top50stl economic development idea of the week: River Des Peres
The River Des Peres received its namesake in the 1700’s from French Jesuit priests who dubbed it La Riviere des Peres or The River of the Fathers. Unfortunately, towards the end of the 19th century it basically earned the reputation of being an open-air sewer for everyone to enjoy. It got so bad in 1904 that engineers had to close nearly a mile of the river way during the World’s Fair.
It has had many iterations but its main purpose has always been sewer and water drainage. It has been branded at times as the River Despair and the River de Stink. In 1972, Mayor Cervantes actually proposed inflatable dams to create a basin for boats, but it didn’t quite catch on with the locals – unless you count the people that mocked the idea with t-shirts for the River Des Peres Yacht Club.
In 2008, filmmakers Boyd Pickup and Jamie Leiendecker posed some interesting questions about the river in their documentary A Sewer Runs Through It: A History of the River Des Peres. In it, they challenged whether it’s possible to turn the River Des Peres into something the city can be proud of as opposed to something we might be ashamed of. The city of San Antonio has a public park along their river known as the River Walk. It’s lined with businesses, restaurants, hotels and several local attractions. Who says we can’t build something similar? It could be a boon to the economy; construction jobs, new businesses and another district for families, friends and visitors to frequent. Our region seemed more than ready to spend a billion dollars on a football stadium so it’s not as if support is impossible, just highly unlikely. I’m sure it would be very expensive and a bureaucratic nightmare, but I love thinking about the possibility!