Post-Dispatch Falsely Claims Support for Prop P

2012-03-16_1331903569In the recent Post-Dispatch editorial Yes on Prop P. Arch-parks-trails tax fixes old problems, creates new opportunities, the following appeared, “Mr. Ihnen said he believes that “95 percent of this (Prop P) is a good idea,” but regrets that the Arch project will involve closing three blocks of Memorial Drive.” This is false. Set aside the issue of how this doesn’t make sense on a basic level (How does one support 95 percent of a tax increase? Would that mean I support a 0.178125% sales tax for parks?).

What I have said, and did relay to the Post-Dispatch Editorial Board, is that I support 95% of the design elements planned by CityArchRiver. These include proposals to raise Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard to keep it dry for the majority of the year, new ADA accessible paths, a revamped Old Courthouse, a new Kiener Plaza, reconstruction of the retaining ponds, the eventual replacement of the Ash trees, expansion of the underground museum, and so forth. That couldn’t be more different than how the PD editorial portrayed my stance.

What I have brought into question is the design process, several specific design elements, (complete lack of) community engagement, and financing. More substantive public engagement should have been required from the start, but specifically regarding Prop P, at the point when it was determined more than half a billion dollars of taxpayer money would be sought, a new conversation was necessary.

This is why I’ve questioned the process followed for this project. This is why I’ve looked at the impact of the various silver bullet projects that dot our city, while people and jobs continue to leave. This is why I’ve asked what drives visitor attendance to the Arch grounds. I do not support 95 percent of Prop P. I don’t support 1% of Prop P. I would not support Prop P on a train or in the rain… you get the idea. What I would support are separate votes on taxpayer support for St. Louis County Parks, City of St. Louis Parks, Great Rivers Greenway and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

For the Post-Dispatch to so badly misrepresent my clear and long held position on Prop P, while endorsing a “yes” vote, is ridiculous. To claim an opponent of the measure supports 95 percent of it, falsely proposed that there are no legitimate opponents of the measure. It minimizes my work and the legitimacy of the questions we need to be asking.

About Alex Ihnen

Alex is the owner and editor of nextSTL.com. He earned a B.A. in Journalism and Masters in Public Affairs at Indiana University and has studied in Adelaide, Australia and Perugia, Italy. Alex can be found on Twitter @alexihnen and reached at alex@nextstl.com
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  • Roger Mexico

    City-wide sales tax at 4.266% is already relatively high compared with surroundings. This is especially true in certain CID and TDD areas (with extra development surcharges on top… up to 10% total amount). Google searches haven’t brought up exact breakdown of where these funds go, but doesn’t some of this already fund the parks system? STL city website sez 1.375% to general revenue but doesn’t specify the rest. Anyone know?

  • http://www.facebook.com/krazy.koala.5 Krazy Koala

    Am I the only one that thinks the Arch project should just be abandoned? Why pour good money after good money into a project whose goals have already been met? Those goals being slum clearance. The best idea would be to bring the arch down and turn the museum into a street level building on 3rd that better integrates with the old courthouse. The only thing the arch provides is a view of the surrounding city, which a sky deck on a tall building would do a better job at, think Hanckock in Chicago.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506816442 Angelo Olegna

    I don’t understand why you’re actually against the Proposition. You like
    most of the project, despite the fact that it has little community
    input. You know it will be of great benefit to the city and it is now likely that the highway will have a lid put a lid on it. You know it needs to be funded. You know that this is going to
    have to be done with a mixture of state, local, and Federal funds.

    What about Prop P is bad?

    • Alex Ihnen

      I do not necessarily believe that the project will be a great benefit to the community. Certainly the numbers touted for the Arch project itself are unrealistic: a million more annual visitors, 4,400 permanent jobs? I don’t understand how the design and funding aren’t inherently separate issues. I mean, I may like the design of a new Rams stadium, but disagree that St. Louis taxpayers should foot the bill. It’s difficult to understand why such a stance can be misunderstood.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506816442 Angelo Olegna

        Well, I mean; you support 95% of the project and you know it needs to be funded. Ergo, it would make sense to assume you’d like to have it funded. Obviously the project’s promoters are going to exaggerate the benefits. But I highly doubt that you like 95% of a project that you think will do no good.

        The Rams stadium is private, but the Arch is a public monument and the grounds are a public park. Usually public things are funded by taxes. Also, despite this, majority of the funding will not be coming from Prop P.

