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The State of University City

Mayor Shelley Welsch's state of the city address.

I would like to thank the Historical Society of University City for the invitation to speak here this evening for the Second Annual State of the City address. I am honored to present this talk to try to convey the positive things that have been happening in our community over the past year. As I mentioned last year, I think this is a good way to honor the birth of E.G. Lewis, the founder of this great city.

Who We Are

I think it is always good to set the stage for a talk such as this. So, I will begin as I began last year, providing a bit of background on our community. This information has not changed from last year.

stands at six square miles, and is bordered by the municipalities of St. Louis, Wellston, Pagedale, Overland, Olivette, Ladue and Clayton. We are an inner-ring suburb of the City of St. Louis, and face many of the same challenges faced by other inner-ring suburbs around the country.

We have been losing population. At its peak, more than 50,000 people lived within our borders. The latest census information which was released last week shows that the population for University City declined by 5.5 percent since the last census. The 2000 Census indicated a population of 37,428 for University City. The 2010 Census data shows a population of 35,371.

And these latest figures show a major change in the demographic make-up of the community. Slightly over 50 percent of University City residents are white; while 41 percent are black or African-American. University City now has an Asian population that stands at 4.3 percent. And 2.7 percent of our residents label themselves as two or more races.

This is who we are, right now.

We are all about community – University City and the St. Louis Region

Last year during the first State of the City speech, I talked about my vision for our community. As I look back over the past year, and consider the year to come, I realize my vision has not changed, but has expanded beyond the words of last year.

I would like to talk again about building community – because that is the focus of our work. This year I want to talk community – the bricks and mortar community and the “people” community; the local community and a larger community.

After years of a lack of focus on economic development in University City, I believe this Council and Administration have taken great strides in moving economic development to the front burner of our City stove.

  • Most importantly, we now have staff members dedicated to economic development outreach and activities. We have a Deputy Director of Economic Development in the Department of Community Development. That staff member is supported by an Economic Development Manager who is focused on one-on-one outreach to current U City business owners and potential business owners. This is the first time our City has had staff members specifically focused on economic development work within our community.
  • We have made permanent the collaboration between the City of University City and the City of Olivette to work for the coordinated development of the I-170/Olive interchange. The Olive-I-170 Joint Implementation Committee has been established to move forward with the work of the previous joint task force. The group has released a Request for Qualifications from law firms. The chosen firm will work with the committee as it takes the necessary next steps to build the legal structures that will allow two municipalities to work as one on the redevelopment of this prominent interchange.
  • We have almost finished work on the , a months and months long planning process we undertook with the support of federal funding from the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation; and with other partners including , Trailnet, and the Parkview Gardens Association. This is a plan for taking full advantage of this historic University City neighborhood that is well positioned to be one of the most sustainable, vibrant and connected in the St. Louis region.
  • Just last week we announced, along with Washington University, the University’s commitment to invest $100 million in that neighborhood – $80 million for new student housing and 20,000 square feet of commercial space along Delmar, and $20 million in upgrades to other Washington University properties in that neighborhood.
  • On the northwest corner of Parkview Gardens, the new Kingsland Walk development should be starting in the not-too-distant future, as soon as the developer’s financing is finalized. That will bring an additional 98 apartments to the neighborhood, as well as more commercial space.
  • And just east of that site, at Vernon and Westgate, the City’s new fire house will be built, another solid anchor for this neighborhood.
  • Council has considered and approved another new apartment complex, at the site of the old McKnight School on Delcrest. That financing package is also being finalized.
  • • Just north of that site will be the location of the new Walgreens development that, we hope, will also include a new office building. As part of that development a long-desired light, with crosswalk, will be installed at the west Delcrest/Delmar intersection.
  • The newly-formed is off-and-running. I mentioned my desire to help get that process off the ground one year ago – U City volunteers and business owners took the idea and ran with it. I encourage everyone to check out the Chamber at www.universitycitychamber.com.
  • Plans are continuing for the 2.5 mile trolley line that would run from the University City Lion gate, east on Delmar to DeBaliviere, then south to the Missouri History Museum. It is hoped that this line will spur development along the route.
  • What we have every reason to believe WILL spur development is a plan for a Loop Media Hub, where an extremely high-speed fiber will be installed in the trolley trench. The Local Option Economic Development Sales Tax Board is recommending that the City invest in the planning for this effort. Some companies that need high-speech Internet capability have reportedly already expressed interest in moving into U City if/when this media hub is up and running.
  • Last but far from least – the City of University City this past Saturday. The brand, which was developed after formalized market research that included input from more than 150 University City residents and business owners, is designed to help us attract new residents and businesses – not just from the St. Louis region but globally. The design – with the tagline of Neighborhood to the World – maintains the much-loved lion/tiger logo; incorporates the new tagline; and brings blue and green into the mix – two specific colors that are representative of our City’s commitment to sustainability and the environment; are extremely popular and compelling in Asia; and are positive environmental colors in both Europe and South America. This is truly an international logo for our diverse, global community.

