The unveiling of Catherine Magel’s “Changing Identities” sculpture as a poignant moment for Normandy Mayor Patrick Green.
The unveiling showcases a community development organization for the municipalities surrounding the University of Missouri-St. Louis. But it was also a tribute to four people who died in a 1997 bus crash in north St. Louis County.
Green’s sister was one of the four victims. Thursday’s ceremony, he said, was akin to taking “something that was sad and turn it into joy.”
“Actually, that’s what she would have wanted,” Green said. “She would have wanted to say ‘I’ve moved on. But my spirit still exists there. And I want that place to be a happy place. Not just for me. But for those who pass through and will come in the future.’”
The community development organization – University Square – is a not-for-profit organization to improve the commercial infrastructure in communities close to UMSL. It's funded in part by a grant from the St. Louis County Port Authority. And it seeks to redevelop the area's housing for residents, employees of nearby businesses and people associated with the university.
Betty Van Uum, senior officer for public affairs and economic development, said the group’s focus area would be bounded by Lucas-Hunt Road, Interstate 170, Interstate 70 and St. Charles Rock Road. The overarching goal, she said, is trying “to spur development in the neighborhood around the university.”
She called the area within the University Square footprint "a beautiful community, with wonderful people and gorgeous assets." But, Van Uum added, "There are commercial areas, particularly, that have become a little outdated."
And Wayne Goode – a member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators – said he was hopeful that the organization would draw the surrounding communities closer together.
“They are looking for business,” said Goode, a Normandy resident and a former member of the Missouri Senate. “So if you want to do business in University Square or you know people who want to do it, come see these folks. Because they’re going to take the lead and move this forward.”
Van Uum also said a $14 million effort to bring more bike and pedestrian-friendly features to Natural Bridge Road will be a net positive for the community. The Great Streets initiative will provide the busy street more pedestrian and bike-friendly features. It’s also slated to place overhead utility wires underground and accommodate more landscaping and art. (Click here to read a background piece on the Natural Bridge Great Streets initiative.)
Metro CEO and President John Nations said the project – which should be complete by the end of 2015 -- will connect residents, students and businesspeople better to the transit service's train and bus options.
"Turning Natural Bridge into one of the great streets and redesigning it will make it better for pedestrians, it will make it better for commuters, it will make the entire area more inviting," Nations said.
Both Van Uum and Green say the projects could spur more collaboration between the municipalities that surround UMSL. Van Uum said it’s a positive that there are many small municipalities around the university, adding that the town’s elected officials amount to “five or six volunteers.”
Green added the projects are going “to allow the leadership to realize that when they collaborate, good things happen.”
“It’s OK to work together with your local neighbor, with your mayor, your other councils in the area. It’s OK to collaborate on projects financially,” Green said. “It’s OK to collaborate politically to get bigger projects done beyond just your borders.”