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Big Picture versus Little Picture

March 12, 2008 Guest 39 Comments

A Guest Editorial by Jim Zavist

I’ve been thinking – is investing in public infrastructure a better long-term investment than partnering directly with developers on individual projects? It seems like recently, especially in St. Louis, that more resources are being directed to the latter, with more public funds being dedicated to directly supporting private development, through various funding mechanisms, using everything from tax-increment financing to special improvement districts, with questionable results. In other cities, many more past (and current) efforts have been focused on larger, more “macro” solutions, creating attractive public places that attract private investment to “blighted” areas and/or areas targeted for (re)development.

The two cities I’m most familiar with are Louisville and Denver. Louisville has spent the last twenty-some years successfully recreating their waterfront (http://www.louisvillewaterfront.com/index.shtml), replacing scrap metal yards and other industrial uses with a massive public park along their Riverfront. In doing so, they’ve attracted a major employer (Humana), a minor-league baseball team and have seen new high-density housing being built around the perimeter of the park. Cincinnati has done something similar (http://www.crpark.org/), as has Memphis (http://www.mudisland.com/ and Denver (http://www.riverfrontpark.com/

Other cities have, and are, working to relocate rail yards away from their downtown areas, reclaiming the land for higher-density, mixed-use developments. Salt Lake City is currently developing their master plan. In New York City an abandoned elevated railway is being converted to a linear urban park (http://www.thehighline.org/). Oakland is moving forward with their project (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2002/09/13/MN655.DTL). Denver has completed one in the Central Platte Valley, and is moving forward on a second (http://www.denverinfill.com/, http://www.abag.ca.gov/planning/theoryia/compdenver.htm

St. Louis has potential examples of all of the above – industrial properties along the river, urban rail yards and an abandoned elevated rail line. We also have a significant amount of underutilized or vacant industrial land that doesn’t fit any of those descriptions. Luckily, Trailnet is already working on the Iron Horse Trestle north of downtown (http://www.trailnet.org/p_stlriverfront.php). On the flipside, we have many potential “brownfield” sites that seem to have no plans in place. Between Tucker and 21 St., on the south side of Highway 40, is one rail yard. Between Victor and Rutger, along our waterfront and near Soulard, is another, along with another between Jefferson Barracks and the River Des Peres. At Arsenal & I-44 is yet another yard that sees a lot of traffic in containers. Between Calvary and Belfontaine Cemeteries and the river lies another one. Are any of these potential redevelopment sites, combining desirable locations with a parcel of land under single ownership, being pushed for redevlopment? Or is there simply “too much” “brownfield” land available to make it worth the railroad’s effort to relocate their investments?

I also know that studies, probably multiple ones and including a few current ones, have been done in an effort to reconnect the city with the river with new public investments, primarily parks and “parklike” ones. Do we have any serious, dedicated “champions” who can see a benefit in making this happen? Or are all of our efforts focused on our existing “gems”, places like Forest, Tower Grove and Carondolet Parks? Do we have any sort of vision of how to put underutilized and vacant industrial properties to “better” uses? Or are we on a perpetual quest simply to build new retail to generate sales tax revenues?

As I’ve said many times before, the unfortunate reality is that without a market, there will be little demand for any product. St. Louis once was a strong industrial cit. We still have industries that depend on the river – we shouldn’t needlessly “chase them away”. We, however, seem to have fallen into a rut of just “throwing money” at pretty much any potential business that promises to increase tax revenues without any sort of overall concepts or goals. Just look at the last 50 bills introduced at the Board of Aldermen – 14* of them narrowly deal with granting tax breaks or creating special districts to “benefit” specific developments! On the “micro” level, yes, these small investments probably help these individual projects. But on a “macro” level, what are we really “gaining”? Or are we really just “robbing Peter to pay Paul”?

To grow and thrive, we need to see net gains. We need to rely more on positive, successful, private investment, not ever-increasing publicly-funded investments in private projects. We need to create an environment that is more attractive to people both outside and inside the city. And while our built environment is a part of this environment, so are our schools, our business climate, our transportation systems and our tax structure. We need to reduce, if not remove, the objections people have to moving or remaining here. Once we do, and only then, will we slowly turn into a more “attractive” and economically-sustainable city, one more like the ones envy and/or puzzle over their successes.

