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Giving Forest Park Forever’s New Director a Chance to Prove Herself

October 15, 2009 Central West End, Transportation 10 Comments

On September 21st Forest Park Forever’s new Executive Director was announced:

Forest Park Forever, the nonprofit that maintains Forest Park, named Lesley Hoffarth its president and executive director on Monday following a nationwide search.

Hoffarth, currently the I-64 reconstruction project director, will join Forest Park Forever in January.  (Source: St. Louis Business Journals)

It didn’t take long for some to question the wisdom of hiring an engineer with 20 years at the Missouri Department of Transportation to head the non-profit .  The day after the announcement:

Now, I don’t know Lesley Hoffarth, and she may be more urban-minded than I’m aware. But any head of Forest Park Forever, a group that has done great work strengthening and improving the innards of the park, should know that its edges are important too. (Source: STL Dotage)

And the day after that:

I’m keeping an open mind regarding the new President of Forest Park Forever. By all accounts the I-64 project has been managed well. I think it’s unfair to say that Lesley Hoffarth personally will favor roads and car-centric changes. However, the Forest Park Forever mission statement doesn’t emphasize the experience of the non-destination visitor or pedestrians. With all the attractions in the park you can bet that open roads and parking will play a big part in future park development. My fear is that the new Forest Park Forever President is a perfect fit. (Source: STL Urban Workshop)

Mayor Slay chimed in on Twitter with a general welcome; “Looking forward to working with Lesley Hoffarth at Forest Park Forever.”

And on Arch City Chronicle, Competence is Transferable:

FPF is a private organization which partners with the City of St. Louis to maintain St. Louis’ largest, most adored park. The organization, led by Todd Epsten, CEO of Major Brands and heavy Democratic donor, hired Hoffarth away from MODoT.

Forest Park has a lot of trails and sidewalks. But one assumes that Hoffarth’s ability to manage the reconstruction of the main highway in St. Louis, and do so ahead of schedule and with minimal disruptions, was the main selling point. She should be able to manage the Forest Park which operates as the city’s premier melting pot.

I suppose I’d join the other bloggers in their suspicion if not for one fact: I know Lesley Hoffarth.  I’m not talking about having briefly met her at a public meeting.  I’ve known her and her family for years now, spending time in their home.  I’ve seen her spend hours volunteering to help the Kirkwood Farmers’ Market.  So I’m willing to give her a chance to prove she can lead Forest Park Forever.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. oh boy says:

    Lesley is great a will do a great job.

    She loves this town and loves our park.

    Let’s ditch the usual St.Louis cynicism and give her a chance.

    I am looking forward to seeing her succeed.

    Great pick Forest Park Forever! Hoffarth is a winner!

  2. miranda says:

    Interesting take Steve. You’re a cynic as well until you have to consider a personal friend, then you’re “willing to give her a chance.” I don’t know Lesley and I’ll go ahead and bet that she’s a wonderful person, moving turtles off of rural MO highways when she sees them and everything, BUT it doesn’t matter. Forest Park has already been given over to the car and destination visitors. Even if I assume that she will be the best executor of the FPF master plan, this still leaves the the problems with the master plan and there’s zero evidence that Lesley will work to make the park better for people on foot or on bike by de-emphasizing cars. Finally, it’s a bad idea to hire someone with no professional fundraising experience for a job that’s biggest challenge is raising millions and millions of dollars while your go-to traditional donors are tapped out.

    [slp — I’m a consistent critic of leaders based on their actions or inaction, regardless if I know them or not.]

  3. Jimmy Z says:

    “Forest Park has already been given over to the car and destination visitors.” Yeah, so? FP is an urban park and a regional resource, it’s not located in some rural wilderness area. It faces multiple demands from multiple constituent groups, including many that drive. What’s the alternative? Remove the zoo, the golf course, the Muny and the museums? Take out the trails, both pedestrian and bike? The World’s Fair set the park’s direction more than a century ago, including the concept of recreational drives, and the current task is to manage the existing investments and balance the competing demands. It requires a great manager, and I hope that Ms. Hoffarth is up to the task.

    Is the current master plan right? Should it be reexamined? I really don’t know. All I know/can tell is that FP, compared to many other large city parks, both regionally and nationally, seems to be doing pretty well. And while we may sometimes feel outvoted, sometimes it may also be a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, “be careful of what you ask for” – a new study could easily conclude that more parking is needed, not less, and that the park should be more-intensively used, not returned to its “natural state” . . .

