The shuttle buses were working overtime in Earth City on a rainy night last month, ferrying passengers to an invitation-only party at the Rams Park training facility. At the entrance, volunteers handed out ticket stubs for a door-prize drawing; inside, hungry guests piled on free helpings of barbecue, baked beans and potatoes. On big display tables lay reams of handouts and stacks of brochures. The celebration marked the midway point of St. Louis 2004 -- the big civic do-gooder organization launched in 1996 -- and as 700 people milled about on the Astroturf, the mood was cheery, upbeat and congratulatory.
Invitations played on every sports cliché, capitalizing on the location of the party: "Go 2004 Team! Come celebrate the Big Plays and view the playbook for taking us into the end zone. Tailgate with BBQ and the Fabulous Motown Revue. Play wide receiver and take a Rams Park tour. Visit the Initiative booths and see progress happening region-wide. Come cheer the whole 2004 team!"
And, in case some guests didn't know exactly why they were there or what they were celebrating, there were plenty of cheerleaders to chase away any doubts or misgivings. St. Louis 2004 really was much more than talk; St. Louis 2004 really had accomplished important things. As radio personality and event emcee Nan Wyatt told guests, "You all wouldn't be here tonight if nothing had been done, if this had evaporated into nothing but talk." To reinforce the point, guests watched a slick video that touted more than a dozen of St. Louis 2004's good deeds -- including a program for teens in the small suburb of Jennings, an advertising campaign promoting access to health care and a tax to support regional parks.
If those accomplishments seemed like small potatoes, be assured the best is yet to come. As St. Louis 2004 chairman John Danforth told the crowd, the region is still on track for a resurgence. "In three years, we will accomplish a revival. We, not some group called St. Louis 2004. We, the 2-and-a-half million people of the region."
By the time the former Republican U.S. senator was finished, the audience was on its feet, cheering. But they hadn't heard the whole story.
Ever since banker Andy Craig accepted his "Man of the Year" award five years ago, St. Louisans have been exhorted to "Think 2004" -- to imagine the possibility of turning around the fortunes of a sagging second-tier city and making it a place where people want to be.
In his acceptance speech, Craig said St. Louis ought to use the landmark year 2004 -- the centennial anniversary of the 1904 World's Fair and the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition -- as a reason to celebrate its history and its future. St. Louisans, Craig said, needed to host world-class events in 2004 -- "a Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four and the baseball All-Star Game" -- and create "our own events in the cultural and performing arts." Now was the time to push forward with such ambitious plans as renovating Forest Park, expanding Lambert Field and extending the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial into Illinois.
"The point," Craig said, reading from a speech penned by public-relations exec Al Kerth, "is to let the imaginations run free."
Of course, some of the imagining had already been accomplished, Craig revealed. He and Kerth and others had quietly formed an independent, nonprofit organization, St. Louis 2004, to serve as the catalyst for change. And though Craig would, months later, deliver St. Louis-based Boatmen's Bancshares Inc. to acquisition-hungry NationsBank, there were plenty of local movers and shakers willing to sign on and write checks. Among the cast of prominent St. Louisans who would later rally to the cause were University of Missouri-St. Louis Chancellor Blanche Touhill, BJC Health System president Fred Brown and Missouri Botanical Garden director Peter Raven. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch weighed in with its editorial blessing, calling St. Louis 2004 "an intriguing idea," and Danforth, who'd returned to St. Louis from Washington, D.C., a year earlier, after three terms in the Senate, agreed to join the organization as its unpaid chairman.
Danforth signed on at the invitation of Craig, Kerth and Walter Metcalfe, senior partner at the Bryan Cave law firm. Getting him was a coup -- not only did the ex-senator bring political experience, but as a member of the city's largest philanthropy and heir to the Ralston Purina fortune, he was in a position to help with funding. And for St. Louis 2004's ambitious agenda, money would be critical. In its inaugural year, the nonprofit attracted nearly $1.5 million in contributions, and the donations would continue to grow. In 1997, the nonprofit was well established in its offices on the twelfth floor of the Metropolitan Square Building downtown, and its highly paid staff -- its top six employees earned $100,000 a year or more -- was operating with an annual budget of nearly $3 million.
