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Detroit And St. Louis Exchange Ideas For Economic Development

(Flickr, Bernt Rostad)

Detroit and St. Louis can learn from one another.

That was the idea behind a visit to St. Louis by a group of Detroit community development professionals this week.

The Detroit Revitalization Fellows met with representatives from Preservation Research St. Louis, Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation, Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, Northside Regeneration and Cortex.

One thing the Detroiters discovered was the Missouri historic tax credit program. JelaEllefson, a member of the Detroit group, said she wishes her city had access to something similar.

"I think that a lot of houses in Detroit, old historical houses, have been lost to weather, to abandonment, and also to the way they have been redeveloped because of not having an incentive like this," Ellefson said.

But that development tool isn't a guaranteed asset. In recent years preservationists have had to fight to prevent funding for Missouri’s historic tax credit program from being cut in the legislature.

While the Detroit group may be envious of the tax credit, the St. Louisans learned Detroit has its own advantages. Old North’s executive director Sean Thomas said he came away from the meeting a bit envious of the private donations Detroit gets for community development.

"There are a lot of foundations and corporations here in St. Louis that have a greater focus on cultural entities or biotech. Those are valuable things to invest in," Thomas said. "In Detroit, they apparently have seen a greater need to invest in community development."

Many of those foundations support the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program, which draws mid-career professionals for a two-year program. It places the fellows with organizations committed to revitalizing Detroit.

Program director Graig Aaron Donnelly said the first group began in 2011, and 23 of the 29 fellows are still working in Detroit today.

"The hope is that many of our fellows stay in Detroit, whether they stay on the job they had as fellows or not," Donnelly said. "It’s important for us to keep them in the city."

The program will soon look at candidates for its 2015-2017 class.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.