    [slp — I do believe the long ago adopted master plan focuses too much on creating large parking areas whereas in the past much of the parking was more linear – along the roads. Changes over the last decade have created large parking lots expected by suburban motorists. I recall flying back to St. Louis at night a few years ago and the parking lot lights in one of the newer lots stood out like a sore thumb. Given x-number of cars I prefer them to be stored in a linear fashion rather than all bunched together.]

  4. Forest Park should not add more parking. If people are too lazy to park on street and walk then fuck them let them stay in St Charles. They want their own Zoo and don’t want to pay into the ZMD anyway. So we shouldn’t accomodate people who abandoned our City and don’t want to support regional institutions. Visitors expect to walk in New York. Let’s send the message that we’re not trying to be suburban like the rest of our region.

    [slp — Doug remember that many who left the city did so decades ago — long before you were born. Many, like you, grew up outside the city. Some in older inner ring suburbs and others on the fringe. We need to educate them why massive parking areas are less desirable than using existing roads for parking because that concept is outside their frame of reference. And watch your language here.]

  5. Tim E says:

    My take, Forest Park like the Airport should be owned by both the county and city. A good part of Forest Park’s institutions are already funded by taxpayers and private donations alike on both sides of the city county line running down Skinker Ave. The reality is that Forest Park brings in a very diverse crowd from a lot of places for a variety of reasons. That includes a lot of people who drive because transit has and will be limited to large number of people. Time to admit that fact and that the master plan should reflect a need to provide parking close to the instituions that attract a large number of people (art museum, muny, zoo, etc.) Otherwise drop county residents like me from the tax rolls, charge entrance fees and watch attendance drop/dwindle as Forest Park becomes a has been.

    I would hope that a need for more parking might be accomplished by going verical below or above ground and the use of rooftop gardens to be incorporated. My point is that their is solutions. But don’t alienate the users outright. That would be a very bad policy for the future of Forest Park.

    I think Miranda brings up one very good point. Will she need to fundraise? or is this an operational appointment to manage the property so to speak. A huge difference.

  6. I don’t see much education – demolitions and more parking seems more abundant.

  7. Adam says:

    unfortunately people don’t like to be “educated” – how insulting! instead you have to trick them with fancy marketing.

  8. Tim E says:

    Doug, Good luck in convincing people to support regional institutions let alone getting them to move back into the city by telling them to piss off. Let alone calling them lazy. Worked to hard in my life for your generalizing nonsense.

    I don’t think the concept of street parking is out of anybody’s grasp. Its a matter of leadership having the will to state that Forest Park footprint is decreased every time another surface lot is added or expanded upon and we won’t allow that to happen. I would agree in one thing. The best option for Forest Park parking is do nothing.

  9. Tim,

    When they refuse to pay into the ZMD unless they get their own Zoo well then they should piss off. They have sucked enough out of St. Louis City and County — now they want their own Zoo? The exurban areas need to pay their share. Currently they’re freeriders and have been for well forever. They have the ignorance to say they won’t pay unless they get their own? We’ve already accommodated enough in St. Louis for them by tearing down how many historic buildings for parking so they can visit then quickly get in their car and run from the roving bands of criminals? As it destroys the beauty of the park itself, Forest Park should have an absolutely ZERO increase in parking. If they place conditions upon joining the ZMD — like their own Zoo in St. Charles or more parking in Forest Park — then reduce parking, keep them out of the ZMD, and then this might hopefully reduce the number of exurban freeriders which commute from St. Charles and the Metro East. We have tourists from other cities and countries who frequently visit and would probably gladly pay a fee. Though they shouldn’t as one of the virtues of Forest Park happens to be its zero cost, but we can’t let that structure become undermined by those that show little regard for its international prestige — and won’t pay unless we duplicate yet another resources to suburbia.

  10. Kris says:

    This decision was a long time coming, and I believe it was not taken lightly. Lucy Springmeyer, the interim director, did a fantastic job keeping the renovations and beautification moving along and as she will remain a part of FPP, you can count on her to help Lesley acclamate to her new position and make the transition as seamless as possible. I doubt that Lesley will come in and raze what plans are already in place and underway to further the progress of this treasured park. Kudos to Lucy, and best of luck to Lesley.


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