The standard redevelopment mantra is that in order to revive cities, eminent domain has to be used because otherwise land could not be assembled for the redevelopment. Any li’l old holdout could bring urban revival to a stop by irrationally refusing to sell to the would-be redevelopers. We always doubted that scenario. Why? Because for 200 years much urban land has been assembled privately, and great buildings and other private projects have been constructed without the use of eminent domain, the Rockefeller Center in New York being a proverbial “Exhibit A.”
Now, the St.Louis Post-Dispatch (STLtoday.com) reports from St. Louis that developer Paul McKee has spent five years assembling land and — guess what? — he succeeded in asssembling some 500 acres in north St. Louis, which he now proposes to develop into 4.5 million square feet of office buildings and stores over the next 15 years at an estimated cost of billions. The price of the assemblage was $46 million.
Of course, the economy being what it is, it will take some time to accomplish this feat, and to the extent this envisioned redevelopment provides for construction of urban residences, it will have to contend with the problem that most of the urban population has decamped for the suburbs and will have to be enticed to return to the city. Also, it will take considerable public funds to transform McKee’s vision into reality. But be that as it may, here is proof that large urban tracts can be assembled for redevelopment by voluntary transactions, without using the power of eminent domain.