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Looking to improve use of north riverfront

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 2, 2011 - The St. Louis Development Corp. is studying methods to redevelop parts of the north St. Louis riverfront. The land use study hopes to recommend how to turn that section of the riverfront into a hive of business activity that attracts new jobs to the area.

Currently the area under study is home to mostly light industry and distribution warehouses. Some homes are scattered throughout. Dial Corp., Procter & Gamble and ADM are some of the large employers in the area.

The study area is 3,000 acres between the riverfront and Interstate 70 stretching north from the Arch. Otis Williams, deputy executive director for the SLDC, said he expects the study, which began late last year, to be completed by the beginning of this December.

The goal is to identify the parts of the riverfront that are not being fully used by their current inhabitants and find ways to reorganize the area to make it more appealing to companies. The study is also looking at infrastructure needs to make the area more attractive to businesses.

"We want to able to identify all of those [underdeveloped parcels], understand what our strengths and weaknesses are in the area, and come up with a strategy to improve the area," Williams said.

The challenges include the scattered residential parcels of land that inhibit larger industrial development. Over the past few years, SLDC has purchased more than 80 of these properties to consolidate the parcels and make room for larger developments.

Infrastructure is another issue that the study will address. Some intersections in the area have tight turns that are difficult for the trucks that must be used for large warehouses. Those trucks coming off of I-70 will also be blocked by the railroad lines leading to area's six railroad facilities. The study will look at ways to route traffic when trains are moving through the area.

The SLDC has focused on this area since the early 2000s. An initial study for part of the area led the SLDC to begin to purchase residential parsels meant for consolidation.

The St. Louis riverfront area has a number of other redevelopment projects. The St. Louis Municipal River Terminal received a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to reconstruct the terminal's south dock. And of course, plans are under way that should lead to reworking the Arch grounds. Plus, the new Mississippi River Bridge is expected to be completed by 2015. That bridge will provide another link for traffic on I-70 to cross the Mississippi River.

Jennifer Allen of Trailnet, a St. Louis organization that advocates for walkable and bikable urban development, hopes that the redevelopment of the north riverfront will make sure to make connections to the Arch grounds and other developments enabling pedestrians and bikers to take advantage of the entire riverfront. Already, this area has an 11-mile trail along the Mississippi River from the Laclede Power Building to the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.

"We're hoping that there is a vision that not only attracts jobs but creates a destination along the north river front that supports our work of encouraging people to walk and bike," Allen said.

Both Williams and Allen though said that the process of redeveloping the area would be a long one. "The long term is to make it an area where companies will be attracted to the area and will create jobs there," Williams said.

Alex Sciuto is a freelance writer.