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Quarter of Board of Aldermen Have Not Filed Required Campaign Reports

A full 25% of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen have not filed required campaign finance reports with the Missouri Ethics Commission, as of 10:45am today. I double checked the seven that have not filed and the Missouri Ethics Commission does not show any reports received but not yet scanned. The reports were due October 15th which translates to October 16th since the 15th was on a Sunday.

The following are the aldermen that have not filed the required reports, all are Democrats (that is a joke, btw, since we only have one Republican elected to office in the City of St. Louis):

•Charles Quincy Troupe — 1st Ward
•April Ford-Griffin — 5th Ward
•Lewis Reed — 6th Ward (Reed has two committees at this point – one for alderman and one for president of the board, neither committee has filed the required reports)
•Jennifer Florida — 15th Ward
•Terry Kennedy — 18th Ward (Kennedy is up for re-election in 2007)
•Frank Williamson — 26th Ward (Wiliamson is up for re-election in 2007)
•Lyda Krewson — 28th Ward (Krewson is up for re-election in 2007)

More to follow in the next week, after I’ve had a chance to download and review all the reports that have been filed up to that point.

Related prior post: July 27 — A detailed look at Campaign Finance Reports.

UPDATE 10/18/06 @ Noon:

Ald. Lyda Krewson emailed me to indicate they mailed their reports on 10/13. Krewson also indicated she talked with the folks in Jeff City that said they just received some mail this morning postmarked 10/10 & 10/111 (and presumably Krewson’s dated 10/13?). This is somewhat different than Publiceye’s assertion that the Missouri Ethics Commission is behind on opening mail. I’m much more likely to believe that the US Postal Service is slow. Krewson indicates she will send future reports via FedEx to avoid this anxiety over timeliness.

Electronic filing is an option that aldermen should consider. I will check back to the state site throughout the afternoon to see if new reports for these seven have been received today. Part of the problem we have, as the public, is knowing if a report was postmarked on time or not. If the Missouri Ethics is backed up they will indicate a report has been received but not yet scanned — and here they will indicate the postmark. Most often I find they go right to being a scanned report with only the date it was received by the office and the date scanned — the same day. So, all seven reports may arrive today and be scanned today but because of their reporting system I will be unable to distinguish, online, between those that were mailed on or before the 14th and those that may have been mailed or send via overnight after the deadline.

UPDATE 10/18/06 @ 2pm:

The Missouri Ethics Commission does not show any changes for the above seven. The potential existed for them to have received a report but not yet scanned it into their system for public consumption but none of these where so marked.

UPDATE 10/18/06 @ 8:55pm:

At 4pm this afternoon two reports were indicated as having been received but not yet scanned: one was for Ald. Lyda Krewson and the other for Ald. Lewis Reed’s committee running for the President of the Board of Aldermen. Both show as being postmarked on Monday, October 16, 2006. Per the Missouri Ethics Commission, these are technically late. At 8:15pm I check all seven again just to see if any additional changes had been made after 4pm. The other five remain unchanged but now the two reports, one from Krewson and one from Reed, are scanned and available for review. At the moment both are still showing in the received but not yet scanned section as well along with the postmark date of 10/16/06 (I have saved both pages as PDF files and may post if necessary).

The Missouri Ethics Commission website does not yet show a report for the aldermanic committee for Lewis Reed which remains an active and open account. It should probably be converted to a debt account, if possible. Ald. Krewson’s report is of course quite orderly and includes a cover letter dated 10/12/2006. This date would collaborate her contention that it was mailed the following day, on the 13th which would make it a timely filing. Still the Missouri Ethics Commission says it was not postmarked until the 16th, making it a late filing.

We’ve got a couple of issues at play here. First, some aldermen are habitually late, sometimes 2-3 weeks. That is quite a different issue than mailing it at a slow post office or even on the actual due date rather than prior to the due date as required. Habitually late and rarely late is the separator here. Krewson is consistently ontime, at least back through 2004. Reed, on the other hand, is either on time or really really late.

