“C’mon Lyda, it’s just lunch.” Actually, there was no convincing leading St. Louis mayoral candidate, Lyda Kewson, to have lunch with us on a not-so-surprisingly warm January afternoon. She arrived early, mingled with her constituents, and greeted us with an even warmer welcome. Our server took longer than anticipated to greet us, but she doesn’t mind; she dives right into the issues with not even a glass of water in her hand. She orders a citrus salad, but barely gets through half of it as to make sure that every point is properly addressed and detailed. She’s a woman on a mission: to move forward, and bring the entire city along with her.
Moving forward means being progressive, and modernizing government is at the top of her list. “We’ve got to make strides with this,” she begins. “Making it easier to do business with city hall, whether it’s getting occupancy, business or building permits. We have a ways to go to where the private sector is in terms of how quickly it is for them to get information and do business. We also have to figure out how to combine departments and services, particularly with St. Louis County.
Oh, the city-county divide. Lyda, like any smart businesswoman or politician, notes of the hurt that it has caused the region for far too long. “In 1876 we got divorced. It’s time for us to get remarried,” she laughs. “We probably need to get engaged first so we can work through a lot of the issues. I feel like we are really at a tipping point on this because we are realizing that this is something we have to do to be competitive as a region.”
You and I both know that this is something that needs to be done for the region to advance. Just with any thriving metropolitan area, there is a thriving urban core, something that St. Louis lacks at the moment but slowly is turning around. “Density is key here,” she explains. “Nationally, I think there is a movement back to cities, and I think people want to live in cities; the energy that comes with interacting with different people, not people who are exactly like us. For the past five or ten years, we have been welcoming people in from St. Louis County. You’ve seen that movement, and everyone I’ve talked with is excited about it. Their daily activities are so much more on a human level in cities than in a suburban environment.”
Economic development and jobs are naturally at the top of her list as well. She notes that looking at what we’ve achieved in the past ten or so years is a forecast of what can be accomplished in the next decade. “We’re St. Louisans, we’re humble. It’s kind of bad manners to brag,” she says. “But we need to think about what’s happened on South Grand, Old North, Cherokee Street, The Grove, even Hyde Park. Look at The Loop. We have a lot of good things going on, and we should be proud of that. And there’s Cortex, which has been one of the most transformative districts to pop up. Today, there are more than 5,000 people who work in that community with jobs that wouldn’t have even existed ten or so years ago.”
Cortex is a great example of how St. Louis can advance, and how this advancement not only benefits the central corridor, but it influences other revitalization projects citywide. “The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) toured Cortex several times before it committed to contracting its 1.7 billion dollar facility on the north side,” Lyda explains. “Having that technology and energy there with their development at Jefferson and Cass is a major plus in helping us redevelop North St. Louis, an important prospect for us. We have to do it right, and the NGA is that impetus for us.”
Expansion of jobs, technology and business citywide increases the demand for access, not just on our roads but particularly in public transportation. Lyda explains that Metrolink, at this point and time, is not a robust system. “I’m very much in favor of North-South Metrolink, but frankly I am also in favor of better and increased bus service. Until you have a robust light-rail system, you have to have a way for people to get people to and from light rail and their jobs as well. And in regards to Metrolink, I would put in turnstiles tomorrow. They are important for the safety and security on the trains, stations and platforms.”
Without hesitation, Lyda states that neighborhood safety is at the top of the list for the next mayor. “Part of that is increasing the number of police officers we have, paying them better, equipping them better and training them better in a modern way,” she says. After receiving the endorsement of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, she says, “I’m proud to stand with police, and I think that most people in our city are proud to stand with our police. They do a tough job.”
But an Alderman from Central West End as mayor? How in touch is she really with the needs of residents in, say, Bellefontaine Neighbors or Dutchtown? Expectedly, she gets that question a lot. “The 28th Ward is one of the most diverse wards in the city,” Lyda responds. “We have some of the nicest housing, but we have moderate and mixed housing as well. Most importantly, I want to take the developments that we have done and accomplish them in other parts of the city.”
Besides being an alderman, she’s chief financial officer of Peckham, Guyton, Albers & Viets, a large planning and architectural firm, with business experience that she plans on bringing with her to the mayor’s office. “That means talking with developers, making sure we use tax incentives wisely and judiciously to help other areas develop as well,” she says. “I’m a big proponent of planning, and I think a lot of neighborhoods in St. Louis could use some help in planning so that when a project does comes up, they can review their project in knowing what they want for their neighborhood.”
The Primary Municipal Election for the city of St. Louis is set for Tuesday March 7, with the General Municipal Election on Tuesday, April 4. For more information on Lyda Krewson, visit lydakrewson.com. V
by Kevin Schmidt