7 min read
Posted on 12.15.16
  • 7 min read
  • Posted on 12.15.16
  • Filed under
  • Northside/Southside Metrolink
  • cameras
  • Delmar Divide
  • NGA
  • Ferguson Commission
  • Christine Ingrassia

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 neighborhoods.

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 proposed alignment.

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 ratio.

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 history.

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 south.

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 rates.

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 places.

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.