Les Sterman

Why you are seeking a seat on the Board of Directors?

I have lived in Downtown St. Louis for over 12 years, and I worked downtown for 35 years, so I’m sincerely committed to our neighborhood. The growth of the residential population during that time has been remarkable, and the residential sector has been the single sustained driver of growth in downtown. Residential growth will ultimately lead to growth in other sectors – commercial and retail – but decision-making for downtown is largely driven by the interests of downtown businesses and commercial developers. While we are certainly grateful to those who do business downtown, the needs and desires of those who live here have often been neglected. After all, most of us who live in downtown spend more time here than anyone, which makes us specially qualified to understand what it takes to make downtown a great place to live and work. The DNA has done a great job organizing and mobilizing residents and small businesses and has positioned itself as a credible voice for downtown residents. It is now time to build on that work to make the DNA into an organization that can more effectively advocate for strategies and actions that will make downtown better. I think I have the background and skills to help make that happen.

What are your top priorities for DNA to work on?

The most successful downtowns around the country, many of which face the same problems of St. Louis, have built success on a relentless, dedicated, persistent, attention to quality of life issues – security, cleanliness, infrastructure etc. They also have effective plans and policies that guide development. Here in St. Louis, the large majority of our resources go to development subsidies and costly signature developments (e.g. stadia). Plans are largely driven by individual private development proposals, without regard to any long-term strategy. So, for example, a highly subsidized Ballpark Village cannibalizes small businesses on Washington Avenue, the center of downtown’s residential population and small businesses. DNA needs to continue to work on quality of life issues, but it also needs to strongly advocate for the resources and planning that will make downtown sustainable and prosperous long into the future. That will be my highest priority.

What are the assets you can bring to assist DNA’s mission?

I have a long history of supporting downtown St. Louis — as a resident, an employer, a volunteer, and as a professional. For 25 years, I was Executive Director of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. In that position, I had a principal role in the planning and design of MetroLink, the funding of Washington Ave. streetscape improvements, and many other investments of federal and state money in downtown. As a volunteer, I currently serve as Chair of the Jefferson National Park Association, President of the Loop Trolley Company, and a number of other not-for-profit boards. I formerly served on the boards of Downtown St. Louis, Inc. (the predecessor to Downtown STL), and the Downtown Children’s Center. I have a deep understanding of how volunteer boards work, how to engage the community, the process of building consensus, and how to advance a common agenda. More than anything, however, I have an abiding faith in the importance of downtown as a prosperous and vibrant neighborhood for residents, visitors, and businesses.