But the big issue is the information the Missouri Ethics Commission provides, or more accurately, doesn’t provide. Once a report is filed we know the date is was received and the date it was scanned. Almost always these are the same date. What is missing is the piece of information that determines whether a filed report is timely or not — the postmark date. How is it this information is not part of their reporting? If you agree this is relevant information that should be part of the public record online and thus not requiring a phone call to verify the postmark date, please email the Missouri Ethics Commission at [email protected].

One final thing, just an observation. While it may be a coincidence that Krewson held her big fundraiser on October 2nd I think the date was no accident. A week earlier and the activity would have been required on the report just submitted. But, no regular quarterly report is due in January so her next report is the 40 day before election report, not due until January 25, 2007 (that would be with a postmark of 1/24/07 if you are doing the math). Either way, this is after filing closes if anyone is considering challenging her they do so not really knowing how much money she raised a couple of weeks ago. Come January 1st contribution limits get tossed the window so someone that gave the maximum of $325 can come back and give considerably more prior to the election. Very smart that Lyda is.

UPDATE 10/20/06 @ 10:15am:

As of yesterday afternoon after 5pm only one change was noted. The Missouri Ethics Commission received the quarterly report from the campaign for Jennifer Florida. However, it was noted as having a bad [unreadable] postmark.

This leaves the following as not yet having submitted reports: Ald. Lewis Reed’s aldermanic campaign committee, Ald Troupe, Ald. Ford-Griffin, Ald. Kennedy, and Ald. Williamson. Five out of twenty-eight, or just under 18%. Reed is now officially running for the President of the Board of Aldermen in 2007. Also in 2007, Ald. Kennedy and Ald. Williamson are up for re-election. I’m guessing they won’t file their intent to seek office again after the deadline.


St. Louis Grocery Market: Density Trumps Income

Over on Steve Wilke-Shapiro’s 15thWardSTL blog he is offering the following:

…a $10 Trader Joe’s gift certificate to the first person who can demonstrate that there is more money within three miles of the Brentwood Promenade than there is within three miles of Southtown Center.

This is in a post of his in response to a debate over demographics — the false notion that retailers locate in suburban areas due to higher purchasing power. Steve’s $10 is safe because, as he was betting, density trumps income. I was unable to find good public data within a 3 mile radius of Brentwood Promenada. Excellent data, however, is available for every address in the City of St. Louis. Click here to view the city’s excellent GIS (graphical information system) database where you can search by address and review census data.

I knew I probably could not prove Wilke-Shapiro wrong and collect the $10 gift certificate but I thought I could at least help out and prove him right. But, I was lacking good data from St. Louis County on a radius basis. I wanted to compare from the same source.

I found the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute website. Here they have a database which looks at purchasing power and other data from the 2000 US Census.

ETI Purchasing Power, Business Activity, and Workforce Density Profiles for All Residential ZIP Codes in U.S.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute provides comparison data on purchasing power, business activity, and workforce density for all residential ZIP codes and the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. The profiles are designed to help cities, businesses, developers, and organizations assess the advantages of urban density for underserved city neighborhoods.

Their stated purpose is to “assess the advantages of urban density for underserved city neighborhoods.” So I looked at 63116, where Southtown Centre is located as well as 63144 where the Brentwood Promenade situated in St. Louis County. Upon seeing the results I thought I’d look at a few more just for comparison sake. Density wins over higher incomes each and every time. The more people per square mile, regardless of income, the more raw purchasing power per square mile. Wilke-Shapiro was correct and the naysayers that blame demographics for the lack of big chain stores in the city are incorrect. To be fair, it may well be the racial makeup of our demographic or the average incomes that keep retailers out.

This density issue is, I believe, why in low-density sprawling suburbs developers talk of creating regional shopping centers. They certainly need more purchasing power than a 3-mile or 5-mile radius would support in the ‘burbs. They must draw in shoppers from greater and greater distances to support say a mega grocery store. Despite lower incomes within the City of St. Louis the sheer number of people gives us substantial purchasing power within a given geographical area — a square mile.

