Monday, March 29, 2010

Downtown's Role in St. Louis' Competitiveness

I highly recommend checking out the Post-Dispatch's series "Can St. Louis Compete?" if you have not done so already.  And as with any of the Post-Dispatch's online articles, I also highly recommend avoiding the reader comments.

Anyway, the first two articles in the series have touched on some of the reasons for St. Louis' decline over the last half century, and the issues our region must address in order to turn things around.

Of course, our problems stem from a long list of items that each need to be tackled - balkanized government, education, taxation, insufficient access to venture capital, lack of innovation, among others.

The second installment of the series, "Finding a Niche," addresses St. Louis' reputation problem, which has caused the region to, at times, get passed over by companies looking to move or expand.  The article includes a quote from Doug Koch, chief talent officer for Brown Shoe, on one overarching problem that seems to find its way into many of our other problems - "We have not been good at blowing our own horn, and blowing it in a way that is effective."

I agree completely.  And to me, the civic inferiority complex - it would probably be more accurate to describe it as self-loathing - that so many in our region seem to suffer from is a direct result of decades of disinvestment in our central business district.

As middle-class residents moved to the suburbs in post-war St. Louis, an increasing number of jobs and employers followed.  As a result, downtown St. Louis suffered more than 50 years of decline, and a substantial segment of the population found itself living and working away from the urban core, creating a massive disconnect between our citizenry and our downtown.

A city's downtown, however, is where it derives its very identity.  In thriving, successful cities, even suburban residents can consider their regions' downtowns to be points of pride.  In St. Louis, on the other hand, we now have several generations of residents who are either completely apathetic/indifferent to the plight of downtown, or who harbor negative perceptions of it - people who consider Clayton to be the region's downtown.

It's more difficult for most people to take pride in a city with a ragged downtown, because now matter how much boasting to outsiders one does about St. Louis and all it has to offer - which is a lot - inevitably, the conversation will eventually come back to the state of our downtown.  Having a great Clayton or a great Creve Coeur will never solve that issue; downtown is our public face to the rest of the world.  And right now, that face is haggard and gaunt, with an overabundance of vacant buildings and surface lots, with a handful of urban planning blunders thrown in for good measure.  We need to put our best face forward, something we haven't done in years.

I remain convinced, however, that if more employers were to choose downtown, something that would revitalize our central business district and reconnect our residents with our city's identity, civic self-loathing would subside, and St. Louis could blow its own horn once again.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Work Beginning on 600 Washington

On Wednesday, Clayco began setting up construction fencing around the southeast and northeast corners of St. Louis Centre, presumably to begin reconfiguring the entrance to One City Centre, now known as 600 Washington.  Now, if they could just do something about those skybridges...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sprucing Up a Downtown Entrance

I'm a big fan of the recent landscaping improvements that have been added to the grassy areas alongside 55/70 at the Memorial Drive exit.  They really help spruce up what was previously a drab area and help make for a nicer entrance into downtown.

This got me thinking about other ways to improve downtown's front doorstep.

Obviously, renovating the decrepit Powell Square Building would have the greatest impact, but who knows when that will ever come about?

One relatively cost-efficient way to welcome motorists to downtown would be to paint the railroad trestle that crosses over 55.70 immediately south of the Memorial Drive exit (and immediately north of Powell Square).  It was once painted to read "Route of the Eagles" by Union Pacific, but most of it has been painted over with a solid swath of black (a similar trestle can be found on Kingshighway, near Fyler).

Why not give this trestle a fresh, colorful look?  Paint it in red, yellow and blue to make it look like the city of St. Louis flag, along with "Welcome to Downtown St. Louis." Perhaps a philanthropic organization such as the Danforth Foundation or the Gateway Foundation could help pay for the makeover.

Trailnet recently converted a retired railroad trestle over Interstate 44 in Kirkwood to a walking/biking trail and painted it bright green - the results are amazing.  Something similar would look incredible downtown and could be done relatively easily.  The only difference between the downtown trestle and the one in Kirkwood is that the downtown one is still in use and would likely require permission from Union Pacific.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Downtown Development Status Rundown

Dominium Development plans to start work on the Leather Trades Lofts as soon as it can procure $3 million in anticipated state tax credits.  The project will include 86 loft apartments geared toward artists.

Construction on 100 high-end apartments in The Alexa - the former Chemical Building - is expected to begin in the next 30 days, with completion coming in 12 to 15 months.

The Lawrence Group has been given a deadline of June 30 to begin construction on its Park Pacific development and expects to have financing in place within 60 days.

Financing is nearly in place for the redevelopment of St. Louis Centre, pending completion of paperwork related to New Markets Tax Credits for the project.

Deputy mayor for development Barbara Geisman is reporting that The Laurel - the conversion of the former Dillard's Building into apartments and a hotel - is moving "full-speed ahead."

Sources are reporting that plans for the Roberts Brothers' Hotel Indigo project on Locust have been shelved, possibly giving the two historic buildings on the site a second chance for redevelopment.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Asking Way Too Much

The Zimmerman Associates building at 400 N. Tucker is listed for sale.  Originally a Hertz rental car facility, this free-standing, two-story, 2,400 sf building was built in 1960 and gut rehabbed in 1999 to include exposed brick walls and terrazzo floors.

The building is situated on a large (8,357 sf) fenced lot with attached parking, and there is abundant additional parking available in surface lots and garages nearby.

Its prominent location at the corner of Tucker and Locust make it a prime candidate for infill development, and is likely the reason for the exorbitant asking price of $1,178,750.

At that price and in this market, I can see this property sitting vacant for a long time.  It's a shame, too, since Tucker could really use some added density.  Along with the U.S. Bank branch across the street, it's one of two sorely under-utilized parcels along this prominent boulevard.

Anthony Burgio of Prime Properties is the listing agent - (636) 797-4770.

(BTW, is Zimmerman Associates still in business?)