I was able to make a quick pass through Carrollton during a return trip to the St. Louis area. Just as I expected, what is left of Carrollton has been quietly decaying. The streets, whether blocked off or open to the public, are becoming rough, cracked, and succumbing to mother nature and father time.
Not much action is happening with Lambert International Airport and the City of St. Louis officials. Not long ago, city officials and developers like Paul McKee set their eyes on an attempt to persuade the state legislation to build the infrastructure on a $360 million Asian Cargo Hub. To hear them speak of it, it sounded like a glorious job creation machine with the potential for long-term growth. With the cargo hold, St. Louis would again become an important airline hub, and a major commodities transport center. We would once again be the 8th largest city in the nation, as we were during the beginning of barge and steamboat transport. We would again be in the top 5 busiest airports in the nation.
The problem was, it was our dreams alone. Our cities dreams were not in the minds of those we needed to make this happen. Asian shipping companies already have steady and lucrative contracts with cities such as Dallas, Chicago, and Denver. Overseas shipping continues to be the most cost-effective method to transport goods across the globe as fuel costs continue a steady upward climb. Only St. Louis is interested in making St. Louis the center of transportation once again.
We were excited when we learned that one flight would begin a contracted once-a-week, twice during the holiday season cargo schedule. This was the ‘proof’ that a cargo hub in St. Louis was in demand, and we had the capacity to provide the space, runway, and infrastructure. Two flights came in, and then the cancellations. We went through the holiday season without another cargo delivery, and in return no Missouri goods left for Asia as promised. The one contract our legislators and lobbyists provided with us as proof of the necessity of the project had embarrassingly fallen flat in a time that was supposedly in demand.
We have reached a time in which St. Louis needs to face who we are. We are a small city that continues to get smaller. We should preserve and protect those resources that we do have, not make large gambles on the bigger dreams. St. Louis may never again be the 8th largest city in the United States and its time we accept this fact. Therefore, we should embrace the quaintness of asking one another, “So what high school did you go to?” No, if a major cargo hub would materialize and our town would somehow exponentially grow again, it will not change our local identity. We will still eat toasted ravioli and hate the Cubs. Right now, we need to embrace another aspect of our identity, the skeptical side of being Missourians. We are the Show-Me-State because we believe results only when they are in front of our eyes. We cannot afford to let people tell us, “If we build it, they will come.” Lambert’s own Field of Dreams has resulted in 2,000 buildings destroyed for nothing beyond a massive $1 billion plus debt in which the great-grandchildren of the City of St. Louis will be paying for. The fact that the City of St. Louis owns acres of decaying streets in what should be prime land in the heart of St. Louis County stands as a reminder that we must be cautious, skeptical Missourians when our elected officials want to gamble with our land and economy.