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The St Louis Contrarian

Providing Independent and Intelligent Insight on St. Louis Public Policy Issues

Archive for the category “economic development”

North South Metrolink Expansion

This is a copy of a letter I sent to the Post-Disptach on the subject of Metro Link expansion. It is self explanatory.

Written by Paul Dribin

I am writing to express my displeasure with the idea of Metro Link expansion and especially the north-

south route.

When you look at the overall costs of Metrolink and the number of people served it is a financial albatross which will only get worse. Expanding the routes will not help and will only hurt the problem. Security will continue to be a major issue.

More important, fixed light rail is an obsolete mode of transportation. It was really an early 20th century invention created to get masses of people to work when most everyone worked in the downtown and fewer people had cars. This is no longer the case. The job market is widely spread in the St. Louis region and we don’t have the population density to support light rail. The density in the city and county will probably lessen.

Finally new technologies are speeding the demise of Metrolink. More people work from home, work multiple jobs, or need a car to call on clients. Ride share services will increase their market share. Soon people will be able to call up self driving cars which will take you directly door to door. Why would someone ride Metrolink where you endure security challenges and the odds are you will still need transportation once you finish your ride.

If Metro wants to get ahead of the curve, they should dramatically increase bus service and even provide van pools for workers. They could invest in their own ride share and driverless car technologies so all our citizens can be served by these opportunities.

We should not be chasing federal dollars just because they are there. Redoing the same thing that did not work in the first place is the definition of insanity.

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The limits of Historic Preservation

St Louis is a city tied up in historic preservation. Most of the city is in some historic neighbor or another. Is this a good thing?

Well, it depends. If you have a truly historic house the designation brings resources to the table to improve the property. If you have a non historic house in a historic district you could be screwed. That is because rehabbing that property will require historic preservation processes that will add significantly to the cost of rehabbing the house, often more than the value of the property itself. Properties get abandoned and neighborhoods deteriorate.

Alderman and other civic leaders have pushed to designate deteriorated areas as historic in an erroneous effort to create revitalization. If anything these efforts hurt.

What can be done? First develop a reasonable definition of historic. Not every old building meets the standard. Second allow more flexibility in design. We would never have had the modernist architectural style if every neighborhood had to conform to existing styles. Finally use a reasonable definition of historic. The federal register talks about unique. That would be a good starting point.

A Trivial but Important Issue

I want to write about a very small problem that affected me regarding my attendance at the Blues game Tuesday night. I am not writing this in the spirit of whining or griping but as an illustration.

I attend many Blues games, usually by myself(shows you how unpopular I am). I parked on Olive Street at about 15th. I arrived about 6:00 and put enough money in the meter to last one hour and fifteen minutes. I came back to the car after the terrible game (although I received a free blanket). Sitting on my windshield was a parking ticket. I discovered that ticket was written at 8:40.

I am not complaining about the $25 fine. I feel that is justice for all the times I have gotten away with things. But how does this treat visitors to downtown. Why is an isolated part of Olive with no businesses even open metered until 9pm? I can only conclude they are there to trick people like me. Meters should only be used in locations that have a premium on parking, not as a ruse to grab folks like me.

How many little policies are there in St. Louis which unnecessarily penalize people. There should be an evaluation completed of all the city policies that hurt people. The whole parking meter issue in St. Louis is a mess. It is used as a cash cow rather than a tool of traffic policy. Written by Paul Dribin

Two Contradictory and Yet Similar Views of Missouri

I take the lists of best and worst to not be worth very much. Nevertheless in the competitive world of travel and jobs maybe they do play a role.

