President Shrewsbury, Members of the Board of Aldermen, Comptroller Green, Honored Guests, and Citizens of St. Louis.
Thank you for giving me this platform to address the State of the City of St. Louis for 2005.
It has become my custom to use this time to look forward to the year of opportunities and challenges ahead of us.
But, I would like to pause for a moment to look back to 2004 to remember the loss of two serving members of this chamber: Colleen Sondermann and Dan Kirner. What these two very different people had in common was a sense of public service that bettered the lives of those around them. May peace - and the thanks of a grateful City - be with them.
As I now look forward, I know that the success we have this year will depend on a continued partnership with the Board of Aldermen.
- New restaurants, like Miss Betty's and Red Moon, that are attracting diners from throughout the region;
- Businesses, like A-B and BJC, that are expanding their City operations and others that are moving into the City from outlying suburbs;
- Suburban retailers, like Target and Lowes, that are building new City locations and innovative home-grown retailers celebrating success;
- Entertainment districts like the Delmar Loop and Washington Avenue that are now counted among the most entertaining and unique places in the country - and we have laid the groundwork for exciting new venues like the Riverfront; the Bottle District; the bike trails and greenways; and Ballpark Village that will add even more energy to City living;
- Historic homes that are being renovated throughout the City and vacant warehouses and factory buildings that are being reborn as urban lofts; and
- New homes that are being built in areas that have not seen true investment for decades.
We have - together - made City neighborhoods that are safer and cleaner; and a City government that is fairer and leaner. The budget document that you will soon consider upholds those values. It includes my strong recommendation to keep 40 additional police officers, staff the Most Violent Offenders program, and strengthen our Problem Properties Task Force.
I would like to thank each member of the Board of Aldermen - and all of the County office holders - for your leadership, and for being strong partners as we work to make our City a great city.
Setting a Year's Agenda
On Inauguration Day last week, I began to outline a plan for the coming year - and for the next four years.
We have a lot to accomplish, but there are three issues at the top of my list: helping children; strengthening our City economy with new jobs; and capitalizing on the new enthusiasm in the region for City living.
Let's start with the kids.
Thousands of City kids - black and white - live in safe neighborhoods, attend good schools, and will have great futures.
Others do not. They will not finish school; and they will not find good jobs. They are not engaged by their teachers. They don't play soccer or volleyball or baseball. They have no place to go after school, except street corners. They have few positive adult role models. At ten years old - fifteen years old, seventeen years old - they are already disconnected from our community.
And, we want them back. They are our future and responsibility.
For the last couple of years we have been laying the groundwork for a large-scale effort to enlist the resources of our entire community in rescuing children. The Commission on Children, Youth, and Families, which meets in May, is only the most visible part of an effort that also includes passage of the K for Kids Initiative last November.
We have worked with the St. Louis public schools to ensure that more of its resources are being spent in the classroom - on students and their teachers, rather than on less necessary things. But, there remains much more to be done in the area of student achievement. I hope you will join me in supporting our new superintendent, Dr. Creg Williams, and his management team as they work to improve the quality of education our children receive. I intend to ask the Board of Education to provide priority placement for neighborhood residents in all public schools, including magnet schools. And, I have already asked them to consider a return to K-through-8 neighborhood schools in our City.
We have also worked with the Archdiocese to keep as many parochial schools open as their parishes can afford and to consolidate weak schools to increase the viability of all schools.
We have made our case for additional schools with good data and solid projections. We acknowledge their challenges. But, the Archdiocese must share more of our faith in the City's future.
We will continue those efforts with public and parochial educators, but they will not be enough.
Through my educational liaison, I plan to work with community groups and businesses to create more, and better charter schools in the City; and to increase the number of private schools. At the end of this year, I want to have increased the number of good choices City parents have for their kids. Soon, I will be announcing plans for two new charter schools in South City. And we are also working to create a Downtown charter school.
Without high school diplomas and the skills that come with them, no child can succeed in today's world. At the end of four years of these efforts, I want to have doubled the number of kids graduating from high schools - public, private, and parochial - in the City.
One of the most successful early childhood programs is "Parents as Teachers." The program teaches parents how to raise healthy children, and gives them the tools to do so. In the last four years, we have raised the percentage of eligible City children enrolled in the program to 39 percent, from 18 percent. But, we need to do more. This year, I will work with our library system, neighborhood organizations, schools, daycare centers, churches, and the K for Kids Initiative to enroll more families. And, at the end of four years, I want to have matched the enrollment rate of suburban communities that enroll more than three-quarters of their families in Parents as Teachers.
