Shooting Craps


How does St. Louis retain and attract young Jewish adults?

That was a prevalent theme by the commentators in Toward Thriving, a recent Jewish Light series kicked off by a substantial analytical piece penned by Jewish Federation Executive Vice President Barry Rosenberg.

Several of the writers noted the importance of our greater St. Louis community in providing a meaningful backdrop for those looking to acquire jobs, raise families and join a synagoue in our fair city.

There’s no question that cities such as St. Louis have undergone substantial changes over the past decade, and most of them for the worse. Once proud locally created and owned companies have succumbed to takeovers; our airport hub has critically diminished (on the heels of a $1 billion commitment to a new runway, no less); and with less locally-based major firms, our philanthropic base has met with peril.

The challenge in 2009 for metro areas such as St. Louis is to find ways to distinguish themselves, to take advantage of the historical, cultural and natural resources that have made them special, and to build on them in ways that enhance quality of life and serve as strong economic development tools. Cities such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland have done this utilizing their unique histories, and their lake- and riverfronts.

With all its challenges regarding education, crime and budget deficits, the City of St. Louis has figured out at least part of it. Those who haven’t visited downtown in awhile should check it out. This is no mere loft district anymore–a stroll through the streets amidst the cafes, bookstores, restaurants, pubs and yes, basic service providers (finally) will prove that downtown has arrived as a true residential neighborhood.

So with this renaissance emerging, four members of the St. Louis County Council have chipped in with their own blueprint for progress:

Build another casino!

With the Lemay casino project slated to open in early 2010, a majority of the Council Council members last week approved a zoning change that would allow North County riverfront land to be open to potential casino development.

Here’s the rub: The land is located right by Columbia Bottom Conservation Area at the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. This area represents the cradle of St. Louis history, and the designation of the area as a recreation and natural resource area was one of the initiatives in the St. Louis 2004 plan. And the potential remains for a seamless off-road bicycle trail linking downtown with the Confluence.

Yet apparently, in the whopping five years since we celebrated the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (and the centennial of the World’s Fair, another reminder of what makes St. Louis special), the majority of council members seem to have forgotten about the national, if not international, significance of this area.

Here’s what the majority presumably has to hang their hat on: Casino jobs and more gambling.

First of all, it’s not even clear that the market can support additional casinos. Second, the chances of snagging another license for the area — which under current Missouri Gaming Commission allowances would have to come from an existing pot of licenses — is de minimis.

But more importantly, if the vision of the County Council hinges on a belief that more casino development is going to be what distinguishes St. Louis – as opposed to a nationally recognized biking, historical and environmental corridor – then we are in big trouble as a region.

Illinois gets it. It has been reclaiming land on Chouteau Island – located between the Mighty Mississippi and the barge channel, and accessible by bike via the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge – as a future state park. How grand that visitors to that wonderful resource will be able to look across the river to a glittering, glowing mass of cars and neon.

With six casinos already in the metro areas, the council believes that one more is just the thing that will distinguish St. Louis from other regions. Not our culture, not our history, not our ecological attributes, but a casino.

Well, perhaps the Jewish community can try to retain and attract young adults by promoting St. Louis as having more gambling dens per capita than any other region.

We can see the promotional literature now:

Our Region’s Future: A Roll of the Dice.

How utterly revolting.