Sunday, September 16, 2007
The Economic Web of Downtown St. Louis
Downtown St. Louis used to be a pretty dreary place. The places that I walk today with prospective loft buyers are the same streets I walked as a much younger college kid looking for a wild night out. When I walk downtown today, the first thing I see are, like many people, loft buildings with big banners and ads enticing people to embrace an urban lifestyle in St. Louis. Unfortunately, to many, only these lofts seem to stand out as a single lonely blip on the radar of what's new in town.
But wait, could there be more? Can St. Louis have more than just a few loft buildings and a big steel arch?
Fifteen years ago, with the population of residents downtown at anemic levels, the downtown economy pretty much boiled down to the 80-90,000 people commuting in to work daily, the St. Louis Cardinals, and a few late night clubs. Factories were mostly shuttered, and retail was pathetic. Tourism existed, but why? The entire downtown area folded up at 5pm.
Dramatic plus that our urban renaissance has created is that the glut of class "A" and "B" office space downtown has disappeared. Buildings once open at barely surviving capacity have been reinvented as lofts and hotels.
The ongoing increase in population downtown has prompted a new need for services and retail that doesn't close at 5pm. This need has been slowly changing the downtown streetscape to a blighted appearance to that of a trendy metropolis.
Some major key investments by the community was the building of Americas Center, Edward Jones Dome, and Scottrade Center. Despite having a world class convention center, most large convention committees try to assess the area surrounding the convention center as well. Conventioneers complained of no life, sparse restaurants, and very little entertainment.
Bringing both residents and retail into our downtown area has helped our convention bureau to generate a buzz about our town and to lure the type of large scale events that are coveted by cities across the country.
With residents, housing, retail, entertainment and tourism all on the rise, what comes next? The final piece of the puzzle is more commercial. Fifteen years ago, any merger involving a downtown business or even lease renewals seemed to have a familiar tone. Businesses and jobs were abandoning the city for St. Louis county, or worse yet, outside of the region completely. With a more positive environment and housing among the most affordable in the nation, companies can begin to eye downtown St. Louis as a strong contender to start or move their business in. Just within the past 6 months, St. Louis is experiencing the obvious benefits of our improving community. Currently AG Edwards and Wachovia are merging and instead of another St. Louis based corporate headquarters leaving town (TWA, McDonnell Douglas, etc.) the retail security division of Wachovia is moving here. We have already experienced the influx of more new residents into the St. Louis community. Another possible situation with Centene in Clayton, considering a move out of the region, is also considering a move Downtown.
The real gift is that this cylce can continue to repeat itself until our downtown is the thriving downtown that it once was.