This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: There’s little argument that downtown St. Louis has experienced a whirlwind of change in the past decade.
“If we want to compare downtown today to where it was 10 years ago, there’s no comparison,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. “It’s far beyond almost anybody’s expectations in terms of the development, the investment, the number of new residents and the vibrancy that we’re seeing downtown.”
The proof is in the numbers: The number of vacant buildings is down while “boutique” restaurants and retail outlets are up -- as is the residential population.
Many believe that some high-profile projects – such as Saint Louis University’s Law School and City Arch River's plans for the Arch grounds – could bring more residents and businesses to the area.
But downtown St. Louis isn’t without long-term challenges – and it has suffered setbacks, such as Macy's closing its downtown store. Downtown also faces competition for companies with other business centers in the region.
Over the next few weeks, the Beacon will examine the changes downtown -- its growing residential character, its interplay with business centers in St. Louis County, the impact of the historic preservation tax credit and lingering questions after the departure of Macy’s.
What is downtown St. Louis?
Depending on the source, that question is a bit complicated.
The boundaries of the Downtown neighborhood, for instance, are the Mississippi River on the east, Chouteau Avenue on the south, Tucker Boulevard on the west, and Cole Street on the north. Downtown West is bounded by Tucker Boulevard on the east, Cole Street to the north, Jefferson Avenue to the west, and Chouteau Avenue on the south.
But the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis takes a more expansive view of downtown, which it says stretches from Jefferson to the river and Cass to Chouteau. Kevin Farrell, the senior director for economic and housing development for the partnership, says the boundaries encompass “what we call downtown but they generally are consistent with the city’s neighborhood boundaries of Downtown, Downtown West, Columbus Square and Carr Square.”
Taking the partnership’s boundaries into account, here are basic facts that group provided about downtown:
- An estimated 88,000 people work downtown, based on the partnership's survey, which was conducted between 2005 and 2006 and is monitored since then. Farrell said his group plans to hire a full-time research manager “to identify the best third-party source for worker data so we can benchmark and track on an ongoing basis.”
- Downtown companies with more than 1,000 employees include: Ameren, AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Lumiere Place, Nestle Purina, Peabody, Ralcorp, US Bank, U.S. Postal Service and Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo – on the edge of downtown – is the largest employer at 6,000 people.
- Farrell said some of the most prominent industries include law, accounting and architectural firms. Many federal, state and local government workers are downtown, too.
- The sectors on the upswing, Farrell said, include creative and tech firms focusing on media, software and marketing. Financial services companies – such as Wells Fargo and Stifel Nicholas – are also on the rise.
- Downtown’s population rose above 14,000 people.
- U.S. Census figures show that Downtown neighborhood's population (remember this is east of Tucker) increased 361.66 percent from 806 in 2000 to 3,721 in 2010. Downtown West’s population jumped 78.77 percent during that same time period; with 3,904 in 2010 as compared with 2,204 in 2000. Population growth of both neighborhoods represented the largest increase among the city's 79 neighborhoods.
- Downtown – as defined by the city, not the partnership – had the most total crimes of any neighborhood in 2012. The vast majority – 926 out of 1,299 – in the Downtown neighborhood were larcenies. But there were also 128 aggravated assaults, 81 robberies and two murders.
- Downtown West had 922 total crimes, including 595 larcenies. Carr Square had 246 total crimes, while Columbus Square had 162.
The announcement that Macy’s will close its downtown store is a marker for change. The shopping one finds downtown now is primarily of the boutique variety. The district that led to the second half of the “First in booze, first in shoes …” mantra for the city finds lofts not wingtips in the old warehouses.
Who lives downtown? What businesses are growing? Has the area passed the tipping point, or is its rebirth still fragile? Reporter Jason Rosenbaum looks at these and other questions.