Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Shop Downtown!

Shop Downtown
Right now there's an underlying competition going on. It's been going on for a while now.

In April 2006, the previously slated "Ballpark Village" plans were unveiled. Bill DeWitt III of the Cardinals and Chase Martin of Cordish explained a new city center with entertainment and upscale shopping. "National Brands" without a presence in St. Louis would be there. It would be a thriving part of the revitalized downtown-a destination point for shoppers. Sounds good.

Last year, John Steffen and the Pyramid Crew came up with a similar sounding plan, Mercantile Exchange. At the lunch meeting promoting the project, it was described as a mix between local independent stores and national brands with entertainment and free parking. A very impressive plan, but I couldn't help but draw parallels with Ballpark Village.

Shopping Downtown is how it should be. For years, downtown was the focal point for local area shoppers. Generations of St. Louisan's remember big shopping trips in downtown. St. Louis was a relevant major city then.Enter suburban sprawl, overall decline of downtown and the major shopping mall. Most attempts (St. Louis Centre) to reverse the trend were unsuccessful. Many argue that St. Louis Centre's attempt to bring suburbia into the inner city was what killed it. It's overall lack of authenticity.

Now, the building blocks are in place. Downtown is growing. People really want to be here to live work and play. They are wanting the services and opportunities that Ballpark Village and the Mercantile Exchange will offer.

Who could possibly screw this up? Enter in City Government.

OK, so nothing has happened yet. But in an article in today's Post, it describes a clandestine real estate acquisition by the city that city development leaders have planned for a new shopping center. As Rodney Crimm (viewed above at the Lee J's expansion ribbon cutting) put it, so residents can shop in the City instead of going to the county. It cites the projects location, having good interstate access between 40/64 and 44 (doesn't downtown have good enough highway access?)

The thing that is disturbing is not that downtown projects have competition. Obviously we live in a society where competition is a central paradigm. What is frustrating is that this appears to be a project not born out of free enterprise, but some secret deal between the city and MSD that no one seems to be asking for. Why should bureaucracy compete with free enterprise? As Mr. Crimm puts it, to compete for the tax dollars that are lost to the county. Why can't the city just work hard to be a great city and stop trying to be a suburban knock-off?

St. Louisan's are ready for a "5th Avenue" (New York) or "magnificent mile" (Chicago); an authentic urban shopping area. We just have to be ourselves and work to build our great city.

No comments: