jan. 28 meeting, but Novus pulled it from the agenda before the meeting, citing the desire to make changes. Additionally, a resident had found an error in tax calculations by a consultant.
The project extends along both sides of Olive Boulevard between I-170 and McKnight/Woodson. In addition to Costco, plans are for retail, offices, a residential component set to be apartments and possibly a hotel. A decision on a senior living facility will be made at a later date.