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Economy & Business

Not In My Ward: St. Louis Alderman Slams Possible Port Authority Expansion

Alderman Brandon Bosley, April 2017
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Brandon Bosley doesn’t want anything to do with the St. Louis Port Authority. He’s been vocal about that fact. Last week, the 3rd ward St. Louis alderman introduced a bill putting that into writing.

If passed, the bill would exempt his northside ward from any possible expansion of the Port Authority. It’s a preemptive measure that comes just a month after a bill that would have broadened the Port Authority’s jurisdiction on the matter stalled. It would have expanded the power of the Port Authority from just 19 miles along the Mississippi River front to the entire city.

The Port Authority is an economic development arm of government that works with the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) to manage public and private real estate development projects in the Port District. It can also apply for state and federal grant money for certain projects. The SLDC and the mayor’s office have previously highlighted the benefits of making Port Authority tools available to the entire city.

But Bosley worries that kind of development won’t be in the best interests of his constituents. And he has reason to fear efforts for expanding the Port Authority are reginiting.

Otis Williams, executive director of the SLDC, is hoping to have a new Port Authority expansion bill back on the table soon. He’s just looking for someone on the Board of Aldermen to sponsor it.

If that happens, Bosley is concerned that would mean giving up his ability to weigh in on economic development in his community.

“Everyone in [my] community is afraid of the developers that are going to come in, and they don’t want to be pushed out or priced out. But if we can help control some of that development because we have development dollars also, it gives us a seat at the table and not just someone who is begging you to do something about the community or build housing and then we can’t afford to live there.”

Chief among his worries is giving up his power when it comes to the use of eminent domain in his ward. Williams, however, said he’s already addressed that, as well as the use of tax abatements, which were concerns previously raised by other aldermen and alderwomen. If the Port Authority wants to use either of those economic development tools, it would have to go through the Board of Aldermen first, Williams said.

He views Bosley’s bill as a potential “missed opportunity” for the ward, which sits near the 97 acres earmarked for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new headquarters. The city plans to develop the surrounding area as well, he said.

There are no current projects in mind that could benefit from the Port Authority’s expansion, but Williams said he’d like to have the new borders in place so the city can take advantage of it when the right development proposal comes along.

Bosley isn’t just worried about his community’s development needs being overlooked. He’s also concerned that the Port Authority has too much power. He nodded at St. Louis County as an example of how a Port Authority can be misused. Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger recently pleaded guilty to a pay-to-play scheme that involved bribes in exchange for contracts awarded through the county Port Authority and other entities.

“Now, we all know that the Port Authority is an economic tool, but the entire city is not along the port, and we have seen how this hurts other cities and how people mis-utilize that tool because of how much power they have that’s set up by state statute,” he said.

Williams said there has been no misconduct at the St. Louis Port Authority.

“We look at it as an opportunity to provide more tools for redevelopment in the city, so I don’t know of anything that would be negative for any area in the city,” he said, adding that he’s willing to work out any remaining concerns.

Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward, who sponsored the previous Port Authority expansion bill, declined to comment on whether she would reintroduce similar legislation in this session.

Bosley’s bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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