by Michael R. Allen
While I do not approve of the lease of 12 acres of Forest Park by behemoth BJC HealthCare, I do not oppose the possibility that the lease funds would not be exclusively for the upkeep of Forest Park. Certainly, our city’s largest park deserves a guaranteed future of maintenance, but what about Penrose Park or Carondelet Park? Or, for that matter, Jackson Park or Sister Marie Charles Park? The city has 105 parks, all with maintenance needs. Some of these parks, like Fairgrounds Park on the northside, have considerable needs for the sort of rejuvenation that Forest Park has received. They are not as likely to receive the attention that Forest Park or Tower Grove Park have received, and without an infusion of funds may end up in serious disrepair. (Some would argue that this is already the case with a few of the city’s parks.)
The loss of part of Forest Park, no matter how disconnected it appears from a motorist’s perspective, is an affront to the Forest Park Master Plan. Now that the Planning Commission has approved the lease, I suppose that it’s a done deal barring an uprising. This impacts the lives of people in Forest Park Southeast and the Central West End, who will lose tennis courts and a playground. Replacing these facilities before they are demolished needs to happen. Elected officials should try to getting more money each year than what is currently proposed . If BJC is getting its way, make it pay! Some talk of “fair market value” but since BJC is getting public land, the rules of the real estate market don’t apply. The fair price is one that is democratically decided by all citizens through their government.
However, just as all citizens have a stake in Forest Park they have a stake in the other city parks. With the city’s revenue low, city residents need to work together to make sure that no one loses their neighborhood park or its quality. That many people don’t know or care about their stake in other parks should be changed. If the lease money gets distributed to the entire city parks system, that would be a great step toward rejuvenating all of the city’s parks and getting people to think about their future, which is as important as that of Forest Park.
(Incidentally, BJC is chaired by Paul McKee, whose name has appeared in this blog before.)