Home » Books »Downtown »Politics/Policy » Currently Reading:

Downtown Now! Looking A Bit Dated

October 15, 2005 Books, Downtown, Politics/Policy 2 Comments

Today my research took me to the Downtown Now! website. I’ve been there numerous times but this time I approached it with a more critical eye. Here is their welcome message:

Downtown Now! is a partnership of public and private sector representatives dedicated to the revitalization of downtown St. Louis. Our four main areas of focus are Washington Avenue, the Old Post Office, the Gateway Mall, and Laclede’s Landing.

So who are the public and private representatives that make up this organization? When you go to the “partners” page you get the list. Don’t look for any active residents or local small business owners. This is a top-down big business & government group — the least likely to actually revitalize downtown.

First we’ve got representatives from other civic boosting groups; Regional Commerce and Growth Association (RCGA), St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (SLCVC), Downtown St. Louis Partnership and St. Louis 2004. I would have linked to St. Louis 2004 but it seems their website is no longer up and running. Businesses are Bank of America, SBC and the former May Company. The rest is comprised of elected or appointed officials from the City of St. Louis.

Prominent on their main page is a logo for Celebrate 2004 along with the text “What’s Happening in 2004?” Uh, last time I check it is October of 2005 and rapidly approaching 2006. Clicking on the link just gives me an access denied message. That isn’t going to do a good job revitalizing downtown.

But really the group is charged with developing an action plan:

Downtown Now! is a public/private partnership created in 1997 to develop a five-to-seven year action plan for revitalizing Downtown St. Louis, Missouri. The City of St. Louis officially adopted the Downtown Development Action Plan in December of 1999. The Action Plan comprises $1.5 billion in public/ private investment and identifies four focus areas for revitalization.

So eight years have passed since Downtown Now! was created. But the Secretary of State’s website indicates the organization was created on November 1st of 1999, not 1997. Okay, so in a couple of weeks six years will have passed for this “five-to-seven year” mission. Are they in wrap-up mode? It doesn’t appear so. The organization is a “perpetual” non-profit per the state.

The “action plan” was adopted by the city in December of 1999 and thankfully much has happened since then. These last six years have been quite exciting to watch. Say you are a developer from another city and you hear about all the good things happening in St. Louis. You find Downtown Now!’s website and look through the action plan. As a six year old document you look for something more current. Then you see the “progress map” to show what has been done and what is under construction. This is certainly a great way to communicate where we are in completing the overall plan. One problem. The progress map hasn’t been updated since May 2001 — well over four years ago! Certainly downtown has progressed in the last four and a half years. Shouldn’t the revitalization organization communicate this progress?

The question that comes to mind for me is how many public-private non-profits do we need operating downtown? Consider this from the Downtown St. Louis Partnership website:

The Downtown St. Louis Partnership is a not-for-profit organization representing its members in pursuit of a healthy and vital downtown area. In that role, it also serves as the manager of the Community Improvement District that provides funding to implement services that make downtown clean, safe and inviting.

And before anyone says that the Downtown St. Louis Partnership is not a public-private organization just remember that the City of St. Louis, a public government, is a member.

A non-profit working to improve downtown is a good idea but I personally think it would be more effective coming from a more grass roots level. We certainly don’t need both the Downtown Now! and the Downtown St. Louis Partnership.

– Steve


Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Little fish in the pond says:

    Great synopsis Steve, you should really explore this more. Downtown NOW! seems to be the epitome of STL’s overplan and under implement. Obviously the momentum of downtown is moving forward and at a very good pace. Planning should cease and all money and actions should be used to support the momentum on the streets. Granted, Downtown NOW was going to fund removal of the Centre’s bridge, but obviously that was not needed nor wanted by the owner of the building. If they are privately funded, couldn’t those funds be used to support downtown in ways that have immediate impact. Money for the the mayors downtown planting, more planters, more incentives for businesses to establish downtown. You have brought to light the question many people ask downtown. How many not-for-profit planners and committees does it take to screw up what is developing quickly on it’s own momentum, NOW. These groups did serve a purpose at the early stages when things needed to be placed on the correct track….but let’s not overplan ourselves into sucking off the money that is needed on the streets. Marketing, publicity, and events to bring people downtown should be the focus. Was Downtown NOW a sponsor of Taste of St. Louis which brought more people downtown this year than any other event. How about any of the WABF events? Downtown is NOW so let’s keep it that way.

  2. Chris says:

    Paint it orange. Check it!



Comment on this Article: