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St. Louis aldermen OK $120 million in fed relief for small business and capital projects

Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, of St. Louis’ first ward, speaks to the Board of Alderman
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus speaks to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Monday during the final day of the current session at City Hall.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. April 18 with comments from Mayor Tishaura Jones

St. Louis aldermen have voted to distribute more than $120 million in federal coronavirus relief funds, with a focus on the city’s north side.

The board voted unanimously Monday to set aside $37 million in grants for small businesses along 10 corridors in north St. Louis. The grants were part of the city’s original plan to allocate American Rescue Plan Act funding but were vetoed by Mayor Tishaura Jones over concerns the grants were an inappropriate use of the money. When the Treasury Department clarified its rules, the mayor dropped her objection.

“Our residents deserve the safety, stability and access to opportunities these funds will provide,” Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said after the vote.

Jones said through a spokesman that she had been proud to work with the aldermen and Comptroller Darlene Green “ to ensure that ARPA dollars invested in North St. Louis stay in North St. Louis.” The bill gives preference to projects that hire residents of the wards through which the corridors pass.

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Aldermen also unanimously approved a measure containing about $85 million in infrastructure spending. That bill was the subject of heated debate Thursday when the board adopted several amendments moving money originally slated for bridge repair toward street paving and traffic calming along several north St. Louis streets.

“At the end of the day last week, what we saw was compromise,” said Alderman Tom Oldenburg of the 16th Ward, the measure’s sponsor.

First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, who had worked with Reed and Oldenburg late into Wednesday night to draft the amendments, called Oldenburg a “statesman” for being willing to change the bill so late in the process to make sure projects in north St. Louis received funding.

“We really are trying to be fair” when it comes to distributing funding, Tyus said. “It’s not trying to do anything to anybody, but when you look at the unfairness of it, then you will say man, that’s a small drop in the bucket toward fairness.”

Jones’ office said the bill “will help the City make huge strides in catching up on its capital needs,” which total at least $430 million.

Public hearings are ongoing on spending the next tranche of federal funds. Aldermen will start a new session of the board on Tuesday.

A locator map of ten north St. Louis corridors where small businesses and nonprofits can apply for federal grants.
Brian Heffernan / St. Louis Public Radio
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© Mapbox, © OpenStreetMap
Small businesses and nonprofits in the highlighted sections of 10 north St. Louis streets can apply for federal pandemic aid.

County weighs spending federal aid

Officials in St. Louis County are also evaluating what the public has said about how the county should spend its remaining $83 million in federal coronavirus relief money.

More than 3,000 St. Louis County residents have submitted feedback this year through online surveys and town hall meetings, outlining major needs in the community. Residents have identified priorities, such as improving access to mental health services, repairing roads and sidewalks and providing support for small businesses that have struggled during the pandemic.

The county council will meet Tuesday and is expected to review the results of the community-wide survey and hear from the public.

Based on resident feedback, County Executive Sam Page has drafted a proposal that would direct funding to a number of projects.

The proposal includes $15 million for road repair within subdivisions, which is typically excluded from federally funded programs, along with $10 million to renovate the south campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis into a research hub. It also sets aside $7.5 million for small businesses and $5 million to support job training at the MET Center in Wellston.

“We have a long list of needs in St. Louis County and not nearly enough resources to address them all,” Page said. “The council is going to have some very difficult decisions, working all through all these very worthy projects.”

St. Louis County officials must allocate all pandemic relief funding by the end of 2024.

NGA restrictions

Aldermen also approved legislation that places restrictions on the kinds of businesses that can operate around the site of the new campus of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency in north St. Louis.

The special use district applies to buildings within a half-mile of the facility. Among the requirements are bans on new radio towers, power substations, businesses with unsecured hazardous material, or those owned by foreign governments that are hostile to the United States. In addition, the highest point of new buildings cannot be more than 600 feet above sea level.

Existing businesses within the area would be grandfathered in.

Martin departs

Monday also marked the last day on the Board of Aldermen for Sarah Wood Martin, who announced Friday she was resigning from her position as 11th Ward alderwoman because of new ethics provisions implemented with the passage of Proposition R.

“As a working mom who cares deeply about the example I set for my kids, I will not abandon my career or be forced out of my profession,” Martin wrote in her resignation letter.

Martin and her husband, Jake Hummel, are both registered lobbyists in Jefferson City. Under Proposition R, she would have had to submit a form declaring any potential conflicts of interest that she or Hummel have with legislation at the Board of Aldermen.

Martin was absent from Monday’s meeting, but Jack Coatar, the alderman of the 7th Ward, took a moment at the end to thank her for her five years on the board.

“She’s been a big advocate for this city, for organized labor, and was sort of our expert on all things state of Missouri down here at the Board of Aldermen,” he said. “She’s going to be missed, and I think her departure is an example of the flaws with Proposition R.”

Jack Coatar (7th Ward), left, commends outgoing Alderwoman Sarah Martin (11th Ward)
Brian Munoz
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Jack Coatar, 7th Ward alderman, commends outgoing Alderwoman Sarah Martin on Monday during the final day of the Board of Aldermen’s session at St. Louis City Hall.

Martin’s resignation means the board is currently down two members. Residents of the 28th Ward go to the polls Tuesday to replace Heather Navarro, who resigned in January to take a job with Washington University’s Midwest Climate Collaborative.

Under the provisions of the city charter, the special election for Martin’s seat will take place in July — that means officials will have to conduct two elections in two months because of primary elections on Aug. 2. Her replacement will serve until April 2023 and can then run for reelection in the new 1st Ward.

Correction: The restrictions on the height of buildings around the NGA is based on sea level. A previous St. Louis Public Radio report listed the nature of the restrictions incorrectly.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @ShahlaFarzan

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Shahla Farzan was a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. Before becoming a journalist, Shahla spent six years studying native bees, eventually earning her PhD in ecology from the University of California-Davis. Her work for St. Louis Public Radio on drug overdoses in Missouri prisons won a 2020 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award. 

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