Archive for February, 2015

We will probably never know exactly what was going on in the mind of State Auditor Tom Schweich, who committed suicide in his Clayton, Missouri, home yesterday, just minutes after confirming to a reporter that he would give an interview in his home later in the day.

Schweich was reportedly beside himself about rumors, allegedly being spread by Republican state chairman John Hancock — that he was Jewish. (Schweich believed Hancock favored Catherine Hanaway over him for the Republican nomination for governor next year.)

The fact is Schweich had a Jewish grandfather but was a practicing Episcopalian.


Tom Schweich, his wife of 28 years, Kathleen, and their children Emilie and Thomas. (Facebook photo)

It is almost inconceivable that a false allegation of being Jewish would drive a seasoned politician with statewide experience to commit suicide. He knew that running against Hanaway her million-dollar donor/benefactor Rex Sinquefield was going to be rough. It would seem more than odd, then, that a relatively benign, easily disprovable allegation would throw him over the edge.

So, what we come to, as we do in nearly all suicide cases, is depression.

The “D” word hasn’t been mentioned in anything I’ve read — and I’ve read a lot — but that has to be a factor.

The biggest indicator I’ve seen that Schweich was coming unhinged before the suicide was a report I read in a blog called the Gateway Pundit, out of St. Louis. (I read the same thing elsewhere but can’t remember where.)

The Pundit said:

“Naturally high-strung, Schweich seemed unusually agitated — his voice sometimes quivering and his legs and hands shaking — when he told an AP reporter on Monday that he wanted to hold a press conference to allege that Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock had made anti-Semitic remarks about him.

“Schweich postponed a planned press conference Tuesday. But he called the AP at 9:16 a.m. Thursday inviting an AP reporter to his home for a 2:30 p.m. interview and noting that a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch also had been invited. An AP reporter spoke with Schweich by phone again at 9:35 a.m. to confirm the upcoming interview.”

At 9:48 a.m., his wife called 911 to report that her husband had shot himself.

“…voice sometimes quivering and his legs and hands shaking.”

That — far more than a rumor being spread that he was Jewish — clearly signals that he was falling apart.


We expect our politicians to be in complete control — measured and composed — even under the greatest pressure and the ugliest of personal attacks. I’ve always admired how politicians like Bill Clinton and President Obama have carried on with equanimity while under attack from several sides.

Some people can stand up to that kind of pressure and spotlight, but only if they are well balanced psychologically and have the ability to let personal criticism slide off their backs…I’ll be the first to admit that, even though I have pretty thick skin, I couldn’t stand up to that kind of pressure — and wouldn’t voluntarily put myself in a situation where it was likely to emerge.

At one time, Schweich might have been up to that kind of pressure, but somewhere along the way — more than a year before the campaign sledding really got tough — depression must have taken hold.

And that, combined with fixation on whatever rumors were being spread — plunged him into the depths.

…I feel so bad about the misery that Tom Schweich went through the last few days, from the day his legs were shaking until yesterday morning. My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and daughters.

He was a good man, a straight arrow, and he probably would have been a very good governor. He was committed to rooting out corruption and cleaning up Missouri’s legislative cesspool.

Now, unfortunately, we’re probably left with a choice for governor between Hanaway, who’s already bought and paid for, and Chris Koster, our Democratic attorney general, who was the centerpiece of a recent New York Times expose.

Here’s the link to that story; it will make you sick…It shows, clearly, that Koster is also for sale.

So now, from all appearances, we’ve lost the one candidate who seemed capable of generating a fresh breeze through the marble halls of the State Capitol, and we’re left with two opportunists, either one of whom will probably keep fueling the stench.

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Call me a spoilsport, but I think the nation’s major conferences should follow the lead of the Southeastern Conference and ban court storming at basketball games.

Most of you have probably seen video of the Kansas State students rushing the Bramlage Auditorium court after K-State’s upset win over KU the other night.

In addition to the general mayhem, K-State and Kansas coaches Bruce Weber and Bill Self got pinned against the scorer’s table, and a K-State student –later identified as Nathan Power — “chicken winged” KU player Jamari Traylor with an elbow, knocking Traylor off balance (below). Fortunately, Traylor kept his footing — and his cool; he made no attempt to retaliate and just kept heading toward the locker room.

