ALIVE AND THRIVING
| It’s official, Downtown is now home to a full-service grocery store. City Grocers is located at the corner of 10th and Olive.
|Downtown and many neighboring cities are making big changes.
By Linda F. Jarrett
When a group of “Countians” gets together, the subject of downtown St. Louis invariably comes up and all too often the next step is to knock it—except for the ballparks. Naysayers need to take another look at, not only Downtown St. Louis, but many neighboring municipalities where positive change is in the wind.
In the past several years, through all of
St. Louis’ ups and downs, numerous civic groups have funded various studies, on how to improve St. Louis’ center city. However, in 2002, urban retail consultant Midge McCauley of Downtown Works in Philadelphia, Pa. was hired to evaluate Downtown St. Louis.
Jim Cloar, president of Downtown St. Louis Partnership, says a consortium of groups including St. Louis Downtown Corporation, Downtown Now, RCGA and St. Louis 2004 partnered on the study. “Her task was to come in and evaluate our current retail situation in downtown, and outline a strategy that would help us build on our assets.”
The “report card,” which took six months outlined a “three-phase” approach.
“The first phase,” Cloar says, “would target geographic areas and types of businesses to pursue. The second was to develop some incentives to attract business and retail downtown, and the third was to get proactive in recruiting retail and restaurants to locate downtown, work closely with brokers, and find ways to generate interest.”
To help fund “public-type” services such as security, beautification, economic development, and marketing, all downtown property owners pay a Community Improvement District Assessment that generates about $2.5 million yearly, which is administered by the Downtown St. Louis Partnership. The amount, collected on the tax bill, is based on the size of the land and building.
Downtown is definitely on the move. Besides the several large multi-million dollar projects including the new Cardinal Ballpark and ballpark village, the Old Post Office District, the Grand Renaissance Hotel, the Washington Avenue Streetscape is becoming a reality with more retail opening their doors at street level rather then in a mall. And new restaurants are popping up everywhere (see pages 56 and 57 for a small sampling).
A successful downtown needs residential as well as retail, and approximately 20 buildings have converted to lofts since 2000, which equates to about 1,400 residential units completed or underway over the past four years. Construction on another 1,000 apartments and condominiums was planned by the end of 2004. And there has been nearly $2.2 billion in new public and private investment since 1999. This translates into thousands of new residents bringing a vibrancy to downtown. And spending their money-much of it in the new home furnishing stores sprouting up along Washington.
“These stores seemed to be a natural offshoot of the loft district,” Cloar says. “People seem to interpret those who live in lofts as having trendy tastes.”
McCauley visited St. Louis last October and was impressed with the progress.
Cloar says, “We gave her a tour and was blown away. She says, ‘If I was giving report cards, I’d give you an A plus.’ She says we were doing exactly what we should be doing and much faster than she thought we would.
“It’s like watching your child grow up and you don’t notice until an absent relative remarks on how much the child has grown,” Cloar says.
MERCHANT SPEAK OUT
Todd and Tammy Martin opened their home furnishing store, Ambiente, in Downtown St. Louis last July. “We were in St. Charles, and we love it here,” Todd says. “Most of our clients are either in the lofts, or the Tower Grove Park area, plus we draw a lot from Illinois.”
Hamilton Jewelers has been in downtown since 1937 and
current owner, Bob Beumer sees great things happening. “I compliment Mayor (Francis) Slay. I think we have someone who is
a man of action, not sitting on the sidelines needing everyone’s opinion to do something. The City has helped by making it easier to open businesses.”
Gauging the success of downtown on the bottom line, Pat Shannon of Mike Shannon’s Steakhouse says their business increased approximately $300,000 in 2004. “We see a lot more people down here. The boarded up buildings are disappearing, there is more to do. The Cardinals always bring business, and River Splash was a huge success.”
Revitalization is reaching north into Florissant with over $150 million in development, 450 new businesses, and over 3000 jobs since Robert Lowery was elected mayor in 2001.
| New homes in Barrington Downs Subdivision reflect Florissant’s revitalization.