 

Currently there are "39 comments" on this Article:

  1. Goat314 says:

    you should seriously consider contacting the mayor about your ideas. I think the biggest problem we have in St. Louis is lack of public involvement in politics. Your exactly right though St. Louis needs to invest in capital investments like Transportation, Education, and Cultural Institutions. That is what makes St. Louis great! Also we do little to market ourselves as an affordable, centrally located city with the amenities of a metropolitan area twice our size. Despite what many locals think St. Louis is actually quite urban and cosmopolitan for a city its size, but we can always do better.

     
  2. middle way says:

    We do things on a piecemeal basis. There is no big or little picture. We do things a little at a time, sort of like the gradual erosion of a giant mountain into a grain of sand. Don’t try to overplan our town. What is a “plan” compared to more than 200 years of STL history? Newcomers are all caught up in planning. STL is more about people and relationships than urban plans. People and relationships thrive. That’s what makes St. Louis special.

     
  3. Curtis says:

    I was just complaining about that on my blog today as well. The city gives away too much money for private investors without a plan for what they want in the end. There is no plan to bring in businesses that have a real economic impact. They are more concerned about attracting businesses that are looking for tax incentives to move in.

     
  4. middle way says:

    ^ Huh?

     
  5. john says:

    Chicago converted downtown rail yards next to the lakefront into parks and residential communities. StL has an incredible amount of well located space to do the same. However, the “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” strategy is the MO for the region, for decades. Spending close to $10 million for a short elevated bike path perfectly fits the pattern.

     
  6. Craig says:

    As far as I know, the City of St. Louis is virtually broke. If it got rid of the single biggest detriment to new employers — the earning’s tax — it would be even more broke. How is it going to build new infrastructure? Better get McCaskill to bring home the pork as soon as possible.

     
  7. john w. says:

    Jim,

    Again, excellent post, but you may want to pull the quotation mark keys of of your keyboard. Yikes!

     
  8. Jim Zavist says:

    John – point taken.
    .
    And as a PS, on KMOX this morning, there is now talk that the Centene deal for Ballpark Village may be falling apart, with speculation that Centene may be staying in Clayton despite all the financial incentives the city brought to the table . . . “We’ll know in a couple of weeks”.
    .
    As for taxes, there’s something fundamentally wrong if “the City of St. Louis is virtually broke”, yet we now have the highest sales tax in the region plus a one percent earnings tax plus whatever is generated by the property taxes we all pay. The city budget, in theory, should (and amost likely does) balance expenses against revenues. The government’s role then is to allocate these finite resources to deliver the most bang for the buck. It’s a rare government that ever has “enough” money, but if we’re “broke”, it’s probably because one’s favorite program(s) is/are not being funded, not that we’re having to borrow money to meet day-to-day expenses. Bottom line, it’s all about making choices.

     
  9. Geddy Lee says:

    … and if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

     
  10. LisaS says:

    middle way, I think this might be an example of what Curtis is talking about: an overlay CID with 1% sales tax to fund improvements to an existing shopping center, Lindell marketplace (Schnucks on Lindell at Sarah):
    http://stlcin.missouri.org/alderman/bbDetail.cfm?BBId=3575
    The bill is rather vague, so I find it difficult to understand how this will result in a net gain financially for the City.
    .
    ^I think Geddy up there has the sense of how we work here in St. Louis.

     
  11. Another game to watch is the “IRON WORKS” project at Weber Road and I-55.

    http://southsidejournal.stltoday.com/articles/2008/03/13/news/sj2tn20080311-0312fen-ironworks0.ii1.txt

    Are there too many politicians and people simply shrugging their shoulders, saying, “I guess this is a good idea. Why not?”
    Will the region benefit? Who [other than the developer] stands to gain? How many will be displaced without feeling justly compensated?

