FOX Files: Downtown St. Louis residents weighing options to combat crime

FOX Files

ST. LOUIS – Downtown crime is causing friction between two groups trying to save St. Louis. Some downtown residents are stepping up to save their community and it’s creating waves for a strategy that’s been used downtown for years.

A key question for residents and businesses downtown – do they renew their Community Improvement District (CID) or do they take matters into their own hands?

The CID is a special tax district that pays for extras, such as police bike patrol, flowers and trees, and trash clean-up. About $3 million is collected from building owners based on square footage.

Missy Kelley currently leads the effort to use that money for downtown. She says their latest plan is better than ever and will be 23 percent cheaper this year.

“So, the win-win here is that we’re going to be focused on the things that are most important and most needed in downtown right now and we’re giving property owners a break,” she said.

But the plan still needs signatures for it to be renewed and Kelley says she hopes to have assessment decreases and the new plan in place by January.  An opposition group is trying to get residents and businesses to consider another side, claiming the current CID is not working.  Matt O’Leary is part of a group called ‘Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis.” He wants more action against businesses who aren’t doing their part to keep people safe.”

“At the end of the day, they need to either buck up and fund aggressive private security or they need to go away,” he said.

Kelley countered: “We can’t board up the station, that requires the city. So, I think the frustration – I completely understand it and I feel it too we are frustrated as well, it is not a lack of advocacy.”

Alderman Jack Coatar agrees. He says city government should deal with problem properties rather than the CID. He says he’s been happy with how the CID money’s been used.

“I rely heavily on the CID to help with the complaints from downtown constituents – not just with the crime we’re seeing now, but just little stuff like trash issues, issues with broken curbs, everything else,” he said. “They help coordinate it to repair with the city. And the trash. If you relied on the city alone to pick up the trash downtown, I don’t think the city could handle it.”

There’s a lot at stake for businesses who pay into the CID based on their square footage.

For example: the owner of the Charlie Gitto’s building pays about $500 a year. The Last Hotel pays nearly $10,000.

Kelley says they’re reworking how they manage the CID to hear from more voices.

“The board is going to be smaller and more representative of the residents and the businesses and different geographies and different asset classes,” she said. “And what I mean by that is you’re going to have someone from the large entertainment venues as well as somebody from the local deli.”

O’Leary’s group has created an alternate plan that he believes would take stronger action against irresponsible businesses. He mentioned the 7-11 that recently burned, saying neighbors had successfully improved it before the fire.

“A non for profit called NIA Downtown West took that property and revoked part of their liquor license then sued them for private nuisance and battled for three years,” he said. “And ultimately forced them to hire full-time security spending 65 percent of their time on the parking lot and that security, if managed properly, can transform what that facility did in the neighborhood.”

For more information:
Downtown CID
Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis alternative plan

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