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Opinion: We Must Invest Beyond The Central Corridor

January 23, 2019 Featured, North City, Politics/Policy, St. Louis County, STL Region Comments Off on Opinion: We Must Invest Beyond The Central Corridor
Campbell House Museum on Locust, the last mansion from Lucas Place

From the early days to St. Louis’ founding in 1764, being up from the Mississippi River was a good thing. Namely, those who spread along the banks north & south of the original spot were subject to flooding. Those uphill from the center weren’t subject to floods.

Following the cholera epidemic and fire in 1849, wealthy citizens became convinced that it was no longer desirable to live in downtown St. Louis. James Lucas and his sister Anne Lucas Hunt soon offered a solution. They developed the idea of the “Place,” a neighborhood with deed restrictions that ensured it remained apart from the city and general population. The main thoroughfare was aptly called Lucas Place. Originally Lucas Place (now Locust Street) extended between 13th and 16th streets when the city limits were just one block to the west between 17th and 18th streets. When established, Lucas Place was west of the developed portion of the city, making it St. Louis’ first “suburban” neighborhood.

Lucas priced the lots so that only the wealthy could afford the live there. He also built restrictions into the deeds so that the properties could not be used for commercial purposes. (Campbell House Museum)

As the city’s population ballooned Lucas Place was no longer the desirable location it once was, so the wealthy moved further west.

Originally, the streets around the intersection of Lindell and Grand featured row after row of stately houses, mansions, and even a private street. By the late 19th century, the area had become the wealthiest neighborhood in the city, home to some the most important members of St. Louis society.

Sitting west of the central city and along major streetcar routes, Midtown proved highly desirable to those fleeing the coal-fueled pollution further east. Sitting on a hill, upwind from the central city, the neighborhood began to receive the accouterments befitting its tony status in St. Louis. Vandeventer Place, a private street on the northern edge of the neighborhood, served as the crown jewel of the rapidly expanding area.

Platted by the famous German-American surveyor Julius Pitzman, Vandeventer Place exacted strict obedience from the affluent homeowners who purchased plots along its regal tree-lined boulevard. The new mansions that filled the private street conformed to rigid design and expense requirements that only the wealthiest industrialists in St. Louis could afford. Interestingly, the governance of the street required unanimous votes to change the street’s charter. (St. Louis Magazine)

In 2014 I posted about the dire economic disinvestment in the north county area at Chambers and Lewis & Clark. Click image for May 2014 post.

The Central West End was next, and this continues today. Reinvestment has been seen throughout this “Central Corridor” for a few decades now. As North St. Louis continues to hallow out, we’re seeing North St. Louis County experience devastating disinvestment. With typical suburban development patterns, North St. Louis County is a very large area. It still has nice neighborhoods, but the signs of change are all around. Take Spanish Lake, for example:

When three nearby Shop ‘n Save stores closed in November, it left shoppers fewer options and created what the USDA classifies as a food desert.

Spanish Lake is in the northeast corner of unincorporated St. Louis County. The cities of Florissant and Ferguson are on its west side; the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are on the east.

The population is just under 20,000 and has been shrinking for decades, while the poverty rate has increased.

Until recently, Spanish Lake residents had several options for grocery shopping. Three Shop ‘n Save stores located along the western edge of the community provided easy access to fresh, affordable produce. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Those who’ve been on the fence about moving elsewhere are going to reconsider. I can’t say that North St. Louis County has reached a tipping point, but it feels like it’s close.

The recent non-scientific Sunday Poll was about reinvesting in areas north & south of the Central Corridor.

Q: Agree or disagree: St. Louis’ “Central Corridor” (West from Arch) has always been a high priority, areas North & South should just accept this.

  • Strongly agree: 2 [6.06%]
  • Agree: 6 [18.18%]
  • Somewhat agree: 3 [9.09%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 2 [6.06%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [9.09%]
  • Disagree: 9 [27.27%]
  • Strongly disagree: 8 [24.24%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

No, we should not accept this. We can’t afford, as a region, to write off huge areas. Unfortunately, I think the regional pattern was set long before any of us were born. That’s not to say we can’t rethink our approach. I just don’t see the leadership or willpower to take on the change that would be necessary.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Should City & County Police Merge?

