Message from the Rector Regarding the Olive Development

Earlier this month, I preached a sermon taking a position on the current debate about a proposed development at Olive and 170 in University City’s third ward. Later the same week I spoke at an open meeting with members of the City Council and the mayor present, announcing a clergy statement in support of a Community Benefits Agreement process that we hope will be attached to the approval of this project.

There is an important meeting on Thursday August 23rd at 6:00pm at University City high school. Please plan to attend, if you can.

Yesterday I sent a letter to the council and TIF Commission. You can read the entire letter here. I sent the letter because our original clergy statement has not been handled well. In my letter, I apologize for the poor organization around the clergy statement. Below you will see an excerpt from my letter to the council and commission. I wanted to make these remarks public, because they speak not only to the council, but especially to the wider community.

From my latest letter to the Council and Commission:

Sometimes we learn from our mistakes. In this case, I learned that the discussion about a TIF in University City has devolved into a wholly uncivil affair. In the days since I made a comment, I have had my motives and my integrity questioned in person, over the phone, and online by advocates of the Olive project. I have reason to apologize, but my deepest regret is that my actions played into a wider climate of incivility. I regret the whole environment of distrust, anger, and point-scoring which has come to characterize our public life in University City. I lament that this is the way we are choosing to engage the biggest economic decision our city will make in a generation.

The journalist Krista Tippett has called civility “an adventure, not an exercise in niceness. It is a departure from ways of being and interacting that aren’t serving in our age of change.”   We could use such a departure and such an adventure in University City. I still believe a Community Benefits Agreement could be a morally useful tool in the process of negotiation with the developer. But I believe a CBA process could be more. The work to build a Community Benefits Agreement for this project could also help change the atmosphere of distrust we have created in our community.

I believe a CBA could be a useful tool, if the TIF goes forward, to bring us together for an adventurous conversation, one where members of the community could meet on an even playing field with the developer and city officials. If the council remains opposed to using the name “Community Benefits Agreement,” we can find different language. I am more concerned about the content and the process of developing such an agreement than the name. If the project goes forward, I want to see our community brought together, not driven further apart.

On Thursday night, we will likely learn if the TIF Commission will approve funding for this project. If they do, I remain committed to working with city officials to bring people of faith from across our city together. Council members have said they will plan a series of meetings, asking residents for their input about the kinds of commitments we hope to see in the final agreement between the city and the developer. If the TIF passes, I will work with my fellow clergy members to organize the community to attend and contribute to that process.

I still believe an independently negotiated Community Benefits Agreement would be a better tool, but if the TIF is approved without an independent CBA, I hope we will come together to negotiate a strong development agreement, insuring that if the project finally goes forward, the most vulnerable of our community will see new opportunities for living wage jobs, education, and safe affordable housing for years to come.

I hope you will join me in standing up at the meeting Thursday evening, so that if the TIF Commission approves the project funding, the council knows the community is ready to engage a conversation about justice and breaking the cycle of poverty.