It is important that we give our kids something to do when they are not in school. So, I have been giving a great deal of thought to our parks and our recreation centers. To be honest, they are underwhelming. Forest Park and few others are wonderful. But many of the other parks and all of the centers need attention. Most of our recreation facilities, including the pools, are outdated and under-equipped. Many community centers are shabby. And, some are closed. Taken together, they are an embarrassment.
Over the next year, I will ask the Parks and Recreation staff to consider new directions: improving parks, expanding recreational opportunities within the parks, consolidating the centers, building new centers, working with the school district to co-develop some centers, and cooperating with private programs that are getting better results.
It doesn't matter to parents if a facility was built by the school district or by the Board of Public Service. It doesn't matter if a sports league or an after school program is managed by the Recreation Division or by the Boys and Girls Clubs. At the end of four years, there should be a seamless network of parks; school, neighborhood, and community recreation centers; and after-school programs that all our children can actually use and enjoy. After we agree on a plan, I will likely propose a bond issue to fund the City's investment in its young people.
One of the things that every parent and teacher knows is that the early years are crucial to a child's development. In those years, environmental hazards like lead and asbestos can do great damage. And, in those years, the habits taught by good early childhood education programs, well-run Head Start programs, and high quality day care programs are the necessary foundation to later success.
We have made good progress on lead safety. Our program is gaining national attention for its innovations and efficiency. We must continue our efforts to produce and catalogue lead-safe housing, and work with the public school district to ensure lead-safe schools and playgrounds. In addition, I have asked the Health Department to intensify its initiatives on childhood immunizations and obesity.
After a great deal of well-intentioned discussion and preparation last year, a plan to build a new Head Start Center failed. During the next year, I hope to preside over the groundbreaking of a new Head Start Center in neighborhoods that need it.
And, finally, in order to ensure that we have high-quality early childhood programs available in the City to provide firm foundations for success in school, we must identify quality day care providers whose facilities can be expanded to serve more children; streamline the licensing process so that quality providers can establish affordable programs where they are most needed; and strengthen our regulatory system to identify and close down shady operators. I look forward to working with you to find suitable locations that attract families to your neighborhoods and jobs to our community.
Adding Jobs to Our Economy
When we take stock of our City's economy, we find some good news - and continued challenges and opportunities.
Four years ago, I promised businesses that they would no longer have to fight City Hall to create jobs in the City of St. Louis.
Many things have improved. Our job training programs have improved dramatically. Permits are easier. Minority certification is easier. Land uses are clearer and better defined. Development is smart and proactive. City government works as a team and treats businesses like customers.
In the past four years, more than $500 million in private capital has been invested in business facilities and another $500 million in building our institutions. This investment was supported by an additional $200 million of local government investment in public facilities and infrastructure.
Dial, Proctor & Gamble, BJC, Tums, Anheuser Busch - and others - expanded their City operations. HOK, Bryan Cave, Thompson Coburn, Deloitte & Touche, Mercer - and others - renewed major downtown office leases. Clear Channel, Gateway EDI, and National Systems - and others - picked City locations over county locations. And, both established national retail chains and new, unique local retailers have come to recognize that the City is a great market for their goods and services.
Today, there are 225,000 jobs in the City of St. Louis - more than 8 percent of all the jobs in the entire state and 12 percent of the state's wage base. The average wage within the 61 square miles of the City is the highest in the region - nearly $2,000 a year higher than St. Louis County and $6,000 a year higher than St. Charles County.
A fundamentally strong City economy and a refocused City government have stabilized our City's population, created an unprecedented boom in housing construction, sharply increased the resale value of City homes, and inspired a nearly unprecedented wave of enthusiasm for City living.
Today, our challenge is to keep up that momentum. I believe that it is well within our capabilities to add another ten thousand jobs to the City employment base over the next four years, add another ten thousand new homes to our housing stock, and add twenty thousand people to live in those new homes.
Creating a Self-Sufficient City
The point of all of this is to become a self-sufficient city again - a city that generates enough revenue from its middle and upper classes, and from its businesses, to provide basic services for everyone and special services for our oldest, youngest, and most vulnerable citizens.
We aren't there yet, but we have come a long way.
