Residents were alarmed when they discovered that scores of homes and historic buildings near their Old North St. Louis neighborhood had been sold and left empty — their doors and windows removed, speeding decay.
When they traced the purchases, the trail led to prominent developer Paul J. McKee Jr. But McKee, best known for the 1,100-acre WingHaven development in St. Charles County, wouldn't say why he was amassing hundreds of parcels in St. Louis for more than three years.
A clearer picture emerged in Jefferson City this year, when the Legislature approved a $100 million tax credit for large-scale developments in impoverished areas. McKee spurred Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder to champion the bill, hired several lobbyists to push it and gave thousands of dollars — and use of a corporate plane — to politicians who helped pass it
Here is an example of how McKee and his lobbyists pushed through the legislation:
Kinder, who received $11,200 in campaign contributions from McKee's firms in December, unveiled the tax credit proposal at a Senate hearing on Blunt's economic development bill in February.
That month, McKee hired a prominent pair of lobbyists, Bill Gamble and Jorgen Schlemeier. Their clients range from casinos to pharmacists to nursing homes.
McKee later added two Republican lobbyists to his team. The duo, Jewell Patek and James Harris, are both former aides to Blunt, either when he was secretary of state or governor.
Shortly before the bill came up for debate, Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, needed a quick flight to a political event in Branson. McKee sent his plane. The round trip cost $3,188, which McKee covered as an in-kind campaign contribution.
Gibbons said he knows McKee "pretty well" and supported the bill long before the flight. Gibbons said he met last year with McKee, who explained the difficulties of assembling large tracts of land in urban areas, where lots are so small.
"That's really the biggest problem," Gibbons said. "I think it's a compelling argument.