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The Port of St. Louis

We all know that St. Louis owes its existence to the Mississippi River.  We’re all well aware of our interstate highways and most of us are aware of the railroads that are an integral part of our urban fabric.

What turned out to be somewhat of a surprise to me, as a newcomer, was just how big a role the Mississippi continues to play in our local economy.  Part of it is “out of sight, out of mind”, part of it is the low profile many of its users keep.  But the statistics are pretty impressive  – the port extends for twenty miles, with 16 public terminals and “over 100 docking facilities”, there are no locks or dams between here and New Orleans (unlike going upriver), and it’s the “third largest inland port in the Midwest.”

Unique resources like this are where we can differentiate ourselves from our economic development competitors, and I’d like to see more of a push to do so.

– Jim Zavist


Pro Sports Teams in St. Louis

St. Louis has a long history with professional sports teams, but, except for the Blues and the Cardinals, there’s also been a lot of changes over the years. The Browns, the Hawks and the football Cardinals have all left town. We invested heavily to get the Rams. We were once the epicenter for professional wrestling, and we currently support, among other sports, roller derby (ArchRivalRollerGirls.com).

Supporters of pro sports view them as being critical to a major city’s identity and for attracting new businesses. This is backed up with public investments like those in the Jones Dome, Busch III and Scottrade Center. But there are always groups advocating for more and different. One thing St. Louis lacks, in the traditional sense, is a pro basketball team. The Hawks were here from 1955 to 1968, but they were sold and moved to Atlanta. There are also “newer” pro sports leagues that are growing around the country, in sports that appeal more to the younger generations, sports like soccer and lacrosse.

With some regularity, we’ll see proposals, many times in Illinois, to build a new pro sports facility to support one of these new leagues. The Rams continue to make noises about the need to improve or replace the Jones Dome.  We just had a successful weekend of bike racing and the possibility of bringing the Olympics back to St. Louis is always a remote one.  There are those of us who would like to see a bigger investment in expanding our trail system, and there are others who value motorsports like NHRA and NASCAR.  Heck, there are even people willing to spend money watching monster trucks or lawnmower racing.

This all boils down to priorities.  We can’t be everything to everybody, so choices have to be made.  The Cardinals and the Blues seem to be relatively satisfied, for the time being, which leaves everyone else.  Should we focus our efforts on keeping the Rams or should we try to get an Arena Football team?  Would pro soccer be a better investment than pro lacrosse?  And should St. Louis work to keep any new facility in or near downtown, ar should we let other cities in the region share in both the glory and the headaches any pro team brings?

– Jim Zavist


Suburban Sprawl Descends Into Uncomfortable Middle Age

Most would agree that West St. Louis County is the poster child for urban sprawl. Over many decades, St. Louis development has crept westward through St. Louis County and into St. Charles County, the current epicenter of unrestrained sprawl. As time has passed, much of central and western St. Louis County have begun the inevitable cycle of aging and renewal that is associated with older urban areas.

My focus of interest is primarily on what urban planners refer to as the “second-ring western suburbs” of St. Louis. They are a microcosm of multiple older rural communities from the mid-to-late 1800s that have been folded into larger, newer cities over the past 50 years. They are all facing the need for urban redevelopment in the face of overwhelming evidence that many of the ideas embraced by the original suburban developers have not turned out so well.

In my city, Maryland Heights, this means a city without a town center. If asked, most people would cite either the Dorsett-McKelvey Road commercial district or Westport as our gathering places. One is a basic commercial crossroads and the other is an aging mixed -use development. Both are modestly successful and neither one represents a true central nexus for residents.

Part of the problem is that Maryland Heights is an anomaly in suburban development: it hosts over 80,000 workers during the day and houses only 26,000 residents at night. The reverse of a bedroom community, it often finds itself beholden to business and commercial interests at the cost of the residents.

This was clearly present in the 2008 fight that residents waged against development in the Howard Bend area of Maryland Heights. This area contains the flood plain around Creve Coeur Park and land on either side of the Maryland Heights Expressway from I-70 to the Page Avenue extension. Residents didn’t want to see a massive development (initially arranged around a proposed Walmart) that would back up against Creve Coeur Park. Maryland Park, as the proposed development was called, was set to build a bland suburban mixed-use project that was fully oriented toward cars.

The City of Maryland Heights has spent 20 years working on a comprehensive plan for Howard Bend that is the embodiment of urban sprawl focused on building commercial warehouses and one (or more) large-scale developments for big-box stores and retail. During the Howard Bend fight, residents became fully aware of what was contained in the comprehensive plan. While the process was public, the lack of effective public engagement by the city over 20 years had the unfortunate outcome of surprised residents visibly upset about the Howard Bend development plan. In fairness, residents also neglected their responsibilities by failing to interact with city government and make their wishes known.

Citizens who fail to monitor and influence their city governments are likely to be surprised and angry when the businesses who do engage with the city are given top priority. To combat this usual state of affairs, a group of concerned citizens originally organized under the flag of SaveCreveCoeur.com has developed into a more permanent organization called Maryland Heights Residents for Responsible Growth. As part of the steering committee, we have launched a new website for the community development organization at MarylandHeightsResidents.com

In the future, I will be contributing posts about the more universal aspects of the issues facing second-ring, western St. Louis County suburbs. Issues I intend to cover include:

  • Cities without town centers
  • Stagnant population growth
  • Diminishing open spaces
  • Flood plain development
  • Aging apartment complexes and housing stock
  • Public-engagement successes and failures
  • Community-development issues and specific projects being pursued
  • The role of residents in guiding city development

I look forward to hearing from you. Please use the comments section below or email me directly with topics you’d like to see addressed in future posts.