Police yesterday charged Power with disorderly conduct, which should give many students pause.


It was fortunate no one was injured in the melee, but as The Star’s Vahe Gregorian wrote yesterday, this court-storming custom can be downright life threatening.

Eleven years ago a high school player in Tucson was caught up in a court swarming incident in which several fans tried to lift Joe Kay from the floor…but dropped him. He suffered a torn carotid artery and a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side.

Later that same year — I don’t know if it was coincidence or by design — the Southeastern Conference banned court storming.

And for the most part the league has been free of it since then.

The SEC policy states:

“For the safety of participants and spectators alike, at no time before, during or after a contest shall spectators be permitted to enter the competition area. It is the responsibility of each member institution to implement procedures to ensure compliance with this policy.”

For the first violation, a school can be fined $5,000; for the second, $25,000; and for the third and all ensuing offenses, $50,000.


This was the scene after a 2013 Maryland-Duke game: A student got trapped under chairs.

There’s another way to approach this problem — short of banning court storming.

One or more event companies have come up with a way to cordon off the bench area of the court.

It goes like this: As a game ends, two groups of security guards — one at each end of the court — move quickly to the middle of the court and form a human, arm-in-arm chain several feet in front of the team benches. Students are funneled onto the main part of the court, while the human chain allows the opposing coaches and players to conduct the traditional post-game greeting line.

Video from a University of Virginia-Duke University game two years ago shows how effective this strategy can be. In the video, the court looks like two different worlds — one where delirious students do their pancake stack, the other where players and coaches go calmly about their post-game business.

The video also shows a security guard at one end of the chain occasionally pushing back students trying to encroach on the no-fan zone. But the wall of safety held and all appeared to end well.

A story in yesterday’s Star said a similar plan was executed last week at West Virginia when the Mountaineers defeated Kansas and the student section flooded onto the floor without incident.

If a majority of schools decide that students should not be deprived of on-court celebrations, the least that should be done is to implement the human-chain strategy.


K-State Coach Bruce Weber attempting to shield KU coach Bill Self Monday night.

Another Star story said that the Big 12 Conference issued a public reprimand to Kansas State for its failure to appropriately handle Monday night’s post-game scene.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowslby said the league would look into prohibiting spectators from entering

Bowlsby also addressed another sorry aspect of Monday’s game — profane chants from K-State students, directed at KU, that could be heard during the game broadcast. He added:

“I have asked that discussions on both of these topics be placed on the agendas for the next meetings of the ADs (athletic directors) and of the CEOs…The events following the KU vs. K-State game should be a call to action for all of us.”


I hope Bowlsby and a majority of Big 12 school administrators ban court storming completely. Denying revved-up students the right to celebrate on court is no big deal. What is a big deal is having one more player, or a student, get paralyzed.

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Patty and I are just back from an overnight trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, where we visited the fabulous Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, funded to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars by the Walton Family Foundation.

Early in our marriage, Patty and I frequently drove to Hot Springs, Arkansas — much farther south than Bentonville — and had some great times at Oaklawn Park, the thoroughbred race track, nestled in the Ouichita Mountains.

This time, on the occasion of our 30th wedding anniversary, we decided to take a shorter trip and see Crystal Bridges, which opened in 2011. We had heard a lot about it but hadn’t been there until now.

…A little background about Crystal Bridges. The moving force behind it was — and is — Alice Walton, 65, Sam Walton’s only daughter. (He had three sons, one of whom is dead.) As of February 2014, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Alice has an estimated net worth of $33.9 billion, making her the 13th richest person in the world.

Alice was born and raised in Arkansas, of course, but she has lived for several years on a ranch outside Fort Worth, Texas, where she raises “cutting” horses.

In a 2013 article Forbes magazine said the Walton Family Foundation put $1.2 billion into Crystal Bridges. That figure apparently includes construction and art acquisitions.

Walmart threw in another $20 million, sponsoring free admission to the museum for the next several years. 

