Let’s talk about Forest Park again.
To recap: BJC and the City of St. Louis are discussing an extension of a lease that BJC currently has on some property behind their hospital campus. If we do not reach an agreement on a new lease, BJC will retain control of the property for another 44 years. They’ll continue to pay a relatively small amount of money each year for its use.
Working with Comptroller Darlene Green, the City’s Parks Department reached a tentative agreement after a year of discussions under which BJC would lease slightly more land (all of it south of Kingshighway) for an extended time for a lot more money. We all agreed that the new revenue would be dedicated for Forest Park maintenance, while the money formerly used to maintain Forest Park would be rededicated to the maintenance of some of the City’s other parks. Two public meetings have been held on the terms of the agreement. Several more will be held before a final resolution is reached sometime this summer.
Last week, I asked four senior aldermen - Freeman Bosley, Lyda Krewson, Fred Wessels, and Steve Conway - to take a hard look at the proposal as it now stands and report back to me on what they thought would be best for the City. Three of these aldermen are the Board’s senior statesmen. The fourth represents a ward that contains the bulk of Forest Park. I know that their examination will be thorough and their report fair.
I also know that they will consider some of the same things that I have:
BJC Hospital is the number one employer in our City. They provide the best hospital care, the most charity care, the most jobs, and have contributed to the revitalization of the CWE and Forest Park Southeast. Unlike so many other hospitals, they did not flee the City for the suburbs. This does not mean that they will always get their way, but it does mean they will be treated with respect.
Forest Park Forever, the group that worked passionately to improve and project the park, already supports the deal. Its members think that it is good for park to find a dedicated stream of revenue for its maintenance - and they’ve agreed to match it. Forest Park does not have a dedicated source of revenue for maintenance and operations. It must compete with all of the other important needs in the City including law enforcement, infrastructure, neighborhood services, economic development, and other City parks. By extending a lease for an underutilized piece of land that serves primarily as the top of a parking garage, we can preserve the incredible improvements we have made in the Forest Park.
Alderman Joe Roddy, whose ward contains both BJC and the strip of park land, supports the deal. Joe’s biggest concern was for the future location of the green space and playground that currently sit atop the parking garage. He plans to work with BJC and his neighborhood groups to find good places to put these amenities. He also regards the $29 million BJC has already invested in his neighborhoods as a measure of their good faith. (It is certainly more than the daily newspaper has invested in the neighborhoods that surround its downtown headquarters.)
Comptroller Green, whose office handled the business details for the tentative agreement, wants her work checked and updated. That’s why there are two CPAs among the aldermen reviewing her work.