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St. Louis development agency budget boosts spending on staffing, consultants

The downtown St Louis skyline looking east from the Thomas Eagleton courthouse.
Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
The director of the city's development agency says the increased spending will help the city take action now.

Updated at 4:50 p.m., Aug. 18, with a statement from SLDC

After a two-week delay, the St. Louis Development Corporation has a budget for the current year.

The corporation’s board on Thursday approved the spending plan for fiscal 2023, which technically started July 1. It marks a $4.4 million increase from last year’s budget, mostly for additional hires and consulting contracts.

“It’s about action right now,” SLDC Executive Director Neal Richardson said ahead of the unanimous vote. “We all know that the City of St. Louis has had development plans. We’ve done strategies. We’ve done studies. And we now have a moment to implement them.”

The SLDC will be handling the distribution of a number of programs funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, Richardson said, which was the primary driver of the need for more staff.

Among the positions added are a housing strategist, data analysts, an economic justice strategy manager and staffing for the Northside Economic Empowerment Center, which will be located at Sumner High School.

Consulting contracts

Among the contracts in the budget is one for $150,000 to Levy Consulting to review the SLDC’s operations and another for $40,000 to Steadfast City Economic & Community Partners to prepare informational packets on key development sites within St. Louis. Commissioners approved both of those Thursday without opposition.

Though for a smaller amount, it was the contract with Steadfast City that caught the attention of city government watchdogs. Its CEO, Doug Rasmussen, has served as a consultant to several St. Louis-area developers. Just last week, he presented a $1.2 billion project known as Gateway South to the St. Louis Port Authority, another development arm of the city.

In an interview, Rasmussen denied any potential conflict of interest in his seemingly dual roles.

“None of the properties on the list are redevelopment projects that are being pursued by any of our clients,” he said.

The properties include the old municipal courts building next to City Hall, multiple closed public schools such as Cleveland High School in Dutchtown, Chuck Berry’s house in the Greater Ville and the Club Imperial Building, which hosted Ike and Tina Turner and other acts.

A spokeswoman for SLDC, Sara Freetly, said if projects at those properties move forward because of Steadfast City’s efforts, the company would not be allowed to represent the developers in negotiations with the city.

“Each project will continue to be evaluated by SLDC staff on its own merits,” she said. “Consideration is not given to consultants employed by developers during negotiations. Each project must stand on its own, regardless of who helped prepare the development proposal.”

Levy Consulting is owned by Monique Levy, the former chief executive officer of the St. Louis Fashion Fund. State records show she founded the company shortly after she left that role in March. Among other tasks, her firm will draft an operational handbook for the SLDC, audit the organization’s operations, and make recommendations for “improving organizational culture to align with core values.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.