In a stunning announcement today, City of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann will announce the merger of the City of St. Louis and St. Charles County. The effort to merge the city and St. Louis County, long sought by many has ended and the county has been left out.
Each side sought to highlight the positives of the merger that could prove unpopular with some. "This is really the best of both worlds," said Ehlmann. "St. Charles County now has a professional baseball team, an incredible architectural legacy and mass transit, but we don't have to live right next to it." Mayor Slay echoed the comments, stating, "the City of St. Louis just expanded its boundaries for the first time since 1876 and in the process we gained an enormous tax base and became incredibly diverse."
Left out is St. Louis County, whose residents had for years resisted any type of merger with the City of St. Louis. While, not explicitly shutting the door on the future inclusion of St. Louis County, officials did express reservations about the county's future. "The reality is that St. Louis County is on a downward trend. The continued infighting for sales tax revenue scraps is stealing from everyone," said Ehlmann. "The wave of problems coming to the county in growing poverty, crumbling infrastructure and lack of social services is not something we wish to subsidize."
By some measures, St. Charles County and the City of St. Louis could not be more different. The latest Census revealed that the city had a poverty rate of more than 24%, well above the 13% national average, while St. Charles County was one of only 19 counties in the nation with a poverty rate below 5%. Such disparity couldn't dim the expressed enthusiasm for the merger as leaders appear convinced the communities will become more alike.
"In many ways, St. Charles County is what the city aspires to be; clean, safe and comfortably middle class. The residents of St. Charles County have avoided behavior that leads to poverty. There's a lot we could learn from them," stated Slay. Likewise, Ehlmann has high-hopes for the city. "For all its problems, the city is becoming more middle-class, just look at all the condos and lofts. We're betting that it's hit bottom. The city is rising and what we lack, the city has in spades; soul."
As an independent county, St. Louis City had one of the oldest housing stocks in the nation, with 57% of owner occupied homes being built prior to 1939. This has turned from a liability to an asset as appreciation for the architectural detail of many of these homes becomes more mainstream. At the other extreme, and again highlighting the fate of St. Louis County, 57% of its housing stock was built from 1950-1979.
According to architectural historian Allen Michaels, this era produced some gems, but the fast and cheap building methods mean trouble ahead. "Eventually what you will see in St. Louis County, is the demolition of entire suburban housing tracts. These homes are not reusable in the same way as an 1895 brick structure."
Both sides emphasized the strengths the merger would produce. According to a joint press release, the newly merged St. Charles County experienced a 7.5% increased in population from 2000-2010 and is the 19th largest city in the nation, just ahead of Memphis, Boston and Baltimore. The combined crime rate places the county just below the national average. Lambert International Airport is centrally located in the new St. Charles County as well, allowing for better regional cooperation regarding the China Hub initiative and other efforts to expand services at Lambert.
Slay and Ehlmann both said that no one should be surpised by the merger. "When I said that we needed to rethink nearly everything we do, I meant it," Slay said. "This is the type of change we need. Together, the City of St. Louis and St. Charles County have a bright future." St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley was unavailable for comment.
Although not wishing to be quoted for attribution, aides to both parties hope that the merger doesn't stop with St. Charles County and the City of St. Louis. "Despite all its problems, imagine adding St. Louis County to the mix. We would be the 5th largest city in the nation and have one of the lowest crime rates of any city," stated one source. Only time will tell if the unexpected merger is a sign of things to come. Check back soon for the latest updates from nextSTL.com.
(Yes, this is the nextSTL.com April Fools' Day article)