Worried about Ikea traffic? ‘Welcome to first-tier cities,’ says Cortex CEO | St. Louis Public Radio

Worried about Ikea traffic? ‘Welcome to first-tier cities,’ says Cortex CEO

Sep 29, 2015

Dennis Lower, Joseph Leahy and Maria Altman.
Credit Aine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

Tomorrow’s long-awaited opening of Ikea has some “St. Louis on the Air” Twitter followers already prepping for a lengthened commute. 

As Joseph Leahy reported earlier today, a traffic study provided by the city estimates that volume at some of the intersections of Vandeventer and highway exchanges of I-64/40 and I-44 will double by 2024.

But the prospect heightened congestion isn’t scaring off Cortex Innovation Community’s President and CEO Dennis Lower.

“I moved to St. Louis four or five years ago from other cities I’ve done innovation districts in and I’ve heard a lot about the traffic in the St. Louis area,” Lower told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday. “Well, welcome to first-tier cities. Traffic is part of what any growing city encounters.

“Yeah, we’re going to be impacted for a while, but I can tell you have not talked to one St. Louisan who is sorry that there might be traffic. They’re excited for what this means for the region, for the state of Missouri. …These are problems that you like to have. These are problems that are signs of progress.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, anywhere between 100 and 200 people were waiting outside of Ikea in hopes of obtaining door prizes for being the first to enter the store when it opens on Wednesday. That’s an example of the excitement that people feel about the store opening here, Lower said.

 And that’s not the only area in the Cortex Innovation District that is seeing a flurry of activity.

“Ikea is sort of the icing on the cake of what’s been a success story on all accounts,” said Leahy. “What it brings is a certain critical mass to the area where once you get so many people coming to the area, other things start to work.”

Lower said the Cortex district is looking at how to integrate more street-level retail into areas surrounding Ikea, particularly on nearby Duncan St. and at the retained 3.5 acres on the edge of Ikea itself that Lower hopes to see a multi-story structure house restaurants and retail.

Rumors of a potential Target coming to the area, for now, are just rumors, said Lower.

“We want to be careful and very thoughtful about the mix of retail and food and beverage and, to the extent as possible, we’re looking for as much uniqueness in this Midtown area,” said Lower. “Because that appeals to our clientele, which is millennial and increasingly so.”

Well, welcome to first-tier cities. Traffic is part of what any growing city encounters. —Dennis Lower

Lower said that the district is at about 25 percent of the capacity it was aiming to reach in its mixed-use masterplan, with about 3600 employees in the district. If it reached full capacity, with 10-13,000 employees, the district would produce around a $750 million annual payroll.

Reporter Maria Altman said that Cortex is on its way to achieving just that by drawing bigger companies to the area through name recognition, pointing to the recent news that Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Jim McKelvey’s Square is expanding to St. Louis by opening up a 200-person shop in Cortex.

“Cortex is bringing big names back to St. Louis,” said Altman. “I think people are really looking to St. Louis in terms of how this innovation district works.”

And that experimentation will continue tomorrow at 9 a.m.

“Ikea brings so much that aligns with innovative culture, sustainability objectives…and our millennials like to eat meatballs,” Lower said.

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.