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PROFILE

Leader of the Loop

By Carol Schwab

Joe Edwards Owner of Blueberry Hill, the Tivoli Theater and The Pageant; founder of the St. Louis Walk of Fame


If only one person were to receive credit for transforming the University City Loop from desolate and unpopulated to thriving and diverse, it would have to be Joe Edwards. His first business foray into the area was the opening of a neighborhood restaurant, Blueberry Hill, in September 1972. At the time, he wasn’t just looking for a place to hang his hat, but a place to hang his pop memorabilia items he had been collecting since he was very young. Acknowledging his eccentric hobby, he explains that he had “very understanding parents.”

The restaurant wasn’t exactly an immediate success. “We almost went out of business three times in the first two years,” recalls the St. Louis native and Loop resident. At the time, “approximately half of the storefronts were either boarded up or vacant. There were few people on the streets in the daytime and even fewer at night. It was pretty much given up for dead.” But the restaurant and bar did become the neighborhood hangout and the small 2,500-square-foot pub gradually grew until it enveloped a whole city block—10,000 square feet—after a fourth and final $1.25 million expansion.

Edwards, like many smart retail owners, focused not only on the establishment itself, but its surroundings. To improve the area, he co-founded the Loop Special Business District that allows business and property owners to tax themselves and use that money to pay for street improvements, security and trash removal.

Then in 1988, he founded a nonprofit organization, the St. Louis Walk of Fame, to recognize great St. Louisans and their accomplishments. To date, 90 individuals associated with St. Louis have been commemorated. A succession of large brass stars have been embedded in the sidewalk along Delmar Boulevard in the Loop with names of these individuals and brief commentaries about them.


Fast Facts
  • In 1972 Edwards opened Blueberry Hill

  • In 1988 he founded the non-profit St. Louis Walk of Fame, now with 90 inductees

  • The restored Tivoli Theatre re-opened in 1995

  • In April 2000, ground was broken on The Pageant Building at 6161 Delmar in the City of St. Louis

  • Construction of the 50,000-square-foot Pageant Building is expected to cost $5.6 million

Edwards furthered redevelopment of the Loop through his purchase of the Tivoli Theatre Building in 1994. “I assumed a ‘real’ developer would come in and buy it.” And when one didn’t, Edwards stepped forward. “I knew I could afford to buy the Tivoli, but I didn’t know if I could afford to renovate it. We bought it not because it was a good financial investment, but because having a theater in the area is important,” he says. “The Tivoli has really made a difference,” he notes.

Each Loop project Edwards has undertaken has been larger and higher profile than the previous one and had an increasing impact on the area. Working with the Arts in Transit program at Bi-State, last year Edwards announced he would be building a mixed-use structure that will feature a state-of-the-art concert venue/nightclub, a neighborhood gathering place called the Halo Bar and two floors of office space and two retail storefronts. The three-story, 33,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed this September. The nightclub, owned and operated by a partnership of Joe Edwards and Pat Hagin with SFX/Contemporary Productions, will have a capacity of 1,500-plus and will be designed specifically for live music production.

“The Pageant will extend the Loop east of Skinker on Delmar,” Edwards states. “It will take something as big as the Pageant to electrify the area—just the announcement has already triggered interest. It took 25 years for the Loop to come bank, but in just two years we’ll see a dramatic difference in this section of the neighborhood.

“The Pageant solidifies the Loop’s position as the most exciting area to hear live music. It is important for this region to have a night club/concert venue that is specifically designed for music. We’ll be as good or better than anyplace in the country. Another bonus Edwards mentions is its proximity to the MetroLink station.

Prior to his involvement in the Loop, he wrote music reference books, taught as a substitute teacher in the city schools, and worked as a management trainee at the Bank of St. Louis. He majored in psychology at Duke University. He has two daughters and a wife, Linda, who co-owns Blueberry Hill.

So what will be the Leader of the Loop’s next project? “I’d like to see a fixed-rail trolley in the Loop. I’ve spoken to Bi-State about it and there is a feasibility study going on right now. I’d love to see it go from the lions at the west end to DeBalivere, then south to the Missouri Historical Society and back. It would connect the neighborhood to two MetroLink stations and the wonderful attractions in Forest Park.” And after that Edwards dreams someone will come in and develop a boutique hotel. But with Edwards, dreams become reality.

 

 

 


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