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Downtown leaders are told that a strong metro area needs strong core

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 28, 2011 - Carol Coletta, founder and first director for her new organization ArtPlace and an expert in city development, was the keynote speaker at the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis' annual conference. "The changes that are underway in St. Louis are breathtaking," Coletta said.

Coletta addressed approximately 400 St. Louis businesspeople about the delight she was taking from the new development going on in St. Louis.

She emphasized the importance of cities within larger metro regions, explaining that the quality of a city adds to the quality of the area.

In 2008, she was named one of the world's top 50 experts in urban development by a European think tank. Coletta was also former president and chief executive of CEO for Cities and producer of the nationally syndicated public radio show Smart City.

"I get the importance of a strong metro area," she said. "But to act as if you can have a strong metro region without a strong downtown -- that's where the argument falls apart."

ArtPlace has not been officially announced yet -- that will come in September along with its first grants -- but the organization's mission is clear. It will provide a national initiative to accelerate creative development in urban environments. Its funding will come from major national foundations willing to support the cause.

Levee Stone Award

Having been a large part of downtown St. Louis' development, John Fox Arnold was awarded this year's Levee Stone Award, which "recognizes leadership, extraordinary vision and personal commitment in advancing the revitalization of downtown St. Louis."

Arnold was chairman of the board of Downtown St. Louis in the 1990s and was prominent in laying the framework for the nonprofit community enhancement group looking at city development, which was the first of its kind in Missouri.

"I believe that change for downtown St. Louis was critical. Because this is St. Louis, not everyone agreed with me," Arnold said in his acceptance speech about starting to work on city development decades ago. Arnold said the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis formed in 1958 when leaders saw the future of the city to be at risk.

"To reinvigorate our city, it must be business by business, block by block, building by building," he said.

"It's really this really cool combination of economy and redevelopment," Coletta said. "We actually make grants. We're funding initiatives around the country."

An example of a project using artistic creativity to add to its city's development can be found in Milwaukee, Wis., she said. "I think about the open design and innovation clusters that are starting up in Milwaukee. They are using design to add value to their manufacturing," she said.

Adding value to the business development side of things in turns helps the city as a whole develop, she said.

Coletta repeatedly addressed increased development in St. Louis over the past several years. "I'm here to add to your chorus," Coletta said. "Development in a metro area does matter."

She cited three main components of city development: quality of talent, place and opportunity -- all three factors that revolve around the leadership driving them. The talent component comes in when attracting young, educated residents who find opportunity in a city.

Mayor Francis Slay said, though the city lost 29,000 people in the 2010 census, St. Louis is currently ranked No. 1 nationwide in attracting the most college-educated professionals.

Adding to that line of thinking, Coletta said "What we have to do, is attract and retain the talent we develop."

One of the speakers who addressed the group was Mark Mantovani, president and CEO of NSI Marketing Services. He said St. Lousians have come to think of downtown with pride instead of embarrassment. Though a lot has been accomplished, he said, the city still has more development potential.

Allison Prang, a student at the University of Missouri Columbia, is a Beacon intern. 

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