ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The St. Louis NAACP said it will again call attention to a "travel advisory" for Missouri over concerns that the region's tourism agency isn't fulfilling a promise to bring a recreation center to north county as part of an expansion of the downtown convention center complex, its leader said.
Adolphus Pruitt, president of the City of St. Louis NAACP chapter, laid out the strategy in a Friday letter to Nimrod Chapel Jr., president of the NAACP Missouri State Conference, that was obtained by the Business Journal.
Meanwhile, Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis, the tourism agency that operates the America's Center convention complex, in a letter Monday said her agency can only oversee the use of lodging taxes and cannot develop a rec center itself. Even so, she said it's playing an active role in helping shape the project and recently presented an idea for it that "meets designed needs."
The rec center dispute threatens to further delay construction of the $210 million expansion of the America's Center complex, a project that would expand the facility west, create a larger ballroom and more functional exhibit space, as well as add 26 loading docks that will allow it to cater to a wider array of conventions.
The costs of the project are to be split between the city and county governments, and the city has already issued its shares of the bonds.
But in August, the Business Journal reported that Councilwoman Rita Days, chair of the St. Louis County Council, was withholding support for a bill authorizing the county to issue its share of bonds because she hadn't seen progress on the rec center project.
In 2019, when the council initially agreed to cover half of the project, it did so under an agreement with Explore St. Louis that 35% of excess bond funds issued for the convention center project would be used for a North County rec center that would also attract tourism, though there was no clarity on exactly where it would be located or how much it would cost.
In his Friday letter, Pruitt said it appeared that after the July death of former Councilwoman Hazel Erby, who was involved in creating the deal for the rec center, Ratcliffe "has taken somewhat of an about face" on the project in North County, which he said is home to a significant portion of the county's Black population.
As a result, the NAACP would "aggressively enforce and illuminate" a travel advisory, still in effect from 2017, warning people of color of the dangers of traveling in Missouri. The travel advisory was initially issued as a response to a state law that rolled back discrimination protections for workers. Pruitt said publicizing it now would "further inform the public (Locally & Nationally) of Explore St. Louis's disenfranchisement and segregated funding decision making."
When the NAACP travel advisory was initially issued, Ratcliffe said St. Louis-area hotels had lost business with groups "that were in contract phase" to plan meetings here after the NAACP's action, though Pruitt stressed then that it didn't ask any group "to ban or disrupt travel for their meeting."
Neither Pruitt nor Days responded to requests for further comment.
Read the full story on the St. Louis Business Journal website.