FOR DECADES EAST ST. LOUIS HAS BEEN MIRED IN MISERY. Its 1992 murder rate was the highest in the nation, while the property-tax rate was one of the highest in Illinois. Six years ago, it achieved national notoriety when, crippled by debt, it gave up the city hall to settle a lawsuit. Garbage lay uncollected in the streets. Businesses fled. Today half the 40,000 residents, in a town that used to be integrated but is now 98% black, qualify for public assistance. Drugs are rampant. Where better than this slum on the Mississippi River to build a glittering $45 million floating...

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