NOTHING A FEW BILLION DOLLARS COULDN'T FIX: There are three things you just have to do, and "pay taxes" is not one of them. You have to die, you have to wait to die and, while you're waiting to die, you have to hear why it's absolutely essential for the St. Louis region that Lambert Airport be expanded. W-1W is the $2.6 billion answer, whatever the question is. Of course, don't ask the pilots' association and the air traffic controllers, because what do they know? They only fly the planes and make sure they take off and land safely. Both groups expressed concern and opposition about W-1W, but never mind -- the fix, uh, the deal, was done. This year the Federal Aviation Administration issued its "record of decision," which said, basically, "Yeah, go ahead, if this is what you want to do." Meanwhile, across the river, the $300 million MidAmerica Airport opened near Scott Air Force Base. Surrounded by cornfields, soon to be linked with MetroLink and waiting for flights, the new airport stands virtually empty while the bulldozers are idling in Bridgeton. But just wait. Even Lambert's estimates say its current average delay of six minutes will be decreased only slightly and for a short time by the expansion; by 2015 the delays will have grown back to six minutes. By then, some enterprising airline may start using MidAmerica for point-to-point discount flights, thereby relieving Lambert of some of its congestion -- something that could have been done many years, and several billion dollars, ago. (DJW)

DEVOLUTION OF DESEG: Sometimes the best reason for something is that the world would be worse without it. That may sound like a weak argument to support the 15-year-old St. Louis school-desegregation program, but consider what the city, and the metropolitan area, would be like if the estimated several billion dollars of extra state aid hadn't been given to area schools. Or if the tens of thousands of African-American city students hadn't been given a choice to attend suburban schools. Or if white suburban adolescents hadn't been immersed in perhaps the only integrated environment they had all week. Sure, the black kids all sit together in the cafeteria, but that's just lunch. This was the year that Missouri Attorney General Jeremiah "Jay" Nixon's obsessive effort to bring the issue to a head succeeded, if you want to call that success. The Legislature crafted SB 781, a bill -- somewhat flawed -- to provide continued funding for deseg, thereby making a settlement possible. Trouble is, for the plan to continue in any manner, a sales-tax increase has to be passed by city voters in February. Even if that passes, the most optimistic estimate is that the city schools will have a $10 million shortfall in funding. So the troubled city schools will have to make do with less money. If the sales-tax proposal fails, then it's back to the judge and then -- maybe, finally -- a full trial on the issue. (DJW)

UNBELIEVABLE: It was too good to be true. Believers should be indicted for their naivete; the dealmakers shouldn't be convicted for their sleight of hand. The city was operating Kiel Opera House and Kiel Auditorium at a deficit, while the Arena on Oakland Avenue was funky and not up to the current gold standard for indoor-hockey venues. The solution? A new group, Kiel Center Partners, a subset of the paternally omniscient Civic Progress, would replace the auditorium with a new, glorious Kiel Center, if the city pitched in $35 million and closed the Arena to eliminate competition. And what the hey -- as part of the deal, the Kiel boys would fix up the ol' Opera House. At least that was the public line. But behind closed doors, that "renovation" was limited to $2.5 million; later, the Partners said they'd met their obligation, but the Opera House was nowhere near ready. Cry foul? Well, the city signed a "certificate of completion" saying the Kiel Partners had done their part. Since then, three studies -- two paid for in part by Kiel Center Partners, one by St. Louis 2004 -- have recommended that the Opera House not be reopened. Efforts are being made to reopen the Opera House, but whether the money exists is another matter. There is no smart money in this game, but if you have to bet, place a wager on some sort of museum use for the building and be thankful the one idea from the Fox Associates' study wasn't adopted -- keeping the facade, gutting the insides and turning the Opera House into a parking garage. (DJW)

BLOW IT UP REAL GOOD: Yes, if only John Candy were alive, the city could hire him to show up in February to reprise his old SCTV skit in which, as a bib-overall-wearing film critic, he rated movies by the number and quality of their explosions. On this scale, St. Louis has, as Candy would say, "blowed up real good." Next on the list is the Arena. More than 200,000 people a day pass the edifice on Oakland Avenue. Yes, there are many memories there -- the Blues, the Spirits of St. Louis, concerts by the Who and Bruce Springsteen, and even, in decades past, the Firemen's Rodeo, featuring the Three Stooges. But it appears that this too (the Arena) will pass. Maybe the Arena Angels, the group of unpaid activists who oppose its demolition, are right. Maybe the fix was in for the Arena. With Mayor Clarence Harmon, the Board of Aldermen and local captains of industry all signing off on the deal, it might be time to recognize the obvious, because the dogs are barking and the caravan is moving on. Just watch for that day in February, bring a cooler and enjoy the show. (DJW)

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