Crystal Bridges was built in a deep ravine in the Ozarks. A tour guide told us that during construction, all that was visible to passers-by were huge cranes poking up into the sky from the valley floor.

The architect was none other than Moshe Safdie, who also designed the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Outward-angled glass walls are a common feature of both the museum and the performing arts center — and a tip-off that the same designer was at work.

Surrounded by wooded hills and walking paths, the museum consists of several pavilions, including three “bridges” constructed over a pond fed by Town Branch Creek and a spring — Crystal Spring, to be precise.

Now you’ve heard enough from me. A few photos will tell the rest of the story.


Looking down on the museum — lobby in the foreground and one of the museum’s “armadillo” bridges at the back of the photo.


One of three “bridge” buildings houses an excellent and inviting restaurant. Note the arching beams that form the ceiling.


This is a view of the restaurant from another bridge. Steel cables suspend the “armadillo” roof (above the glass). The hulking concrete bulwarks at either end of the bridge anchor the cables. (The bulwarks are known as “dead men.”)


A closer look at one of the steel cables from which the roof is suspended.


This is another bridge building, which is used for meetings and other gatherings. Unlike the two other bridges, the cables of this one are anchored by underwater concrete bulwarks.


The glass walls are similar to the facade of the Kauffman Performing Arts Center, except that the arts center facade is several stories tall.


A cedar and sanded-concrete exterior wall.


A closer look, from inside the museum, at a sanded-concrete and cedar wall. The floor tiles are Chinese marble, and the steps are cast concrete.


Finally, a closer look at the huge beams — consisting of layer upon layer of yellow-pine laminate — that comprise the bridge ceilings. At left, you can see part of one of the cables from which the roof is suspended.


Oh, and by the way, there’s more to the museum than its fabulous appearance. There’s plenty of great art there, too!

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It’s a happy day for the Kansas City political organization Freedom Inc.

With Theresa Garza Ruiz’ announcement that she is dropping out of the race for Kansas City’s 5th District at-large City Council seat, it is very likely that a black candidate, Lee Barnes Jr., will win the seat.

This is a very significant development because blacks held that seat from the mid-1970s until 1999 but lost control of it when Becky Nace, a white woman, was elected in 1999.

Nace held the post until 2007, when another white woman, Cindy Circo, was elected from the 5th at-large. Circo is now finishing up her second term and cannot seek re-election under the City Charter’s two-term limit.

Losing control of the seat irked Freedom officials because blacks comprise the majority in the 5th District, which encompasses much of southeast Kansas City.

“I feel good about this,” said Clinton Adams Jr., Freedom Inc. attorney. “Finally, we can break the cycle of (candidates) with limited support in the 5th district being elected at-large to represent a predominantly black district.”

Blacks currently hold the 3rd District and 3rd District at-large seats, as well as the 5th District seat, which Michael Brooks recently vacated in the wake of a well-deserved torrent of bad press.

The council consists of 13 members — six elected from districts, six at-large and the mayor.

The city primary election is April 7. With Garza Ruiz’ defection, Barnes and Dennis Anthony, the other remaining 5th District at-large candidate, will automatically advance to the general election in June.

Anthony, a former city employee with no name recognition or political experience, is not expected to be a factor. That means Barnes, a former Kansas City School Board member, should have an easy go of it in June.


Until today, Garza Ruiz, a high-profile member of the Jackson County Legislature, was the odds-on favorite to win the 5th District at-large seat. Barnes might have given her a good run, but she likely would have prevailed because of her name identity and political experience.



What brought Garza Ruiz down was a residency-related problem. The City Charter requires council members to have lived in their district boundaries for two years before the general election. In this case, the deadline was June 23, 2013.

Garza Ruiz produced records indicating she had moved, or was moving, from Blue Springs to Kansas City in March 2013. It wasn’t clear exactly when she moved, but the bigger problem was that Jackson County Election Board records show she voted in Blue Springs on April 2, 2013 — after she said she had moved to Kansas City.


Theresa Garza Ruiz

An attorney for Barnes filed a lawsuit, challenging Garza Ruiz’ residency and also alleging that she was guilty of voter fraud for voting from the Blue Springs address. Had the judge found Garza Ruiz guilty of voter fraud, she would have forfeited her right to ever again vote in Missouri.

