City Of St. Louis Seeks Public Input On Economic Development Strategy | St. Louis Public Radio

City Of St. Louis Seeks Public Input On Economic Development Strategy

Jul 24, 2019

St. Louis residents had a chance Tuesday to weigh in on the city’s new economic development strategy.

Timetria Murphy-Watson was one of a few dozen people to cycle through an open house at Vashon High School in the near north JeffVanderLou neighborhood.

The St. Louis Development Corporation and a team of consultants set up six stations for residents to provide targeted feedback on matters such as the barriers they face in the job market and what equitable development means to them.

Murphy-Watson lives near Hyde Park and works on housing issues in St. Louis. She said she attended the event because she’s curious about how the city aims to tackle equitable development problems. But, she said she’s holding off on excitement until she sees progress. 

"You come to this event, it’s a lot of surveys; it’s a lot of questions asking what people think," Murphy-Watson said. "But I think, especially specifically in north St. Louis, we always get surveyed. Then what? So, I’m just still waiting on the then what."

During an open house event at Vashon High School, Elaine Laura, a resident of the St. Louis Place neighborhood, puts markers on a sheet indicating what barriers she has faced in the workplace.
Credit Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio

Since December, the St. Louis Development Corporation has been working with consulting group Mass Economics to develop the citywide economic development strategy. The consultants, who have previously worked on plans for cities including Chicago and Cleveland, will be paid up to $700,000 in grant money to study the city and produce a set of recommendations. 

SLDC Executive Director Otis Williams said it’s the first comprehensive plan of its kind since 1947, though there have been land-strategy studies and other reviews in the decades since. He said he’s expecting a final report on the new strategy in October.

"We’ll have a clear path, if you will, a strategy, that will be in front of us that we can then use as a priority level for funding," Williams said. 

The strategy process is overseen by a 41-member advisory group, made up of employees from corporate giants such as Spire, Bayer and Ameren, as well as individuals from universities, churches and startups. 

According to a presentation hosted on a website dedicated to the project, members met in April to discuss initial findings from 66 interviews with city representatives and residents. The group last met in May.

Williams said one of the goals is to understand what’s holding back development in north St. Louis and parts of south St. Louis, which have historically lacked growth. 

"We want to be sure that whatever our strategy is going forward, it’s seen through an equitable lens," Williams said.

Mayor Lyda Krewson, who attended the event, said the strategy will help the city determine which industries to focus on for job growth. She said she’s gotten a glimpse at early findings, but she’s holding off until the final report to think about how to go about implementing the recommendations.

Michael Allen, a preservationist and part-time Washington University professor, describes the strategy as "a wake-up call" to government officials.

In his eyes, patchwork development over the years that focused largely on areas such as the central corridor and the Central West End is hurting the region as a whole. While the strategy may help bring together one vision for growth in St. Louis, he worries that the scope is too small.

"That’s the noticeable thing here, is that this plan is not done in conjunction with St. Louis County and St. Charles County and St. Clair County, Madison County," Allen said. "A lot of these puzzles over efficient transit routes, increasing people's wages, are really regional planning questions."

Krewson said the fact that the county isn’t included in the report is another example of fragmentation in the region.

"I think it would be better if it were city and county, but that isn’t the structure we operate in," she said. "It’s not the structure that we’re living in right now."

City officials and consultants will host a second open house from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Sheet Metal Workers union, 2319 Chouteau Ave. More public meetings are scheduled for September to gain feedback on a first draft of the report.

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Clarification: The advisory group last met in May. A previous version of this article included a different date according to information on the group's website.