ST. LOUIS — The four St. Louis mayoral candidates offered a preview Wednesday on how incentive tools used for developments could change during their administrations, policies that could prove critical to those looking to invest in the city.
"Everything is on the table," said Treasurer Tishaura Jones, one of four candidates seeking the high office in elections March 2 and April 6. The others are Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, Alderwoman Cara Spencer and utility executive Andrew Jones.
The mayor has wide latitude to shape development policies through St. Louis Development Corp., a nonprofit that serves as the city's development agency. The mayor appoints a majority of its board. SLDC's employees make recommendations on subsidies for projects to various boards, like that of the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, which then make a recommendation to the Board of Aldermen, tasked with final approval.
Also, SLDC's longtime leader, Otis Williams, plans to leave in April with the end of Mayor Lyda Krewson's term. She isn't seeking re-election. SLDC, with the help of consultant Executive Bridge, is looking to identify possible Williams replacements, who will be presented to the new mayor, according to a person familiar with the process.
Every candidate said they'd be seeking change. Here's a look at their plans:
TISHAURA JONES | Treasurer, city of St. Louis
Tishaura Jones said the size of tax abatements offered in certain areas, especially in the central corridor, could be altered. And she said the model used to evaluate tax increment financing projects should be brought more in line with "national" thinking, rejecting what she described as a locally produced method. She cited a state audit last year that said 52% of TIF projects are located in four of 28 city wards with the largest property assessed value.
Defenders of the city's recent development efforts point out that incentive tools are available in all parts of the city, with more up for grabs in distressed areas, and that government has few tools to force the loaning or investing of private capital or equity in certain areas. Appraisal requirements under federal banking regulations can also complicate matters.
But Tishaura Jones said the city had made "intentional decisions" not to develop in north and south city, and that it needs to "push development and make intentional development" in those areas.
"It should be no surprise that we're losing population and that our schools are closing," she said.
ANDREW JONES | Executive vice president of business development and marketing, Southwest Electric
Andrew Jones, who's not related to Tishaura Jones, said it's wrong to "lead" business recruitment with incentives. "If you have a prospect looking to come into an area, you need to get them motivated to be full stakeholders, to be committed to putting skin in the game," he said.
He also criticized the city's creation of an economic development plan last year, saying the government needs more reportable "benchmarks and scorecards" to measure progress.
He recommended that economic development officials work directly for the city instead of an outside agency.
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