Group Trying To Remake St. Louis’ Image

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- A grass roots effort to remake St. Louis’ image is gaining steam.  Several ideas have been submitted and voted on, and now the five most popular are about to enter the stage of being funded through Rally St. Louis.

“I think if you talk to a lot of people outside of St. Louis, they’re not sure what to make of our city or region for that matter,” founder Aaron Perlut said Thursday.  “We all understand the benefits of living in our region, but there are a lot of people outside that don’t and we’re hoping to paint that picture.”

Rally St. Louis is the brainchild of Perlut, one of the managing partners in the Elasticity public relations firm downtown.  It began a little over a year ago when he wrote an article for Forbes Magazine entitled, “St. Louis Doesn’t Suck.”

The Forbes post, and the efforts that followed, have drawn national attention.  The New York Times commented on the somewhat new, social media approach.

“Unlike the traditional, top-down civic betterment campaigns that are backed by the likes of chambers of commerce, Rally St. Louis is taking a bottom-up approach,” the paper  reported in November.

Rally encouraged people to submit their own ideas and vote on the ideas of others as to how to market the city.  And he discovered something very quickly.

“I realized the ideas weren’t going to be traditional marketing ideas, they were going to be community improvement ideas,” he said.

The best example is what is currently the top vote getter.  It’s not a snappy ad campaign.  It’s called “Food Roof,” a rooftop farm designed to provide organic produce in a coop fashion.

“To serve the thousands of downtown residents who live here, potentially to restaurants, donate some to charity.  St. Patrick’s Center is just a block away. Basically bring the farm to the people,” Mary Ostafi told us.

In her day job she makes sure projects for the HOK Architectural firm are environmentally friendly, but now she’s heading up the “Food Roof” endeavor as they begin to try and raise money.

“We started a downtown community garden last year and this project came to be as a result of that.  So when Rally StL came on board it seemed like a great opportunity to get more exposure to what we’re trying to do.”

Even something as simple as a mural is taken to a different level by those submitting ideas to the project.

The dilapidated Cotton Belt building, north of downtown, is slated to become a massive, 45,000 square foot work of art, aimed at welcoming those driving across the new Mississippi River Bridge.  What is currently a pile of dirt in the front is also slated for landscaping.

Tom Nagel, who came up with the idea, is thinking big regarding who might do the painting.

“We hope to attract national, local, international artists because the scale is just so magnificent that we’re really excited about it,” he said.

A National Soccer Hall of Fame, a local pickup soccer space, and a proposal to put blacktop basketball courts on blighted lots round out the top five proposals so far.  Next month, the process of funding them will begin.  Users on the site will be able to make donations to their favorite projects, with the promise of a refund if they aren’t fully funded.  The hope is that large companies and wealthy benefactors will get involved in some of the projects alongside the grassroots donors that are expected to chip in.

Rally St. Louis has already raised about $250 thousand in operating funds.   What all this will produce remains to be seen, but it’s clear it will be the product of a community consensus.

“The crowd is really speaking to what is popular,” Perlut said, “so we’ve kind of democratized the process and we’re really seeing what St. Louisans want to truly represent our community as a whole.”


Rally St. Louis site:

NY Times Article on Rally St. Louis

Forbes:  St. Louis Doesn’t Suck