Trolley delays continue, lawsuits led against project

Emma Baker | Staff Reporter

In a lawsuit filed against the Loop Trolley project, plaintiff Peter Sarandos argues that the Loop Trolley tracks extend 300 feet past the designated boundary in St. Louis City and 235 feet past the district’s boundary in University City.

The suit was filed by Sarandos in July 2015 after four previous lawsuits were dismissed in April 2014. It appeals an earlier ruling in favor of the project, which affirmed that it was not violating the “necessary and convenient” clause regarding the trolley’s railroad tracks extending past their designated boundaries.

In a hearing in front of the Missouri Court of Appeals, JoAnn Sandifer, attorney for the trolley district, claimed that if the court were to rule that the trespassing railroads be removed, the project’s cost could increase by $5 million. Canice Timothy Rice Jr., lawyer for the plaintiffs, proposed that there could be a “repeat election” on the 1 percent sales tax on businesses in the boundaries of the project, referred to as the “Trolley tax.”

“When they passed the Trolley tax, it was never really clear what it was going to be for. We went to a meeting a few months ago. And one of the people who was a retail person—they thought the 1 percent tax was only going to be until the trolley was constructed,” Rodan Management businessman Dan Wald said. “When they found out that this goes on forever, they were shocked.

I’ve heard from retailers who say that their business is affected.”

Joe Edwards, St. Louis businessman and pioneer of the Loop Trolley, expressed his concerns that if the suit wins, the rails will have to be pulled back up.

“It’s unbelievable that this is still going on,” Edwards said. “I often wonder…‘So, [you want] to put the Loop back under construction?’ I don’t know what they want.”

Loop Trolley Company president Les Sterman, in an October letter to representatives of St. Louis City, County and University City, stated that without an additional $500,000, the non-profit trolley would be unable to fund start-up costs and debts, partially due to premature hiring of trolley managers and employees.

“The thing that amazed me is that these funds that we’re asking money from are only transit-oriented funds,” Edwards said. “I’ve been told they have over $40 million sitting in that account; so, why not fund $500,000 out of $40 million?”

In 2015, Edwards requested $4 million from the City Council, but the project only received $3 million. In August 2017, he requested $500,000, explaining that the additional funds would con- tribute in part to the million dollar funding gap.

The Loop Trolley has been criticized by businesses on the Loop since construction began, which cite impacts on their potential

retail livelihood and miscommunications with the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District.

“I think we all want it to succeed. We just don’t know what’s going on because there has been no transparency,” businesswoman and Marketing Director of the Loop Special Business District Jessica Bueler said. “Every time we would learn something new about the trolley, it would be too late to change it.”

Despite delays, Edwards remains confident that the electric trolley will function as a symbol of pride for St. Louis and be a way to introduce the city to green transit.

“[The appeals] cost a lot of time and energy and money,” Edwards said. “The whole process in this context is supervised by a judge, and she OK’d every single thing, every step of the way. It’s amazing that they think they can go against a judge who certified everything.”

For Wald, the question is not whether the trolley is a good addition to the Delmar community but whether people will use it.

“It’s not that we wish it to not happen or not work because there has been a lot of suffering by the businesses and everyone else waiting for this to come to fruition,” Wald said. “This is going to go from University City Loop, which is already a very vibrant and popular area, to Forest Park. The question is: Will people use it?”