I believe that a city like St. Louis should support the rights of all citizens to assemble, petition their government, and engage in political speech in our business district and government center, while fulfilling our responsibilities under city ordinances to manage public spaces, including areas set aside as parks, and maintain public safety and good order. After listening to weeks of discussion among various groups interested in the subject, I have come to believe that St. Louis needs a public forum that enables political demonstrators advancing causes of all kinds to have, if they choose, a 24 hour, 7 day a week presence in the center of our city. However, and this is an important point, I also believe that people engaged in political speech can be continuously visible but still respect the legal curfew for our parks, the legal requirements that forbid tent encampments, and the rules of public health.
I have asked Parks and Recreation Director Gary Bess to begin work on plans to rededicate a part of the block of the Gateway Mall across Market Street from the U.S. Post Office as "Freedom Square" ' or some other appropriate name ' and to work with the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to draft legislation that would exempt it from the ordinary 10 p.m. curfew for parks. If the Board approves, the space would become available as a 24/7 as a place of assembly and speech, but not as a tent encampment or place on which temporary structures may be erected.
Two members of my senior staff, Mary Ellen Ponder and Eddie Roth, were at Kiener Plaza last evening to speak with members of Occupy St. Louis. Good conversations include both listening and speaking. They did both.
They told the Occupy group about Freedom Square and, based upon concerns raised by the group earlier, clarified the City's position on Kiener Plaza.
Kiener Plaza is available ' as it always has been ' for political demonstrations between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. every day, provided there is no tent encampment and no other temporary structures are erected in the park without a permit.
The sidewalk around Kiener Plaza is a public right of way. It is available for political marching 24 hours a day, 7 days a week ' as it always has been ' so long as the demonstrators are respectful of other pedestrian traffic.
The City soon will resume enforcement of the 10 p.m. curfew at Kiener Plaza. The tent encampment erected by Occupy St. Louis will be removed, if it is still there. Human Services officials will work to find housing and services for homeless people associated with Occupy encampment.
The Occupy group gathered last night flatly rejected all proposals. It is possible that an Occupy group gathered today may reach a different conclusion.