Less than a decade ago, no one would pay $250,000 for a home north of Delmar.
To get families to take that chance, we needed to provide incentives to offset the risk of investing in an untested market.
Today, in neighborhoods north of Delmar, particularly in the neighborhoods just north of the Pageant, few incentives are needed because attitudes have changed and the market has been reestablished.
The same dynamic is true for bringing retail to neighborhoods that have seen little development in decades and in bringing new employers to the City.
To become a self-sufficient city we still need to use incentives to build investor, business, and homebuyer confidence that the City of St. Louis IS the future of this region.
We must act prudently, offering incentives like tax abatement only where necessary and using our statutory powers wisely and fairly. But, we also have to be realistic: refusing new investment in our City because it must be leveraged with incentives will stop our progress in its tracks.
Government's resources are limited. It is the private sector that will rebuild our City, rebuild our neighborhoods, and generate tax dollars for City services.
As I recently discussed with Governor Blunt, this is not the moment to curtail the investment triggered by the state historic tax credit and other state economic development programs. It is not the moment to stifle the nascent life and agricultural sciences - like Cortex and the Danforth Plant Center - with onerous restrictions and prohibitions. And, I am happy to report that the governor is working with us on a "Quality Jobs" initiative that will give the City better tools to attract and retain businesses, and on keeping in place many of the economic incentives that have brought us this far.
Nor is it the moment for City officials to be complacent - to think that we have done enough. It must remain our development strategy to use our limited public resources to leverage much larger amounts of private investment. In the coming year, we must turn our efforts, talents, and incentives toward attracting more jobs, bigger businesses, bigger employers, and bigger retailers throughout our City, south and north.
Soon, Comptroller Green, President Shrewsbury, and I will convene a City Finance Committee to develop a roadmap for stabilizing City revenues and controlling costs while the City grows stronger.
I have also asked several study teams to examine our underlying revenues and expenses, and to make some recommendations for our consideration. These recommendations will be directed towards ensuring that we can continue to grow our economy, provide high quality city services, and continue the progress of the past four years.
Recommendations from all these different efforts will probably include a consolidation of some services - including elements of health care and social services, and parts of public safety - with St. Louis County and other neighbors. They may include the sale or joint operation of some assets, such as the airport. They will almost certainly include some recommendations for retooling our business taxes, while preserving our revenue base.
One area that requires immediate improvement this year is our regional effort to attract business and leisure visitors to the area. Never has our region been so ready for company with great amenities and plenty of space - and so unfocused about how to attract it.
To sharpen that focus, County Executive Dooley and I have asked the Convention & Visitors Commission to present us with new strategies to increase sharply the number of both tourists and conventioneers. Their draft plan will be transmitted to us this week - and we will respond to it later next month.
Also, I expect to announce progress this year on plans to better use our central riverfront - with a new design team to be announced next Monday; to improve the Gateway Mall; to build Chouteau's Lake and Greenway; to return mainstream retail to Union Station; and to take back St. Louis Center.
The Celebration Center
One element central to our City's renaissance is our willingness to celebrate our diversity. We are very different from the rest of our state. We live in neighborhoods and historic buildings unmatched in the region. We are older, younger, gayer, blacker, hipper, and more traveled than our neighbors. Our parks, museums, music venues, cluster of sports venues, universities, public libraries, and civic spaces are without matches almost anywhere.
We need to share these things with more people - and we need to share our people with more people.
In addition to the strategies proposed by the CVC, I propose to add another 50 miles of bike routes and trails in the City this year to continue to connect our neighborhoods to each other and all neighborhoods to the river and to the parks. In four years, I believe that the spokes of all the trails and routes will exceed 250 miles - making the City of St. Louis one of the bike-friendliest cities in the country.
And, with the nearly unblemished example of a successful week of Final Four celebration earlier this month, I will announce the designation of a new Celebration Center, an office funded by the private and public sectors that will work with the City to enhance civic events like Fair St. Louis and River Splash; to coordinate and expand the dozens of other ethnic, religious, and secular fairs and celebrations that already animate City living; and to invent new events that celebrate and showcase our City's diversity.
The Coming Year
Some people accuse me of being too optimistic about our City. We'll disagree about that. Rarely have we had so much promise. Never have we had such urgency.
The coming year can hold great things - for children and for all the rest of us. We need only keep to the tasks we have set ourselves - and involve others in our work.
That is the state of our City today - and a vision of our City in the future.