Friday, July 21, 2006

Defining St. Louis

-Just what is, and where is, St. Louis? Is it defined by the boundaries of the city proper? I don't think anyone really believes Mayor Francis Slay's domain is all there is to St. Louis. Is it everything contained in Charlie Dooley's St. Louis county? Is it the twelve or so counties that make up the St. Louis ADI on both sides of the Mississippi? Is it everything within, say, 30 miles of the Arch? I suppose there really isn't a correct answer. But I contend that, even in this age of modern transit and instant communication, beliefs about who lives in St. Louis seem to be very personal and parochial. And, as we media types say, perception is reality. So what is your perception?

Why do I ask? I was listening to an interview on KFNS yesterday when some of my old irritations about the role of the Metro-East as it relates to the entire market were brought to the surface. The host was John Marecek. He was talking to Jeff Cooper of the Alton law firm Simmons-Cooper about the effort being mounted by Cooper and some associates to bring an MLS (pro soccer) team to St. Louis. One of the options the group is considering is to operate in a Metro-East venue. They say they could operate on either side of the river, depending on where they can get public or private financing to build a stadium.

Marecek made a statement while asking a question of Cooper when he said..."I would think you'd have to locate on the Missouri side of the river to be successful, right?" His statement was loud and clear...and unfortunately is part of the problem that has existed for as long as I can remember...because a river runs through our metropolitan area. Marecek might as well have said..."The Missouri part of the market is more important in every way than the Illinois you wouldn't want to handicap yourself by aligining your team with a place where Missouri people don't want to go, do you?" I'm not saying Marecek was being mean-spirited. He just apparently holds the same unchallenged attitude many who have lived and worked in Missouri all their lives seem to have.

By the way, Cooper answered by saying that his group had done numerous marketing studies that indicate the public would support the team in a successful manner no matter which side of the river is called home base. So they believe some of these old-line perceptions may be finally changing. It's just a bridge. We in Illinois cross them all the time. No big deal.

There can be no argument that, at this point in time, the Missouri portion of our metro area has more of everything...people, business, entertainment opportunities, restaurants, shopping areas, sports venues, etc. But, does that mean that anything in the Illinois portion should be thought of as inferior, or of lesser quality? Does it mean that a business venture such as a sports franchise couldn't possibly survive in Illinois? (My Gateway Grizzlies are leading the Frontier league in attendance with a good percentage of regular customers coming from South County.)Remember, the Cardinals toyed with the idea of building New Busch in Illinois for a while. Or was that just part of the bargaining game? Anyway, I can't tell you, as a life-long resident of the Metro-East, how irritated I get with the condescending attitude that many Missouri people casually display toward anything east of the river. " live in Illinois? Why would you do that? That's just slums and topless bars..right?"

I've had discussions with some of my co-workers and friends in radio over the years about the use of the phrase..."over there" or "on the other side of the river" or "over in Illinois". Why are they necessary? Can't we somehow understand that we're all part of the same metro area? What makes Illinois..."over there" and not Missouri? What makes Illinois..."the other side" and not Missouri? When I go to the other side of the river from where I live it's to Missouri. If I had my way, I'd take several Metro-East counties and annex them to Missouri. Or we'd certainly welcome some Missouri counties into Illinois. We'd surely get more done that way. (Look at the current squabble over building a new bridge for example.)

Over the next ten years, some of these perceptions of the Metro-East will undoubtedly have to change. There are cities that are exploding with new development and population...Edwardsville, Belleville, O'Fallon, Columbia, Waterloo, Glen Carbon and Fairview Heights to name a few. Why? The Missouri part of the market has expanded about as far as it logically can. Will people want to live farther out than O'Fallon, Wildwood, Eureka, etc. and still want to come downtown to do business, or go to a ballgame? Most places in the Metro-East are just a few minutes from the arch. O'Fallon, Missouri is a good hour. Yes, we have to cross a bridge to get to Missouri. But, as I said, it's just a road over some water. No big deal. So, the developers, and entrepreneurs are looking at Illinois.

And, that's to say nothing of the impending commercial and industrial explosion of development planned for the I-255 North/South corridor. My friends Rich Sauget, Congressman Jerry Costello, and State Representative Tom Holbrook could tell you about how I-255 is going to become a commercial/industrial monster over the next ten years. Several enormous developments are already in the works with infrastructure to handle it already being planned.

I contend that we are all living in St. long as it is loosely defined. While in the Army, I always told others that I was from St. Louis. On my recent vacation, when people asked, I said the same thing. It's easier. And it's how I feel. I have always thought of my home as St. Louis even though I live in one of the many suburbs that happens to be in Illinois. I would bet that 95% of those who live in the Illinois portion of the metro area would tell you the same thing. Are we any less St. Louisans than someone who lives in Kirkwood, Fenton, Florissant, or Chesterfield? If you live in one of those burbs, do you think Illinois residents are St. Louisans?

The river, being in different states, the bridges, but mostly slow-to-change and misguided attitudes continue to define and divide us. All of us who go to Cardinals, Rams, and Blues games support the same team. Why can't we all be St. Louisans? The phrase "over in...." should be used when referring to France.

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