Year Awarded: 
2017

     Throughout his career, Peter Sortino (1954-2017) made significant impacts in the fields of parks, recreation, and health in the states of Missouri and Illinois. Through a uniquely strategic understanding of the lateral connections of any developing project, he was able to operate at once on a macro and micro level, always increasing a project's odds of success. 

     In the spring of 1999, Peter led the effort to pass legislation to create metropolitan park and recreation districts in both the Illinois and Missouri General Assemblies. In 2000, he coordinated a campaign to pass Proposition C, the Clean Water, Safe Parks and Community Trails sales tax initiative. On November 7, 2000, voters in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County in Missouri, along with voters in Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois, overwhelmingly approved Proposition C and created the first bi-state parks and recreation districts in the country. This 1/10th sales tax dedicated funding amounts to $12 million annually. These funds have allowed Great Rivers Greenway and Metro East Parks and Recreation District to serve 2.5 million citizens by creating more than 250 miles of trails (and counting!) where people can walk, run or ride a bike. 

     Peter’s efforts continued with the CityArchRiver Initiative, a $380-million public-private partnership to renovate the National Park Service’s Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (Gateway Arch), the St. Louis Riverfront and Kiener Plaza in the heart of downtown St. Louis. During the 2012 legislative session, he worked with St. Louis’ Civic Progress, an organization of chief executives in the St. Louis region, and succeeded in passing enabling legislation for a 3/16th-cent sales tax as the Safe and Accessible Arch and Public Parks Initiative, known as Proposition P. This initiative also included authorizing legislation to allow Jackson County, Missouri to put a sales tax on the ballot for Kansas City’s MetroGreen. The bill was passed by the voters in St. Louis City and County on April 3, 2013. The funds generated more than $100 million in public tax support for the CityArchRiver Project and were administered through Great Rivers Greenway. These funds matched $250 million in private donations from the not-for-profit Gateway Arch Park Foundation, state and local grants for one of the largest public-private partnerships in the National Park Service’s history. Sixty percent of the funds go to Great Rivers Greenway, with half allocated exclusively for the CityArchRiver Project. The other half more than doubled the revenue for Great Rivers Greenway projects, which includes the development of the River Ring, a 600-mile interconnected greenway system. The remaining 40% goes to local parks in St. Louis City and St. Louis County.

     Peter was a long-standing member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee for Forest Park Forever, the private not-for-profit conservancy for Forest Park, the region’s premier park serving more than 12 million visitors a year. The 1,200-acre park includes free admission to many of the major cultural institutions, such as the St. Louis Zoo, Art Museum, and Missouri History Museum. Peter's impact as a relationship builder aided Forest Park Forever in developing, fostering, and maintaining strong partnerships and relationships with the City of St. Louis, corporations, individuals, and foundations across the region. Peter was instrumental during the earliest years of Forest Park Forever in the development of the strategic plan. This was developed through the implementation of the Forest Park Forever and City of St. Louis Bond Agreement in 2011 and 2013. This cutting-edge agreement was vital to securing a stable funding source and management strategy for Forest Park for decades to come. In his past role as president of the Danforth Foundation, Peter facilitated, advocated, and guided enormous investments and improvements in Forest Park. As chair of "Celebrate 2004," which took place in Forest Park, Peter grew in his understanding of the park as a community gathering place and continued to share the lessons learned through that experience over time.

     Peter Sortino was also the founding chair of the St. Louis Regional Health Commission (RHC), which is a collaborative effort to improve healthcare access and health outcomes in St. Louis City and County. In his volunteer role as chair, Peter spent countless hours preserving and improving safety net health care for tens of thousands. Accomplishments achieved through Peter’s leadership include:

  • Nearly $500 million in funding has been preserved since 2001 to provide health care services for those living in poverty in the St. Louis region.
  • Access to health care has increased by 120,000 medical visits for low-income citizens compared to 2001 – from 730,000 to more than 850,000 visits – more than a 20% increase.
  • Dental access has increased more than 60% since 2001 at community health centers.
  • More than 75,000 emergency department visits have been prevented annually through the preservation of the community health center network in urban core.
  • The region’s acute mental health hospital was reopened through RHC’s leadership, preserving medical access to those in mental health crisis.
  • More than $11 million has been generated and invested by RHC for targeted programs to improve medical access and health care services for the underserved.
  •      Peter Sortino was appointed Assistant Vice Chancellor at Washington University in St. Louis on June 1, 2011. Before that, he served as president of the Danforth Foundation from January of 2005 until May 31, 2011. This Foundation was dissolved, as planned, after granting all remaining assets to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. As president, he was responsible for the administration of all grants and related activities of the Foundation, which was established in 1927.  

         From 2000 to 2004, Peter served as president of St. Louis 2004, which was formed to kick-start major regional improvement projects. He provided direction and oversight to the staff to ensure the achievement of the organization’s mission to bring people, groups, and resources together to make the region a better place to live, work, and recreate. For the four years preceding that role, Peter served as vice president and executive vice president. He was responsible for managing the Citizenship Action Team that developed several of the initiatives contained in the 2004 Action Plan, including Safe Places for Kids, Workforce Diversity, Ceasefire, and Zero Tolerance for Hate. In addition, Peter was responsible for managing all external affairs and intergovernmental relations.

         Peter held a degree in urban planning from the University of Cincinnati. He was a beloved member of the community, devoted volunteer at his church, and loving husband and father. Peter’s legacy goes far beyond great projects – he institutionalized the values of his fellow community members into sustainable, long-term solutions that will impact people for generations to come. His dedication as a behind-the-scenes driver of change and dedicated citizen is inspiring to all. [September 2017]