Director of Economic Development Bob Russell says The Shoppes at Cross Keys, a $60 million TIF project developed by The Sansone Group at Lindbergh Boulevard and New Halls Ferry Road was instrumental in
getting redevelopment off the ground.
“The Sansone project was probably the nucleus of the redevelopment and rebirth,” Russell says. “He was the first one on the block in a long time to spend a lot of money. Development creates and attracts other developers, so we’ve built on that and continue to roll.”
He says, “As an older city, we have little to no vacant ground to build, so development has to be in the revitalization of existing centers.”
Florissant has approximately 20 shopping centers at least 20 years old, and the city has sent out requests for proposals across the country.
“We have a list of approximately 35 developers,” Russell says, “and not just in the
St. Louis area. We are actively pursuing redevelopment of all existing centers. We have redevelopment proposals for 10 existing centers and while the other 10 are probably not in a condition that would warrant an RFP yet, we check and see where the most likely redevelopments would occur based on traffic patterns, age and conditions of the centers.”
Some projects in the works include a proposed Shop ‘n Save, a $10 million to $12 million TIF project, at the corner of Shackleford and Charbonier Roads, “The Shrine Project,” a
$19 million mixed use commercial/residential, and Lowery Estates, a 15-home project of “move-up” homes starting at $240,000.
“We have strong demographics,” Russell says. “With our new annexations, we have approximately 55,000 people, the population is coming up, average household income is $58,000 to $59,000, we have new home development so we have all the ingredients for major retailers.”
Those visiting Old Town St. Charles might be in for a surprise. Although antique, craft and specialty shops still occupy a special place, historic rehabbed buildings are now home to attorneys, web designers and other professionals who have turned from multi-storied office buildings.
When, in 1992, Randy Schilling started Quilogy, an IT consulting firm, he was debating on whether to go to the Highway 40 corridor or stay close to home in St. Charles. He opted for the latter, and opened an office in the rehabbed Odd Fellows Building, built in 1878, at 117 S. Main St.
| Old Town St. Charles’ historic rehabbed buildings are now home to attorneys, web designers and
Before the 1993 flood, North Main Street was a pedestrian mall and blocked off to traffic. Not only was it suffering, it was affecting the shops on South Main. After the flood, the city reopened the street to traffic.
“New restaurants started popping up,” Schilling says, “but when the city invested in new administration and the courts building, more attorneys came, and they wanted offices on Main Street. Then we got web designers, real estate folks, moving and storage companies, all types of service type industries with a bigger and more vibrant mix of businesses that we didn’t have in 1992.”
Economic development tools like federal and state historical tax credits play a major part in developing these buildings. “And they’re being rehabbed back to the 1880’s,” Schilling says. “It can be rather tedious, but it’s worth it. The city has a Landmarks Board that is particular about paint choices and materials. The Historical Society has done a good job of keeping records and photos of what the buildings looked like.”
Schilling adds that the revitalization is spreading beyond Main Street. “Stores are opening up North Main to French Town on Second Street. It’s about seven years behind Main Street, but it will get there.”
A city of over 9200 with a Main Street (Manchester Road) full of potential, Maplewood began a plan to entice
residents and visitors back to the little Mom and Pop stores that open onto
Groundwork for revitalization was laid in 1985 when the Maplewood chamber of commerce was resurrected and a Special Business District established to generate money for the downtown area. The special business district assessment of .49 per $100 assessed valuation from 145 businesses brings in $80,000 a year. The first project was planting trees along Manchester Road.
Chamber President Deb Faber says while many of the shops are new, “we would be remiss in not mentioning there were a lot of people who believed in the community and invested by buying some of the buildings and upgrading them.
| Tom Schlafly chose Maplewood for his brewing facility and bottleworks.
Mayor Mark Langston says that in April 2001, the State of Missouri wanted to buy the building now occupied by Schlafly Bottleworks on Southwest Avenue to house Department of Revenue offices. “The city had a fight on their hands just securing that building and keeping Tom Schlafly interested, since he had another location he was looking at. Getting an anchor for that corner was a priority for us.”
City Manager Marty Corcoran says, “Mark and I went to lunch with them and convinced them to locate their facility and bottleworks here. After that, it seemed Maplewood exploded.”