The ETI site looks at a total of 16 categories of consumer expenditure. I looked at two of these: “Food at Home” and “Food away from Home” and included the total from all categories. Others were items such as “Furniture”, “Apparel and related services”, and “Computer hardware and software.” The numbers are annual expenditures within a square mile from that population. It does not, however, indicate where they spent the money. This is strictly a combination of how much they have to spend.

purchasepowerGo down the chart and the higher the density the higher amount of money spent on food at home (aka groceries). In fact, if you compare each of the 16 categories from 63116 in South City to 63144 in Brentwood you’ll see the city zip code trumps Brentwood on each and every one. We pack in a lot per square mile. In North St. Louis from 63113 (The Ville/MLK area) their total purchasing power is just shy of Brentwood’s on a total basis.

We have considerable purchasing power throughout the city north and south yet we (myself included) tend to give it away to the county. We have the greatest asset of cities: density. We must collectively learn to capitalize on our density as a draw for more people, more purchasing power, and more retail options. We need our purchasing power to stay in the city — to earn tax revenue and to multiple as it makes through out community rather than being gone as soon as we spend it St. Louis County. This is how we will improve our schools and provide better services to the citizens.

The counter argument, if you do the math, is in the suburban areas they are spending more per person per mile. That is, they are buying more expensive items that are likely higher margin for the retailers. So, if you believe this argument then kindly ask Steve Wilke-Shapiro to send me the $10 gift certificate to Trader Joe’s.


Prohibition is Alive, But Not So Well, in the 20th Ward

I’ve known Ald. Craig Schmid (D-20th Ward) about as long as I’ve known any other alderman, a good 8-10 years. He is very hard working and genuinely concerned about his ward. The problem is he continues to act as though it is 1995 — the year he was first elected to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. At that time every corner had a bar, and not the charming “Cheers” sort of place. No, these bars were the collection place for sorts of bad behavior.

To rid his ward of such places Schmid began a moral crusade to close down the ones that could be closed and to prevent the opening of new ones. This has generally served the ward well but in the last few years it has come under fire from those seeking to turn once fashionable shopping areas like Cherokee Street into a new hip area not unlike “The Loop” along Delmar both in the city (28th ward) and in University City. Much has been written about this controversy and the latest, before this, was Antonio French over at PubDef.

Schmid stubbornly sticks to his no bar ban, with an exception for an establishment with 50% of sales in food. I’m no restauranteur but I have read a few things. Namely, the failure rate among restaurants is high. The trick is figuring out the right mix to make the place succeed. The 50% of sales from food rule seems rather arbitrary in my mind. I can see a corner tavern that sells food & beer with say 52% coming from food sales being a bigger nuisance than a place that perhaps does only 48% of its sales via food. In legislation you must draw the line somewhere. But what is so magical about 50%? Is this based on some great research that shows a distinction at this point or was it just pulled out of thin air?

Steve Smith, owner of The Royale on Kingshighway, wants to open a new place on Cherokee. Given the debate it would seem he is admitting that less than 50% of his total sales would come from food. Looking at his menu I see a burger costs $8. Have a couple of beers with that and you are probably at 50/50. I’d probably order the $14 Ahi Tuna and water so that would offset a few drinkers. Still, others will come in and order an appetizer and have a few drinks over the course of a few hours. I’d be curious what percentage of his sales are from alcohol. Frankly, I don’t really care it is is only 10% or if it is 80% — he does a damn nice job! So do many of our other local restauranteurs. The Royale is exactly what we need on Cherokee along with a City Diner, a Mangia, and a few others.

Of course, the many Mexican restaurants and stores are wonderful and they should stay and thrive as well (I simply need to learn a bit of Spanish so that I can order something vegetarian). For Schmid I don’t think he is concerned about gentrification — making the area so trendy current residents are forced out. As long as he continues having this ban on bars, we may never have to worry about gentrification and rising real estate values.

