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Government, Politics & Issues

The St. Louis Development Corporation wants residents to help shape its economic justice action plan

Cars drive along the Delmar Boulevard on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Cars drive along Delmar Boulevard in November. The commercial strip is one area with a concerted effort for more equitable development. The St. Louis Development Corporation is calling on residents to share their ideas for what they'd like to see in its economic justice action plan.

The St. Louis Development Corporation is asking residents this month to share what they’d like to see out of an economic justice action plan.

More than 500 people have already filled out an online survey that launched last week, said Daffney Moore, who is spearheading the city agency’s effort. She is also the chief of staff and director of equity and inclusion at SLDC.

“We don’t want to assume we know what people need,” she said. “We can look at the data, but we really want to hear the voice of the community of what resources they would like to see within their community — and if we’re doing something wrong, we want to know that.”

Moore said the plan will broadly focus on four areas that are priorities for the agency under new leadership from executive director Neal Richardson. Those include: workforce development, business empowerment, neighborhood transformation and equitable and inclusive development.

She said the action plan is part of an overall effort to do more grassroots work to incorporate input from community groups, activists and residents. It’s intended to build off the city’s existing equitable development framework, a nearly 450-page report published just before longtime SLDC Executive Director Otis Williams retired last year.

Moore said one of the things under consideration is creating a more equitable model and process for awarding financial incentives to developers. That could include a standard for community benefits agreements, which can allow residents to have more of a say about what kind of development comes to their neighborhood.

“We want to see north St. Louis develop without displacing residents and to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to redevelop our corridors and build housing,” Moore said.

St. Louisans active in community development are already weighing in.

That includes Brandon Sterling, board president of the Delmar Main Street Initiative, which is working with residents and stakeholders to tackle inequality along the Delmar Divide. He’s also a consultant who works with nonprofits and grant-making organizations in the region.

“We want to see development, but we also want to avoid gentrification,” he said. “So we’re looking for some type of middle ground where a community can experience a higher quality of life, but not at the expense of its most vulnerable people being shuffled around.”

Sterling said a standard process for community benefits agreements could help set an expectation that going forward, developers will need to contribute to affordable housing.

Numerous reports detailing ideas for economic development in St. Louis have been commissioned over the last few years, but Sterling said he’s hopeful this one will be more digestible for people and include more actionable steps.

SLDC has approved $150,000 for contractors to help develop the plan. They include the Ohio-based Council of Development Finance Agencies, St. Louis-based planning firm PGAV and Erica Henderson, a consultant and former official at the county’s St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

Moore expects SLDC will have a draft of the economic justice action plan available for residents to critique in January, and the final plan is expected to roll out in March.

Residents can submit their thoughts by filling out a survey from the city by the end of the month.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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