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Mayor Jones: $150M for north St. Louis is a 'down payment' for future growth

Mayor Tishaura O. Jones gives her first “State of the City” address
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Mayor Tishaura Jones gives her first State of the City address on April 19 at Harris-Stowe State University.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones has a plan to invest $150 million in north St. Louis, but she'll need buy-in from the city's Board of Aldermen to make it a reality.

Jones will present details of her proposal, coined the Roadmap to Economic Justice, to the aldermen on Wednesday. Any specific spending will need their approval. Jones also plans on leveraging money from corporate, philanthropic and faith partners to extend the investment past 2026, the deadline under federal guidelines to spend the money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“The $150 million is a down payment,” Jones said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air.

Last August, Jones vetoed a $33 million north city investment passed by the Board of Aldermen over concerns it would violate federal rules. Her veto of the investment irritated Board President Lewis Reed.

“After more than 240 days, I’m glad to hear that the mayor has finally joined myself and other city leaders in her willingness to target ARPA funds in north St. Louis,” Reed said in a statement.

Jones said criticism doesn’t bother her, saying “at some point, I took my bath in rock salt.” She’s just determined to get her plan accomplished: “There are people that I work with who I know say crazy stuff about me behind my back, but the overarching goal is more important to me, and that's service to this city.”

Mayor Jones’ $150m north city plan now heads to a tough audience — St. Louis’ Board of Aldermen

The $150 million in federal funds, which represents 60% of the city’s remaining distribution from the act, will be focused on three areas: economic empowerment, equitable development and neighborhood transformation.

The nearly 40 proposals include technical assistance for small businesses, broadband and job training expansion, the development of new policies around economic development and funding for down payments or home repair in certain neighborhoods.

More than half of St. Louis is considered low or moderate income in U.S. census data, Jones said, and that fact should inform future decisions about where to approve tax incentives for development.

“We have to make sure that we're investing in people and not just projects,” Jones said.

In the meantime, Jones said her administration will be asking for more money from the Board of Aldermen to implement a better American Rescue Plan Act transparency portal to show where the money is being spent.

Since taking office, Jones, the first Black woman to serve as mayor of the city, has seen money pour into St. Louis. The city and St. Louis County settled with the NFL and Stan Kroenke for $790 million, and the allocation of $500 million in federal coronavirus relief aid represents an unprecedented windfall for the city.

During her campaign, Jones envisioned using that federal money for direct aid payments, a new approach to homelessness and criminal justice changes. Since being elected, Jones followed through on the direct aid payments, granting $500 each to more than 6,000 residents.

But she’s faced pushback when it comes to transforming policing — and the city’s jails remain the subject of numerous complaints. Jones worked to set up a Detention Oversight Board with the aim of implementing changes. After aldermen scuttled two progressive nominees earlier this month (Mike Milton and the Rev. Darryl Gray), a third resigned in response, leaving the committee’s future uncertain.

In response to the only two Black male nominees being rejected, Jones said the board needs to reflect racial equity.

“We need to make sure that the people that we appoint to this board reflect the people who they are going to be representing and protecting,” she said.

She wouldn’t directly address whether she’d try again on Gray and Milton, saying only, “I'm committed to working with the board to see what we can do to move forward.”

On other topics:

  • Jones’ administration continues working to streamline 911 calls and on a diversion program to include social workers in officer responses. “I am committed to trying to fix our 911 system and make sure that people get the response that they need from city services,” she said.
  • Aldermen recently passed Board Bill 184, which would allocate $24 million in street and bridge repairs and upgrades. Jones said, “Stay tuned to see if I sign it.”
  • The city and the Missouri Department of Transportation recently issued eviction notices to at least four homeless encampments. Jones said there are enough shelter beds available to accommodate the 25 or so people living in the encampments. 
  • Jones did not give an exact date when recycling services would return to city alleys but gave her word it would resume citywide sometime in May. “You can take that to the bank,” she said.

Rachel Lippmann contributed to this story.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.