Wash U. Economist Rips McKee's Plan for North St. Louis in First Day of Trial

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Michele Boldrin, chair of Wash U's Economics Department, called McKee's forecasts "completely arbitrary"
​It was
 a heated and colorful first day in the trial that will determine whether the city properly greenlighted developer Paul McKee's 1,100-acre, $8.1 billion plan to revitalize north St. Louis. (For a full preview of the trial, check out our feature, "North-Side Rancor").

Sporting owlish spectacles and a red bow tie, Judge Robert H. Dierker presided over more than four hours of testimony Tuesday afternoon, which included a lecture from a Washington University economist, a couple of testy exchanges, and metaphors involving elephants and dogs (plus one about the Pope and two chickens -- you had to be there).


The most talkative person in court was Michele Boldrin, native of Padua, Italy, and now the chair of Wash U's Department of Economics. (Click here for his CV; Prof. Boldrin's speech was so rapid-fire and his accent so thick, the court reporter had to slow him down dozens of times).

Called up as an expert witness by the plaintiff's attorneys (Eric Vickers, Bevis Schock, Jim Schottel and D.B. Amon), the economist drove home one major argument: When McKee forecasts the economic benefits that will generated by his plan, he's not fudging numbers. He's inventing them wholesale.

Boldrin described the benefits promised by McKee -- e.g., new jobs, leaps in property value -- as "dreamy," "out of thin air," "unreasonable" and "completely arbitrary." Schock, the lawyer who did most of the questioning for the plaintiffs, was trying to prove that McKee's forecasts are indeed, in the legal sense, "arbitrary." (Schock is on the board of the ultra-conservative Show-Me Institute, but is not representing them in this case). 

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Photo by Jennifer Silverberg
Paul J. McKee, Jr., wants to overhaul the north side; likes flowers
McEagle attorney Paul Puricell complained that somebody of Boldrin's scholarly stature ought to have done his own analyses of the north side, but failed to.

Puricelli further claimed that in order for McKee to collect some $350 million in public subsidies (a.k.a., 90 percent of the TIF he's requested), the developer must first construct public infrastructure such as roads and parks, which wind up benefiting everybody. Under the current deal McKee has with the city, Puricelli argues, if the developer builds nothing, he gets nothing back from the city.

Boldrin wouldn't concede this point, and Puricelli, seemingly fed up, said, "You know what? Nevermind. Nevermind."

In a later exchange, Puricelli again grew frustrated and told Boldrin, "You don't have any hope for the city of St. Louis."

Boldrin laughed and responded, "You look like you're from a movie."

All will be back in court on February 25.

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