Also on the University City front burner is a continued effort to expand volunteer involvement in our community.

  • The City Council has brought the Board and Commission process up-to-date. We have over 150 citizens serving on our boards and commissions. We are doing a better job of making appointments and reappointments in a timely fashion; tracking terms; and ensuring that volunteers with appropriate expertise are appointed when necessary.
  • My three Mayoral task forces are finishing up their work – dozens of volunteers have been involved in these groups. They are the Mayor’s Task Forces on Seniors & Youth; Bike & Walkability; and Year-Round Aquatics. Each task force will make its recommendations to the Council within the next few months.
  • I worked with volunteers, U City residents and others, on the first U City Jazz Festival, a very successful afternoon of music in Heman Park last September. The second U City Jazz Festival will be held in September.
  • Eight to ten thousand people came to Fair U City 2011 which was held in Heman Park over Memorial Day weekend. Volunteers are working on Fair U City 2012 right now, and I encourage anyone who wants to help to let me know, or check out the fair website at www.fairucity.com.
  • The Police Department conducted a very successful Citizen’s Police Academy, a program designed to help residents become more familiar with the workings of our police department. Participants came from all over the City to take part in this event.
  • • Finally, we hosted an international cyclocross biking event in Heman Park in September, attracting riders from around the country and Europe, and some U City residents volunteered to help make that event a success. This cyclocross event will be held again this year, again in September.

And still to come?

  • For the second year in a row we will have a Summer Youth Employment program. Younger U City residents will have the opportunity to be hired by the City, to work in City departments and gain some real life job experience. This program is not just a make work program – the young people work and are treated as true professionals.
  • I am working with two volunteers to organize a U City Notes concert. This community musical showcase will be held in October of 2012, bringing together choirs, bands and other musicians from around the City to perform. The concert will be held in the sanctuary, an amazing 2,000-seat venue which is attached to the old Greensfelder School in far northwest University City. Interested in helping? Let me know.
  • I am just finalizing details of another program, one I call We Are U City. I hope that this will be a three-or-four times a year program, where different U City residents will have the opportunity to talk about their work and their lives. This idea grew out of my hearing so many great stories when I worked as the volunteer producer of the University City Oral History Project. I realized that University City residents might be interested in learning more about their neighbors. I hope the first lecture will be in May – and we will be hearing from a local photographer who has focused much of her recent work in documenting the lives of one of the groups of apes. The program has been tentatively scheduled for May.
  • We will show seven movies in the Movies in the Park series, outdoor movies in five of University City parks. Those movies, on the theme of Coming of Age, will start in April and continue through October. We are looking for financial support for that series. If you would like to donate to help cover the costs of this series, please let me know.
  • Today we finalized plans for another international biking race – this one will be held in May in the University City Loop. Look for more details in the coming weeks.
  • And finally, University City is the first city in the State of Missouri to commit to taking part in the National Kids to Parks Day event. This national event will be held on May 19. We will be hosting a scavenger hunt throughout University City’s seventeen parks – as a way to help our residents become more familiar with our beautiful parks (and hopefully encourage them to visit parks outside their own neighborhoods). And we will also have an environment-focused event in – relating to the River des Peres. Be on the lookout for more information on this first-of-its-kind National Kids to Parks Day event here in University City.