January 6, 2019 Featured, St. Louis County, STL Region Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Should City & County Police Merge?
Please vote below

A few local news stories caught my eye last week, but one was more thought-provoking than the others:

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar has a plan to take over policing in St. Louis, but leave the 52 municipal police departments in the county intact — a move that appears to contradict efforts underway to erase the city and county’s fractured government structure.

The goals outlined in Belmar’s plan, titled “Law Enforcement: A Regional Approach,” include: “Increase the effectiveness of police services across the region; increase the equity of police services in the region; and recalibrate the public safety image of St. Louis.”

The idea stands in contrast to a campaign to consolidate municipal governments and police departments throughout St. Louis County with the city. That effort is headed by Better Together, a nonprofit group that has spent years studying how fragmented government affects the region. The task force is expected to release its report and corresponding plan this month. (Post-Dispatch)

Today’s poll is on Belmar’s proposal:

This non-scientific poll will automatically close at 8pm tonight. Wednesday I’ll share the results and my thoughts.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Skeptical About Major Earthquake in Their Lifetimes

December 19, 2018 Featured, Missouri, STL Region Comments Off on Readers Skeptical About Major Earthquake in Their Lifetimes
The elevated sections of I-64 in St. Louis have been retrofitted to hopefully withstand a major earthquake.

Earthquakes happen all the time, we just don’t feel them. I’m nearly 52 and have never felt an earthquake.

My oldest brother was living in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, my other brother was living in the Los Angeles area during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. A close personal friend was living in Seattle during the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake. My relatives in Oklahoma have all felt their frequent, but minor, earthquakes. I’d be ok with never feeling one, but that time may come.

Here in St. Louis we’re part of at least two seismic zones:

With the New Madrid fault just a hundred miles south of St. Louis, it’s long been known that the region is at a greater risk for an earthquake than other parts of the Midwest. But new research indicates that St. Louis is part of an area that has seismic activity of its own.

Geologists have identified a new seismic zone stretching from St. Louis to Cape Girardeau along the Mississippi River called the Ste. Genevieve Seismic Zone. Their research indicates that the zone is capable of producing moderate earthquakes every few decades and has the potential to produce a major earthquake every 2,000 to 4,000 years.

“It’s a roll of the dice, right. If you’re unlucky, it could happen in your lifetime. The odds are not high,” Indiana University Geologist Gary Pavlis said.

A moderate earthquake measures about a magnitude 5 on the Richter scale. Pavlis said they can be felt but would only dislodge a few bricks here and there.

While the Ste. Genevieve Seismic Zone may not produce anything major in our lifetimes, the same can’t be said of the New Madrid Seismic Zone. OK, someone who’s 90 might not see the big one in their lifetimes, but those in your 20s may. It might happen next week.

There is broad agreement in the scientifc community that a continuing concern exists for a major destructive earthquake in the New Madrid seismic zone. Many structures in Memphis, Tenn., St. Louis, Mo., and other communities in the central Mississippi River Valley region are vulnerable and at risk from severe ground shaking. This assessment is based on decades of research on New Madrid earthquakes and related phenomena by dozens of Federal, university, State, and consulting earth scientists. (USGS)

Those in floodplain areas might experience the worst of it, because of liquefaction of the soil.

In the recent non-scientific poll more than half don’t expect the big one to hit St. Louis in their lifetimes:

Q: Agree or disagree: A major earthquake will “wreck” St. Louis in my lifetime.

  • Strongly agree: 3 [10.71%]
  • Agree: 2 [7.14%]
  • Somewhat agree: 7 [25%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [3.57%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [10.71%]
  • Disagree: 6 [21.43%]
  • Strongly disagree: 3 [10.71%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 3 [10.71%]

Hopefully they’re correct.

— Steve Patterson

 

The St. Louis Region Needs To Let Go of Fragmentation

October 22, 2018 Featured, STL Region Comments Off on The St. Louis Region Needs To Let Go of Fragmentation
A 2011 list of municipalities in St. Louis County

On August 22, 1876 voters in St. Louis County, which included the City of St. Louis, voted on separation. It failed.