    Questions arise, but answers are so slow to develop.

    Give some developers their CID, TDD and TIF districts (for that is ALL they are asking at the IRON WORKS) and they will develop things – then they are, I suppose, allowed to sell it whenever they start to lose money. The article states they [Pace] would receive this “Community Improvement District (CID)…which is a special-benefit district that would allow Pace to assess and tax itself for community improvement and services.”

    WHAT would be the improvement to the community and services?

     
  12. Nick Kasoff says:

    The city whose downtown I’m most familiar with – and I’ll admit, not all that familiar – is Chicago. The problem is, no amount of public investment will make the view from downtown St. Louis (the Casino Queen, and a bunch of east side rubble) compare to the panoramic view of Lake Michigan. It’s like being at the seashore, except you’re in the midwest. No wonder you can get five grand for an apartment down there.

    The people promoting localized development in the city – Washington Avenue, Lafayette Square, and others – obviously realize that. The ones who are working for a big ticket “lid” to connect downtown with the arch, and local development of the arch grounds, do not.

    St. Louis, like most major cities, is a city of neighborhoods. But unlike many cities – Chicago, Boston, Miami – that’s pretty much the end of the story. We have no lakefront, no harbor, no beach, and we aren’t going to have one, no matter how much money we spend.

    As someone who has spend many an hour on the riverfront trail, I personally think an effort to move industry away from the river would be a mistake. Several years ago, I produced podcasts for Mayor Slay’s website, and the very first one focused on Riverfront Trail. (For those interested, a link to the podcast follows.) What impressed me most about it wasn’t the river – there are hundreds of miles of riverfront, most of which is far less interesting than ours – but rather, the fact that in an hour’s ride, you see everything from wildlife to scrapyards. The “working river” section of the trail is an experience everyone should have at least once.

    http://www.mayorslay.com/podcasts/display.asp?podID=4

     
  13. John W. says:

    Geddy Lee will choose a path that’s clear, he will choose free will.

    [Editor’s Note: Uh, take off, eh?]

     
  14. dude says:

    The lack of vision where we want to see ourselves is a huge void. As best I can tell, we’ve got some minimum requirements we seem to be meeting.
    Req 1. Have major league sports located in our downtown.
    Req 2. Have parking for major league sports patrons to pay for located downtown.
    Req 3. Access to said parking via interstate highway.
    I get the feeling we should be grateful we at least have this much. Pointing out the rail yards that I doubt provide what we want are worth a hard look. Out of the yards you listed, the only one I’d expect any change on would be the one between Tucker and 21st to be replaced with more parking for major league sports. When Craig says we’re broke I don’t think he’s contesting we can balance the budget. I think his point is the city can only provide basic services (schools/police) even with its high sales tax. When you see a sales tax increase, to pay for police pensions and not infrastructure improvements which is an investment and not just money we’ll never see again, the future vision of the city isn’t aesthetically pleasing. I’m a fan of vouchers due to SLPS and ditching the 1% earnings but then again if you did that and residents didn’t return then you’d really have a government you can’t afford. May be ballpark village will turn things around. Right. Those rails are looking like a nuisance now. Every time I walk through our Union Station and look up at the pavilion above it and my mind drifts back to Paris ’ Gare de Nord boarding a Thalys speed train and I think of another time or place where those rails wouldn’t be such a nuisance. Back to the reality that spring training will be over soon and so …uh…go…uh…cards?

     
  15. jbz says:

    And the men who hold high places – must be the ones to start – to mold a new reality.

    Jim great commentary. Right on. Too bad about the possibility of Bpark Village unraveling (if indeed it is) but is anyone really surprised?

     
  16. Tim E says:

    The railroad yards noted are actually working yards with goods moving through and coming into the area. That is a big difference between here and other cities noted as well as being beneficial in my mind for our remaining production/manufacturing base (Their is only so many humana’s and sporting events). What I think is desirable is too actually promote some of the well contected industrial areas as places for industry. We might need to knock some old factories down for new ones, do some site cleanup and rebuild a couple of streets. But you have to promote the fact that St. Louis simply has great interstate and rail access, a world class waterway, affordability and strong water supply. Doesn’t sound sexy or require a lot of planning, but it produces jobs.

