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In significant shift, St. Louis to focus redevelopment on neighborhoods

In significant shift, St. Louis to focus redevelopment on neighborhoods

New Special Business District proposed in O'Fallon, Penrose

Everything from large well kept houses, to empty lots to run down abandoned houses fill a ten block section of the O'Fallon neighborhood in St. Louis on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. Residents will vote in April on a special property tax to pay for extra services in the neighborhood, such as cleaning and public safety measures. Photo by Colter Peterson,

ST. LOUIS — The city’s economic development arm is planning a significant internal reorganization to focus on rebuilding neighborhood by neighborhood.

Rather than responding to developers, officials at the St. Louis Development Corp. hope the moves help the office more proactively encourage development — especially in struggling north and south side neighborhoods.

“A project manager who is living and breathing this on an everyday basis,” SLDC Director Otis Williams told a panel of city aldermen Wednesday during a presentation on the reorganization. “This person will be the one who will interact on a daily basis with the elected officials as well as the neighborhood organizations that are out there.”

The shift was called for in SLDC’s new “Equitable Economic Development Framework,” a strategy released over the summer after an 18-month planning effort. The 445-page plan identifies industry clusters and lays out neighborhood building strategies and actions for SLDC and other policymakers to follow.

Williams said SLDC’s draft plan calls for hiring up to eight “geographic project managers” and one director to oversee them. They would build relationships with aldermen, neighborhood leaders, key businesses and property owners in eight areas: Downtown, the Central Corridor, the southeast, southwest, northeast, northwest, the riverfront and one covering the near northside and future home of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

The city’s real estate development incentive apparatus would remain in place, but Williams said the new neighborhood managers would be the primary point of contact before funneling incentive requests to the SLDC analysts and lawyers that vet them.

Other staffing changes call for a manager to help SLDC assemble contiguous sites for redevelopment by acquiring real estate near its existing properties, many of which are vacant and abandoned. Williams also called for an equity and inclusion manager to expand SLDC’s minority business assistance efforts beyond monitoring construction projects for minority hiring compliance.

The ability to implement the changes, Williams conceded, are “based on funding.” Unlike other city economic development agencies, which are funded through a mixture of fees and local government revenue, SLDC’s budget is completely reliant on program fees and federal grants rather than general revenue.

“We need to have an up close and personal conversation of how we fund economic development in the city of St. Louis,” Williams said. “We don’t do it at all now from a general revenue perspective.”

The proposed reshuffle also will largely be implemented by Williams’ successor. Williams, who has worked at SLDC for more than 20 years, announced he would retire in April after Mayor Lyda Krewson, who is not running for reelection, leaves City Hall.

“We are focused and dedicated to make sure this is implemented,” Williams said. “I trust that my successor, and I know the folks that are currently here are dedicated to try and do that.”

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