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St. Louis business leaders say downtown deserves more city funding

Kelli McCrary, executive director for the Downtown St. Louis Community Improvement District, listens to Greater St. Louis Inc. CEO Jason Hall speak on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, during a press conference at Great St. Louis Inc.’s headquarters in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Kelli McCrary, executive director for the Downtown St. Louis Community Improvement District, listens to Greater St. Louis Inc. CEO Jason Hall speak on Thursday about downtown investment.

Business leaders in St. Louis want the city to dedicate more funding for downtown public safety and physical improvements.

The neighborhood generates about 20% of the money that goes into St. Louis’ general fund, but only accounts for 5% of citywide spending, according to a new economic impact analysis by Greater St. Louis Inc.

To Jason Hall, CEO of Greater St. Louis, this disparity doesn’t support the growth that this part of St. Louis has been seeing.

“The resurgence is real,” he said. “But the momentum is not victory. It’s an opportunity to lean in and make smart decisions and smart investments that set downtown and St. Louis metro up for long-term success.”

Hall points to the recent announcement that Scale AI will be opening a new office in downtown St. Louis as a positive indicator of the new activity. But he added persistent challenges with crime, streets and other infrastructure issues and emerging from the pandemic make more of that growth difficult.

“The pandemic hit downtown St. Louis and many others hard,” Hall said. “We had to stop conventions, ballgames, a lot of things that drive the density of downtown. And that created a set of conditions that are challenging from a public safety standpoint and are going to limit our full potential.”

These concerns are shared among those in the city center, said Kelli McCrary, executive director of the Downtown St. Louis Community Improvement district.

“Our constituents are the residents, businesses and property owners of downtown, big and small,” she said. “We hear similar messages about concerns that everyone has with public safety.”

It’s a challenge that business leaders see hampering future growth, since downtown is an anchor for economic activity in the region.

“It’s critical as the front door to the region,” Hall said. “Folks that come here for a convention, they may not touch any other part of the region. Their entire perception of St. Louis is shaped by their experience walking on those city blocks.”

Hall said he isn’t advocating that the city invest in money in specific ways since that’s not what his organization specializes in. He explained the city has many assets that are being overshadowed by the current challenges.

“The affordability, a national park in your front yard, the built environment, the historic environment here,” he said. “I mean these are unique assets, these are all strengths, but we’re leaving the value on the table if we don’t lean into them.”

Eric Schmid covers economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.

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