“How do you define development?” questioned Richard Baron, the Chairman and CEO of St. Louis-based for-profit community developer McCormack Baron Salazar, on Wednesday’s “St. Louis on the Air.”
“It’s often perceived as being a project of restoring the Kiel, building a new stadium, doing a new mall,” Baron told host Don Marsh. “… But the basic infrastructure of the city in terms of the school system, public infrastructure and transportation systems, those kinds of things are not often thought about in terms of projects but they are the most critical part of maintaining a city and its vibrancy.”
The crux of it is, that if things like infrastructure and schooling aren’t considered at the same level of importance as big projects, like the new, proposed NFL stadium, “then you don’t have the kind of investment in those systems,” he said.
Who is the development for?
For Sandra Moore, the president of the St. Louis-based non-profit Urban Strategies which works with developers to rebuild neighborhoods, urban development can be done more sensibly when it starts with asking a simple question: Who is this development for?
“Sequencing at a project level is what can make a difference,” Moore said. “What do you think about when you think about development? If you’re thinking about housing or re-energizing downtown or about new roadway infrastructure, a public transportation system…where do people fit into that? If that is the afterthought, then ultimately you will not get the maximum amount of connection and benefit from that aspect of development.”
Moore said that for a project she and Baron worked on, the Flance Early Learning Center in north St. Louis, they spent fifteen years asking the question of “if we are going to develop this community, what component?” and then getting input specific to the community it was going to be located in.
“It is that kind of intensity and intentionality to the development cycle that we’re talking about,” she continued.
Good examples of urban developments
Baron and Moore pointed to the public-private partnership of Washington Avenue, Grand Center, Saint Louis University and Cortex as good examples of community input in urban development. Budding neighborhoods on the south side of the city are also something to be optimistic about, Moore said.
The problem, with each though, is time. There has to be significant investment in the development even after it is completed to keep the community vital, Baron said. Finding funding streams that last as long as the intention does is another issue.
“Markets change, capital changes…the city has been literally starved,” Baron said. “Recessions come and go. One of the real challenges in St. Louis and Kansas City is that we have state legislature that has no interest in the urban areas of Missouri.”
Likewise, the federal funding that made urban development projects fly here in the ‘60s and ‘70s has dried up, Baron said.
Urban development is a long game
Moore says that if you talk to funders or communities about development plans that take over 10 years, their eyes glaze over.
“One of the biggest challenges I face is that frequently our time window for success to happen is too short to really achieve sustainable success,” Moore said. “That’s a big problem when people look at failed projects. You cannot transform a swatch of deteriorated, disinvested land that has people living there whose life conditions are as deteriorated and disinvested on a five year close.”
Bad examples of urban developments
Union Station, Baron said, is an example of one such development failure. The pricey parking and lack of housing units didn’t incorporate a community aspect into the plans. Ballpark Village, another contentious development project, was looked at a little less harshly by Moore. She said that even though the development is not what it was originally intended to be, “There’s lots of people of difference coming together in a place with one common agenda, and that is to enjoy something. That is something upon which to build.”
She said that, as a community, we can’t bail on things when they get tough. “We have a huge investment in Ballpark Village now. We need to figure out how to get where we need to go so it comes to fruition at its fullest potential. This is a challenge we face in this community quite a lot. If we decide it is going to be this, and it doesn’t turn out to be exactly that, we move on to something else. I would humbly submit there’s something quite good to build on there.”
So what about that proposed NFL stadium? Though Moore and Baron wouldn’t directly predict its future, neither spoke directly in its favor.
“I think what’s involved here are a bunch of folks that love football and want to see an NFL franchise in St. Louis,” Baron said. “I would hope that those who are going to make that investment would think about doing the same thing for the school system.”
What: Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice Presents "Vision for Urban Development: Places and People"
When: Thursday, Nov. 12 at 7:00 p.m., coffee at 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Heights, 8001 Dale Ave., St. Louis, MO 63117
"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.