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St. Charles hopes its Riverwalk project will rival St. Louis’ top attractions

Pictured: Bridge over the river near St. Charles. The foreground pictures yellow wildflowers.
Anatha Vaidyanathan
The St. Charles riverfront is scheduled to see drastic changes over the coming years.

St. Charles is putting in big money on a project that they hope will revamp the city. Officials say they want the historic city on the Missouri River to be one of the first things people think of when they think of the St. Louis region — right up there with the Arch, the Cardinals and the St. Louis Zoo.

Mayor Dan Borgmeyer has been spearheading the Riverwalk project. Officials hope the development will revitalize the riverfront in the city. Residents and visitors will be able to walk through different “boroughs,” eat at high-end restaurants, kayak on a man-made lake and more. The borough that they’re in the process of developing now is Riverpointe, a restaurant and entertainment district with a $350 million price tag.

“I took a good look at the city where I was born and raised,” Borgmeyer said. “And we're landlocked. St. Peters and O'Fallon years ago were aggressive enough to annex a lot of land around us. So the only opportunity that I could see for development was the riverfront.”

Borgmeyer said he hopes to attract both tourists and new residents to the city — and a younger crowd.

“Our average age here is almost 50. So I needed something to attract millennials. I needed something to attract growth.”

Each of Riverwalk’s six boroughs will have a different “vibe,” Borgmeyer said. He drew on different places he’d traveled to earlier in his career as inspiration.

“I was on an airplane four days a week for 20 years. I flew all over the United States, a different city every day,” he said. “So the advantage I had coming in was kind of been there, done that, saw that.”

He added that while St. Charles already has a great historic district, people come to see it for a day, then leave. He’s hoping that with a project like the Riverwalk, people will come and stay for longer to see all aspects of it.

Listen: Mayor Dan Borgmeyer on Riverwalk project

In planning the project, Borgmeyer has taken any inconveniences in stride. He said he didn’t bother with government funding — the project is being funded by investors.

“This is private-sector money. These are investors who are coming in based upon return on investment. So they have skin in the game, they have a reason to see things go and remodel.”

One of the biggest areas of pushback has been plans for Bangert Island. While the island is protected wetlands, developers will be clearing a nearby slough and turning it into a small lake for kayaking. Activists want to protect what they say is a home to wildlife and essential floodplain. But Borgmeyer has a different view on the area.

“My contention is, that slough is full of baby carriages and old tires and swing sets and stuff that came down to the river during flooding, and basically blocked the slough, which then filled it with silt,” he said. “So I don't know. Nobody's identified a rare species or anything else in there yet, it's just a natural preserve.”

And, though many people living on the riverfront were willing to move to make room for the project, the city has encountered one family that doesn’t want to go. Borgmeyer said he recently met with the person and heard him out.

“I had a very nice visit about what his concerns were — some of his concerns were the wetland and things like that. And some were family legacy and the fact that he's the last person down there,” he said. “But we had a very good amenable talk because I said, ‘We're not going to take your property by eminent domain, we're not going to dry it out.’”

Borgmeyer added: “It's probably an opportunity that his family will never have again for generations. So that's the decision they're weighing right now. And we will respect that.”

Borgmeyer is optimistic about the effects the Riverwalk will have on the city — and, he’s got some businesses coming in that he knows will get people excited. Recently the city announced the arrival of Chicken N Pickle — a fried chicken restaurant with pickleball courts. But he’s happy to showcase what people already love about St. Charles, too.

“We're trying not to cannibalize the Streets of St. Charles. It's very successful,” he said. “We don't want people just moving across the street.”

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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