        What is your alternative to this process? All of the money come from the Federal Government? All of the money coming from private donors? I think the mixture of state, local, regional, private, public, and Federal funds is a reasonable process for funding something like this.

        Also, I don’t see where half a billion of taxpayer money is being used. The website states that the whole project is 380 million. Prop P is supposed to raise only 90 million. The rest is from the Feds, regional entities like MOBOT, the state government, and private donors.

        • Alex Ihnen

          Your train of thought is illogical. This is simple. I like many of the design elements. Do I think they’re transformative from an economic or visitor perspective? No. Following your premise, if one likes how something is designed, they must necessarily support whatever funding mechanism someone else has thought up, no matter how expensive or who pays, or how, or when. Why does that make sense at all? As someone who understands the need to invest in St. Louis neighborhoods, your support for city/county taxpayers putting up $700M plus over 20 years for this project is baffling. Where do you suppose funds for other projects will come from? Budgets are stretched and residents and jobs continue to flee. This project won’t change that, but will prevent other investments from taking place.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506816442 Angelo Olegna

            By “continue to flee” they are fleeing…..into Saint Louis County, which will be part of the sales tax. These taxes don’t even have a majority going to the arch, but to parks and green-ways throughout the region. The Arch is helping to rally people into developing a lot more than just its own grounds.

            The sales tax is also only 3/16 of 1 cent. Probably not going to break everyone’s piggy banks and prevent further investment. With funds coming in from outside of Saint Louis/County that will help our economy.

            While I typically hate the attention Downtown gets, to the detriment of everyone else, I don’t always oppose every public project. The Central Library, City Garden, Peabody; all worthy projects. As is this one.

            I am sympathetic to the idea that private funding is suspect and the Feds aren’t giving enough. But you have not presented an alternative so far. What would you like to see happen?

          • Alex Ihnen

            This has really been covered ad nauseam on this site, but…there’s already ~$200M in funding for the project and the major initiatives are funded. Why not see what a $200M project can do? What if at any point in the Arch grounds history whatever the project was to become had to be completed in 5 years? There would be no Arch. Good design, good cities, take time to develop. Dropping $350-550M on a project like this isn’t wise. And no argument has been made for additional park funding except that, I guess, everyone’s suppose to just understand that all parks always need more money. If there’s some compelling need, then STL County should ask STL County residents for an STL County tax increase. AND St. Louis County lost population this past decade. This vote is asking 46% (and decreasing) of the region’s residents to fund this project. Finally, the idea that this won’t break anyone’s bank is naive. This is $780M over 20 years. That’s a very significant amount of money for two counties losing people and jobs. $780M. We can’t keep sidewalks paved, or historic brick homes from falling down. There’s a finite amount of money here. There will now be $780M less for other projects.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506816442 Angelo Olegna

            Well, if it has you probably should have just linked to the post you wrote. I don’t see one detailing your opinion, but I’m not always the best at finding things.

            The combined economic output of Saint Louis County and City are in the hundreds of billions, that’s EVERY year, not over 20 years. Saint Louis alone is valued at a little over 100 billion a year. The sales tax takes in about 11 million a year. Thankfully, due to the national tax debates I am fairly immune to being terrified of large numbers, because there is a context here.

            Lemme’ do some math here:

            11,000,000 divided by about 300,000,000,000
            Or .0037% of our annual economic output.

            That’s going to the Arch and funding various parks projects. A reinvestment in our own communities and a nationally known monument.

            The rest of the millions being raised comes from private donors, Mobot, and the Federal Highway System. I really don’t see the issue here.

            Would I rather see this money invested in better public transit? Yes. That might be the only thing that will be delayed by this spending. Sidewalks? Noone’s going to give big money to a major sidewalk campaign, I’m sorry. Restoring brick houses? The government is not going to run around rehabbing abandoned buildings. It already gives tax credits. But the anti-city culture around here prevents investment, not lack of funds.

            I also don’t understand why we need a park emergency to increase funding towards parks. Additionally; saying Saint Louis County should fund it’s own damn parks is sort of silly, considering the fact that Saint Louis County is almost surely going to be contributing more money to this tax than Saint Louis City. I don’t know where you live, but it would make more sense if Saint Louis County were the ones griping about stuff like that.

            Honestly, I feel that the money going into this project really wouldn’t be going anywhere else. Except, again, better mass transit. But even that is unlikely without Federal assistance, and with the political climate in D.C. the way it is we won’t be seeing that for some time.