With rare exceptions, Jackson County Circuit Court judges have been reluctant to strike candidates from ballots on residency challenges. But strong precedent exists for voter fraud, and that apparently is what prompted Garza Ruiz to get out of the race.

Not surprisingly, Garza Ruiz did not acknowledge that the possibility of being stricken from the voter rolls prompted her abdication. Instead she cited “personal issues that require my full focus at this time.”

With her out of the race, Barnes is now the odds-on favorite to win the 5th District at-large seat.


As some of you know, I worked with Freedom Inc. officials two years ago against Jackson County’s proposed half-cent translational medical research tax, which would have sent millions of dollars in public funds to two private, not-for-profit hospitals — Children’s Mercy and St. Luke’s.

I greatly admired Freedom’s principled stance against that proposal — which went down to an 86 percent to 14 percent drubbing — and I have worked with Freedom on a variety of political matters and issues since then.

Today I share Freedom officials’ satisfaction that an African-American probably will be reclaiming Kansas City’s 5th District at-large seat.

I sympathize, to some extent, with the Hispanic community, which suffered a big setback today…But in Lee Barnes, the council will be getting a humble man who will not seek the limelight and who, I believe, will look out for the interests of his constituents and all of Kansas City. 

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I hope some of you got to see a new true crime TV show last night called “See No Evil” on the Investigation Discovery Channel.

The subject was the 2007 kidnapping, rape and murder of 18-year-old Kelsey Smith of Overland Park.

Kelsey was one of those rape-and-murder victims — like Pamela Butler, Ann Harrison, Ali Kemp and Stephanie Schmidt — whose names we equate with the predatory layer of society that lurks, ever threateningly, around us.

Kelsey was 18, having just graduated from Shawnee Mission West and headed for Kansas State University in the fall of 2007. But she never made it through the summer:


Edwin Hall (Corrections Dept. photo)

A twisted 26-year-old man named Edwin R. Hall — who had been a ward of the state as a child and later threatened an adoptive sister with a knife — abducted her from a Target parking lot across from Oak Park Mall and forced her to drive to a wooded area near Longview Lake. There he had his way with her and then strangled her with her own belt, covered her body with sticks and drove off in her car.



I have more than a passing interest in this case because I know Kelsey’s father, Greg Smith, a former law enforcement officer and now a teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District.

In 2006, Greg and I were enrolled in Avila University’s teacher certification program. I had retired from The Star, and Greg was changing careers. We had at least two classes together — one in the fall of 2006 and I believe one in the spring of 2007. Greg always wore a ball cap and T-shirt to class, and in class he alluded to his law enforcement background more than once.

The last time I saw him was a few months ago, when I was substituting one day at a middle school (can’t recall which one) where he teaches. After I approached him and reminded him who I was, he greeted me warmly, and we had a brief and pleasant conversation.

In addition to teaching, Greg is a state senator. He first ran for state representative in 2010 and won, and two years later he won the Senate seat. Now, he teaches in the fall and then tends to his legislative duties in Topeka during spring semesters.

On his website he says this:

“My plans did not include being an elected official but circumstances have a way of influencing your life. The event that dramatically changed my life was the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of my daughter, Kelsey. Nothing I can do will bring Kelsey back but what I can do is use that event as the impetus to make a difference in the lives of my other children, my grandchildren, and in the lives of members of my community.”


Although very disturbing and heartbreaking, last night’s show was riveting and insightful. It focused on how Overland Park detectives painstakingly pieced together what had happened — and who did it — by poring over video from inside and outside the Target store and video from the Oak Park Mall parking lot, where Hall abandoned Kelsey’s Buick Regal after driving it back from where the murder took place.

The narrative was interspersed with re-enactments and interviews with police investigators and Greg and his wife, Missey Smith.

Kelsey Smith's family (from left) mother Missey Smith, dad,

Kelsey’s Smiths parents, Missey (left) and Greg; their daughter Stevie; and Kelsey’s boyfriend, John Biersmith, before a memorial service for Kelsey in 2007.

