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Rumor no more: Ikea to set up shop in St. Louis in fall 2015

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 4, 2013 - St. Louis residents may want to put their Allen wrenches on standby.

That's because Ikea is planning to set up shop in St. Louis, a move that finally gives the Swedish home furnishing company a beachhead in Missouri.

“We are now prepared to bring a little more Sweden to America’s heartland,” said Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth.

After years of rumors and false starts, the retailer announced Wednesday that it is planning to build a 380,000 square foot store in the Cortex Innovation District near midtown. If all goes according to plan, the store will begin construction next summer and be open  in the fall of 2015.

The store will employ about 300 people. John Dubinsky of Cortex’s board of directors said it would spur roughly 600-700 construction jobs over the course of the project.

"From Ikea's standpoint, this is an incredibly complex, urban project," Dubinsky said. "This project would have been so much simpler, from their standpoint, going out to buy a 30-acre green site somewhere in the middle of nowhere and start construction in a couple of months."

But "they wanted to be here," he added. "We agreed that this is a fabulous site for them."

Ikea, of course, is a retailer known for its relatively inexpensive put-it-together-yourself furniture. (The Allen wrenches often come in handy assembling the store’s popular bookshelves and dressers.)

The St. Louis store, according to a press release, will also feature “a supervised children’s play area and a 450-seat restaurant serving Swedish specialties such as meatballs with lingonberries and salmon plates, as well as American dishes.” When taking into account both surface-level and underground parking, the store will have about 1,250 parking spaces.

Cortex President and CEO Dennis Lower said Ikea would become a “destination draw.”

“When we were looking for a retailer that would fit our profile of what we were looking for, we were specifically looking for a retailer that had international cachet, that was unique – not just run of the mill,” Lower said. “And we’ve achieved that.”

When the St. Louis Ikea opens in 2015, it will be the company’s first location in Missouri. Currently, the store's closest site is in Bolingbrook, Ill. The retailer is building a new store in Merriam, Kan., roughly 10 miles away from Kansas City, Mo., which is scheduled to open in fall 2014.

Reed Lyons, the real estate manager for the Ikea St. Louis project, said Cortex provided “a unique urban environment” for the company. He cited the site’s proximity to public transit and Interstate 64.

One “particularly interesting” aspect of the St. Louis site, he said, is that there is no Ikea location closer than 250 miles from St. Louis.

“If you look at the map, you can see there’s nothing around it,” Lyons said. “That’s why it’s a particularly super-regional draw around it.”

Otis Williams, the executive director of the St. Louis Development Corp., said a tax increment financing district is already available for the 200-acre site encompassings Cortex. Lyons said Ikea would seek an activation of a portion of that TIF.

The TIF activation process, Williams said, should be finished by the spring of next year.

“I don’t expect it to be controversial,” said Williams, referring to the TIF activation. “In this case, it is a green, sustainable project. They are working to adhere to the [minority inclusion goals]. I can’t think of anything controversial about the project.”

Big deal?

St. Louis already has several "big box" stores, including a Target in St. Louis Hills, a Home Depot near Southampton and a Lowe's near Carondelet.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay on Ikea's future arrival in St. Louis.

But anticipation for an Ikea has been building for months – if not years. Case in point: When NextSTL broke the news before Thanksgiving that Ikea was coming to St. Louis, traffic was so heavy that the site briefly crashed.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay – who called the store one of the city’s “the worst kept secrets” – said it was especially noteworthy that the company chose to locate the first Ikea in Missouri in a city instead of a suburb.

“It is a huge point of pride,” Slay said. There's “not a whole lot of times we can something like ‘we’ve got a first retailer of its kind in the city of St. Louis’ that’s anywhere in the state of Missouri.”

Both Slay and Lower said that they expected that Ikea would have a positive impact on surrounding businesses.

When Ikea opened its store in Centennial, Colo., “the neighboring business actually did feel a boom,” Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth said. “After we announced, one retailer actually moved in there because of us. And it was a Weekend's Only warehouse and it started opening more than just on the weekends as a result. And the neighboring developer has expressed a significant increase in business and sales.”

More than anything, Slay said store’s presence will bring in more “retail traffic” from out of town. And that, he said, could mean more people who decide to stay in the city for a couple of days.

“It is a true destination retailer,” Slay said. “This isn’t a retailer where people will just come from just a couple of mile radius of a store. In this case, they’re expecting people will come from a six-state area. There are 101,000 Ikea customers already in St. Louis who go all the way to Chicago to buy Ikea products. That’s part of it.”

"It will bring more customers here and will be a better place to live, to shop, to play and to do business," he added.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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