Monday, June 20, 2005

Fixing the Riverfront

Every afternoon, from the windows of the KMOX studios, I look out on the grounds of the Gateway Arch, which lead down to the muddy waters of Mississippi River.  Then I glance across at the other river bank in East St. Louis and wonder why it hasn't been developed into a major business and entertainment destination.

Over the weekend, a local group announced that a 34-acre park will be built there, named after Malcolm Martin, a philanthropist who dreamed of the venue as a companion to the Archgrounds on the other side of the river.

That's nice, but it's not enough.

The current view of the east side is depressing.  It's littered with industrial smokestacks, a grain elevator, some railroad tracks, and not much else.  But the view from the east side, looking westward upon the Arch and the St. Louis skyline, is breathtaking, particularly in the early evening.  That's the view you saw on television during the World Series or when the Rams hosted a Monday Night Football game.  It makes one helluva picture.

Why not exploit that, as other cities have, by building a business district that incorporates not only the Casino Queen, but also restaurants, nightclubs, stores, and more?  Certainly, the poverty-stricken city of East St. Louis could use the economic infusion of all that capitalism -- and I believe people would stream there if they were offered a clean, safe, fun place to hang out and enjoy the view.

The first roadblock would obviously be getting the current owners to go along with the plan and move out of the way.  But we won't have to bother convincing them, because we're going to use on them the same mechanism that local municipalities have used on private citizens who were deemed to be "in the way" of economic development:  Eminent Domain.

If it's good enough to use to force people out of their homes in the Sunset Hills subdivision so another shopping center can be built -- a strategy that's being employed more and more across the country, pending a Supreme Court decision in a Connecticut case that could come any day -- then Eminent Domain is certainly good enough to use to rebuild a struggling city and create lots of jobs in the process.

That's just the first step of many that need to be taken, but we're not trying to walk on water here -- just on the waterfront.