It wasn’t until investigators zoomed in on the video that they could see, for the first time after several viewings, a grainy figure jumping Kelsey as she was about to get into her car after leaving the Target store, where Hall first saw her and then stalked her for several minutes. The abduction happened in a flash — so fast and so effectively that, when I saw it, I immediately thought it must have been a practiced maneuver.

Later in the show, Sgt. Bob Miller of the Overland Park Police Department, talked about his own suspicion of previous criminal actions.

“We asked him about other murders in the Midwest,” Miller said, “and he said, ‘No, this is my first time of killing someone.’ My police instinct tells me it’s a lie.”

Hall, who is serving life in prison without parole, was not charged in any other murders. Before pleading guilty, however, he had been charged with two counts of aggravated indecent liberties, stemming from a 2004 consensual, sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl.

At the time he was arrested, Hall was married.

After his arrest, his adoptive mother, Carol Hall, told the Emporia Gazette: “You think you can give them love and all those things they didn’t get, like support. It works with some, but with him, it didn’t.”


Near the end of the show, Missey Smith says this about Hall:

“I don’t think about him. I really don’t. He doesn’t matter in Kelsey’s story. He’s the means to the end of her life. But If I focus on him, then he takes more joy from my life, and I’m not going to allow that to happen.”

In the next frames, Greg Smith expresses an equally positive attitude, having achieved it only after years of grief.

“There’s a quote from Lincoln,” Greg says, “something to the effect of ‘It’s not the years in your life that matter; it’s the life in your years.’ And that’s Kelsey, and that’s her epitaph. It’s what we put on her headstone.”


Greg and Missey Smith should be an inspiration to us all — to be courageous in the face of tragedy and persevering in lives redirected by horrible luck…And let’s face it, but for good fortune, any of us parents could be walking in Greg’s and Missey’s shoes.

Note: From the Investigation Discovery Channel website, it does not appear that “See No Evil” will be replayed anytime soon.

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The Kansas City Star has undergone a lot of changes since I retired in 2006, and now a very big change is on the way.

This time, fortunately, change apparently won’t involve staff cuts.

But it will alter the basic look and direction of The Kansas City Star.

From what I gather, the biggest changes will be:

:: Shifting the focus from print to digital.

:: A redesign of both the print edition and the kansascity.com website.

:: The print-edition deadline moving up to 9.m. instead of about 11...The sports department is said to be particularly unhappy about that because, if true, it will be almost impossible to get the results of most Royals’ games and other 7 p.m. start-time events in the print edition.

A reliable source told me editor Mike Fannin laid out the plan at a meeting last Friday and said the changes would be phased in between now and September.

My source said the redesign probably will be along the lines of the Idaho Statesman, another McClatchy Co. paper that rolled out its redesign and new website early last week.

Also known as the “replica” edition, this is an electronic facsimile of the print edition. The reader can skim headlines and sections, and click on specific stories and photos for an enlarged view. (The New Yorker magazine went to the online replica several years ago, with the “zoom-in” feature, and it’s very easy to navigate.)

The Statesman is betting the e-edition will be a significant money-maker. For non-print subscribers, the Statesman digital package will be $9.99 a month or $99.99 for an annual subscription. As an introductory offer, the Statesman will give digital-only customers the first month for 99 cents.

If The Star follows the Statesman’s lead, it will continue to publish a print edition every day.

A big change at the Statesman’s is that there will be just four Sunday sections, including a separate sports section. Monday through Saturday, however, sports will go to the back of the A section.

Somehow, I have a hard time seeing The Star dropping its daily sports section. This is Kansas City, after all, and we have three major professional sports teams (the Chiefs, Royals and Sporting Kansas City) and four Division I schools (KU, K-State, Missouri and UMKC).

In addition, while other sections have shrunk (and some, like Metro, have gone away), sports has held its ground and is the biggest draw for many male subscribers. Indicative of the emphasis The Star puts on sports, just last week the Associated Press Sports Editors named The Star as a “Triple Crown” winner among large-circulation news organizations.

It was the fourth consecutive year The Star has won that honor.

To win the APSE’s version of  the Triple Crown, a paper must rank in the top 10 papers in three of four categories: daily coverage, Sunday section, special print section and website.

