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A new bill aims to deliver grants promised to north St. Louis businesses under ARPA funding

Aldermen pledged $37 million in grants to north St. Louis businesses and nonprofits, but money has been slow to flow in the years since that legislation passed.
Rici Hoffarth
St. Louis Public Radio
Aldermen pledged $37 million in grants to north St. Louis businesses and nonprofits, but money has been slow to flow in the years since that legislation passed.

One of the early commitments from the $500 million that St. Louis received in pandemic aid was grants for small businesses and nonprofits in the northern part of the city.

But the $37 million has been slow to flow to those entities since aldermen and the mayor approved the appropriation.

A new bill before the Board of Aldermen would amend the old legislation to make it easier to apply for those grants.

“There are people that have applications, there are businesses that have been waiting and counting on the opportunity to be able to get this money to build or revitalize their business,” said Ward 10 Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, the bill’s sponsor.

She emphasized two key barriers that the new legislation seeks to eliminate: that a specific project has a letter of support from the alderman whose ward it’s located in and financing up front.

“We know that a lot of businesses, especially coming off of a pandemic, wouldn't have been able to prove that,” she said.

The new bill also expands the parts of the city that are eligible to apply for a grant, from defined commercial corridors to essentially all of north St. Louis. Ward 3 Alderman Shane Cohn questioned why the geographic scope was limited to communities on the north side.

“What am I supposed to tell a neighborhood minority business owner down in Gravois Park, on Chippewa, that has the same issues with getting access to capital as any business that might be opening north of Delmar?” he said during a committee hearing on the bill.

Cohn pointed out that parts of his ward fall under the same designations of economic need defined in the city’s Economic Justice Action Plan as many parts of north St. Louis.

“I find it disingenuous when we say that we want to take care of everyone but then you expect me to vote for something that’s not taking care of everyone,” he said.

Clark Hubbard explained the focus on north St. Louis helps retain the vision and spirit of the original legislation it amends.

“We’re trying to make sure that we get that message over to north St. Louis that we want to intentionally reinvest into them,” she said. “Make that commitment to north St. Louis, which was at the time one of the reasons why we got the allotment that we did of ARPA funding.”

It’s a point echoed by Neal Richardson, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, the independent economic development agency tasked with administering the grants.

“We want to address that concentrated poverty and bring back resources to north St. Louis and repair the harm that was caused by the disinvestment that happened there with this particular set of resources,” he said.

The bill remains in the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee, where it will be heard again before aldermen vote to send it to the full board.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.