The Aerotropolis project has elicited debate from the start. But while it began as a big picture back-and-forth on the overall legitimacy of the idea (as well as whether it is worth the cuts to low-income housing and historic preservation programs), it has recently evolved into a complicated discussion rooted in wonky policy talk-- from whether Aerotropolis should happen to how exactly it should be done.
So in this week's edition of Of the People, we went to John D. McGurk's Irish Pub & Garden to hear what the people thought.
An Irish band had just taken a break from their set and the eyes of most patrons were glued to the Cardinals' comeback, which played on the television screens mounted above the bar. The boys in red were finishing up a six-run seventh inning to surge ahead of the Mets. St. Louis pride was thickening throughout the room.
Perhaps that played a part in the consensus over the merits of Aerotropolis. The patrons around the bar mostly thought that turning Lambert Airport into an international cargo hub is a good idea that will potentially boost the local economy. But, like the legislators in Jefferson City, there was disagreement over how much in taxpayer dollars should be dedicated to the project.
Matt Manley, a police officer, believed that much of the $360 million in tax credits in the original bill to spur the building of warehouses and factories near the airport is more politically than economically beneficial.
"I'm strongly opposed to it," he said. "There's already sufficient factory space available to house the cargo. I think it's pork for the politicians."
This echoes the argument made by a group of state Senators, such as Cape Girardeau's Jason Crowell, who pushed an altered bill that chopped $300 million off the original tax credit package, which they claimed would give the state too much power in determining who could develop the land around the airport. Without the tax breaks, they noted, warehouses and factories would have to compete under the existing economic development programs.
"I think the state legislators are correct in cutting it down to size," said Manley.
Mayor Francis Slay and the state legislators who supported the original bill have pointed out that the tax credits would only be awarded once the warehouses and factories create jobs and hold cargo. And the jobs and cargo only come once the infrastructure is in place. So the tax credits, they have argued, serve as an important lure to jumpstart the necessary development.
Larry Mitchel, a salesman, was in favor of the package in the original bill, because he believed the state needs to give Aerotropolis the best possible chance to succeed. St. Louis, he said, cannot pass up the chance to have an international cargo hub.
"We were beat to the railroads by Chicago because we were slow and hesitant," he said. "Let's not make the same mistake twice. Is it possible there might be some pay-for-play going on with developers and politicians? Is it possible we might not need all those tax payer dollars for this thing to work? Yeah, sure. But I think it's worth the effort. We need those jobs."
A few other patrons repeated Mitchel's general sentiment.
"I'm all for whatever they need to do," said one woman who didn't want to give her name. "I need a job. They just need to make this happen. What are they doing over there anyway?"