With those resources, St. Louis 2004 organized more than 100 community meetings -- dubbed "visioning sessions" -- to ask residents of the region what they liked about St. Louis and what they would change. From those meetings, St. Louis 2004 launched six "action teams" and dozens more task forces to come up with ideas and ways to achieve them. And from those teams and task forces, St. Louis 2004 distilled an action plan that Danforth described as "the beginning of the most dramatic revival St. Louis has ever seen."
The plan announced by Danforth on March 10, 1998, comprised 11 major initiatives. They included revitalizing downtown and renewing neighborhoods, providing safe places for kids after school, creating a vast system of interlinking parks and developing a health-insurance system for the near-poor that would "become a national model." Danforth spoke of a "real revival" that would infuse spirit into the region and spur its 2.5 million residents to bring about change.
"Here is what St. Louis will become," Danforth vowed. "We will become the leading region of America in the 21st century. We will become a place that excels in creating opportunities for our people, that develops the industries of the future, that nurtures our youth, that attracts the best and the brightest young adults, that enriches our lifestyle and that overcomes the barriers that divide us. We will become the leading region of the 21st century because we love this place and we will accept nothing else."
Today, three years away from the big year, a close look reveals that, despite the self-congratulation, St. Louis 2004 has compiled only a modest record of accomplishment, and many of the achievements for which it takes credit would have occurred with no help from the organization. Other ambitious initiatives have fallen far short of the goals St. Louis 2004 set for itself. Even announcements about what types of events will constitute the "big community celebration" have been slow in coming, though it is already clear that 2004 in St. Louis will not include the Super Bowl, the Final Four or the All-Star Game.
Few observers or participants are willing to publicly criticize the nonprofit's work to date, given its connections to many of the region's most powerful people and its ties to the deep pockets of the Danforth Foundation, which has heavily funded several 2004 initiatives. But privately they say that despite all the horn-tooting on its own behalf, it's clear St. Louis 2004 won't come close to boldly changing the face of the region in the way it vowed to do five years ago. Instead, it is shaping up to be just another well-meaning nonprofit organization in an already crowded field, one that has consumed massive sums of money. It is on pace to spend more than $20 million, all but about $200,000 of it so far on staff and administrative expenses, before it is slated to dissolve in December 2004.
St. Louis 2004 appears to be devolving into exactly what Danforth described as his worst fear. "I have thought right from the beginning that we should de-emphasize 2004 as an organization," Danforth says. "There is an organization because there has to be a staff to make sure there is follow-through on whatever. But I have always stressed this is a movement, not a group, and I've always flinched at press reports that referred to 2004 as a group, because if that's what 2004 is, just another group, then it's pointless. And it's not only pointless," Danforth says, "it's almost part of the problem, rather than the solution."
From the start, St. Louis 2004 set out to think big. In its fact sheets and fliers, it described itself as a "dream for a better future that will enhance the quality of life for every man, woman and child in the St. Louis region."
Its action plan, released in 1998, set out to tackle some of the metropolitan area's stickiest problems -- from fighting racism and discrimination, combating gang violence and strengthening opportunities for minorities and women to creating a thriving downtown and making the central riverfront the Midwest's "greatest tourist attraction." It set out to ensure that "every child" had a safe place to go after school and create a self-funded program to help low-income residents purchase affordable health insurance.
Perhaps the organization's greatest success to date has been the Gateway Parks and Trails 2004 project, which grew out of a 2004 task force in 1997. A nonprofit dedicated to the issue was spun off by 2004 in 1999 and pushed successfully for legislation in both Missouri and Illinois allowing for the creation of metropolitan parks districts. In November 2000, voters in three Missouri counties and in two of four Illinois counties approved Proposition C, an initiative that created districts on either side of the river and provides for a one-10th-cent sales tax to fund parks and recreation areas, generating an estimated $20 million annually on the Missouri side alone.
St. Louis 2004 is also credited with helping to successfully lobby for $3 million in state tax credits, which in turn leveraged $6 million in capital from Firstar Bank and Bank of America for a land-development fund that ultimately could be used to assemble large parcels of land for redevelopment in Wellston or along the north riverfront. And its Team St. Louis initiative has helped bring together smaller successes and get them publicity, such as the Home Team, a program in which two former Rams football players helped two low-income families buy, renovate and furnish homes in the Emerson Park area.
