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Downtown St. Louis Aldermen See Challenges, Cause For Optimism

Downtown St. Louis,  looking east
File photo / Brent Jones / St. Louis Public Radio
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Some business leaders say they're ready to give up on downtown St. Louis.

During the pandemic, office buildings emptied out in downtown St. Louis — but the streets didn’t. Residents have complained about drag racing, wild late-night gatherings and gun violence for months, even as businesses remain largely closed.

Now Mayor Tishaura Jones has unveiled her plan to address downtown’s problems. It includes a stronger police presence for the next five or six weekends and a task force to look at bigger issues.

The plan represents a bit of a shift for Jones, who campaigned on the idea that police are not the solution to the city’s big problems (and who, just one week before unveiling her plan, suggested greater police presence was not a solution for issues downtown).

Two aldermen whose wards include parts of downtown told St. Louis on the Air that they welcome the intervention.

“Certainly I've had my disagreements with the current administration, but the issues we're dealing with didn't start on their watch,” said 7th Ward Alderman Jack Coatar. “Now, some of them have gotten worse, and as we moved into this second year of the pandemic, they've become exacerbated. But I'm glad to see that they're taking them seriously and trying to at least deal with them.”

Said 5th Ward Alderman James Page: “We're gonna have to walk and chew gum. We're gonna have to deal with issues on the ground when it comes to crime and negative behaviors. At the same time, we've got to deal with root causes. And I'm 100% with the mayor on that — root causes, as in finding things for our young people to do, alternative activities to roaming and throwing firecrackers and shooting guns.”

Page is also executive director of Downtown St. Louis Neighborhood Association. He said he’s celebrating his 19th year of living downtown this month and continues to love living there.

"I am very, very optimistic that the city of St. Louis is resilient,” he said. “And I'm optimistic that we will power through our current issues."

For more from Coatar and Page, as well as listeners’ contributions, stream the podcast version of the conversation:

Downtown St. Louis Aldermen See Challenges, Cause For Optimism

Page noted all the development underway in his ward, with some big projects adding both market rate and affordable housing even as businesses new to downtown, like Square, get settled in.

And while Coatar stressed that downtown’s problems are real, he also suggested a sense of perspective.

“At the end of the day, while downtown has its challenges, and the crime that occurs downtown is often front-page news or, or top-of-the-hour news if you're in radio or TV, it's still frankly pales in comparison to some of the crime and the level of violence we see in many of our neighborhoods,” he said. “So when you're making decisions and having to pull resources from neighborhoods that are very challenged and have very serious crime issues themselves to protect downtown, obviously, that comes with a cost, and there's sometimes a political consequence to that.

“But at the end of the day, 20-plus percent of our city's general fund’s tax dollars are generated in the downtown central business district, and we have to keep it safe and we have to grow it if we want to tackle the bigger issues citywide.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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