“Extreme Makeover,” indeed. After previously likening the project to a “developer’s relief act,” last Friday it appeared that the St. Louis Business Journal had reversed its position on “Aerotropolis,” hinting in a staff editorial that it supported having the legislature go into a special session to take up the project’s tax credits.
The editorial was in fact one of a battery of at least five neutral-to-positive stories that dealt directly or tangentially with Aerotropolis that week, a strange reversal by the Business Journal but coming only a week after Saint Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, wrote a letter to the paper in support of the project. (My response to Rainford’s letter appears here.) It’s of course one thing for the Business Journal to change its mind on such an enormous budgetary issue, and present a united front in its support; it’s another thing to do it all without substantial justification, which the publication unfortunately did not provide in any of its five stories touching on the subject.
Still more unfortunate is the manner in which the Business Journal mused that Aerotropolis could make it to the special session: by hitching it to the tragedy in Joplin (emphasis added):
The view from St. Louis looks directly at China. Those who represent Aerotropolis as Joplin’s lifeboat are just silly. We need to respect the severity of their plight and not tie it to anything but the survival of their community.
It would be great for lawmakers and the governor to brand this session the economic development moment for Missouri: investing in Joplin and supporting a China hub while reorganizing (read “shrinking”) tax credits.
That could make for a truly special session.
The Business Journal lectures that Aerotropolis supporters should “respect the severity” of Joplin’s tragedy, but then basically says that if proponents play their cards right, maybe — just maybe — there will be something in it for Saint Louis, too … just have to “brand” it right. Keep in mind that Joplin is set to get about $50 million from the state. Under the Business Journal’s plan, Saint Louis would receive more than seven times that amount in such a “truly special session.”
Sad? Yes. “Truly special”? No.
The path of devastation caused by the EF-5 tornado that ripped through Joplin does not lead all the way to Saint Louis, and it was wrong for the Business Journal to suggest that the tragedy should be lined up with unrelated pet projects, and the session “rebranded,” to benefit Aerotropolis.
The Business Journal was right the first time: Aerotropolis is a developer’s relief act. It’s sad that the newspaper and others would attempt to pair their project with genuine relief efforts.