The vote took place 22 Aug 1876, and the initial count indicated that the separation question had failed by just over 100 votes. Supporters of separation then brought charges, including fraud, and a recount was ordered. The recount took four months so it was late 1876 before it was determined that the vote for separation had passed. The story of the split is really much more complex than that, so consult the reading list below for more in-depth material. (St. Louis County Library)

Other sources, including St. Louis Day by Day by Frances Hurd Stadler indicates the recount was finalized two months later on October 22, 1876 — 142 years ago today. Regardless of when the recount determined the measure had passed, it was in 1877 when the parties went their separate ways.

This was one of the worst things to happen to the entire St. Louis region. The City of St. Louis has suffered the most, but St. Louis County is now experiencing increased poverty, population loss, etc.

Earlier this year the St. Louis region dropped one spot to 21st:

Overall, the St. Louis metropolitan area, which comprises 14 counties and the city of St. Louis, grew slightly but at a much slower rate than other parts of the U.S., based on population estimates taken from July 1, 2016, to July 1 of last year.

The Baltimore area, which had been ranked 21st, swapped spots on the population list with the St. Louis region. The city of Baltimore saw a numeric population drop greater than St. Louis city, but Baltimore’s loss represented a 0.9 percent decrease, compared with a 1.4 percent loss in St. Louis. (Post-Dispatch)

On October 11th St. Louis Alderman Scott Ogilvie made a surprise announcement that he wouldn’t seek a third term next Spring. In his announcement he said this:

Government in the region needs to be completely remade from the ground up. It does not work in St. Louis City, it does not work in the poorer areas of St. Louis County. We accept that rich people get excellent services because they wall themselves into suburban enclaves and avoid engaging with the rest of the region, and we accept that poor people will have poor services because they are poor. We accept that the middle class will endure a series of choices driven by anxiety and fear rather than love and optimism.

In 2000, a year after moving here, I was riding my bike on a weekend as I often do in Forest Park. A driver began a confrontation with me that ended in an assault near Skinker and Forsyth. Afterwards, angry and annoyed but not particularly hurt, I called the police. The response I got was not, “Are you ok?” but “What side of Skinker were you on?” This is our regional government in a nutshell. It first asks not what someone needs, but where they live. What you get is determined by your address.

We largely got here by accident. But with decades of perspective on this dynamic, we all know it’s the central problem in the St. Louis region. It’s time to do something about it. My parting shot in my role as alderman is this: We need to erase all the artificial boundaries of City and County and Municipalities. The only way this region will ever work is if we are governed as one region, where everyone pays into the same pot, everyone has a seat at the same table to determine the regional direction, and resources are distributed equitably. Tinkering around the edges is metaphorically the same as rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. People are literally dying because of the way this region’s government is structured.

After 8 years in government, my wish is we stop tinkering around the edges of an obviously un-salvageable and routinely harmful regional dynamic – We should be the St. Louis of 1.3 million people we want to be. (Ward 24 St Louis)

I agree completely! I’m also hugely suspicious of anything funded by Rex Sinquefield, including Better Together.

I don’t know what the solution looks like, but I strongly believe doing nothing will continue to hurt the entire region.

— Steve Patterson

 

Opinion: St. Louis Region Should Stop Chasing Big Conventions, Should Instead Invest in Improving the Quality of Life for Residents & Tourists

October 10, 2018 Featured, STL Region Comments Off on Opinion: St. Louis Region Should Stop Chasing Big Conventions, Should Instead Invest in Improving the Quality of Life for Residents & Tourists

Every region has an entity responsible for getting people from other regions to visit…and spend money.

The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission (DBA Explore St. Louis) is the official destination marketing organization responsible for selling St. Louis City and St. Louis County as a convention and meeting site and as a leisure travel destination. Explore St. Louis works to attract citywide conventions, one-hotel meetings, sporting events, group tours and individual leisure travelers to St. Louis. More than 700 local and regional businesses are partners with Explore St. Louis.