But some initiatives have been far less successful. Even Danforth acknowledges his own frustration with Downtown Now! -- another new nonprofit with close ties to St. Louis 2004 -- and its revitalization efforts, from the slow pace of work on the $17 million Washington Avenue streetscape project to little, if any, progress in the Old Post Office district. A proposal for a tax increase to fund infrastructure improvements downtown, pushed for by St. Louis 2004, also languished in the Missouri Legislature last year.
Achievements on other projects have been modest, at best, and some sweeping goals have been scaled back.
In 1998, St. Louis 2004's action plan called for bold changes in health care through the creation of a program to help the uninsured obtain insurance coverage. Under the program, estimated to cost $268 million over five years, some 105,000 people would be eligible for coverage. The 2004 action plan said implementation was slated to begin in 1998 with a bidding process, followed by enrollment in the fall of 1999. It never happened.
Instead, St. Louis 2004 helped create another nonprofit, called the Access to Health Partnership. Dan Body, the executive director of the new group, says it is "working to support some of the efforts already under way, such as a group that is looking to create a regional health authority" -- an Indigent Health Committee formed to assist the city's failing ConnectCare program. Body says AHP has so far "initiated a number of studies to help quantify the problem and to understand, aside from the lack of coverage, what are some of the other barriers to health care. Some of those studies are in the process of being concluded." In other words, St. Louis 2004 studied the problem and launched a new nonprofit that is studying the problem.
Its one concrete accomplishment, touted by St. Louis 2004 in its literature and videos, is AHP's partnering with the quasi-governmental entity Area Resources for Community and Human Services -- known as ARCHS -- on an advertising campaign to help promote the state's MC-Plus for Kids health-care program. It consisted of signs on Bi-State buses and MetroLink trains. That campaign, ironically, drew criticism from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, which viewed the signs as misleading and inaccurate because the poorest children actually qualify for a program referred to simply as "MC Plus" and confusion stemming from the "MC Plus for Kids" name caused some state workers to mistakenly turn away qualified families.
Citizens for Missouri's Children, a nonprofit advocacy group, concluded that the ad campaign wasn't very successful, either, after health-policy analyst Joe Squillace reviewed data from the state's phone centers, in which anyone calling to inquire about the health plan was asked how they learned of it: school, work, a social-service provider, TV, newspaper advertisements and so on. State workers dutifully recorded the responses, and the bus and MetroLink signs fell into a category of "other." From April-July 2000, Squillace found, only 12 such calls were registered in the St. Louis metro area, a paltry number for such a highly touted ad campaign.
In its Safe Places for Kids initiative, St. Louis 2004 in 1998 set a goal of providing quality after-school programs for every child in the region, starting with three "demonstration" areas in 1998 and followed by another three in 1999. According to 2004, the areas would be models to the rest of the community and fill existing gaps in care. But the first actual programs for children after school materialized only recently. St. Louis for Kids, the nonprofit that is implementing the safe-kids initiative, awarded an $8,000 grant to the city of Jennings for a teen program that began in January and hosts movie nights, dances, karaoke and other activities; a $46,000 grant to three faith-based organizations in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood to add 80 slots to their after-school programs this summer; and a grant to the Taproots School of the Arts to serve 30 fourth- and fifth-graders from two city schools. Given those numbers, 2004 remains a long way from assuring quality after-school programs for every child in the region.
Other projects envisioned by St. Louis 2004 have had a tough time getting off the ground. One, which actually grew out of the papal visit in January 1999, was called Faith Beyond Walls. A project of the Interfaith Partnership and the Clergy Coalition, it was viewed as a way to bring volunteers of different denominations together to achieve common neighborhood goals. Despite the help of 2004, it has been incredibly slow to materialize. "We had a long planning process," says Rabbi Mark Shook. "We were mainly seeking a mission, and it took us a while to get all the components of this together. It has not been easy."
