The Gospel According to Paul

Developer Paul McKee Jr. envisions WingHaven as a "New Urbanist" planned community where everyone will live, work and get along. So why does it look so much like suburbia?

"We've integrated all levels of economics in our community," says McKee. "You can't get that in Creve Coeur, Olivette or Town & Country." Unlike the segregated suburbs of St. Louis County, he adds, "we're building neighborhood."

McKee calls his philosophy "LifeWorks," a spelling McEagle has copyrighted. "If you live, learn, work and play in one place, life is more in balance and ... life works," he says. And when you can't, it doesn't.

The importance of that for the St. Louis region is that WingHaven-type communities will be the core of future economic development, according to McKee. The 21st-century economy, he says, will be built around "knowledge workers," a phrase he has borrowed from management guru Peter Drucker, who defines them as people who work as part of a team to analyze, handle or provide information to their employer that gives their company a competitive advantage.

"The houses are different, but the amenities are the same -- even the mailboxes."
Jennifer Silverberg
"The houses are different, but the amenities are the same -- even the mailboxes."
Charles Marske of St. Louis University thinks WingHaven is "an incredibly intriguing concept."
Jennifer Silverberg
Charles Marske of St. Louis University thinks WingHaven is "an incredibly intriguing concept."

"What we're discovering is that the knowledge worker is really the driver of the new economy, and the knowledge worker values a lot of things," says McKee. "We think what they value most of all is choice. We think they are making the choice to live, learn, work and play -- some people add 'pray' to that -- in the same place. We're confident that is what the knowledge worker wants."

What knowledge workers want is important, McKee says, because employers will have to accommodate them to stay competitive. "Where, before, companies put their headquarters close to the CEO's home and people would come, today, the CEO has to go to where the knowledge worker is, and he drives or she drives to accommodate the knowledge worker," he says.

So if St. Louis can develop the kind of communities in which knowledge workers want to live, the key companies and industries of the new economy will put their facilities here to get the workers they need.

McKee acknowledges that it's a big dream, but, in market terms, it's a successful one. When housing development started in January 1999, "we sold 550 sites in one week," he says. "People were lining up for a chance to put down $1,000 for a lot on the golf course." John Eilermann, president of McBride & Son, one of four homebuilders operating in WingHaven, gushes that he sold 250 houses in 90 days. (The other residential builders in WingHaven are the Jones Co., Vantage Homes and Mayer Homes.)

Sales have slowed, but they are still well above what the developers had projected before opening the gates. The single-family housing was going to be developed in three phases. McKee estimates that all of phase 1 and half of phase 2, about 650 units in all, have been sold.

"We thought it would take us 10 years to complete the residential component," he says. "We're going to be done in five."

McKee isn't doing it on his own. WingHaven isn't just a story about a maverick capitalist playing with his own money and sponsoring a grand experiment to test his ideas about a new kind of living. WingHaven required, and is dependent on, both private enterprise and public subsidies.

Clearly what helped launch WingHaven in a big way was the relocation of MasterCard from Maryland Heights.

And getting MasterCard to move 2,000 employees into WingHaven propelled other companies as well. There are three corporate tenants in three buildings at WingHaven now: MasterCard, Nordyne and GLA/Everest. But MasterCard accounts for 550,000 of the combined 695,000 square feet of office and research space. It cost $115 million to build that space, but $100 million of it was for MasterCard alone.

McKee's LifeWorks vision was one of the things that appealed to MasterCard, says Linda Locke, a company spokeswoman, but it wasn't the only thing, or even the most important thing. The most important thing, she says, was the state's incentive package, "which made the case for staying in Missouri."

When MasterCard began making noises four years ago about moving out of state, the machinery of government cranked up, offering a patchwork of subsidies to keep the company in the region. As St. Louis County sought to keep the company from leaving the county, St. Charles County, along with the city of O'Fallon, entered the fray, offering millions in subsidies, trying to land the big fish. Then-Gov. Mel Carnahan pushed the state's economic-development officials to work out a deal to keep the company in state, if not in St. Louis County.

After months of ever-increasing offers of financial incentives, MasterCard announced in January 1999 that it would relocate to WingHaven.

Using a program begun in 1982, the Missouri Development Finance Board sold $154 million of industrial-revenue bonds to finance MasterCard's $100 million office and data-center complex and the $35 million worth of equipment and furniture that is going into it. MasterCard's bank bought the bonds. Each month, MasterCard makes a payment toward retiring them, and the state credits that payment against the company's state income taxes. In other words, every dollar that MasterCard pays on the principle and interest on the debt reduces its state income tax by a dollar.

It has generally been reported that MasterCard's tax benefit was capped at about $40 million. In practice, the public subsidy is worth much more than that. Until MasterCard pays off the bonds, a nonprofit corporation set up by St. Charles County owns the building. As a nonprofit, it does not pay local real-estate taxes or personal-property taxes, and neither does MasterCard, because it owns neither real estate nor property. When the bonds are paid off, the property will be turned over to MasterCard and, presumably, will be put on the tax rolls.

« Previous Page
Next Page »