ST. LOUIS — Mayor Tishaura O. Jones on Tuesday announced plans to augment her administration’s efforts to build up struggling neighborhoods and residents, especially on the impoverished North Side, by attracting more than $600 million in private investment.
The city has already earmarked roughly $250 million in federal pandemic aid for “economic justice” efforts like stabilizing vacant properties, building up affordable housing and helping people start businesses. And officials anticipate more help from other state and federal sources.
“But this is a team effort,” Jones said, “and government cannot shoulder this burden alone.”
Officials said they want private institutions to help them get a total of $1 billion invested by 2030 in things like training people for jobs, helping them become homeowners and getting them loans to start businesses.
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Neal Richardson, who leads the city’s economic development arm, said that could mean companies making donations, like MasterCard’s $1 million, announced Tuesday, to bolster the city’s efforts to train northside entrepreneurs. The Regional Business Council and its partners have committed another $1.5 million.
Richardson said it could also mean banks making loans to support affordable housing and small businesses around the new National-Geospatial Intelligence Agency campus in Jeff-Vander-Lou.
Other targets for investment include the Walnut Park neighborhoods and the Martin Luther King Drive corridor on the north side, the Dutchtown area on the southeast side, and, in a recent addition, “equitable development opportunities” downtown.
And Richardson, who led efforts to help women and people of color access capital at U.S. Bank before coming to the city, said his team has already started talking with financial institutions who want to help.
“There are some that want to support mortgages for homeownership,” he said in an interview. “There are some that want to support small businesses. There are some that want to support affordable housing development.”
The federal pandemic aid will help the city, Richardson said. But by law, it must be spent by 2026. “We want to sustain this work long-term,” he said. “We know these are generational issues.”
Richardson said the city’s land bank is working to figure out exactly what it would take to redevelop prominent vacant properties in the plan’s footprint, like the historic Club Imperial music venue, where Ike and Tina Turner once played, and Cleveland High School in Dutchtown.
Lance Knuckles, the land bank’s director, said the high school is a big project and may take a while to get a handle on. But he said his agency is close to hiring structural engineers to inspect some smaller projects, like the club, to see if they could even be done.
Once that’s done, he said, city staff will reach out to nearby residents to talk about what they want to see happen at the properties before developers get started.
Jones, who grew up in the Walnut Park neighborhood, said that alleviating poverty and suffering in the target neighborhoods is an existential issue for the city as a whole.
She talked at a press conference Tuesday about growing up in a house that seemed like the biggest one in the world, and playing with friends in her huge backyard. She reminisced about walking down West Florissant Avenue to school and the library. And she lamented that those days are long gone.
“Our kids can’t play outside until the streetlights come on like we used to,” she said. “Opportunities have fled south of Delmar. Poverty has ripped our communities apart.”
She said that damage must be repaired to achieve the unity and safety St. Louis needs to thrive — and compete with other cities.
“St. Louis cannot succeed if one half of our city is allowed to fail,” she said.