– Deborah Moulton


Tour of Missouri Worth the Expense?

Budgets are tight at all levels of government.  Monday I was part of an estimated 75,000 spectators along the 7.5 mile route of stage 1 of the Tour of Missouri:

Start/Finish line at 7th & Market, St. Louis

The tour came close to not happening this year.  The tour, in its 3rd year, is a project of Republican Lt Governor Peter Kinder.  Governor Jay Nixon wanted to cut the tour to help balance the state budget:

Gov. Jay Nixon has made public the specifics of $60 million in budget cuts he had previously announced in June.

The Department of Social Services took the biggest hit at $16 million.

In June, Nixon vetoed $105 million in spending as he looked to balance a state budget suffering from declining revenue in the wake of the recession. He also held back $325 million in spending on other projects, and directed his department heads to propose additional cuts totalling $60 million.

An early memo suggesting money for the Tour of Missouri be cut touched off a storm of controversy over the proposed cuts. The money for the Tour was saved. So, too, were some of the proposed cuts to the state Water Patrol that would have left parts of the Missouri River and Mississippi river without enforcement coverage.  (Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch 08.20.2009)

I’ve yet to find the cost to the state or the estimated benefits to local governments and the state.

Like the folks hanging out at Citygarden watching the race, above, I really enjoy the tour each year.  But does the tour make fiscal sense?  The prior two years the tour ended in St. Louis.  This year St. Louis was the location of the first stage of the week-long race across the state. Competitors, crew and even TV announcers were hear from all over the world.  Amateur racers in town for the Gateway Cup finished on Monday just before the pros got started.  The synergy  was great.  But that alone doesn’t justify the cost to taxpayers.

All states have a tourism budget.  Some run TV ads in neighboring states to attract nearby visitors.  All seem to have free state maps available. Seldom can you see and feel the direct benefit of a tourism expenditure.  Hopefully in the coming 6-12 months we’ll see some discussion at the state level about any return on our continued investment in the Tour of Missouri.  My suspicion is the partisan battle is mostly centered on the fact the tour is a project of a Republican and a Democrat now occupies the Governor’s Mansion.  It the situation were reversed we’d probably see Republicans opposing the same tour if championed by a Democrat.

– Steve Patterson


Stimulus Keeps America Motoring

Private cars are not going anywhere anytime soon but I like to see policies designed to take away the massive advantage the car has over say mass transit.

Stimulus funds, as we know, are going toward many road projects.  Yes, the road projects were “shovel ready” but only because that is all we seem to plan for.

The cash for clunkers program (officially the car allowance rebate system) has been well received:

According to a survey of car dealerships and 2,200 consumers by CNW Research, the average fuel economy of vehicles traded in last week was 16.3 miles a gallon, which is not much less than the 18 m.p.g. needed to qualify for a government rebate of $3,500.

The relatively small differential suggests that consumers have not been turning in the oldest, dirtiest and least fuel-efficient cars, but instead have been getting rid of their second and third cars, according to Art Spinella, who ran the survey.

The vehicles that consumers bought with their credits had average fuel efficiency ratings of 24.8 miles a gallon, he said.

Lawmakers hoped the cash for clunkers program, formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, would reduce America’s dependency on imported oil. But the early results of the program suggest that may not happen. The vehicles turned in were driven about 6,000 miles a year, he said. If the new vehicles are driven about 12,000 miles a year, the rough annual average, then consumers will actually use more fuel, not less.

“The energy independence argument did not ring true, at least so far,” Mr. Spinella said.  (source)

There is much debate about the program.  True, 2nd & 3rd cars are used as the trade in vehicle.   The new car will become the primary vehicle and the old primary vehicle will become the new secondary car in the household.

Some say the fuel efficiency requirements should have been higher.  I agree.  My guess is if they had been too high many of the new vehicles would have been foreign rather than domestic makes.  Domestic makers simply focused too heavily on trucks & SUVs.

My 2004 Toyota Carolla, built in California, has a combined EPA of 28mpg.  It is worth more than the rebate anyway.  A 1994 Carolla still wouldn’t have qualified due to a combined EPA of 25mpg.

I looked up many other cars at fueleconomy.gov to see if they qualifed based on MPG.  A 1994 Ford Crown Victoria just barely qualifies but a 1994 Ford Taurus does not.  On one hand I’d like to see 20mpg cars be replaced with 30mpg vehicles.  On the other you have to draw a line somewhere.

And clearly there has been no shortage of qualifying trade ins.  You have to wonder if buyers are going to cheap used car lots to purchase a $1,000 clunker so they’d have a vehicle to qualify for the $4,500 rebate?

The clunker program is certainly a fast way to stimulate the economy.  But it also shows how important the auto industry is to our economy.  How will we ever change that fact?

At one time the St. Louis we made streetcars used by many cities.  No reason why the shuttered Chrysler plant in Fenton couldn’t build modern low-floor streetcars for use in the Loop Trolley line and in many others.  Someone has to build the trains for the high-speed rail lines being planned in the US.

Stimulus money needs to make it easier to use our private cars less often.  Where is the rebate for trading in a clunker and buying a 90mpg scooter as a replacement? Or a 10-year transit pass?

– Steve Patterson