     
  17. Nick Kasoff says:

    dude wrote: I think his point is the city can only provide basic services (schools/police) even with its high sales tax.
    .
    Actually, part of the city’s budget problem comes from the fact that it provides more services than surrounding communities. Free summer camp for kids? Only in the city. Free pools and community centers? Only in the city. Free trash service? They used to have it in Creve Coeur when I lived there 10 years ago, but everywhere else I’ve ever lived charged. I once attended the JVL “Back to School” festival – free school supplies, free entertainment, free food … only in the city.
    .
    Perhaps, instead of driving out businesses with the earnings tax, the city could start charging for trash service. Think nobody cares about the earnings tax? I did a little business in the city in 2006, file and paid $40 in earnings tax. Got a summons to court last month, claiming I never filed. I called, the lady said they had no record of it. It would take more time than it’s worth to get a copy of the check from the bank (I don’t get originals returned), so I just copied the form and sent them another check. So yesterday, I get a statement of tax delinquency – seems that in addition to paying the $40 tax for a second time, I now owe $18.38 in interest and penalties. “Payment must be received 3 working days before your next court date.” Thanks, guys, that really makes me want to do business in the city.

     
  18. john says:

    In the last few years, major carriers such as CSX, UP, BNI, KC Southern have been raidly changing ship yards and rail lines to improve services. Urban communities participating have witnessed a new building boom and laying the foundation for smart growth
    – –
    As reported in the financial press: The upgrade is part of a railroad renaissance under way across much of the U.S. For the first time in nearly a century, railroads are making large investments in their networks — adding sets of tracks, straightening curves that force engines to slow and expanding tunnels for bigger trains. Their campaign is altering the corridors of American commerce, more so than any other development since interstate highways spread to the interior.
    Since 2000 they’ve spent $10 billion to expand tracks, build freight yards and buy locomotives, and they have $12 billion more in upgrades planned.
    Railroads have found friends among environmentalists, who see moving freight by train rather than truck as a way to reduce fuel burning and emissions.
    – –
    These overhauls included many parts of MO, but not StL. The StL region is more concerned about serving heavy duty trucks and the auto dependent with new and expanded highways. As BPV-Centene demonstrates, locals even have a hard time executing the “robb Peter to pay Paul” strategy.

     
  19. Jim Zavist says:

    A clarification on relocating railyards – yes, most, if not all of the ones I listed are working yards that serve a purpose for the railroads. But what many railroads want are much bigger, more-efficient yards, located close to major highways, not close to downtown and constrained both physically and by congested traffic on surface streets. It boils down to an ongoing cost-benefit analysis. It costs big bucks to acquire acres of land in a “better” location, so the railroads make do with what they have until either circumstances (operating efficiencies) change to the point where a relocation is forced or the existing land increases in value to the point where its sale will pay for a new one. Unfortunately, neither seems to be happening here.
    .
    References:
    http://www.tbo.com/news/nationworld/MGBYS6AI70F.html
    http://www.uprr.com/newsinfo/releases/service/2007/0913_commuter.shtml
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1215/is_n8_v197/ai_18624834
    http://www.go21.org/sitecore/content/Global/News/2007/July/Alameda071607.aspx
    http://www.azstarnet.com/dailystar/157969
    http://www.ble.org/pr/archive/headline011601b.html
    http://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch4en/conc4en/ch4c3Ben.html

     
  20. James says:

    John,

    Can you provide a link for your information about the railroad upgrades?
    I’d like to look into that a bit more. Rail is the way to go.

     
  21. Jim Zavist says:

    Google multimodal rail, new railyards and/or rail relocation and you’ll find multiple links. Railvolution is great umbrealla organization.

     
  22. One thing that’s missing in Jim’s discussion of rail yards is employment. The typical high-density mixed-use development excludes key uses — like manufacturing — that provide good-paying jobs outside of the white-collar sector. Relocating rail yards means relocating jobs, increasing commute distances for works who live in the city. Worse, relocation of jobs often means relocation of residents who move to the county to be closer to work. I’d rather put up with a railyard or factory that have a perfectly dense city without good-paying industrial employment. Urbanism taken to the extreme on the design front could lead to anti-urban homogenization societal front.

     
  23. Jim Zavist says:

    Michael – I basically agree with your conclusions, but I disagree with your assumption that manufacturing and rail yards are tied together. Like many other industries, railroads are becoming more automated, so they don’t employ as many workers as they used to. What rail yards do do is occupy relatively large areas of land, many times in urban areas (that have grown up around them). The question on whether or not to relocate a rail yard is driven by improving operating efficiencies and the inherent value of the land. Even when a yard is relocated, the main line is usually maintained so adjacent existing industries can continue to receive the rail service they need and desire – the last thing a railroad wants to do is to lose a customer. What drives industry away is not the the change in switching, it’s issues like increasing land values and other external issues that aren’t related to rail service.

     
  24. Brian says:

    For most cities, the vast majority of street lane miles were built by private development, only then inherited for maintenance by local government. And most of those local side streets were built as places for people. It’s ironically government that historically built bigger projects, like thoroughfare widenings or new freeways, for cars. Given that track record, maybe the big ideas should be left to private enterprise.

     
  25. john says:

    The jewels of life in the StL region are primarily connected by motorized vehicles and expanded highways. These ribbons of travel and trade will rapidly become very expensive to maintain and use, especially as the price of oil rises. Trains and existing rail yards should be an important part of the solution for industry, commerce and individuals. The real customers are people, not industry. Linking these to achieve synergy will be difficult if not impossible for a region where political-economic decisions are dominated by “robbing Peter to pay Paul” strategies.
    – –
    For more than 20 years, the drive to create a high-speed rail line linking KC, StL and Chicago has been debated but with no positive results. Comparatively in Europe, there are more than 2,600 miles of high-speed (ie. 200 mph) lines under construction, including some 1,400 miles in Spain alone, plus an additional 5,300 miles planned, according to the International Union of Railways.
    – –
    To the fans of Metro, Salci and those favoring more government control/limited choices, we have our “high-speed rail” and more inconvenient truths about management: “Among the bills Metro paid was a $624-a-night hotel room, and group dinners at high-end restaurants that topped $300.”
    http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/missouristatenews/story/473B8051C5E2A2778625740D0015C7E2?OpenDocument
    – –
    The real question is whether we can continue to lead change or will change be forced on us by trends that are out of our control. Local-state funds for transportation infrastructure are limited and therefore every dollar is important. If you support the New 64, the elevated bike path, Metro, etc., congratulations, you support the status quo. What is unthinkable today may be the best of bad alternatives tomorrow. Is this community prepared for change? The future won’t be kind due to the status quo cheerleaders, consider:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsvubUGoxDk&feature=related

     
  26. Brian Boeckmann says:

    The premise of this editorial states two options of ‘investing in public infrastructure’ and ‘partnering with (private) developers’. And then goes on to talk about examples of ‘successes’ from other cities. It seems these examples are of industrial zones being relocated and/or converted to residential/commercial uses. I am missing the connection. To me ‘infrastructure’ refers to power utilities, roads, sewers, rail, steam, etc. I agree that we should not be ‘ “throwing money” at pretty much any potential business’. But our city needs to keep focus on what we have instead of thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the ‘fence’.

    I would hesitate to say that Louisville downtown park is a success. After completing a nearly 2 year assignment last year, I have hardly seen the riverfront teaming with activity. Sure there is a lot of green space and some local development but nothing to say this is a success in an urban sense. This can be seen in the link that you provided. Lots of pretty park space surrounded by highway. Sounds familiar?

