By Brooks Goedeker, Executive Director, Park Central Development ( Mr. Goedeker is the gentleman in the center of the photo wearing a red polo shirt)
Neighborhoods in St. Louis and across America are struggling with the harsh reality of shrinking coffers, dwindling resources and diminished public services. Each and every day, communities must accept the fact that competition for municipal services is getting tougher and the traditional image of clean and safe streets is no longer a given.
This revelation isn’t something new. Neighborhoods have always had to deal with local governments altering their services, priorities and mindsets. A City is a living organism, shifting and changing every day. Because of this, some neighborhoods experience stagnation or a slow decline, while others battle through and find ways to become self-sustaining.
To make up for the lack of services many areas establish subscription campaigns, asking each property owner to contribute money to pay for someone to pick up litter and debris, shovel snow, or provide security. Unfortunately, the success of these campaigns are often hard to maintain and often short lived, because not everyone contributes and some property owners are left footing the bill, while others simply reap the benefits.
In the 1970s, a new mechanism for raising revenues in neighborhoods was developed. In Toronto, property owners came together and created the business improvement district model (the same as today’s Community Improvement Districts in Missouri). This approach required property owners (if approved by a majority) within a defined “district” to contribute equally to services. In short, these property owners took matters into their own hands.
Today, many neighborhoods in St. Louis have learned from this example and have chosen to tax themselves in order to provide services at a level which local municipalities may no longer be able to provide. In St. Louis, there are almost 200 special taxing districts, such as Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) and Special Business Districts (SBDs). These special taxing districts allow property owners to capture property and/ or sales taxes within an area, and ensure that the funds collected are invested in the area, and only in that defined area. This revenue helps fund initiatives to keep streets clear of trash and graffiti, repair sidewalks, market the area, hold special events, create works of art, manage parking, install pedestrian lighting and hire additional police patrols. These services in turn help to increase property values and improve public perception of an area.
While most areas are drawn towards special taxing districts for financial reasons, the organizational aspect that comes along with CIDS and SBDs may end up being one of the most beneficial aspects. Funds collected in the special taxing district must be controlled and allocated by a board of directors made up of residents, businesses, and property owners. There are strict requirements for reporting and transparency with the City and State, forcing districts to become highly organized. District meetings, committees and special events encourage stakeholders to come together, exchange ideas and hopefully create a shared vision for an area’s future. Any neighborhood can organize at their freewill, but special taxing districts can help guide the process.
If created and administered correctly, special taxing districts can be a lifeline for struggling communities and a boon to areas being revitalized. They can and should be part of the puzzle to make many areas of St. Louis great again. At Park Central Development we have been a part of helping to educate, organize, and administer special taxing districts throughout St. Louis. We, as well as the participating residents, business and property owners, see firsthand the positive elements that are derived from these districts, including rising property values, decreased crime, and the creation of a shared vision and plan for an area.
As a way to compound their redevelopment efforts, Downtown, the Loop, South Grand, the Grove, Grand Center, Maplewood, Soulard, and the Central West End have all adopted special taxing districts. Areas such as Cherokee Street, the Hill, and Lafayette Square are in talks to establish their own. Logically Midtown Alley, Morgan Ford Business District, Old North, Bevo, and the Macklind Business District could be next. Hopefully your favorite neighborhood or business district will soon be on that list.
Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri- St. Louis