After Schlafly opened, Monarch, Maya Café, and Arthur Clay’s opened restaurants within two years. The Focal Point, an entertainment venue, is bringing international entertainment to Maplewood, and Piwacket Children’s Theater will be opening soon.
“I average at least one developer or interested individual a week wanting to look at different areas,” Langston says.
MERCHANTS SPEAK OUT
florissant, st. charles, maplewood
Walt Chaboude, general manager of Applebee’s in Florissant, has seen people leave for the St. Charles area where new homes were being built. “Now, they’re moving back here because of the new homes here, and the good school system. We’ve seen our sales increase over the past seven years, and I see this community as growing.”
Penny Pittman of Iron Star Real Estate in St. Charles says, “Main Street started with antique shops, now it’s more of a mixture with professional offices. It’s a distinctive place, where you can go out and walk, have lunch by the river.”
She says that Fisher & Frichtel and T.R. Hughes have residential projects in the works for the Old Town area that will attract that all-important residential component of redevelopment. “If you have people living down here, they keep a closer eye out than people who may just be visiting for the day.”
Maplewood restaurateur Aaron Teitlebaum opened his Monarch Restaurant on Manchester Road two years ago, and is impressed with how the area is growing. “I was in New York for nine years, and this is a pleasant change. Mayor Langston has been great.”
Schlafly Brewing and Bottleworks was looking for a second business site, in addition to their downtown location, and found one in Maplewood. Dan Kopman, chief operating officer, says, “The State of Missouri wanted it also, and the mayor and Marty (City Manager Marty Corcoran) worked very hard to make sure we bought that building. We’ve had good growth and the capacity to expand.”
Across the river, things are happening in Belleville, Ill. People realized their downtown had potential, and in 1978, they began a revitalization of sorts by widening sidewalks, installing antique-type streetlights, and putting in planters.
Economic Developer Mike Malloy says, “It was a typical 70’s retrofit.”
However, three years ago, the city received a grant from the State of Illinois to conduct a study of their downtown and its possibilities. The result is a long-range plan for a ten-block segment of Main Street that might, depending on funding, be done in phases.
“This plan makes downtown more pedestrian-friendly,” Malloy says. “It provides more parking and makes store fronts more attractive
to customers. In the past five years, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in downtown business and I credit that as a team effort between the city, the Chamber and Main Street Organization.”
| Revitalization is underway in Belleville, Ill.
with a long-range plan for a ten-block segment on Main Street, shown here during the annual arts festival.
The Downtown Redevelopment Commission established a special taxing district that generates approximately $125,000 a year. “That’s certainly not going to pay for the $4 million to $6 million we’re talking about, but it helps. We would like to think that state and federal funds might be involved, but funding cuts are taking place across the board as we speak. We’re looking at the distinct possibility of
having to build this ourselves.
“There’s no doubt that these improvements will be made,” Malloy says. “When is another matter. The entire Main Street has multiple TIFs which allow us to look at additional mechanisms for improvements.”
City Engineer Richard Wilson says they were proceeding with budgeted construction drawings. “We’ll have final plans in about three months and where the budget is what we’ll do. We want to get pedestrians on the streets. We’re taking our sidewalks from
six feet to 14 feet to allow for outside dining and for people to mingle and shop. We’ll also narrow the streets to slow down traffic.”
MERCHANTS SPEAK OUT
Linda Joynt has owned Eagles Collectibles in Belleville, Ill.,
for 11 years, and is excited about the coming revitalization. “My Christmas this year was better than the year before, and other merchants said the same thing,” Joynt says. “The Main Street Organization is making area residents aware of the fact that if you can buy it in Belleville, buy it here!”
Oliver C. Joseph Chrysler has been in the same location on East Main St. for 90 years. Brad Joseph says he has seen many
“stillborn revitalizations. I feel more comfortable now than I have in a long time.”
However, he says that while many people agree with the plans,
they need to “vote with their pocketbook. They need to keep their dollars in Belleville. We’ve got a good mix of stores with the highest occupancy rate in a long time.”
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