    Likewise the example of using Memphis as an example is questionable. I had lived in Memphis for 12 years. Mud Island Museum and Riverpark is generally viewed as a civic punchline to a luke-warm success at best. And Memphis is trying to push for further river development. The local rag, Memphis Flyer (similar to our RFT) has several articles talking about it. I found this one from last year talking about it – http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/Content?oid=oid%3A29994 . Also adjacent to Mud Island, the Pyramid is an example of what a city should not do. Archived article from Flyer – http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/Content?oid=oid%3A9396 . The Pyramid is still vacant after 3 years.

    So let’s stop thinking others have it better. Removing the industrial/rail sites may look better but are we losing our ‘urban assets’ by doing so? Others have already pointed this out. But to further elaborate, CNN/Money last week talked about Warren Buffet investing in railroads (http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/07/pf/sivy_apr.moneymag/index.htm?postversion=2008031218). So let’s find a way to market what we have.

     
  27. john w. says:

    Brian,

    Your anecdotal testimony only provides us with YOUR perspective and not necessarily the perspective of others that have lived in either Memphis or Louisville, and excusing all other cities as irrelevant to our own is absurd. Your point about exploring the value of our rail lines is quite valid, but just because Warren Buffet is investing in something doesn’t mean the weight of the world will now shift based upon his portfolio. Looking at the successes and failures of the civic approaches of other metropolitan areas is part of the analytical process and not simply seeing some other city’s grass as greener than ours. Guess what? The grass in some cities IS greener, and following successful examples is just as wise as it isn’t dismissive of our own intrisic character. There is plenty of latent potential in this city, and taking note of activity in other cities is perfectly sensible.

     
  28. john w. says:

    Regarding the big picture and the imperative of critical infrastructural investment for future growth, this paper released in October by the Urbal Land Institute really effectively encapsulates the reasons we should be ensuring our infrastructural improvements match the reality of sustainability:
    .
    http://postcarboncities.net/node/1466

     
  29. Brian Boeckmann says:

    John,

    Yes, my statements were of course my opinion and anyone can take them for what they think they are worth. When originally reading Jim’s contribution, I was rather surprised since I normally agree with his views. Also, I don’t understand the premise on how investment in public infrastructure was utilized in the examples.

    Regarding the sited examples in Memphis and Louisville I would welcome others to do your own research and form an opinion (see below for the local newspaper links). For me the examples really struck a chord. Not only because I question their success but also how I feel we, as a city, tend to react. It seems often in the past several decades that our city has followed the recent flavor for policy with limited forethought to the value of existing assets to unlock this ‘latent potential’. I would agree that looking at other civic approaches is beneficial in the analytical process. But the danger I see is blindly viewing the results of others cities’ policies and then reacting based solely on their perceived results rather than formulating our own policies based on our own unique strengths and weaknesses. This is why I stated that we should ‘keep the focus on what we have’.

    The main Louisville rags are the daily The Courier-Journal – http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage and the alternative weekly Louisville Eccentric Observer – http://www.leoweekly.com/ . The main Memphis rags are the daily Commercial Appeal – http://www.commercialappeal.com/ and the alternative weekly Memphis Flyer -http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/. In addition, both cities have (like ours) is served by a bizjournal -http://www.bizjournals.com/ .