Last year I mentioned my hope that I could bring together ministers, priests and rabbis from the many churches and synagogues here in University City – to get their ideas on how they and we might bring the people of our community together – perhaps for community service projects to benefit those who need the help most in U City. I said then that we should take advantage of the groups that already exist in University City – bringing them together so that, together, they might accomplish more than they can on their own. I’ve not been able to move on that yet – but hope to do so in the coming year.

I also hope to bring together volunteers to work on University City applications for two national recognition programs – the All America City Award and the America in Bloom Award. I would love to hear from any University City residents, or others, who would want to work on either of these programs to gain recognition that I think our community well deserves.

I would love to work with volunteers to design and build a theater program for our young people, where they could gain experience in performing; in building sets and designing costumes; and in working back stage. I think working in theater can be a great experience for young people, helping them work beyond their comfort zone, and introduce them to literature in a new way. Other communities do this – I think University City should too.

And finally I add something else from last year’s wish list:

As I said in this chamber one year and two days ago, I think now is time now to bring people together from all over U City, in a months- long community visioning process. Let’s make a concerted effort to bring people from all over University City together to talk about their visions for our shared future; their perception of what we have now and what still need; their thoughts on how to get from here to where the group thinks we should be in five, ten or fifteen years; and to come up with a strategic plan for building community – separate from any strategic plan Council and staff develop related to the operations of our City.

What is our goal as a community? What do we want to be?
How do we reach that goal?
How do we do that together?

The City Council will start a strategic planning process this spring. I hope this can be expanded to a community-wide effort by this fall.

We are not alone

I think it is too easy, in a speech like this when we are talking about building community here in U City, to forget that we are part of a larger community in the St. Louis region. But we are, and this year we have been much-involved with our neighbors.

As mentioned above, we now have a permanent committee that is working with the City of Olivette on the redevelopment opportunities connected with the I-170/Olive interchange.

City staff has been talking with the City of Wellston about some possible collaborative opportunities. And the City of Vinita Park has approached us to share ideas on some possible partnerships.

University City has been a leader in bringing together pool cities to discuss the challenges facing the sales tax distribution system that has been in place in St. Louis County for decades. Our staff has been instrumental in doing the research on and financial analysis of the various options that have been discussed and have been put on the table. And University City, Webster Groves and Wildwood led the way in making sure our interests were protected in Jefferson City last year when some municipalities were trying to force consideration of legislation that would have had a devastating impact on our community if it had passed.

We continue to work with partners on the Centennial Greenway.

We are actively involved with the St. Louis County Economic Development Collaborative and the Metro Mayors group.

And finally, I have been working for months on my Regional Initiative on Youth. This is an effort to build support in the St. Louis metropolitan area for a region-wide approach to ensure that the young people of our region are ready by 21 to be productive members of our society, and in line to be the future leaders of our region. This effort, if I am successful, will involve developing a long-term strategic plan for our region’s young people – not just U City kids but kids from throughout the area. I have set up an Interim Executive Board to determine if my vision can work and, if it can, how to move forward with it. The first meeting of that Board will be on Friday, March 9th at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University. If you would like to be added to an e-mail list to receive updates on this effort, please let me know.

In conclusion, I repeat again what I said last year in the first State of the City address.

E.G. Lewis had a vision for our community. He never knew how fully that vision was realized in the City’s first 106 years. But, I think if he were here today, and he studied us now, he would say we are a great community that has the potential to be greater still.

I look forward to working with you, and the rest of our more than 35,000 residents, to make that happen.

Tracy Gritsenko November 07, 2012 at 11:14 PM
How vested is U City in supporting a growing movement of the district's parents to keep our students in the University City School District beyond elementary school? I don't ever hear anything about this and yet our continueing decline in enrollment seems as much a district issue as it is a community issue. Your thoughts? Thank You!

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