St. Louis 2004's Regional Report Card Initiative was aimed at measuring the region's progress on such quality-of-life areas as racial equality, children's preparation for life, citizen safety and health, economic security and opportunity. A six-month planning effort was convened by 2004 in 1998, and the steering committee's report was published in January 1999. But an actual "report card" has yet to be issued. The executive director, Barb Grothe, wasn't hired until the summer of 2000, and although her project, renamed RegionWise, has gathered baseline benchmarks, it still needs to go out into the community to get input on target benchmarks. The first report card, she says, "is easily a year, maybe a year-and-a-half away."
Some initiatives likely would have come to fruition even if St. Louis 2004 had never existed.
That includes Ceasefire, a joint effort of the U.S. Attorneys in Missouri and Illinois, modeled on the Boston Gun Project, that has sought to reduce gang activity and youth crime. Part of Ceasefire has paired police officers and probation officers to do curfew checks at night on high-risk juveniles, and since it began a year ago, compliance (the number of youths actually home when the check is conducted) has soared from 40 to 96 percent. Patricia Roland, director of Ceasefire, credits outgoing U.S. Attorney Audrey Fleissig with spearheading the effort. "We were working outside of ," she says, "but I have made some connections through them that have been pretty helpful."
Likewise, Success by 6, part of St. Louis 2004's "Families and Learning Initiative," was a United Way program before 2004 came along, aimed at finding ways to better prepare children for school. Success by 6 director Judie Johnson-Hawkins says it would have existed anyway but that work by 2004 action teams "helped target" where the Danforth Foundation would spend its resources -- and that meant $3 million in Danforth funds for the Success by 6 program. It is looking at ways to improve child-care quality, training and information available to parents. Johnson-Hawkins says St. Louis 2004 "provides support to us in terms of how do we get our message out."
What had initially captured so much attention for St. Louis 2004 -- the idea of a big, splashy yearlong party for the St. Louis metro area -- has faded into the background. The 2004 celebration remains very much a mystery, though two sporting events, an NCAA regional and the U.S. Senior Open Golf Championship, are scheduled. In its 2000 annual report and on its Web site, St. Louis 2004 says that its "celebration team" would have plans for the big 2004 shindig finalized -- in the year 2000.
Asked about the apparent delay, St. Louis 2004 president Peter Sortino says it's "premature" to announce anything about any celebration: "We want to present things when they are real, in terms of being a well-funded, well-thought-out plan that we are ready to execute. We want to say what will happen in 2004, not what might happen.... In order to prepare for these events and get them in motion, we're probably looking at 12 months."
That sort of delay seems emblematic of the organization. Although progress on many of the current 13 initiatives is difficult to quantify -- such as the tangible impact of a "Technology Gateway Alliance" intended to "advance the region's technology-based community" or a business diversity initiative that brings together "diversity officers" from 60 companies to exchange ideas. In some cases, it is also difficult to differentiate which projects publicized as 2004 efforts likely would have happened anyway, driven by such existing organizations as ARCHS, the Regional Chamber and Growth Association, the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance and the St. Louis Minority Business Council, among others. So far, though, the scorecard on most of the more measurable 2004 projects is less than stellar, such as the health-insurance plan that was abandoned, the flagging downtown-revitalization effort and the after-school program that is already years behind schedule.
After its inception in 1996, St. Louis 2004 was able to raise millions in private donations to fund the organization. The biggest donor was the Danforth Foundation, which gave $1.9 million in 1997 and pledged to give the group at least $1 million a year. Among the dozens of other donors were Civic Progress; large corporations such as Anheuser-Busch, A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc., Maritz and Ralston Purina; and foundations such as the Boeing-McDonnell Foundation and the Mercantile Foundation.
The Danforth Foundation, generous in supporting 2004, has been equally supportive in funding many of the initiatives under the 2004 umbrella. The foundation, whose board of trustees includes the former senator, had total assets of more than $400 million in 1999. And as St. Louis 2004 has evolved, the foundation has shifted its criteria from educational programs nationwide to programs in the St. Louis region alone. In its 1998 fiscal year, it gave away nearly $32 million in grants. In addition to the $3 million for Success by 6, it has pledged $2.3 million to St. Louis for Kids and $3.5 million to the Regional Report Card Initiative, called RegionWise -- all of them 2004 projects.
