By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
A total of 11 taxing districts assessed real-estate taxes in O'Fallon in 2000, at a total rate of $7.15 per $100 of assessed value. Not only do those taxes support the city, county and state governments, they pay for roads and bridges, schools, libraries, the fire department, the community college and ambulance, alarm and handicap services. MasterCard pays none of it. At an assessed value of about $40 million, MasterCard saves $2.8 million a year.
McKee says the local jurisdictions negotiated with MasterCard the number of years the nonprofit will own the facility, and the total value of the local benefits MasterCard is getting is $32 million.
That's not all. The state is spending $13.4 million to construct an interstate-highway-quality interchange on Highway 40 to serve MasterCard, and St. Charles County has pledged $8.4 million for the construction of WingHaven Boulevard, a new "outer belt" that links the new Highway 40 interchange with Bryan Road, which connects with I-70. The state will spend millions more to build a WingHaven Boulevard-Page Avenue interchange on the north side of WingHaven.
All that road construction made the location a great one. With the county's construction of WingHaven Boulevard to Bryan Road and I-70, the site MasterCard chose is served by both Highway 40 and I-70.
Tim Fischesser, executive director of the St. Louis County Municipal League, says he was on a St. Louis County committee assigned the task of finding a site for MasterCard. "They told us right from the beginning they wanted to be on Hwy. 40," he says, "which was like tying one arm behind our back" because it excluded sites in St. Louis County, both in Maryland Heights and along I-70.
MasterCard ended up with three choices along Highway 40, one in Town & Country and two in O'Fallon, including WingHaven. With land prices running $300,000 an acre in Town & Country and $270,000 an acre in O'Fallon, McKee gave MasterCard another reason to choose WingHaven: He offered to give them the 52 acres they wanted for free. That inducement was worth $14.1 million. "I'm not in the habit of giving away 52 acres of land, but it was worth it," says McKee.
MasterCard aside, O'Fallon reportedly spent an estimated $100 million on infrastructure for WingHaven, including roads, sewers and water mains. In 1994, for example, the Duckett Creek Sanitary District began a $32 million expansion to support growth in the area in which WingHaven now sits. That plan included the construction of a second wastewater-treatment plant at a cost of $16 million. The treatment plant began operating in 1997, the same year McKee got interested in the WingHaven site. Without that sewer system, "no development south of Interstate 70 could happen," McKee says. But that investment wasn't made just for WingHaven. St. Charles County was already one of the fastest-growing counties in the Midwest when McEagle bought the site in May 1997.
In any case, all the above public subsidies for WingHaven and its corporate tenants amount to $193 million, a figure not far from what the St. Louis Cardinals are asking for to build a new stadium downtown.
Fischesser argues that the WingHaven subsidies are in addition to the help it gets from the $900 million Page Avenue extension, without which the development probably would not have taken place. Fischesser is also convinced that WingHaven provides no reprieve from urban sprawl. Many of the workers and residents of the development will be St. Louis County transplants, he says. But the migrants include no low-income families. "It is siphoning off the middle class," he says, and, in the end, neither St. Charles County nor St. Louis County will be able to maintain all the infrastructure they've built. He sees WingHaven as an example of "dumb growth, which we have a bit too much of in this region."
When MasterCard announced it was moving to WingHaven, says McKee, it "was like dying and going to heaven." MasterCard brought invaluable publicity to WingHaven -- the company's Jan. 7, 1999, announcement that it had picked WingHaven came at a good time to boost interest in home sales, which began that month -- and attracted the attention of other companies. In addition, the 2,000 employees there will help support the retail stores McKee wants to develop, and they will become prime targets for the development's homebuilders. "They have an average income of $60,000 a year," says McKee. "That's the average out of 2,000 employees," he emphasizes. Noting that MasterCard recruits worldwide for positions at its Global Technology and Operations Center and is transferring 500 jobs here from New York, he says, "We expect their employees will buy homes in WingHaven." So far, about 50 MasterCard employees have bought homes at WingHaven.
Besides the MasterCard complex, two more office buildings, totaling about 130,000 square feet, are under construction. The larger of the two will become the headquarters for three of McKee's companies. In addition to McEagle, they are Paric Corp., the construction firm building all of the offices, and Environmental Management Corp., which manages water and wastewater-treatment plants. Combined, the companies earned $315 million last year and employed about 350 people in the St. Louis area.
McKee says that total investment in WingHaven will top $750 million by the time it is done, producing 2 million square feet of office space, 2 million square feet of research-and-development space and 400,000 square feet of retail space. Between 9,000 and 15,000 people will work in the development, and 5,000-7,000 people will live there, for a total "community" of about 20,000. He estimates that the apartments, office and houses completed so far, plus the $3 million clubhouse and the golf course, have cost about $250 million to build.