     
  30. Jim Zavist says:

    Brian (and John) – I respect your all’s opinions – what I posted was meant to stir discussion, not be the final word coming from “on high”. No city’s efforts are perfect, they will always be a series of attempts, some more successful, some less so, to improve on the present. My big point was that successful cities seem to have some sort of vision (“comprehensive plan”) that gets updated regularly and is the framework for decision making when it comes to development. I know St. Louis has one. I don’t know if it’s been updated recently to reflect current conditions and current realities. I don’t know how much input the average citizen has/had in its conclusions. And it does appear, that if there is one, it plays a minor role, at best, in informing of how we’re evolving today.
    .
    I also agree that the examples I noted are not perfect. Mud Island seems to be stuck in a time warp from the ’70’s, and much like many a mall, could easily slip into a benign decline. Louisville seems bent on making ever increasing parts of their riverfront into one huge park – there will likely come a time when more and more areas end up being unused and hard to justify maintaining, plus it limits industrial access to a unique asset,the river. Rail yards serve an important and evolving role in American commerce. Their presence can be a huge economic generator (as I see every day with containers coming and going every day at Arsenal & 44). When the UP moved out of Denver to the suburbs, it was a win-win – the railroad was better able to serve its cutomers while the city was able to capture “new” land for infill development (http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/mar/20/denver-back-at-the-top-of-the-pack/).
    .
    My other big frustration locally is the trap we seem to have gotten ourselves into, that every commercial investment somehow “deserves” some sort of tax break or incentive. Sure, developers will take “free” money to improve their bottom lines. And as long as we (actually the Board of Aldermen) continue to approve TIF’s, improvement districts and tax abatements for every strip mall and condo development that applies for a building permit, we’re going to continue to impose increasing burdens on existing taxpayers with no guarantees of net gains. It won’t be easy saying no or not nearly so much, but part of being successful in business is taking risk with YOUR money, not the public’s – if it makes financial sense, especially for the long haul, there should be no need for the city to participate directly, we should be able to reap both the direct (tax) and indirect (economic growth) benefits. And no, just because a development in Ward “A” received an x dollar subsidy package last month doesn’t mean that another development that just happens to be in Ward “B” should recieve one this month!

     
  31. john w. says:

    Yep.

     
  32. Jim Zavist says:

    Thanks for the link. It appears that the plan is fairly recent (2005) but not overly specific. I have to assume (and actually hope) that what’s online is more of an executive summary, since many of the quotes are actually pretty vague:
    .
    “‘Neighborhood Development’ areas are where new types of residential character are both permitted and encouraged. New developments of scale can create their own character while complementing adjoining neighborhoods and blocks. . . . These existing, emerging and future neighborhoods are connected and served by the “Neighborhood Commercial” areas. Many of these corridors continue to provide services to the community and attract outside visitors, while others have deteriorated. The plan is intended to encourage investment in these corridors that provide the essential services to the surrounding community.”
    .
    “At strategic locations within the City, areas are designated as sites for “Regional Commercial” activity. These nodes, existing and proposed, are promoted as opportunities for the City to capitalize on the emerging trend among established retailers to locate in urban markets. By identifying new sites and moving forward to make them attractive to businesses, the City can respond aggressively and move forward to bring these retailers, the jobs, tax revenues and quality of life enhancement that they offer.”
    .
    “Other areas that formerly were home to thriving businesses are now derelict and underutilized. These areas are shown in the plan as “Business/Industrial Development” areas, where those in the market for new business locations can seek development opportunities with City encouragement.”
    .
    “Finally, there are a number of underutilized areas in the City where it is clear that opportunity exists, but it is not yet known what activity is best suited to turn that opportunity into a development plan. These areas are identified in the Plan as “Opportunity Areas”, where the City will entertain a wide variety of proposals for development.”
    .
    The other disconcerting part of the site is that the only two amendments, dating back nearly two years ago, deal with BJC’s Forest Park issue. I know we’re struggling, but there should be some other ideas since then, including the results of the design charette for the Shrewsbury Metrolink station.
    .
    Unfortunately, my only real comparison has been Blueprint Denver (http://www.denvergov.org/Default.aspx?alias=www.denvergov.org/Blueprint_Denver – I admit that I’m biased, having served on the committee that crafted it.) And having grown up in Louisville, I checked theirs today – http://www.louisvilleky.gov/PlanningDesign/Cornerstone+2020.htm, and was impressed. In comparison to what’s available here, there’s a lot more definition available in both cities, much more of a roadmap to achieving success. A real plan takes more than hopes and guesses, and words like “encouraged” [to] “create their own character”, “intended to encourage investment”, “can seek development opportunities with City encouragement”, “it is not yet known what activity is best suited” and “the City will entertain a wide variety of proposals for development” are actually scary in their non-specificity. It allows those in power an incredible amount of discretion, which when push comes to shove, generally results in mediocrity. Combine that with the reality that the vast majority of the development community, when left to their own devices, will build to the lowest common denominator, I’m not surprised that Rollin Stanley chose to move onto greener pastures.
    .
    Finally, I don’t know if people outside a community are positively swayed by higher expectations and high standards? If coming across as too flexible / almost desperate to consider anything actually is actually a disincentive to quality investment? Personally, I think we only get as good as we ask for, and until we up the ante, we’re just going to get more of the same.

