More than two years after forming a joint task force, representatives of both University City and Olivette presented their final report Monday evening to a joint session of city councils.
About 50 people turned out for the presentation at Centennial Commons in University City. The task force is composed of residents from both communities as well as University City Mayor Shelley Welsch and Olivette Mayor Jean Antoine.
The goal of the Interstate 170/Olive Boulevard joint redevelopment task force was to explore redevelopment initiatives in the Olive Boulevard corridor on the east and west sides of the intersection with I-170.
OUR VISION MAKES SENSE
“We have a very nice vision for this area,” said Marc Jacob, chairman of the task force and a University City resident.
He said the task force met with experienced developers who said, “we had tremendous potential at this intersection.” However, he noted developers impressed upon the group that both cities needed to provide economic incentives to businsess. “We have to set that table before they are going to come eat,” Jacob said.
The task force recommended that both cities commit to an intergovernmental agreement, which would include the following:
- Use of economic incentives: “We do not believe we can go forward without this,” Jacob said.
- Marketing and promotion: “One side of this intersection is integral to the other side of this intersection,” Jacob said.
- Revenue sharing
- Common zoning regulations
- Master plan to be developed in the future
The report also states that any future group working on the recommendations has an established budget to retain specialized professional services as needed.
THE FINDINGS OF THE FINAL REPORT
So, what does the task force envision in the I-170/Olive Boulevard corridor?
The report said there need to be development "anchors or cornerstones" in the redevelopment area. Below are the ones preferred by the task force:
- Senior living center
- Metro link and bus transfer station
- Multilevel public parking structure
- Corporate/regional headquarters
- Medical institution/research facility
- Higher education offices/school facilities
Although Jacobs added: "We don't want too many facilities that are nontaxable. If we had one, that's nice because that creates an anchor, but we don't want too many nontaxable facilities. Primarily, we want to increase the tax base here."
Ideally, the task force would like to see a mixed-use, multi-story building along the corridor. For example, one or two hotels to pull in business travelers. Businesses the task force hopes to discourage from setting up in the area include:
- Gasoline or service stations
- Convenience stores
- Drive-through food establishments
- Limited-service hotels
- Packaged liquor facilities
- Pawn shops
- Short-term loan establishments
- Resale/thrift stores
- Tattoo parlors
- Dry cleaners/laundromats
- Animal hospitals/veterinary facilities
USE OF EMINENT DOMAIN
Olivette Mayor Jean Antoine stressed that the process is early in formation, but he added, "There is going to be a little pain."
However, Mayor Antoine assured residents that whatever decisions are ultimately taken, they won't be taken lightly. He emphasized that "there is nothing concrete at this time."
Jacob said that the expert panel of developers specifically told the task force that if University City and Olivette are serious about redeveloping that area, eminent domain must be on the table.
However, the whole notion didn't sit well with University City Ward 3 Councilmember Arthur Sharpe, who said he was against eminent domain in any residential area.
After the meeting, Jacob acknowledged that the issue of eminent domain makes residents and the city council uncomfortable. But, "It's a conversation that if we don't have, honestly and openly, than this area will not experience the kind of redevelopment we've been hoping for," he said.
"We've been told by expert after expert that if you take eminent domain off the table completely then what you're actually going to wind up with is some spotty redevelopment here and there...but ultimately, not the sort of game changer we're looking for in this area, that's going to increase the tax base."
Jacob said without the option of eminent domain, the task force is rendered moot.
"Then really you should tell us to stop meeting," he said. Eminent domain is one of the major tools the redevelopment community has told the task force it needs to have in its arsenal, just in case, Jacob said.
The only citizen comment came from University City resident William Thornton who wasn't comfortable with any role eminent domain might play in future redevelopment plans.
"One man's palace is another person's blight," Thornton said. He said that aside from some businesses needing to be spruced up, "the area seems to be pretty much a viable neighborhood."
As for blighting decisions, those can only be made by the University City and Olivette City Councils.
Monday's meeting was strictly a discussion. The councils took no formal action.