Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Bridge Too Far?

A Bridge Too Far?

I am a bit perplexed by the latest rhetoric from on The New Mississippi River Bridge debate.

To wit:

"The decisions on the bridge’s financing and design will be made – or not made – by the states of Missouri and Illinois. The votes of the members of EWGCG really don’t matter, except to confirm an impasse...

"I strongly support construction of a bridge across the Mississippi River; I’m much less enthusiastic about meaningless headcounts... The same effort spent on today’s “vote” would be better applied to starting studies on BOTH these options."

I don't see the value in doing in-depth studies on both the coupler and the stand-alone Madison Street vicinity options. We need to pick one or the other, and be serious about it when pursuing Federal funding.

Some things that probably do warrant study include:

1) The impact of the upcoming reopening of the McKinley Bridge as a toll-free route;
2) Better promoting the Eads Bridge as an alternative, especially for traffic headed directly into downtown;
3) Redesigning the Missouri side Poplar Street Bridge approach ramps to handle higher volumes (probably too expensive, but worth a look);
4) Redesigning and sychronizing traffic signals on Memorial Drive.

More distressing, though, is the tone expressed in that brief note. If the EWGCOG Board vote is meaningless, why did the Mayor make the effort to serve as the board chair in 2006? And many of the members are his fellow Democratic elected officials from across the metropolitan area; as well as some Democrat-leaning non-partisan officials, appointees, and regional citizens.

If he does aspire to a higher office that includes some of those areas, it may not be smart to antagonize those officials. And if Mayor Slay does wish to be seen as the penultimate political leader of the metropolitan St. Louis region -- which he pretty much is anyway in the public eye -- then why appear to be stand-offish?

As for this "signature bridge" issue: is that really all that important in the long run? We have a great signature structure on the central riverfront: The Arch! Incidentally, its elevator, parking garage, and nearby riverboats are owned and operated by a regional agency: Metro.

Whatever plan is selected for this new bridge, all the political voices need to be unified in order to get the job done.

Now if even half of the attention paid by various regional officials to this bridge project could be redirected to redeveloping the East St. Louis riverfront as a residential community and tourist attraction oriented toward the mighty Mississippi, and connecting it with the St. Louis side, maybe we could get some serious regional economic benefit from this debate after all!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Endorsements and Predictions for March 6 Election

Endorsements and Predictions for March 6 Election

Well, I've been out of the blogosphere the past few weeks because the new job certainly keeps me busy. We spent most of last week in Jefferson City for an annual conference, and I did get a chance to check in with a few of our local legislators (Jeff Smith, Rachel Storch, and of course Jeanette Mott Oxford, among others), and met a bunch of very interesting people from around the state.

Anyway, local politics moves forward, and I attended the get-together last night at The Royale. I got to see a number of folks I haven't seen for quite a while.

Here are some of my thoughts on the upcoming municipal election. I will be unable to be a tech spec this time because of my new job commitments, but I certainly will vote!

My expectation is turnout on March 6 will be less than 20% citywide; but maybe closer to 30% in the few truly competitive wards: 4, 6, 12, 20, 22, and 24.

Board President -- Most people know I'm a huge Jim Shrewsbury supporter. Again, maybe turnout will be higher in certain wards that support Lewis Reed than I think, but the traditionally high turnout areas like 16 and 23 tend to vote for Shrewsbury. I'm not sure the endorsements for Reed by aldermen carry that much weight; after all, Democratic committeepeople make endorsements in Democratic primaries. That's pretty much their entire job at this point, since over the years constituent service has been taken over by the aldermen.

Ward 4 -- I predict O.L. Shelton will win re-election, but it could be closer than I think. I don't want to make an endorsement though.

Ward 6 -- I would love for Christian Saller to win... but I suspect Patrick Cacchione will get this seat. Christian is a great guy and very smart about development finance, but Cacchione is a party regular (despite his contributions to a few Republicans). Kacie Starr Triplett will probably finish 2nd though.

Ward 12 -- I really don't know how to gauge the Republican primary here. I'm thinking Fred Heitert will win re-election, but Matt Browning certainly has good name recognition among supporters of Police and Fire unions who are pretty strong in this area, as well as in 16 and 23. But I'll really be interested to see what happens in April... still I think Heitert is pretty safe.

Ward 18, to my mind, is not competitive. Sorry Bill Haas, but what compelling reason would folks have to boot out their own neighborhood Kennedy dynasty? ;-)

Ward 20 -- Of course, I'm a huge supporter of Craig Schmid, and I strongly believe he will win reelection. While Galen has good energy and some interesting ideas, I don't really see how they are significantly different from what Craig is already doing. And, somebody will probably give me crap for saying this, but I have to disagree with the following statement by Steve Patterson:

"Unfortunately, I also think [Schmid] is stuck in a previous decade where running out the bad element was the first order of the day."

Craig Schmid's experience in this area is exactly why we need to keep him another four years! He understands, intimately, the crime problems we have in this community, and that the Police Department does not always respond in an adequate way. Sure, the USDOJ can say we've "graduated" from the Weed & Seed program; but that doesn't mean we're done with combating crime! It just means the Feds won't give us any more money for it.

