When Mayor Herb Adams began talking about a new comprehensive plan four years ago — and began setting aside money in each annual budget to hire a professional to write one — he was focused on the future.
He said we needed to look at best practices in modern land planning to determine what would be good for Pacific in the next five, 10 and 20 years.
The world is going to pass us by, he said, if we don’t figure out how to get this right.
The questions seemed to focus on what and where. What would we build and where would we build it? Where would new industrial parks, retail malls and subdivisions be located? And what are the best practices to make sure they’re built to last?
We’ve already been there.
This tendency to concentrate on which neighboring territories to coax into our city limits or tell developers how to build a modern subdivision that can serve the future, begs the question. What about what we have right now?
We are a 170-year-old city with two old shopping districts — downtown and East Osage. As old downtowns go, St. Louis Street is in pretty good condition. Some of those 1870s buildings look better now than they did in 1930s photographs. And we are about to ask East Osage property owners to pass a community improvement district (CID) so we can use sales tax money to dress up that end of town.
A pair of savvy entrepreneurs have just opened the Pacific Brew Haus, the second-generation trendy eatery, in one of our most historic structures, the McHugh-Dailey Building. If you haven’t been there yet, it’s worth a visit. The place is buzzing and the food is great.
But I have to tell you . . . what our city is crying out for is a plan for our old neighborhoods. It’s all well and good to put up signs urging property owners to clean up, fix up. But until there’s a campaign to bring small businesses back into the old town and persuade residents to shop there, some areas of the city wither on the proverbial vine.
There’s a vacant lot on the north side of East St. Louis Street where the old hotel used to be. What would it take to turn it into off-street parking for downtown visitors? What would it take to paint a mural, like the historic scenes on scores of buildings in Cuba, Mo., depicting St. Louis Street in an earlier day.
We used to think about these things. Among the papers in the Meramec Valley Genealogical and Historical Society archive in our new city hall office are several unpublished local histories written by people who grew up here.
In “Downtown When I Was a Boy,” Don Brocato describes every business on St. Louis Street in the 1930s and 1940s. He drew a little sketch of where the businesses sat, snugged against each other, from corner to corner.
When softball coach Linda Wells spoke at the Kiwanis Prayer Breakfast a couple of years ago, she wrote a personal history of growing up here, describing the houses with their gardens that she walked past to the Little League field on her way to national fame. She remembered what everything looked like.
In the minutes of the former Garden Club, there’s a story of the members of the club making a trip to the Missouri Pacific headquarters in downtown St. Louis to persuade railroad officials to clean up the area around the old depot. These were the ladies who talked the city fathers into creating zoning districts. This was the first master plan and it came from the desire of a group of volunteers whose hobby was planting flowers in public places.
So what do we think now? Have Pacific residents stopped thinking that Pacific is a great place to grow up, a good place to buy groceries, a place where someone can open a small family business and make a living?
If we haven’t given up on our community, we need to get thinking about, not only encouraging people to start new businesses, but how local businesses that are already here are faring.
When I first started writing this column, I didn’t intend it to sound this preachy. My initial goal was to encourage people to get involved in planning for the future by focusing on what we have now. That’s still my goal, but I think this has evolved into a “let’s get cracking” theme rather than just urging readers to think about it.
We need to shop at home, folks. We need to talk to everyone we know about our favorite local establishments. We need to invite friends, family and, yes, tourists, to attend our outdoor events, visit our resale district, our florist-gift shop, our family hardware store, our builder-oriented lumberyard and our new brew house.
No matter how much we admire Mr. Streiler, and the mayor says he has absolute confidence in the plan writer, he’s not going to revitalize the old neighborhood all by himself. Like Velma Kelly in Chicago trying to persuade Roxy Hart to join her in a duet song-and-dance act, Mr. Streiler simply cannot do this alone. We have to revitalize our own community.
And we can begin by believing — not only that it’s our job but that it’s possible. So let’s get cracking.
Pauline Masson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 314-805-9800.