Watson Road as a Thriving Destination
At Starbucks one morning Michael Peters and I hovered over a small table in the corner, our drinks clutched tightly in our hands as we discussed politics and his run for State Representative of the 91st District this year.
Since Crestwood Mall’s decline and official closing in 2013, things have changed in the areas of Crestwood, Lindbergh, and Webster Groves. Tax revenue from retail has declined substantially, property taxes have increased, and it’s hurt...tourism? I was surprised to learn that Route 66 is still a huge draw for tourists as far away as Europe, and although Watson Road was once the heart of this cultural attraction, we no longer have much to offer these travelers.
Michael Peters believes there’s a solution. “I want to talk to the Mayor of Webster about marketing the Watson Corridor as the heart of Route 66. I was amazed to discover that tourists spent over 4 billion in St. Louis last year and 22 million came from Europeans and Canadians. One of the real reasons they come here is for Route 66, but people just drive past us! We really lost our identity, so we need to brand ourselves.”
More than just the marketing, there are many small things that can be done to increase tourism and sales in the district, for example removing the concrete lane dividers on Watson Road. “Those dividers on the road, they encourage the subliminal mindset to keep driving.” Michael has even asked an employee at the Harley store if someone could be trained in half a day to ride a motorcycle. This would be a major draw for tourists because they could rent a Harley and drive from Ted Drewes to Mile 277.
The Elderly Could Lose Their Homes?
Most people are busy going about their lives when Michael shows up on their doorstep. Usually they take a flyer, thank him, and go back to their routine. But the older members of the community are concerned and will engage him with questions about how to fix the problem of rising taxes.
As the lights slowly went out in Crestwood Mall, the property taxes for many homeowners in the district increased. For Michael, that has meant a $1,000 bump in annual taxes. For seniors on a fixed income a $1,000 a year increase is unthinkable and this change is close to driving some long-time residents from their homes. Tapping his cup on the table for emphasis, he explained “If we can raise retail, they won’t have to worry about rising property taxes because our school funding can come from businesses rather than homes.”
When I asked Michael how he would legislate some of the changes we had discussed, he told me that 2.5% of Missouri’s budget goes to economic development, and he would attempt to increase that. “If you can promote jobs, you can build a community.” While he doesn’t want to take money away from education (30% of the budget) or medicare (33%), more tax revenue from economic development projects will mean lower property taxes and larger budgets for both of these in the future.
The Failure of Education
Statistically less than 50% of college graduates find a job in their field after graduation, so… “we need to take a hard look at what kind of degrees are being offered.” Michael is hoping to be assigned to an education committee, if elected, so he can begin affecting change.
First and foremost, he says we need to make sure public schools are making students career-ready. Michael wants to see young adults go to college with their first years worth of credits already under their belt. Before they even arrive on campus they would have a basic foundation in fields like healthcare, data, or business management.
His education agenda in a nutshell: “If we can get education with a career focus, young adults won’t be moving back home with mom and dad, they’ll be getting jobs and moving out. And so to start this, you must have a vision, what to do with business, education, and people and you have to put those three together and so that is my goal.”
His Favorite Thing About St. Louis
“The whole thing is that St. Louis is not a city, it is an overgrown town. It is a patch quilt of communities. You take the 3 communities that make up the 91st district… Shrewsbury, Webster and Crestwood, they're very much alike but they are also different. I live in Crestwood, I’m pastor of a church in Webster, and my brother lives in Shrewsbury. They are all different but they are very much alike, when you go all around St. Louis and have that… that’s really the strength of St. Louis. And we have that in our heritage, as well. You have that in The Hill, the Italian Section, you’ve got Dogtown, the World’s Fair stuff. That’s what I like about St. Louis.”
While Michael likes our patchwork of communities here, he’s comfortable saying that the 91st District takes the cake. “These are the best communities in St. Louis. I’m biased on that, but they are.”