I have asked Alderwoman
Christine Ingrassia and her aldermanic colleagues to give city voters the
chance to approve a half-cent economic development tax in April. If simple majority of
voters agree, a half-cent tax will raise about $20 Million a year to fund a
suite of initiatives designed to really change our city and strengthen its
The first half
The North South Metrolink,
would receive half of the proceeds, $10 million a year – enough to build the
first phase of the full alignment.
Why this? Because a new spine of investment
south to north is the most compelling way to reorient a city that has been
building east to west for more than fifty years, creating real and perceived
barriers at Delmar, Highway 40, and I-44.
The experiences of cities
across the United States speak to the ability of correctly-placed
transportation infrastructure to connect marginalized communities to economic
growth, grow regional productivity, deconcentrate poverty, promote healthy
living, create vibrant and accessible public spaces, and catalyze development
in struggling neighborhoods.
That’s why the City, in
collaboration with the Bi-State Development Agency and East West Gateway,
recently used funds provided by Treasurer’s Office to begin updating the
North/South alignment plan to account for new ridership estimates, as well as
the relocation of the National Geospatial Agency directly adjacent to the
Once complete, the new
study will allow us to enter Project Development with the Federal Transit
Administration, starting a process that will allow us to apply for funding
through the New Starts Program – which can match local dollars at a one to one
The revenue stream from the
portion of the half-cent economic development tax allocated to North South
Metrolink is projected to provide a financing capacity of $250 million.
Together with federal matching dollars, that can leverage a total project cost
of over half a billion dollars – that’s enough to build out a significant piece
of the alignment: Phase 1.
While the study currently
underway will ultimately determine the precise route and cost of phase 1, we
have a general idea of what it will look like. We know that it will serve south
St. Louis, which includes the region’s most densely settled communities; north
St. Louis, which includes the region’s neighborhoods most challenged by limited
access to transportation; and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency,
which represents the single greatest development opportunity in the city’s
The way I see it, we have a
moral obligation to residents without access to a car, cut off from jobs and
opportunities, and to their kids, cut off from educational opportunities and
healthy food. Our city demands action, and North South Metrolink also affords
us a singular opportunity to start healing the divide that separates north and
The other half
The other half of the funds
raised by the half-cent development tax will advance the same goals as
North/South Metrolink: knitting
communities together and catalyzing economic development.
$2.5 Million will go
towards neighborhood revitalization, creating a dedicated funding stream that
establishes a city program modeled on HUD’s Choice Neighborhood program, which
recently awarded $30 Million to neighborhoods on the near North Side.
The City’s model is founded
on three key principles we learned throughout the Choice Neighborhood process.
First, the value of targeted, place based investment. Instead of dividing the
revenues up into 2, 3, or 28 separate grants, we will award the full $2.5
million to one neighborhood each year. This approach concentrates the program’s
impact and ensures that the funds serve to catalyze real change.
That means, however, that
we have to be extremely careful about how we select these neighborhoods –
that’s where the second principle comes in: community engagement. We know that
outcomes are measurably better when the community drives the planning process –
when residents identify the challenges they face, and propose solutions custom
built for their neighborhood. That’s why this program will include extensive
community engagement as a prerequisite for selection.
We will also
prioritize applications that bring significant partnerships and leverage to the
table. $2.5 million alone cannot transform a community, but it can bridge the
gap in the construction of a community center, school or clinic. It can’t
revive a retail corridor, but it can provide seed capital for a revolving loan
fund, or the debt reserve fund for a microcredit program. It can’t replenish a
neighborhood’s housing stock, but it can match philanthropic dollars dedicated
to façade repair and home ownership assistance.
I know that small amounts
of funds, if put in the hands of passionate, dedicated people, can leverage
extraordinary transformation. And
I predict that the city’s commitment to fund neighborhood plans will encourage
communities across the city to embark on long-term, inclusive, planning
efforts. Too often plans fail to attract substantial funding and are left to
collect dust, with this funding stream, we are making a commitment to help
realize the vision of neighborhoods across the city.
Another $2.5 million will go
towards workforce development.
Workforce development is
about more than simple job training, though that’s an indispensable piece of
the puzzle. Tt’s really about building a pipeline that affords everyone the
same opportunity to succeed. That includes summer jobs programs that give young
kids introductions to work environments and teach them valuable life skills.
That includes college scholarship grants that allow talented, low-income, kids
the opportunity to attend college. Finally, that includes prison-to-prosperity
programs which provide reformed criminals with a second chance. These are all
national best practices, and they produce demonstrated results. College
scholarship programs and early savings programs, for example, have been
demonstrated to improve test scores, graduation rates, and college completion
There are is a compelling
reason to do this: we need the work force – to build things, to fill jobs at
Cortex, to staff BJC, to start businesses, to attract businesses from other
We will also be allocating $2.5
million in revenues towards financing investments into our security camera
network, building out the real time crime center, and improving security in and
around Metrolink stations.
This is really the
infrastructure for a rethinking of how we keep neighborhoods safe. Aside from allowing detectives to put
more criminals behind bars, security cameras are outfitted with shot-spotter
technology, which allow police to respond more quickly to disturbances in our
neighborhoods. Together with improvements to the real time crime center, these
cameras will allow our officers to work smarter and more efficiently. Finally, we are committed to
improving security in and around Metrolink stations – we don’t want to spend
hundreds of millions on a system whose full potential is never met as a result
of public safety concerns.
This investment will
complement changes in our public safety priorities. The police department is
undergoing a staffing study to determine how many officers we need and how we
can deploy them more efficiently. Once the study is complete, I will propose
legislation in Jefferson City to allow the voters of St. Louis to raise their
property taxes to pay for additional officers and additional community policing
costs including pay raises, should we need them.
Finally, we are dedicating $2.5
million to infrastructure.
Our city’s streets, alleys,
waterworks, public buildings, and parks were built to sustain 850,000
residents. Unfortunately, our current tax base, which is less than half that
number, cannot keep up with the maintenance costs. We have significant needs,
ranging from our roads and bridges, to city buildings, vehicles, and equipment.
These revenues could generate roughly $40 Million in bonding capacity – not
nearly enough to meet all our needs, but a start that can help us address some
of the city’s most critical challenges.
St. Louis has come a long
way in 16 years.
When I took office there were more than 150 vacant buildings downtown. Today
there are less than two dozen.
We have become a city with
more vibrant neighborhoods and nationally noticed economy where entrepreneurs
with big ideas are not afraid to fail before they succeed. We have an exploding central
corridor that is home to two successful innovation districts, a nationally
recognized arts, music and cultural scene, the best urban park in America,
world-class medical centers, and two of the best universities in the country.
We must build on those
strengths, but ensure that this growth reaches more people, and work to grow
existing momentum in the central corridor to neighborhoods north and south. St. Louis is at a turning point.
The events of Ferguson shone a spotlight on the myriad challenges facing our
region: racial disparities and poverty chief among them. These challenges are not
new – they are a product of systems, policies, and institutions that have
haunted us for decades -- and solving them will not be easy.
This is an important
step. Taking it now will
make the next mayor’s job a little easier.