St. Louis 2004 described itself as a "public benefit corporation" formed to be a "catalyst to revitalize the St. Louis region by 2004" by bringing together the region's residents and organizations to decide where to apply "focus, energy and cooperation to make the St. Louis region a recognized leader in the 21st century."
At its peak, the staff grew to about 20 people, including a president and five vice presidents all earning at least $100,000 a year. The high salaries have been defended by the 2004 organization as necessary to attract top-notch talent. And when the group's president, JoAnne LaSala, a former city budget director who worked as an aide to two mayors before joining Fleishman-Hillard as an executive, left the organization in January 2000, she was earning $200,000 a year. LaSala declined to be interviewed for this article.
During the four-year period from 1996-1999, St. Louis 2004 spent nearly $9.8 million -- the lion's share on salaries and other administrative costs such as professional fundraising fees, legal fees, printing fees associated with its 40,000-circulation newsletter and the costs of occupying its downtown offices. In 1999, St. Louis 2004 spent nearly $3.3 million, according to its most recent tax return. By the end of that year, it still had assets of $4.3 million. At that pace, the organization could spend as much as $24 million before it dissolves.
Sortino, LaSala's successor, joined St. Louis 2004 as a vice president in 1997 after working for years as a lobbyist for the St. Louis mayor's office. He says 2004 was never about carrying out the actual work but about being a catalyst, a "facilitator" that would help identify problems, put together partnerships and assist "implementing entities," whose job would then be to carry out the work identified in the action plans.
"Our job is not to do the projects ourselves but to nurture them and put the partnerships together to get them done," Sortino says. Over time, he says, 2004's work has shifted from spearheading a community-engagement process and developing the action plan to finding permanent homes that could carry out the work and now, he says, focusing on such areas as intergovernmental affairs, seeking out new sources of funding and "communications support" -- for instance, its monthly newsletter, which is distributed from 600 outlets. With the changing focus, its staff has shrunk to about 11, Sortino says, and its budget was "a little less" in 2000 than in 1999, though official tax returns have not yet been filed.
From the group's inception, Danforth and others in St. Louis 2004 have vowed that the group would be officially dissolved as an entity, both to set a definitive goal and so as not to threaten and compete for resources against existing nonprofits.
"We started off as an organization that said, 'We're not going to be around forever,' and we started out with the goal of going out of business and shrinking over time, because we will have been successful in finding permanent homes for these programs," Sortino says. "We've lived up to the shrinking, we've lived up to saying we're not going to be around forever and we're working with each of these implementing entities to be sure they will be in existence long after 2004."
One question that may remain after 2004, given that it will have spent an estimated $20 million-$24 million by that time, is this: Was 2004, the organization, worth that amount of resources? And might it have been better spent elsewhere?
St. Louis 2004 board member Jean Neal, who is also the chief executive officer of the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center, acknowledges this is a great deal of money but says that it is too soon to tell. "I think it would be unfair to attempt to measure it based on cost at this point," she says. "There are some results in progress, but those results have not been out long enough to really measure their effectiveness. If, in fact, neighborhoods are transformed, based on what was developed by 2004, and neighborhoods are changed, cleaned up, safer, it would not be hard to say the amount of dollars that went into development, planning and implementation were worth it."
Kathryn Nelson, another 2004 board member and former program director of the Danforth Foundation, believes it's been worth the money -- and she believes it wouldn't have otherwise been spent on the projects identified by 2004. "That kind of money will buy a lot of stuff," she concedes. "It can buy a building that you can put a lot of programs in. But I think it takes more than just money to buy a set of dreams and to buy the energy and even the sniff of success that this project has given the community.... Many people are in St. Louis because they've been left behind, but if they can see improvement, or even the promise of improvement, it can improve the quality of their lives. If we can bring together people in such a way that they can see what they can do when they put their minds to it, that's worth millions."
Sortino, the 2004 president, defends the cost. "Parks and trails alone, over the next 20 years, will generate a half-a-billion dollars for parks-and-recreation improvements at the city level, the county level and, for the first time ever, on a regional level. That's not insignificant," he says. "That's over 20 times more than what was spent [by 2004]."