The Star made the top 10 in website, Sunday section and special section, the latter being the paper’s “Football 2014” section.


I’m a little surprised The Star hasn’t moved its focus to digital before now. But it’s all got to do with revenue. Print advertising is still the cash cow and newspapers haven’t been able to get nearly as much revenue from digital ads. As a result, papers have been shifting the financial balance from advertising to subscriptions, raising prices for print as well as online subscriptions. The Star bumped up its print subscription price at least 20 percent this year.

For the sake of the city and KC Star readers, I hope Fannin and publisher Mi-Ai Parrish are able to make this change work, and I hope the paper doesn’t lose too many readers in the transition. What Fannin and Parrish are betting on is any downturn in print subscriptions will be more than offset by an upswing in digital subscriptions, ideally from younger readers.

This is a long-term proposition for The Star: It will take years to determine if the digital part of the equation pans out.

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In the cat-and-mouse, high-stakes game between St. Louis and Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke, I am rooting hard for the city to emerge with a new riverfront stadium — and either keeping the Rams or getting another NFL team down the road.

With its many corporate headquarters, Heartland location and rich sports history, St. Louis is too good a city not to have an NFL team.

stadium site2But the main reason I want St. Louis to pull this off is that a new open-air, riverfront stadium in a blighted area north of the Edward Jones Dome would be a fabulous extension of the city’s $400 million “CityArchRiver” project, which is well underway.

As great an attraction as the Arch is, it has always been cut off from downtown by Interstate 44, which lies between the Arch and downtown, and has been hard to get to. In addition, the ground around the Arch has been very uninviting, just a big patch of unattractive and often-littered grass.

When Patty and I were there last year, we navigated our way in the car down to the riverfront area and parked a few blocks from the Arch in a lot that was chained off but not securely enough to keep me from squeezing past. Then we walked along a cobblestone, potentially ankle-busting street to get to the Arch grounds.

The key element to the CityArchRiver project is construction of a park over I-44, meaning people will be able to walk straight from downtown to the Arch grounds. When the project is completed, perhaps sometime next year, it should significantly increase visitor traffic to the Arch and make the experience of visiting the Arch grounds a memorable experience.


A park being built over I-44 (center) from the Old Courthouse to the Gateway Arch will allow people to walk from downtown to the Arch grounds.

The CityArchRiver project includes new spaces for events, expanded museum space, bicycle trails, children’s play areas and performance venues.


Of course, building a new stadium for the Rams — or another team the city might attract in the future — is going to be expensive. The new stadium would cost about $900 million, including more than $400 million in public funds.

The potential loss of the Rams got serious in January, when Kroenke, a Missouri boy who married a Walton girl, unveiled a plan to build a stadium in Inglewood, Calif., with his own money. The Rams can easily leave St. Louis because they are on a year-to-year lease, unlike the Chiefs long-term lease with Jackson County. 


Site of the proposed new open-air stadium. north of the Edward Jones Dome.

Fortunately, St. Louis didn’t just sit down and wring its hands. Gov. Jay Nixon — no doubt sick of being pummeled for his lack of leadership in the Ferguson upheaval last summer — jumped into action. He appointed a stadium task force, and this week Nixon announced a deal to move rail lines to make way for a new stadium just north of the existing Edward Jones Dome.

It would cost about $25 million to move the rail lines, and, as far as I can tell, it’s not yet clear who would pay.

Yesterday, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz tipped his hat to Nixon for his hands-on approach to the Rams/riverfront situation. Miklasz said Nixon has had at least three recent discussions with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Miklasz said Nixon also participated Tuesday in a meeting that included the NFL’s executive vice president.

At the news conference where he announced the deal on the railroad tracks, Nixon sketched an alluring picture of a new, fleshed-out St. Louis riverfront. He said:

“This is a historic opportunity to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment to this area, build an iconic stadium that will stand the test of time, and transform these deserted streets into a thriving destination for residents, workers, tourists and football fans.”

If St. Louis can pull this off, I’ll be among the tourists visiting the new Arch grounds and possibly the stadium. And I’ll be parking downtown, not in a chained-off lot on a cobblestone street.

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