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St. Charles looks to transform Bangert Island into retail, entertainment district

Today, Bangert Island stands as a 160-acre park between the Katy Trail and the Missouri River, just south of the Blanchette Bridge and southeast of the Streets of St. Charles. It is owned by the city of St. Charles but managed by St. Charles County.

But the city believes the land could become so much more and has proposed a Bangert Island riverfront transformation project, to be known as “Riverpointe.”

The concept is to develop a riverfront entertainment and retail district that would extend activities and uses similar to those  now enjoyed within the Streets of St. Charles.

This summer, first steps toward achieving that goal are getting underway.

Bangert Island plan

A brief history of Bangert Island

The land once belonged to Louis Bangert, who bought it around 1950 and kept it as a wildlife oasis. His children did the same before donating it to the Missouri Department of Conservation [MDC] in 1976. For 39 years, MDC operated Bangert Island as a conservation area, before selling it to St. Charles in April 2015 for $350,000. The city subsequently leased the land to the county.

With help from volunteer groups such as Gateway Off-Road Cyclists [GORC] and Missouri Master Naturalists, the county’s parks department constructed four miles of natural surface trails that are used for hiking, off-road bicycling and bird watching. Fishing from the Missouri River bank also is permitted, in compliance with the usual MDC licensing and regulations. Hunting is not allowed. Visitors can enter the park from the Katy Trail’s entrance on Old South River Road in St. Charles, then cross a small bridge over a Missouri River slough.

The county’s website describes the land as “a typical wooded Missouri River island [that] features cottonwood, sycamore, box elder, silver maple and black willow trees.” It suggests that guests to Bangert Island “may encounter white-tailed deer, turkey, raccoons, opossums and a variety of songbirds.”

Raising the island out of the flood

Brad Temme, St. Charles’ director of engineering, confirmed in mid-June that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to survey the ground surface in the next two months as part of detailed planning for the Missouri River channel that will create a water-quality basin at the outflow of Crystal Springs Creek. The basin is a key component needed to make the riverfront attractive for development and investment.

Today, Bangert Island is an island in name only.

A 2001 report by the Corps of Engineers defines the property as “an island [once] separated from the [Missouri River] bluff at St. Charles by a side channel. However … deposition within the side channel … by 1980 [had] effectively reattached Bangert Island to the bluff.” At the time of the study, the Corps of Engineers reported that “only portions of the side channel conveyed water to drain Bangert Island and nearby St. Charles neighborhoods along the adjacent bluff.”

By creating the basin and elevating over 100 acres of ground above the 500-year floodplain, the transformation project will remove the ongoing risk of flooding in the area. According to the project plan, “a reduction in the tailwater elevation along Crystal Springs Creek will also help reduce the catastrophic flooding that the city experienced in 2011 and 2013 upstream of the project area.”

In 2016, city of St. Charles voters approved a half-cent, 15-year sales tax to fund parks and stormwater improvements. Ahead of that vote, in April 2015, the city completed a comprehensive stormwater masterplan that identified needed improvements along Crystal Springs Creek where it feeds into the Missouri River via the Bangert Island chute.

The transformation project will play a role in addressing those needs.

Creating infrastructure for future development

In mid-June, Temme confirmed that $1 million in project funding had been included in the state’s $30 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2020. That funding is half of the $2 million appropriation amount originally proposed by Sen. Bill Eigel [R-Weldon Spring]. In late April, Eigel told his fellow senators that the money was needed to prepare the land that the city owns to be able to support future private development. His reasoning was met with protest from some senators, including Sen. Jill Schupp [D-Creve Coeur], who questioned why taxpayers in other areas of the state would want to hand over tax dollars for the sole benefit of St. Charles.

Ultimately, Gov. Michael Parson approved the state budget on June 10 with a $1 million allocation for the Riverpointe project included. Temme said, “The lesser state funding will not stop the project because there are other federal, state and county funding sources and grants still to be pursued.”

In July 2018, St. Charles first sought a U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD Discretionary Grant for $25 million for the Riverpointe project. BUILD is an acronym for “better utilizing investments to leverage development.” Its grants are used to support road, rail, transit and port infrastructure projects across the country. The city learned in December 2018 that it did not receive the grant; however, it will reapply this year. The grant application deadline is July 15.

According to the original BUILD application narrative, the city of St. Charles began efforts in 2008 to reinvigorate 1.6 miles of riverfront located south of Interstate 70 to the Family Arena. I-70 carries approximately 1 million vehicles per week. In that effort, the city has partnered with the Corps of Engineers to do “extensive river modeling and hydraulic design to ensure that the project will improve both the economic activity of the region and the environmental resources along the Missouri River.”

The vision for the restored shallow water habitat at Bangert Island.