So far, there has been no formal, systematic means of evaluating the successes and failures of the 2004 initiatives, though the organization does regularly issue newsletters focused on the positive happenings in the various projects and says that as time goes on, it will be easier to measure progress by, for instance, comparing the number of children served by after-school programs before the inception of St. Louis for Kids and how many were served six, 12 or 18 months later.
Danforth says he hopes it has been worth the money: "Insofar as we've spent money in staffing, which is what we've spent money on, and insofar as I've spent my time on it, and it's been a lot of time, I sure hope it's been worthwhile. I think it has been."
Back in 1997, the Peirce Report on St. Louis, a report funded by the Post-Dispatch, RCGA and the William T. Kemper Foundation, examined the region's problems and suggested transforming St. Louis into a sort of "premier laboratory of 21st-century civic experimentation." It suggested that the vehicle to launch that effort -- St. Louis 2004 -- was already in place.
The Peirce Report noted, however, the need for accountability and "maximum public attention" with media coverage highlighting the various projects' successes and failures to "create some real accountability and prevent this from turning into an insider's game." It suggested that a group such as FOCUS St. Louis, a nonprofit that works to foster local leadership, might facilitate that intense scrutiny.
Christine Chadwick, executive director of FOCUS St. Louis, says her organization has not played that role thus far. "The reason we have not, even with this midway report, is, I think they have actually been quite candid about their successes and failures," she says. "If we had sensed it was all fluff and no action, with the kind of resources that have been devoted to this issue, we might have taken on a more assertive role, but we have not felt the need."
For the most part, Chadwick says, the jury is still out: "I think people always like something new, and they are always hopeful that something new will be able to do something that others have not been able to do. I think the lesson here is that the way you make progress is through collaboration and through collaborative issues. What we're really good at in this community is the top-down, and we're not good at meshing the top-down and bottom-up.... Did we need a 2004? I don't know. I think it is premature to judge the success of 2004. I hope in 2004 there will be some stunning success stories we will all feel good about."
Could the millions devoted to 2004 have been better spent elsewhere? Chadwick says she has no answer at this point: "That's a question we'll all have to judge in 2004."
For all its good intentions and lofty ambitions, it is clear that St. Louis 2004 hasn't lived up to the initial hype.
Although it held dozens of forums in the metro area in 1997 to get the thoughts and reactions of ordinary citizens, that type of "citizen engagement" had ended by 1998, when the action team released its plan. FOCUS St. Louis' Chadwick, whose organization partnered with 2004 to host 75 town-hall meetings, says 2004 had originally hoped to continue those types of meetings annually throughout its existence and add to its list priorities but that those plans were shelved in order to concentrate on carrying out the group's initiatives.
"The 2004 issues were very bold, systemic, and they have felt the need to concentrate on success stories within those initiatives," Chadwick says. "Their plate was full, and they've not been able to go back and add to that plate. I don't criticize that." But, she says, as the hundreds of priorities that emerged in those original meetings were winnowed down to about a dozen, and many were left by the wayside, "That's where some of their constituency base got minimized."
Craig Robbins, an organizer with St. Louis ACORN, doesn't believe St. Louis 2004 ever represented the sort of grassroots interests of the low- and middle-income people his group represents. Because of that, he views 2004 as irrelevant: "I don't think ACORN or our membership really knows what 2004 does. Our paths never cross. We don't see 2004 in the neighborhoods. Their agenda is not our agenda. We don't even know who they are. Maybe it's a think tank, but it's not a real organization based in the community with the community's issues at hand."
Joan Botwinick had concerns about 2004 from the beginning. Although the group was described as an opportunity for regular folks to get involved in planning for the area's future, she had to hound St. Louis 2004 to get on one of its committees. She ultimately did, but only after six phone calls, and she knows others who experienced similar problems. Years later, Botwinick wonders what happened to the report that emerged from her committee. And as a volunteer in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood -- one of nine areas in St. Louis 2004's "sustainable neighborhood" initiative -- she suspects that St. Louis 2004 tends to look at progress through rose-colored glasses. She's aware of squabbles and bickering and feelings among low-income people in Forest Park Southeast that their voices were left out of the neighborhood-planning process.
