ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Port Authority wants to expand its boundaries beyond the 19-mile stretch of heavily-industrialized Mississippi River frontage to cover the entire city limits, a change that would let the port authority use its broad economic development powers anywhere in the city.
Under Missouri law, port authorities have wide discretion to buy and sell property, issue bonds and contract for services in order to advance economic development. St. Louis has mainly used its port to lease property to barge companies and help the industrial firms along the riverfront expand.
"This would enable us to help projects across the whole city," said Susan Taylor, who leads business development for the city port authority.
Of the 14 port authorities in the state, only St. Louis' covers just a portion of its municipal boundaries, she said.
"We've seen other jurisdictions take advantage of it for areas that aren't necessarily adjacent to the river," said St. Louis Development Corp. chief Otis Williams, whose economic development office oversees the port authority.
St. Louis County, for instance, has a port authority that covers its entire geography, not just the portion along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The county has used the port authority for projects well beyond river infrastructure and barge terminals, turning to it to acquire the vacant Jamestown Mall, pay for cleanup after unrest in Ferguson and fund neighborhood development groups and startup businesses.
But the St. Louis County Port Authority is unique in that it gets a dedicated stream of revenue through a lease with River City Casino in Lemay, netting the entity at least $4 million annually to spend on almost anything related to economic development.
The city port authority also leases river space, such as the Municipal River Terminal just north of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge where CF Lewis and Clark Terminals LLC, a division of SEACOR Holdings Inc., has an operating lease through 2040.
Still, the St. Louis Port Authority collects far less than the county port. Its budget this year was just over $1.4 million.
It's not a large organization. It lists just two dedicated staff members, and it is one of an alphabet soup of economic development agencies overseen by the St. Louis Development Corp.