First, a list I just saw ranks St. Louis as the very best place for a young person to move. The report cites the low cost of housing and cultural amenities. I think we all know that, the question is how do we harness it to bring more young people here and retain the ones we have. I would suggest offering a free weekend trip to St. Louis for anyone who wants it who live a certain distance away. Paying for this would of course be an issue but maybe the Regional Chamber can tighten up on some of their salaries to do this. Our cultural amenities are on a par with the greatest cities in the world

On the extremely negative side, Fodor’s published a list of where not to travel in the world, Missouri was listed right up there with Myanmar and Cuba( actually you would be safer in Cuba for sure). I don’t know why Missouri is worse than some other redneck states but we are. Much of it goes back to the NAACP report from awhile ago. Written by Paul Dribin

TIFS in St. Louis

I just read an article posted by Alderman Cara Spencer on facebook regarding the City of St. Louis financial position. The article quoted is entitled Team TIF St. Louis.

The gist of the article is that the city’s financial picture is dire and that TIF’s are the cause. As I have said previously, development subsidies are overdone in St. Louis mostly when used for projects that don’t further economic development. The analysis of TIFs is overly simplistic for the following reasons:

1. It is not really a debt. They are deferred funds that will eventually go to the city which are now going to developments.

2. Without the TIF nothing would have happened. It is not as if there would be a lesser project, there would be no project at all.

3. St. Louis is between a rock and a hard place. It is declining economically, riddled with crime and high taxes, and needs incentives to prime the pump. The real question is whether things will ever take off. Written by Paul Dribin

Tax Abatement in St. Louis

The Comptroller of St. Louis issued a report today which again demonstrated that the city is giving away millions of dollars of potential taxes to developers in the form of abatement and TIF. I consider tax abatement to be a useful development tool when properly targeted. The trouble is it has not been properly targeted. Aldermen play too big a role in the decision making process. Written by Paul Dribin

Greitens and MHDC Board Vote to Eliminate State Low Income Housing Tax Credits

The MHDC board met Friday and voted to eliminate the state credits. This will result in a significant loss of affordable housing in Missouri which is a tragedy. Reforms needed to be made in the program, but I don’t think Greitens is really interested in reform, simply grandstanding. Nevertheless, a big part of the reason the program was eliminated was the greed of the industry supported by the credits. MHDC never had an open application process with clear standards for judging and eliminating applications. The board made of high level political appointees was subject to legal and illegal graft. The program was run as a political fiefdom and returned far too little of the funds to actual low income recipients.

Still the program should not have been eliminated unless something better was around with which to replace it. As always low income people are the ones who suffer the most. Written by Paul Dribin

HUD Loans in St. Louis County

The St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote today in a critical manner that St.Louis County had not utilized some $24 million in HUD loans intended to help distressed areas. These loans commonly referred to as 108 loans from the section of the housing act they fall under are part of HUD’s Community Development Program. HUD has threatened to pull back the funding if the money is not used.

It is not quite fair to be too critical of the county in this regard. First, the interest rates on the funds are only 1% lower than market and contain much more paperwork. Second, they do not work well on small projects such as housing rehab. The county needs to come up with one or two big projects for their utilization. Third they are loans not grants and the borrowers must be creditworthy. Finally, these loans are borrowed against future block grant funding, and in fact reduce the future funding by the amount of the loan.

The county had request a waiver for use of the funds and has not received an answer from HUD despite repeated requests for a decision. This whole thing smacks of HUD covering their collective asses. Written by Paul Dribin

Loop Trolley Again

Tony Messenger has written in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that when the Joe Edwards group applied for federal funding for the trolley, they promised $5 million in private funds. Not one dollar of these funds has ever appeared, yet they are asking for more money from St. Louis County. What gives? How inept can people be? Written by Paul Dribin

St. Louis and Housing

I finished reading an article in the NYT today again about the overheated housing market in the San Francisco Bay Area with a focus on Berkley. It pointed out the resistance among single family homeowners to doing anything differently to make housing a little more affordable. I also believe that people in these markets are going to be underwater if the Republican tax bill passes and they are limited on mortgage interest deductions and cannot deduct state and local taxes.

In any case it points out to me again how so many quality neighborhoods in both St. Louis city and county contain quality housing at a good price for buyers. I would think a marketing program to young people living on the coasts may be in order. What a bargain. We also have great cultural amenities and a short commute. These are all pluses. Why aren’t we marketing them? Written by Paul Dribin

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