Cherokee Street in the 4-6 blocks west of Jefferson probably has the highest potential of any of our underperforming old commercial districts. The scale is excellent and only a few buildings have been lost. The current ethnic diversity is great. What this street is lacking is vision. I don’t know that Schmid has any vision for this street or others. If he does have a vision, it most likely doesn’t include any bars — dirty old taverns or hip places such as The Royal. This is really a shame. Schmid’s prohibition on bars is really a prohibition on revitalizing the area.

My vision for the street is an eclectic mix of shops and patrons. While the Loop is very college crown and Euclid is very upper crust, I’d like to see Cherokee be the green crowd, the young and old hippies: the Haight-Ashbury of St. Louis. Well, not today’s generic chain store Haight-Ashbury but the bohemian version of not that long ago. I don’t really want to see a Gap store on Cherokee. I can see Cherokee having various artists selling their painting on the street and in small storefront galleries. I visualize people doing street performances on the corners. The trick is not to make it such a destination that you make it a tourist trap that attracts a Gap store. Future problems should be lack of parking. Solutions should be planned now — a rubber tire shuttle bus to eventually be replaced by a modern streetcar. Run along Cherokee and connect with South Grand on one end and take Jefferson & Gravois to connect with downtown (and MetroLink) on the other end.

As much as I like Schmid, I think his 12 years have been well served as a ‘get rid of the problems’ type of aldermen but now I we need an ‘I’ve got revitalization solutions’ type of alderman. If Schmid can transform himself then great. But, I don’t see that happening.


I’ll Meet You At the Kiel Center, err I mean Savvis Center, oh make that Scottrade Center…

September 11, 2006 Downtown, Local Business 16 Comments

Remember the good ole days when a facility was named for the folks that donated the most money or perhaps worked hard to see it built? That was before the phrase, “Naming Rights.” From STL Today:

Town and Country-based Savvis Inc. signed a 20-year naming rights deal in 2000 for $72 million.

But in June 2005, Savvis, plagued by financial troubles, paid $5.5 million to end the naming-rights contract.

So now Scottrade, located in the suburbs of the St. Louis region, is stepping up to have their name on the building. Could the name be any more boring? Scottrade. Don’t get me wrong, they are a fine company (my investment club uses them), but it just doesn’t invoke any excitement. Scottrade. Repeating it does not help.

I can tell you where I’d like to see the Scottrade name — on a local branch actually located in the City of St. Louis. Right now downtown Clayton is the closest branch. It they can be on one of our prominent structures they can at least have a real life presence in our city.

What are some other names that would have been interesting to see instead of Scottrade?

The “You Don’t know Jack Schmidt Center?” No, too long. Also car related we could have the ‘George Weber Johnny Londoff Center’ only here the tag line would be, “We don’t own our building and lot.” My favorite might be the ‘Weekends Only Center’ or ‘Dirt Cheap Center.’


Greater Number of Smaller Grocery Stores the Key to Revitalizing St. Louis?

Last week a couple of seemingly unrelated posts converged here. Discussions about walking to the new Schnuck’s store coupled with a new book by a former St. Louisan on living car-free or at least car-lite and the usual discussion of mass transit.

As one commenter noted, it is regular grocery shopping that increases the apparent need for many of us to own, maintain and drive a personal car. Food is the one item we cannot defer making a purchase. That computer, new shoes or artwork can be put off but on a very regular basis we are all making a trek to the grocery store. The exception is my non-cooking friends but they still make it to the store for prepared meals and beverages.

I have some theories about grocery stores, sprawl and auto use. At this time I can offer no real evidence to prove or disprove my theories. But, I wanted to share and get your feedback.

This will be a cause-effect debate. Starting in the 1950s grocery stores moved from the small storefront to bigger stores with parking lots (Schnuck’s, Brentwood, 1952) and in the decades since each new store has grown larger and larger. As a result the total number of grocery stores serving the St. Louis region, relative to population, has probably decreased. The percentage of population within walking distance of a grocery store has also likely decreased.