     
  33. john w. says:

    Jim,

    Do you work for a local firm?

     
  34. Jim Zavist says:

    Yes.

     
  35. Jim Zavist says:

    And to continue the discussion, the West End Word ( http://www.westendword.com/ ) brings news of another new CID, a “tax increase of up to one percent [that] would generate $2.5 million for improvements to the Lindell Market Place, which is owned by one company.” This is a case, much like West County Mall, where an existing shopping center owner is attempting to convince elected officials that it’s in their constituents’ best interest to approve an additional, limited, special sales tax to fund regular, on-going maintenance and infrastructure costs, instead of just raising their tenants’ rents!
    .
    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the owners for asking. If I were them, I’d be doing the same thing – if I can get someone other than myself or my tenants to pay for a new roof, than why the hell not? No, this falls squarely in the laps of the elected officials, who apparently believe that businesses shouldn’t be allowed to fail, that the public has some sort of duty to guarantee profitability / success?! But what makes this doubly scary and frustrating are some of the quotes attributed to the alderman:
    .
    “Eighteenth Ward Alderman Terry Kennedy, who sponsored the Lindell Market Place CID bill, said that . . . he was not aware that the shopping center’s CID was unique to others in the city. The St. Louis Development Corporation, which manages the city’s development projects, advised Kennedy that it was a good plan, he said, adding that he has to trust the experts when he doesn’t have time to research it himself.”
    .
    “I was not advised that this was unusual,” Kennedy said. “If I was, I might have had a different behavior. I don’t mind telling someone ‘no.’”
    .
    “The Board of Aldermen doesn’t have a research team”, he said, “and the board staff is limited.”
    .
    “The clerk for the Board of Aldermen is also the board’s attorney,” he said, and “five aldermen share one secretary.”
    .
    “In an unusual move, Kennedy has asked the mayor to hold off signing the bill into law until he has the chance to do further research himself.”
    .
    “But Kennedy said what impressed him about the plan was the initiative to bury the power lines in the shopping center, a $600,000 effort that would help prevent power outages, he said.”
    .
    “Other items in the budget include $250,000 for public art, $270,000 for roof replacements, $350,000 for “potential projects requested by the city,” $300,000 for “city defined improvements” and $75,000 for on-site security.”
    .
    I have two responses – one, if you don’t understand what you’re sponsoring, especially when “he has to trust the experts when he doesn’t have time to research it himself”, you’re doing a very poor job of representing your constituents. (And you do have constituents that do understand this stuff – reach and ask them!) And two, burying power lines in a shopping center will do little, if anything, to “help prevent power outages” without burying the lines coming in from offsite. Yes, it will make the center a bit more attractive, but I doubt that any power outage in the center can be attributed to damage to lines on the property (and if they were, that’s an owner’s responsibility, not a city responsibility!) – most likely, the center was affected by power outages that affected the larger area, ones that would be better fixed by giving AmerenUE $600,000 to reinforce/replace the feeder lines servingthe entire neighborhood!

     
  36. Jim Zavist says:

    Live and learn/additional information – after attending an AIA meeting at the Army Corps of Engineers facility this weekend, I did some more research – from http://www.stlcommercemagazine.com/archives/march2005/river.html
    .
    “Millions of tons of commodities move through the Port of Metropolitan St. Louis each year. The latest figures by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put the total at 32.4 million tons of products that moved through the port during 2004. That makes the St. Louis port the third largest inland river port by tonnage in the country. Huntington, West Virginia is first with 81 million tons. Pittsburgh is second, with
    52 million tons. Including all the ports across the country, the St. Louis port is the 21st largest. St. Louis is ahead of such deep-water ports as Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Baltimore and Boston.”
    .
    It looks like we have a thriving industry that few of us are aware of, and one that depends on the riverfront, both north and south of the Arch . . .

     

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