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Fight over control of downtown St. Louis money heats up

Downtown's current taxing district acknowledges it does not have the signatures of property owners required for renewal, an effort that's been underway since 2019
Credit: SLBJ
A view of downtown St. Louis from the top of the Gateway Arch. Groups are competing over tax money meant to help the neighborhood.

ST. LOUIS — A longstanding feud over control of millions in downtown St. Louis tax money is escalating.

Downtown's current taxing district, which expires at the end of this year, acknowledges it does not yet have the signatures of property owners required for renewal, an effort that's been underway since 2019. But the Downtown St. Louis Community Improvement District says it's "very confident" it will eventually reach the goal, ensuring it continues to collect some $3.5 million in annual tax payments for beautification and safety.

Meanwhile, a citizens group that's long been critical of the CID says it's now looking to create its own taxing district.

The group, called Citizens For a Greater Downtown St. Louis, said its community improvement district would raise roughly the same amount of money and include the same boundaries as the current CID — excluding Laclede's Landing — but would be managed differently, said Les Sterman, spokesman for the group. It hopes to finalize its plan in the next 30 days, after which it can begin its own signature gathering effort.

Sterman said his group's district would look to continue popular programs including police officers on bikes and workers who clear streets of garbage. But he said it would also engage in efforts dealing with liquor license applications, problem properties and overflowing dumpsters.

"These are all things the CID could be addressing," Sterman said. Even if it doesn't have control of those issues, "it can mobilize the downtown community to deal with this stuff."

"We envision a more energetic, engaged organization," he said, adding that it would be governed by a no more than 19-member board, with no fewer than 20% of directors owning and residing in downtown property.

Sterman said Citizens' CID would also set metrics to judge success or failure on safety, security, cleanliness and economic development. It would hire its own staff, and has published information indicating that staffing would cost no more than $1.4 million, including $165,000 for an executive director.

The Citizens' CID would also be organized as a political subdivision rather than a nonprofit. The current CID, a nonprofit, has long claimed it is not subject to state open-records laws.

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