          • guest

            Government funds rehab of lots of vacant buildings, in both St. Louis County and St. Louis City.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506816442 Angelo Olegna

            Found ’em. Not convinced.

  • Mike Murray

    Many thanks Alex for your personal observations regarding the City/Arch/River Project. I would like to point out after seeing the Comprehensive Capital Program improvement Agreement (CCPIA) required by the legislation authorizing the public vote that approximately $170 million in public funds are being leveraged by about $210 million in private money. Each project listed will be carefully monitored by the same board, GRG, of which I am a member representing the central corridor of the City that has successfully overseen more than $100 million in trail & greenway projects in the region for the last twelve years. In addition, the public engagement process, a hallmark of GRG’s success, will continue through a broad-based Citizens Advisory Committee. This promises to be one of the best public/private partnerships since Forest Park Forever of which I am proud to say I was a founding board member.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I agree that GRG is a good fiscal agent. There’s no real issue regarding whether the money will be safeguarded. And the advisory panel is a good idea, but the Arch grounds project has been planned for several years. There’s more to do, but enormous changes are already set in place and will not be reevaluated. Lastly, is CAR stating that the $210M in private support will not be forthcoming unless Prop P passes? That seems to be a dubious claim. The question isn’t whether GRG is trustworthy, it’s weather a) the process to-date warrants tax payer money and b) whether the project is a good investment.

  • http://donspoliticalblog.blogspot.com Don

    My unease with Prop P is that it’s inappropriate to force local taxpayers to pay a special tax — in any form — to support a National Park.

    The people of Wyoming aren’t paying any local taxes to support Yellowstone, and the citizens of Washington DC don’t pay a local tax to fund the National Mall.

    • Mark Nugent

      The problem with that reasoning is that the Arch grounds are not Yellowstone or the National Mall. The Arch grounds will never have the same importance as those things at the national level.

      • http://donspoliticalblog.blogspot.com Don

        I don’t see it as an issue of importance. It’s about ownership. Local taxes fund local parks, state taxes fund state parks and Federal taxes fund national parks.

        Diverting local sales tax money to a National Park is inappropriate. I’d rather leave the Arch grounds as they are, and focus our limited local tax revenues to parks that are 100% dependent on local taxes for funding. Mixing local park or green space projects with the Arch is clever but it’s still a bad idea.

    • Brett Lord-Castillo

      It is not a park, it is a memorial. Memorials have always been a blend of NPS management and local funding. Affiliated areas (and we are talking about building a new affiliated area here) are nearly 100% local funding. Look at the Oklahoma City Memorial for a good example of this. The National Mall memorials are the only exception, and they are an oddity in that they were built with private money inside of a National Park (the arch is not inside of a national park, it is inside a national memorial managed by the NPS).

    • Daniel Layton

      DC residents do pay a local tax for the National Mall. Local for them is the Federal Government. Obviously they don’t foot the vast majority of the bill, however, and it’s a good point because DC Residents almost never visit the National Mall just like St. Louis residents never visit the Arch.

  • T-Leb

    The Post-Dispatch’s endorsement made a clear argument to fund GRG’s river ring, not CAR projects.

  • http://contact.innov8ion.com David Goldstick

    Looks like a minor quibble. The editorial conveyed that you approve 95% of the plan although your claim is that you only approve of 95% of the Arch design plan — the latter being the main component of Prop P. In any case, it’s never fun to be quoted in any way other than one’s essence.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I believe you’re reading the quote wrong. It is, “Mr. Ihnen said he believes that “95 percent of this (Prop P) is a good idea,” but regrets that the Arch project will involve closing three blocks of Memorial Drive.”

      They conflate Prop P with the Arch grounds project design. They’re far from being one and the same. One is an issue of design. The other is an issue of funding. Those are major issues. I like most of the design elements. I do not like the proposed funding mechanism.

      • http://contact.innov8ion.com David Goldstick

        This is largely about the Arch but also about expanding the GRG as well as supplementing area park budgets. I sense that proposal developers felt it might be difficult to pass in surrounding municipal areas if the benefits were limited to just the Arch and personally find it unwise to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

        • John R

          Definitely. The idea of speeding up GRG’s fantastic River Ring plan is a big draw for a lot of folks and the county’s recent financial troubles with parks was “timely” for a ballot vote. Although they were unable to crack the Saint Charles County nut, it certainly was a good strategy.