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Jefferson Barracks could become military-history destination, county officials say

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 25, 2010 - A year-long study of how to improve the 1,000-acre Jefferson Barracks site in south St. Louis County recommends that it take advantage of existing or planned development in the area by becoming a military history attraction designed to draw a national audience.

The $68 million project, unveiled Monday by county officials and U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, could include museums, historic trails, re-enactments and scenic views of the Mississippi River.

Read an executive summary of the plan here.

County Executive Charlie Dooley said the plan will bring much-deserved attention to an area of the county where millions of dollars of economic activity will be happening in the next few years, including housing, expansion of the Veterans Administration medical facility and the opening of a casino in March.

"The most important thing is recognizing that part of the county as a destination," he said. "A lot has changed down there, and a lot of opportunity is presenting itself, so we want to take advantage of what is going on."

Funding possibilities, the master plan says, include a special district such as the one that governs the Zoo, the Art Museum and other cultural attractions; a cultural district; tax-increment financing; or historic tax credits.

"Unfortunately," the executive summary of the master plan says, "the public ownership nature of the Jefferson Barracks complex limits the applicability of most of these tax-related funding options. The keys to success will be with a public-private mechanism to capture the increase in area property and economic activity revenue, continued fund-raising efforts by the private independent museum organizations, and the financial support of county, state and federal government."

But Dooley said that having the site owned by the government is an opportunity. He noted that the master plan was paid for in part as a result of recommendations by the base-closing commission. So, he said, if Washington paid for a part of the study, it should be willing to pay to help make it a reality.

Besides, he added, members of the area’s congressional delegation can work aggressively to get the area its share of the federal pie.

"It's another opportunity to bring some of our money back home." 

The plan said the economic impact of the improvements to the site would be 500 jobs and $100 million in direct and indirect construction spending in the next five years; 300 jobs and $16 million in annual expenditures following completion of projects in the first phase, by 2015; 60 new jobs and $6 million in annual spending from up to 250,000 visitors to the site; and near-term support for between 40,000 and 60,000 square feet of commercial space in surrounding communities.

The master plan envisions partnerships and associations with existing attractions, historic sites and organizations, ranging from the Zoo, Missouri History Museum and Grant's Farm to the Arch grounds, various heritage groups and local sports teams and casinos.

The Jefferson Barracks complex includes 1,000 acres of the original 1,700-acre historic Jefferson Barracks site. It was founded in 1826 as a military installation, serving mostly as a training, induction and ordnance storage facility. Among those associated with the site are Gens. Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman.

It was decommissioned as a federal military installation in 1946. The post, ordnance section and original cemetery site have been recognized for their historic status.

“We have a rich military history,” Dooley said, “and that story has not been told effectively.” 

For planning purposes, the study divided the complex into six land use districts: recreation and ordnance, National Guard base, museum, Sylvan Springs county park, national cemetery and VA medical center. A number of physical improvements were recommended for each of the districts, combining projects that are already in progress with reconstructions and new features such as a trolley from downtown.

Also proposed are partnerships with private owners of historic buildings and cooperative agreements with groups such as the Mehlville School District, St. Bernadette's Parish and Sylvan House.

Long-range, the plan envisions an umbrella organization with ownership or management by state parks officials or the National Park Service.

Dooley said the first step in getting the plan done was presenting it to the community. Asked who will be picking up the ball and running with it after that, he responded:

“Everybody."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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