Soulard taxing district could raise $500,000 for improvement of business district

SOULARD – A penny may be just a penny, but some merchants and community leaders in the Soulard neighborhood hope that a one-cent sales tax can breath more life into their already-supercharged business climate.

The Board of Aldermen approved on Friday a bill calling for the establishment of a Soulard Community Improvement District. The boundaries of the special taxing district generally are Interstate 55 and Marion Street to the north, Third Street and Broadway to the east, Sidney Street to the south, and 18th Street to the West. 

A one-cent sales tax would raise about $500,000 for improvement of the business area.

Tom Gullickson, president of the Soulard Business Association, said the money raised could be used for such purposes as street lighting, sidewalks and marketing. 

“As a businessman, I don’t like to see sales taxes go up for anybody,” said Gullickson, who owns the 1860 Saloon, Game Room and Hardshell Cafe in Soulard. But they have proven valuable in many places, he said.

Former Seventh Ward Alderwoman Phyllis Young told members of the Board of Aldermen at a recent hearing that people in the area had been working on the project since about 2011 or 2012. 

Young said many people came to Soulard from St. Louis County and Illinois to park for free in Soulard and then to go to ball games. 

“They’re going to the bars, and they’re not going to be worrying about the penny that we’re going to be charging them in addition to their dollar, because they’re there to party. And when they leave, we’re picking up the trash, and we’re doing the improvements that are necessary to make it an attractive neighborhood,” Young said.

A leader on the east side of Broadway asked that his section be dropped from the community improvement district. Marshall Cohen, the executive director of Lift for Life Academy, is involved with several businesses on the east side of Broadway.

Cohen said that many of the children who went to his school lived in poverty. A penny sales tax can be a burden for them, he said.

“I have to say I’m against these taxing districts,” Cohen said. “The intentions are good, but we keep adding taxes to low-income people and people in poverty.”

Seventh Ward Alderman Jack Coatar, the bill’s sponsor, offered a different view.

“The vast, vast, vast, vast majority of that half million dollars (raised) comes from the bars in the neighborhood, specifically like two or three bars,” Coatar said. 

“I’m certainly cognizant of Marshall’s concerns and very appreciative of all he’s done on the east side of Seventh Street to improve our business district over there,” Coatar said. The money will be used for improving that part of the business district, he said. “But the vast majority of funds is going to come from the sale of Bud Light and chicken wings.”

Terry Hoffman, a longtime resident of Soulard, said signatures of a petition in favor of the proposal had been collected from a little more than 60 percent of the property owners in the proposed district. 

The board will consist of three residential owner-occupants, two commercial property owners, someone from the Soulard Restoration Group and someone from the Soulard Business Association.

Board members, with their terms, are: two years: Phyllis Young, Ryan King, Julie Price and James Burton; and four years: Terry Hoffman, John Durnell and Luke Reynolds.

Jim Merkel

Author: Jim Merkel

Born and raised in St. Louis, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of four books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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