The St. Louis Tourism Bureau was founded in 1909 by a group of local business leaders, after seeing the success of the 1904 World’s Fair. In 1984, the Bureau was restructured and combined with the St. Louis County Office of Tourism to form the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission (SLCVC), a regional commission of the State of Missouri. Dedicated funding for the SLCVC and the Regional Arts Commission through a new tax on hotel rooms was implemented. The SLCVC’s board was reorganized in 1991 to reflect the organization’s new role in managing the expanded America’s Center Convention Complex including the 67,000-seat Dome at America’s Center, 1,400- seat Ferrara Theatre, a 28,000 square-foot ballroom and the St. Louis Executive Conference Center. (Prior to the expansion, the convention center had been operated by the City of St. Louis.)

The SLCVC’s 11-member Board of Commissioners is headed by a chairman appointed by the Governor of Missouri. Five Board members are appointed by the Mayor of the City of St. Louis and five are appointed by the St. Louis County Executive. According to the organization’s enabling legislation, three of each official’s appointees must be actively engaged in the St. Louis hotel industry. (Explore St. Louis)

Their name includes ‘convention’, which comes before ‘visitors’. So, like nearly every other region in the country, they chase conventions. It takes a lot of vacationing families of four to equal one convention with 6,000 attendees, so conventions are typically how cities/regions try to fill hotel rooms.

Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D’Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.

The choices for small conventions/conferences in the St. Louis region are numerous. Collinsville IL and St. Charles MO each have facilities, as do many hotels throughout the region. Events that would book these venues are too small for our downtown convention center, marketed as America’s Center. There are events that have been held here that have outgrown our current facilities, they’ve moved on to larger venues.

The meeting/convention market, like many others, is shrinking. Even big shows are having to change.

The Detroit auto show is moving from its traditional slot in January to June, seeking to reinvent itself after many automakers decamped for the week-earlier Consumer Electronics Show or lost interest in auto shows altogether.

The shift will take place in 2020. That means 2019’s show will be the last one in January.

The overhauled event aims to create a festival-like air with vehicle debuts, concerts, splashy displays and food trucks stretching along Detroit’s riverfront and into the city’s downtown when it begins June 8, 2020. (USA Today)

Every year my husband and I attend the annual Chicago Auto Show, held at the largest US convention center, McCormack Place — in 2020 we hope to check out the show in Detroit. I’ve been through Detroit only once — returning to St. Louis from Toronto on a bus in 2006.  I have many areas of interest in Detroit, including middle eastern food highlighted by Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef Marcus Samuelsson the first episode of No Passport Required on PBS. Food, architecture, etc is often why I want to visit other regions.

Those who host the big events have many choices already, with more regions spending millions annually to try to get their event to their newly built or expanded facility. It’s a buyer’s market.

The recent non-scientific Sunday Poll was deliberately used the word ‘visitors’ instead of ‘conventioneers.’

Q: Agree or disagree: We need to invest $175 million in our convention center to be able to attract visitors to the St. Louis region.

  • Strongly agree: 11 [34.38%]
  • Agree: 4: [12.5%]
  • Somewhat agree: 4 [12.5%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 3 [9.38%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 2 [6.25%]
  • Disagree: 3 [9.38%]
  • Strongly disagree: 4 [12.5%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 1 [3.13%]

Nearly 60% agreed, but I disagree. If our goal is to attract the shrinking convention business we need to spend a lot to do so.  However, if our goal is to attract visitors we still need to spend a lot — but in different ways.  Besides further blocking off the Near Northside from downtown, expanding the existing facility is wasting money that could, potentially, have a much greater impact if spent elsewhere. The city & county each contribute $6 million annually in hotel taxes. The current bonds will be paid off in a few years.

Now is the time to rethink our strategy for getting people to the region — visitors spend money and it takes money to get them here. I have no problem spending money on attracting visitors to our region, I just question spending ALL on chasing conventions being chased by every other region in the country. Maybe the focus shifts from conventions to culture (food, music, etc.)? Maybe I’m just pissed that 9th Street will also be closed now that I’m planning to move North of the already massive complex. Maybe it’s just upsetting one group has been working on getting rail transit on 9th/10th without knowing another was planning to close 9th.

If only we could turn our fragmentation into an attraction.

— Steve Patterson

 

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