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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Park Space Isn't All That BJC Threatens

If BJC gets to lease part of Forest Park, can the city not require them to reopen Euclid Avenue to through traffic? I am very disturbed that the city would contemplate leasing part of a public park to a private entity for new construction, but I am even more upset that the city has already granted BJC de facto ownership of public thoroughfares through their "campus."

The park space issue raises a huge red flag with the voters, who overwhelmingly seem to oppose it. I suppose park space is obvious community space that people generally value. Street space, much more fundamental to building good neighborhoods, is also public space and worthy of defense. Yet few people defend streets against closures, cul-de-sacs and such. In fact, some vocal Forest Park Southeast residents oppose the proposed new BJC lease as vocally as they call for making some culvert-pipe barriers permanent closures with gates or walls.

BJC's rampant expansion is creating a problem far worse than, although reflected in, the proposed lease: the creation of a virtual citadel that will sever connections between the Central West End and Forest Park Southeast (or "The Grove"). This is a terrible thing for FPSE, which is showing miraculous signs of recovery and the resurgence of the Manchester Avenue commercial district. That rebound will suffer if people cannot find FPSE or get to it quickly from other neighborhoods.

If Mayor Francis Slay wants to continue his public-defying embrace of the lease, he ought to demand that BJC provide some thing other than money in return. He needs to make sure that BJC stops closing streets and stops building parking garages that have no street-level retail or office space. Taylor Avenue in particular is a major connector between the CWE and FPSE, yet BJC treats it like their service alley and rush-hour freeway. The worst buildings, garages and lots face Taylor -- yet Metro is relocating the Central West End MetroLink station entrance to Taylor from Euclid.

Save our park, and restore our streets!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Overwhelmingly oppose it"? I haven't heard of a poll that supports this. If I remember, the ACC poll showed a majority opposed early on in the process, but far closer than people opposed to the deal like to make out.

Tom Duda said...

Perhaps a qualifier about those who overwhelmingly oppose it is in order: The more information voters receive about the issue, the more they come to overwhelmingly oppose it.

All of the arguments Mayor Slay makes in favor of this proposal are specious at best and cynically disingenuous at worst.

*The ever-evolving proposed lease agreement with BJC will not increase revenues to help maintain and preserve other areas of Forest Park, as the City plans to replace monies currently allocated for this purpose with proceeds from the lease.

* The costs of maintaining Forest Park are projected around $3 million/year, which is less than the approximately $3.4 million in yearly tax relief the St. Louis Cardinals receive in the absence of the Amusement Tax and considerably less than the lost revenue from Tax Increment Financing projects that disproportionately benefit contributors to Mayor Slay’s reelection efforts.

*Furthermore, $1.8 million/ year from the proposed lease agreement represents less than 1% of the City’s annual budget (which exceeds $700 million). The argument that we need this revenue is false.

*Given the size of BJC’s campus and its continued willingness to expand eastward toward the CORTEX district, the argument that there is no appropriate site for further new construction also has no substantiation in fact.

*Finally, BJC’s tremendous investments in its campus over the past decade are commendable, but it is important to note that BJC undertook them without owning the rights to develop 12 acres of Forest Park. The City’s rejection of the Forest Park lease will not jeopardize BJC’s continued presence in the central west end nor should it limit the organization’s ability to create new jobs in St. Louis City. (In addition, Mayor Slay’s otherwise dismal record of job creation suggests that he is incapable of working collaboratively and creatively to encourage new investments in our workforce.)

The only reason why BJC is acting now to acquire the rights to construct hospital buildings in Forest Park is because they consider Mayor Slay’s administration the only one willing to sell out our City’s crown jewel; BJC apparently understands that a stronger Mayor would stand up.

Voters are upset about this proposal because it represents an assault on our public interest. Mayor Slay’s paternalistic ideology harms everyone who believes in the ability of progressive, grassroots politics to improve the lives of City residents while also enhancing our fiscal stability.

Anonymous said...

Recent talks with BJC are leading to our region's largest private employer giving even more back to the community. Now, it's two playgrounds (one in CWE and another in FPSE), building new tennis courts before demolishing those in Hudlin Park, a minimum green space requirement, less overall land leased, including nothing south of Clayton and possibly returning that street to two-way traffic into Forest Park.

As for Taylor being the new entrance to the Metro station, it's an added entrance, as Euclid is still very much open and used by the public. With the bus connections now off Taylor, bus riders, such as myself, have a new, larger, covered place to sit with clear signage and schedules, while Euclid pedestrians no longer need to dodge buses to walk to MetroLink.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I guess it's commendable that the Mayor's blog has such an uncritical following.

As for the comment that BJC is "giving back," it kind of proves the earlier point that paternalism is a guiding force for our society right now.

Whatever happened to holding institutions and elected officials accountable?

Anonymous said...

I support the proposed lease. I think that the space to built upon should be limited and not allowed to consume the entire 12 acres. And I would not like to see another parking garage there. I do not like Hudlin Park and do not use it. I do live in FPSE, but Hudlin is not a neighborhood park - it's not connected to the neighborhood in a meaningful way. More amenities inside FPSE will help the neighborhood. Having Clayton Road open to two-way traffic would be nice - or just allow/build a dedicated bike lane into the park so that we don't have to go against traffic.

I do completely agree with your criticism of Taylor Avenue. This is/could be the link between FPSE and the CWE. I don't understand why BJC doesn't want this area to be more attractive and functional. I've considered quitting my job and opening a mobile coffee stand at Taylor and Scott - it would KILL!

I think FPSE is lucky to have Taylor, Newstead, Tower Grove, Boyle and Sarah all cross 40. Take a look at McRee Town where every other road is amputated (or the southside of FPSE). That being said, my dream would be for Euclid to open and cross 40 to tie into Chouteau.

Anonymous said...

I support the proposed lease. I think that the space to built upon should be limited and not allowed to consume the entire 12 acres. And I would not like to see another parking garage there. I do not like Hudlin Park and do not use it. I do live in FPSE, but Hudlin is not a neighborhood park - it's not connected to the neighborhood in a meaningful way. More amenities inside FPSE will help the neighborhood. Having Clayton Road open to two-way traffic would be nice - or just allow/build a dedicated bike lane into the park so that we don't have to go against traffic.

I do completely agree with your criticism of Taylor Avenue. This is/could be the link between FPSE and the CWE. I don't understand why BJC doesn't want this area to be more attractive and functional. I've considered quitting my job and opening a mobile coffee stand at Taylor and Scott - it would KILL!

I think FPSE is lucky to have Taylor, Newstead, Tower Grove, Boyle and Sarah all cross 40. Take a look at McRee Town where every other road is amputated (or the southside of FPSE). That being said, my dream would be for Euclid to open and cross 40 to tie into Chouteau.