St. Louis City's Public Tax Abatement Data Is Wildly Inaccurate

click to enlarge The property at 5337 Von Phul Street. - Rosalind Early
Rosalind Early
The property at 5337 Von Phul Street.

According to a map on the City of St. Louis' official website and data from the St. Louis Development Corporation, there are no properties in the city that have had tax abatement for longer than three years.

The St. Louis Development Corporation, which facilitates tax abatements, acknowledges this data is incorrect and that the problem has been known for months.

On both the official city map of tax abated properties, and the data used to populate that map, no tax abatements in the city date back prior to 2019.

The RFT first noticed the issue when looking through data received from the SLDC in response to a sunshine request.

The public profile of the SLDC has risen in the wake of indictments against former Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, and former aldermen John Collins-Muhammad and Jeffrey Boyd. The three public officials were accused of accepting cash and other gifts in exchange for their political help in securing tax abatements for the developer of two properties — one at 5337 Von Phul Street and another at 4201R Geraldine Avenue.

To receive a tax abatement, developers must first receive approval from the alderman of whichever ward the development is in.

On Tuesday, Ward 9 Alderman Dan Guenther immediately noticed errors when looking at the map and the underlying data.

"Just looking at one example, 2813-2815 S. 18th Street, this was put into ordinance 4/22/2016," he wrote in an email, which included a link to the ordinance itself.

However, on the official map the tax abatement on this property is said to have begun in 2019 and expire in 2022.

"There are many on that list that were started years ago and I'm not sure how SLDC decided when they went into effect," Guenther wrote.
Ward 6 Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia said, "There has been nothing introduced or passed regarding incentives for Union Station since about 2016."

However, in the public-facing data, the abatement for Union Station is listed as having begun in 2019 and runs until 2025.

A representative from the St. Louis Development Corporation, communicating with the RFT through the city public records request portal said the map "does accurately show abatements in place," meaning that the physical locations of the abatements are correct. But the representative acknowledged that regarding the starting and ending dates for the abatements, "the underlying data appears incorrect."

However, the property at 4201R Geraldine Avenue, which was at the center of the indictments against both Collins-Muhammad and Boyd, is currently shown as not being tax abated. This is despite the fact that Board Bill 143, which tax abated the property, passed the Board of Alderman and was signed into law February 18.

After a tax abatement has been signed into law, there is sometimes a delay before the abatement kicks in, possibly explaining why the Geraldine abatement does not show on the map.

The representative from the St. Louis Development Corporation acknowledged errors in the data were "noticed a few months ago."

Despite being noticed, the errors have remained uncorrected.

In remarks to reporters last week, Mayor Tishaura Jones said the SLDC is working to create a more transparent and accountable tax incentive system. The SLDC has frozen transactions through the city’s land bank, the Land Reutilization Authority, from July to October as the city assesses and standardizes its processes.

UPDATE: This story has been updated with more information about why the Geraldine property may not appear on the tax abated properties map.

About The Authors

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times. Find him on Twitter @ryanwkrull

Monica Obradovic

Monica Obradovic is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times.
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