"St. Louis 2004 has encouraged the whole development of the bicycle trails and the metropolitan effort on that, and there have been other things they've taken on," Botwinick says. "They have a lot of good public relations that make people feel better, but when you get right down into what's actually happening, it's not always happening the way they say it's happening. You have to get really involved in the nitty-gritty of neighborhood politics to find out what's happened and not get too influenced by the very good public-relations of 2004."
Barbara Woods, now an associate professor at Harris-Stowe State College, served briefly on a 2004 African-American Advisory Committee in 1997 and had concerns about the organization back then. Ever since, she says, she simply has not seen much, if any, evidence of 2004 at work in the community. "I really didn't pay much attention to what they were doing, because I had no confidence that they were going to be more than a splash," Woods says. "I don't see that group as one that is making a difference."
Woods says it is critical that St. Louis 2004, or any group like it, be accountable for what it has or hasn't accomplished. "One of the criticisms that had been consistently made [about 2004] is that they were just joining other people's initiatives that other people already had under way.... I think it's a fair question to any group, or to any of us: Did you finish it? Did you complete what you set out to do? If you did not, say that; if you cannot, say that -- don't just reformulate yourself."
A lack of accountability, she says, "is one of the reasons St. Louis is not moving forward. We are unwilling to hold ourselves up to accountability so that we can address it, resolve it, and move on."
In the end, St. Louis 2004 is a group that may have promised too much and, as a result, fed the public's cynicism.
Dennis Judd, a former political-science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who watched St. Louis 2004 evolve until he moved to Chicago last fall to teach at the University of Illinois, says big talk followed by a big letdown only fuels existing pessimism about such organizations.
He believes the organization made a huge tactical error by downplaying the celebration aspect of 2004 over time: "I think that St. Louis needed a shot in the arm. It needs civic leadership which steps out front to lead, and that would have been a good occasion -- a celebration of the World's Fair."
In the beginning, he says, St. Louis 2004 "created this impression that there was a community visioning process going on, and that was nice. I went to some meetings myself, and a lot of people turned out and the thing I heard most at those meetings is, 'We are tired of studies; we want action. This community needs action.' And then, after all the fuss, it has all disappeared from public view. That just creates the impression or the appearance that, once again, people made promises that couldn't be kept."
But supporters of the group say there was nothing wrong with thinking big, even if 2004 ultimately falls short.
"St. Louis 2004 did stir up a lot of community involvement and enthusiasm about the possibilities and ways in which we could improve the region for the better for its citizens," says Bob Archibald, director of the Missouri Historical Society and a 2004 board member. "When you start something like this, you think you can solve all problems. The reality is, you can solve some problems. We've taken on some concrete problems and generated citizen dialogue. I think what's come out of this is very positive."
Archibald says 2004 was right to set its goals high. "You don't inspire people with little thoughts," he says. "In any effort like that, you spell out the ideal. No, we haven't managed to provide health-care access to everyone, but it's a topic of conversation, a topic of debate, and we do have some efforts in that direction in terms of ConnectCare. I don't think it was reasonable to think those things would be done by last year or this year."
Then again, if St. Louis 2004 doesn't deliver, its supporters say, it won't be the organization's fault, even though its "community-engagement process" ended years ago. Members of the group say any failure by 2004 will have been a collective one.
"I get the feeling from a number of people who thought 2004 was going to be a big money pot and it was going to open up and solve all our problems," says board member Kathryn Nelson. "What 2004 did was to help us identify what the problems were and find ways to begin to develop solutions. What it says is, this is a community affair. Unless we all put our shoulder to the wheel, there won't be much of a community."
That's Danforth's take on it as well: If St. Louis 2004 falls short, it won't be the fault of St. Louis 2004.
"I think there is a tendency from a lot of people to hope that there is a group, to hope that somebody out there or up there is going to fix stuff for us and therefore we don't have to do anything ourselves than simply make demands and point blame and grouse at people," he says. "That's not what a community is all about. Community is about people doing things and not just delegating that responsibility, and that's been my tagline right from the beginning: St. Louis is not a spectator sport. When people come up to me and say, 'How is 2004 going?' as though there is a group of delegates somewhere doing things, it makes me flinch. I always say, 'What are you doing?'"