The narrative further states that BUILD funds, matched by local city and county investment, will create approximately eight lane miles of new roads, new signals, new street lighting, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, transit improvements and green infrastructure. Additionally, the funds will allow the city to reconstruct “existing inadequate roadway infrastructure located along Arena Parkway which runs the perimeter of the project, [and] create stormwater control and protection from the Missouri River.”

Specifically, the project seeks to create:

• 4 miles of new roadway, including an extension of Lombard Street from South Main Street, which borders the Streets of St. Charles, to a roundabout to be built along the edge of the water quality basin, and the construction of a new loop road connecting Old South River Road to the Lombard Street roundabout.

• 5.8 miles of reconstructed roadway, including improvements to the existing Old South River Road.

• 14 miles of new ADA accessible sidewalks

• 1.6 miles of new or improved trails, including raising the Katy Trail to an elevation above the 500-year floodplain.

• 1.6 miles of new transit facilities, including a trolley connection from the development to the St. Charles Area Transit [SCAT] hub, located at Clark Street and Riverside Drive in historic St. Charles.

• 100 acres of high-value development area elevated above the floodplain, creating 6.7 million square feet of usable space.

While the concept is well defined, Temme said its details would be specified as bids come in for Phase 1 work and as developers determine what they will build on the transformed land. Public forums will be held to review and discuss those details as they become known, he said.

The vision for a new riverwalk at Riverpointe

Expressing environmental concerns

Proponents say that the project will create approximately 4,000 jobs and stimulate approximately $1.5 billion in growth for the region. Additionally, the city has said it and the Corps of Engineers have done extensive river modeling and hydrologic design work to ensure the project will improve environmental resources along the Missouri River.

However, the Greenway Network, which defines itself as a grassroots volunteer-based organization with a mission to conserve natural resources, encourage sound management of the watersheds and protect the quality of life for the residents of the greater St. Louis area, has expressed concerns that the development will have negative effects on the Missouri River. Included in those concerns is an increase in polluted stormwater runoff that the group says could affect drinking water. The organization believes a more restricted floodplain would result in more flooding and increased costs to taxpayers for repairing flood damage. It predicts increased traffic danger on the Katy Trail and serious environmental impact on Bangert Island as a result of the project.

Conversely, proponents believe the project will keep Bangert Island Park in its natural state and actually will restore damaged habitat. They believe it will preserve natural surface trails, along with extending them to make better connections to the Katy Trail and paved surface development trails and sidewalks. Project leaders say they already have been working on these plans with Tony Caruso, the Gateway Off-Road Cyclists Bangert Island trail steward, who has registered a letter of support.

Greenway Network also believes properties within this project that were included in the 1993 St. Charles County floodplain buy-out program should remain as open space for when water levels rise. In 2014, the organization passed a resolution suggesting that programs be developed to buy properties from willing sellers along the corridor between the Katy Trail and Bangert Island. Then, include those properties in the Bangert Island Conservation Area and Katy Trail State Park.

In February 2019, the Greenway Network hosted a presentation and panel discussion “to help educate the public and answer questions” about the transformation project.

On May 21, in an interview with Mid Rivers Newsmagazine, Temme addressed the organization’s concerns about flood buyout property, stating:

“The only property with a potential for flood buyout restrictions in the entire project area is the county park trailhead at 1704 S. River Road. This property will remain the trailhead to the island when the project is complete and no development is planned on this parcel, thereby not violating any FEMA restrictions.”

Major phases and next steps

The proposed project area for Phase 1, with an estimated cost of about $15.8 million, abuts the Streets of St. Charles development and I-70. The 22-acre, mixed-use development would nearly double the size of the Streets of St. Charles. Included in Phase 1 would be the water-quality basin, the extension and reconstruction of Lombard Street, and the creation of the Lombard Street roundabout and the Old South River Road loop road.

Phase 2, with an estimated cost of about $36.6 million, proposes enhancements to the area around the St. Charles Family Arena. Included would be an 80-acre mixed-used space, providing recreational, employment, entertainment, and retail opportunities.

Phase 3 [not currently part of the project] would in the future develop 20 total acres of land parcels connecting Phase 1 and Phase 2, and would provide important linkage to regional attractions. Cost estimates for Phase 3 are not available.

Estimated cost categories, totaling $52,450,000, are:

• $38.8 million for new roadway construction

• $2.1 million for roadway reconstruction

• $2.2 million for on-street bicycle/pedestrian facilities

• $9.35 million for stormwater facilities

Anticipated funding sources are:

• $25 million, BUILD grant request

• $27.45 million from local matches provided by the city of St. Charles and the St. Charles County Road Board

From July through September 2019, the St. Charles City Council is expected to discuss and hear public comment on the various Phase 1 plans and bids. In December 2019, the city will open bids for Phase 1 street projects. By February 2020, the completion of Phase 1 basin construction and mass grading is expected.

Phase 2 next steps are expected to begin in 2020.

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