Each block in the 20th Ward is a little different, but many of them still have huge problems with gang and drug activity, not to mention irresponsible absentee landlords, illegal dumping, etc. Yes, there's more that could be done; but also understand these ward boundaries are very porous; you can be walking down the street and be in the 20th in one block, the 9th in the next block, maybe even the 15th, 6th or 7th if you keep going a few more blocks. It's all the Third Police District though, so that's where the coordination needs to originate, over on Sublette Avenue.

I have no interest in publicly impugning Galen Gondolfi; I simply believe Craig Schmid's experience and expertise are still needed in order for our neighborhoods to get better.

Ward 22 -- This is yet another rematch in the Jeff Boyd vs. Kenny Jones saga; but Jay Ozier, committeeman, is taking up the mantle of Kenny Jones. Recall that some years back, Jeff Boyd was fired as executive director at Union West Community Corp because Kenny Jones didn't like him. Anyway, Boyd has that professional expertise (after getting fired, he went to work for the City of Ferguson as economic development director, while still living in the 22nd ward), and while there are many huge obstacles to redevelopment in that area, if anyone can make it happen, it'll be Jeff Boyd.

Ward 24 -- Bill Waterhouse has been in for such a short time, but already the ward's albatross, St. Louis Marketplace, has landed at least one new major occupant: Weissman's Designs for Dance. Actually, they've purchased the entire western section of the center. It still looks vacant, so that needs to be addressed, but it's being converted to their distribution and warehouse facility, including a small retail store. How anybody could support Tom Bauer after he got recalled, and after the tragic, painfully slow demolition of the Clifton Heights Presbyterian Church, is beyond my comprehension.

Then again, it's ironic that QuikTrip may be building on the former Big Lots site, after having lost their bid for eminent domain on the NE corner of Manchester and McCausland. I guess that speaks to the persistence of such large corporations to get the exact site they want, with the right traffic counts and demographics, etc.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Northwest Plaza: Rebirth #2?

Northwest Plaza: Rebirth #2?

Today's story by Norm Parish in the Post-Dispatch starts off as follows:

"The financially ailing Northwest Plaza would receive an estimated $90 million face-lift under plans being considered by St. Ann officials.

"The Board of Aldermen is expected to approve a measure tonight that requests redevelopment of the plaza — the first step needed for the mall's owners to get tax increment financing, city officials said.

" 'It is very important to get this mall redeveloped and bring it back to its premier self,' said Mayor Carrie Cafazza. 'This is the highest thing on our priority list.'

"Northwest Plaza, which is at Lindbergh Boulevard and St. Charles Rock Road, is the region's largest indoor mall. It opened in 1965."

Now, let's go way back.... to November 5, 1989 (two days before my 11th birthday), when Judith VandeWater wrote in the Post-Dispatch:

"Northwest Plaza, transformed from an open-air center to an enclosed mall, is making a comeback at age 25. In its new incarnation, the mall hopes to reclaim customers it had ceded to younger and flashier suburban malls.

"Paramount Group, a New York real-estate investment company, is capitalizing on the center's two pillars of strength - its location at Lindbergh Boulevard and St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton and St. Ann, and its unique position as the area's only regional mall with four anchoring department stores.

"Paramount, which bought the mall five years ago, has turned Northwest Plaza inside out. Stores that once faced toward the parking lots in a maze of disconnected strip centers have been turned around to open onto a 1.76-million-square-foot, 210-store mall.

" 'At first it seemed like an impossible task,' said Judy Smith, a spokeswoman for Edison Brothers Stores Inc. The St. Louis-based apparel and shoe retailer has nine specialty stores at
Northwest Plaza. 'It was like putting a roof over Kirkwood, or Ladue,' Smith said. 'We feel like they did an excellent job of what was a very complicated process.'

"Paramount created 200,000 square feet of new retail space - room for 65 new stores - when it enclosed the center. The construction has been done in phases, so the center was able to operate during the two-year project...."

You get the idea.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Now the new owners say NW is too large, and want to remove that 1989 roof "to help create 'a lifestyle shopping center' atmosphere with outdoor access."

Ultimately, the death knell of NW Plaza over the past 10 years or so has been a combination of westward movement of shoppers to St. Charles, the development of (ugh) St. Louis Mills to suck in the remaining North County dollars, several years of neglect by Westfield, and a rash of shootings over the past several years, some fatal and some attributed to gang activity.

The other problem with Northwest -- as well as Crestwood Plaza -- is the lack of Interstate Highway visibility. While it is right on Lindbergh, and Crestwood is right on Watson (old Rt 66), that's just not as good as being right on I-270 like South County and West County, right on I-64 like Saint Louis Galleria, or right on I-70 like Mid-Rivers.

I just hope the rebirth of Saint Louis Centre is a bit better conceived and developed. Since it relies more on residential than retail, maybe it will do OK. I sure hope so.