So while most would say we fell in love with the car and shopping centers and grocery stores simply responded I don’t think that is the full picture. That may have been true initially but what has morphed over the last half century is the other way around: due to the travel distance required to get to a grocery store we have continued to need cars. At some point, as generations past, I believe the cause-effect reversed themselves. We don’t buy cars now because we want to, but because we must do so if we expect to feed our families.

While in Toronto this summer I was amazed at the lack of large chain grocery stores in the central core of the region, roughly the size of the City of St. Louis. Instead, every major street was a buzz with smaller markets and produce stands. For the person living in Toronto, the need for a car to buy groceries was nil. Instead they were offered numerous choices on where to shop. If they wanted to make some purchases at a more conventional grocery store a number of them were located along the subway lines further away from the core.

So my theory is that part of what is holding back St. Louis from repopulating as an urban core is partially the lack of grocery stores within walking distance from residential neighborhoods. Certainly, schools and mass transit are related issues but for those seeking a more urban and mostly car-free existence, it is a challenge to walk to the grocery store in the City of St. Louis unless you choose your place of residence carefully.

To this end, can we see a correlation with neighborhood density not around a transit stop but around grocery stores? So my theory goes that to rejuvenate and repopulate this city we need to have a reputable grocery store within a 1/4 mile walking distance of everyone. That is a lot of stores. Naturally, it would not happen overnight but you get the idea.

What wouldn’t work is the mammoth stores such as Schnuck’s (63,000sf), Dierberg’s, Shop-N-Save or even Whole Foods which are now approaching these other chains on store size. These chains will all claim they need to be bigger and bigger to compete. But does this only hold true in the far suburbs where they are competing to fill up a suburban family’s SUV? Chains like the locally based Save-A-Lot and Straub’s survive with smaller formats (granted, quite different from each other). California-based Trader Joe’s (owned by a trust of the brother that owns Aldi) also operates smaller format stores, roughly 15,000sf.

Can a chain operate more smaller stores and be as efficient as a single bigger store? It would seem the answer is yes. Is there a market for both type of store? Absolutely. The problem, as I see it, is we all assume the stores will get bigger and that we must drive to do our shopping. A good urban balance is not achieved locally between the bigger stores and the more reasonable sized stores.

Coming into the picture are other places to buy food such as Walgreen’s, CVS (in Illinois), Target and Wal-Mart. Locally-owned stores such as City Grocers, J’s International and numerous ethnic markets do serve a local need. And we have places like 7-11 and QT that supply basics on a convenience basis (24hrs, close by, cha-ching). And finally we see a resurgence in public markets throughout the city and region.

But, back to my theories and auto use. I believe that if we managed to locate a larger number of smaller stores (Aldi, Trader Joe’s, City Grocers, Straub’s, etc..) along with more farmer’s markets we can begin to break the auto habit. This would accomplish a number of things. Those on the lower end of the economic range, assuming they could use public transportation to get to work, could function in society without the huge financial burden of a car. This could very well improve their financial picture. The same holds true on up the economic ladder. By having fewer people driving within the city we’d have less need to build more parking structures. Our priorities would shift from road building projects to narrowing roads, widening sidewalks and constructing new buildings (local stores) where surface parking once existed. Demand for localized mass transit would increase substantially as more people lived within the city and more and more of those did not own personal vehicles.

Car sharing services would also be able to do well in such a market. In these cases, we could simply rent a car for a few hours to make that trip to the winery for the afternoon or to run to that business meeting out in the burbs not served by mass transit. That new TV, purchased with money saved by not owning a car, can be delivered.

Grocery shopping is keeping us from living a more car-free, walkable lifestyle in this city. Granted, if we were to subsidize the construction of 25 new stores in the city we would not see an immediate change. The correlation is there but it is not a direct cause-effect. But there is no denying that for many car ownership is required to lug home the week’s worth of groceries from the mega grocer.

– Steve




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