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Aldermen, mayor break ground on "historic" rec center in north city

Artist renderings at the site of the new O'Fallon Park recreation center
(photo by Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
Artist renderings at the site of the new O'Fallon Park recreation center

By Rachel Lippmann

St. Louis – After a year delay to secure a record level of minority participation, St. Louis politicians gathered in a North City park Wednesday to break ground on a new recreation complex.

The $22 million facility in O'Fallon Park is the first new recreation center on the north side in 71 years. The oldest, West End at Union and Martin Luther King, was built in the late 1800s.

The Board of Aldermen's black caucus pushed hard to get contractor SM Wilson to commit to substantial minority business participation. The company agreed to try to draw 32 percent of the workforce from minority communities, and 20 percent of the workforce from the city. Both numbers are higher than goals Mayor Francis Slay signed into law last year.

The delay was necessary to make sure to make sure the project was fair to the community, said Alderman Antonio French, who represents O'Fallon Park.

"This is a project that is completely funded by the taxpayers of the city of St. Louis, and we wanted to make that the folks that are building it are representative of the city of St. Louis population," he said.

The money to build the center comes from a 1/8-cent sales tax voters approved in 2006. Some of those funds will also provide operating subsidies for the new facility, as they do for the Carondelet Park facility in South City.

"Our ancestors have taught us, take care of a thing on the front end, and you can be more certain about the back end," said Alderman Terry Kennedy, the leader of the black caucus. "And so in that regard we had to do that at the beginning to ensure that when we put shovel to earth that a community that has not seen employment like this or seen development like this will see it and it will be done well."

The center does not have an operator in place, but French said one will be secured by December 31, 2011 - the day the center is scheduled to open.

"Just as we make our New Year's resolution to get in better shape and to have a more healthy lifestyle," joked Mayor Slay.