Port Authority seeks land and revenue beyond the banks of the Mississippi
The St. Louis Port Authority oversees 19 miles of riverbank including six thousand acres of land available for commercial and industrial development. But it wants more.
A bill that proposes expanding the Port Authority’s district to include the entire city of St. Louis could come up for a vote by the Board of Aldermen as early as tomorrow.
But several aldermen have said they will block the vote because they have been kept in the dark about the purpose and consequences of the bill.
Alderwoman Annie Rice, D-8th Ward, said she sent an email last week with many questions about the proposed expansion to the St. Louis Development Corporation, which is responsible for the Port Authority.
“I’m still waiting for responses back from SLDC and the Port Authority about what it is they are actually trying to do there,” Rice said.
Representatives of the Port Authority have failed to appear at committee meetings in the past month where they were expected to explain the expansion plan. They were also unavailable for comment when contacted by St. Louis Public Radio.
Under Missouri state law, port authority powers include the ability to collect taxes, acquire property and conduct land reclamation. There are 10 port authorities in the state. All of them, with the exception of the city of St. Louis, have jurisdictions that stretch far beyond the rivers where they are responsible for economic development.
For example, the St. Louis County Port Authority district includes the entire county, where it takes in about $4 million annually from casino taxes.
The county ethics commission is investigating the Port Authority for allegedly mishandling funding for a nonprofit housing organization. There is also an investigation into the Authority’s purchase of the vacant Jamestown Mall to determine if contracts were inappropriately awarded to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s campaign donors and friends.
A new Missouri law that allows Port Authorities to create Advanced Industrial Manufacturing Zones may be one of the reasons the St. Louis authority would like to expand.
AIM Zones create a revenue stream for port authorities by establishing a fund consisting of 50 percent of the state withholding tax from all jobs created within the zone after development or redevelopment has begun. In other words, if the Port Authority establishes an industrial zone in north St. Louis that generates 100 jobs and $100,000 in state withholding taxes, $50,000 would go to the Authority’s fund. It could use that revenue to invest in future development projects.
Currently, the St. Louis Port Authority oversees 6,000 acres of land along 19 miles of the Mississippi River. For the fiscal year 2019, the authority’s revenues from leases for barge docks and terminals are expected to total $1,285,000.
The city’s Port Authority has two full-time employees and is under the auspices of the St. Louis Development Corporation. Any changes to the district’s geography requires approval of the Board of Aldermen and the Missouri Department of Transportation.
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