Standing in the Malcolm Martin Memorial Park, along Front Street in East St. Louis with the Gateway Arch in the background, officials broke ground on an $8.1 million Front Street reconstruction project, that is aimed to help spur economic development along the riverfront.
Among those in attendance were St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern, East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks, James Nations, chairman of the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority, and other representatives of St. Clair County government, the Illinois Department of Transportation, U.S. Commerce Department – Economic Development Administration, and the Metro East Parks and Recreation District.
This first phase of the project, which is expected to take about two years to complete and is taking place in what is being called the River Bridge District, includes reconstruction of Front Street from Trendley Avenue in East St. Louis to where the road dead-ends in Fairmont City. The project also includes resurfacing of Trendley Avenue from Front Street to Main Street, the reconstruction of West Missouri Avenue from Front Street to B Street, and reconstruction of B Street from Missouri Avenue to River Park Drive.
“You’ll notice we’re framed by the Arch behind us, the very symbol of American development and expansion as everyone knows is the Gateway to the West,” Kern said. “Coincidentally, I like to think of this project as a gateway, and it’s a gateway to economic expansion.”
The project is expected to open up several hundred acres of undeveloped land that is available for investment by other agribusiness and distribution companies, Jackson-Hicks said.
She also announced that the minority contractor participation goal of the project was increased to 20 percent from 12 percent.
“Hopefully some of these jobs will bring more prosperity and more work experience to my citizens and maybe the next project will push that number even higher,” Jackson-Hicks said.
Hopefully some of these jobs will bring more prosperity and more work experience to my citizens and maybe the next project will push that number even higher.
Emeka Jackson-Hicks, East St. Louis mayor
Last week, the St. Clair County Board awarded this portion of the project to Baxmeyer Construction for $6.39 million. A second phase also is planned and would include the construction of a roundabout at the entrance of the Casino Queen.
The total estimated cost of the Front Street project of $8.1 million, includes the design and engineering expenses.
The U.S. E.D.A., which is part of the Commerce Department, has agreed to contribute $3.5 million toward the project. The Southwest Illinois Development Authority has pledged $1.5 million toward the project.
The Illinois Department of Transportation has pledged $125,000; the St. Clair County Transit District has pledged $900,000; and the Metro East Park and Recreation District has pledged $500,000 toward the project.
Money for the project also includes commitments from Cargill, Bunge-SCF and Casino Queen at $500,000 each.
We didn’t have a separation of the commercial truck traffic and traffic of the Casino Queen. This project will effectively separate those two. It encourages growth of the industrial and the casino.
Fred Oelschlaeger, the area manager for Cargill
The project is expected to improve access for commercial traffic generated by Cargill and Bungee, as well as enhanced access for patrons and employees at the Casino Queen, by separating heavy truck traffic from casino traffic.
Fred Oelschlaeger, the area manager for Cargill, and Rick Bauwens, the facility manager for Bunge said their two businesses could generate up to 1,600 truck trips a day in the area as they bring grain from Illinois and Missouri, among other areas, in and out of their facilities.
“We didn’t have a separation of the commercial truck traffic and traffic of the Casino Queen,” Oelschlaeger said. “This project will effectively separate those two. It encourages growth of the industrial and the casino.”
The project is a piece of substantial highway infrastructure improvements already made by state and federal partners in the immediate vicinity, including the almost completed relocation of Illinois Route 3 and the opening of the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Nations, chairman of SWIDA, said the project would improve highway connection and prime the area for business growth, economic development and jobs.
“It’s amazing how well the access is going to be improved into this geography, which has been here for a while, but really hasn’t blossomed,” Nations said. “This partnership of government agencies and businesses is what has responded to this need for this development.”