This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Dear Beaconites -
You may not work in downtown St. Louis. You probably don't go there to shop. But as the Fourth of July festivities once again demonstrated, downtown remains our region's heart, geographically and emotionally. We all have a stake in its health.
A recent Beacon series, with reporting by Jason Rosenbaum and data analysis by Brent Jones, looked at downtown's vigor and prospects. The series was prompted in part by the imminent closing of Macy's downtown flagship -- a long expected but highly symbolic loss.
Many of us remember downtown as a shopping destination and home for corporate headquarters. Measured by those old benchmarks, downtown is ailing and Macy's departure looks like a relapse.
But these days, Jason found, downtown is developing a new identity. Its future hinges more heavily on residential growth. In the last decade, the population has burgeoned from a few hundred to about 14,000. That's transformed the area, bringing restaurants, groceries and boutique shops to complement major regional attractions such as the Arch, City Garden and major league sports.
Of course, Macy's departure poses an important challenge -- filling the cavernous Railway Exchange Building. But it's not a make or break moment, planners and developers say.
As part of assessing downtown's future, Jason and Brent analyzed what has sparked growth in the recent past. One factor emerged as crucial: historic tax credits. Brent mapped the use of historic tax credits downtown, and you can see at a glance how important they've been in areas such as Washington Avenue. Soon, we'll publish a more expansive and searchable compilation of where historic tax credits have been used throughout the city.
“We are the national model for historic rehab in the country," attorney Jerry Schlichter told Jason. But Schlichter also noted, "It’s under attack (here) more severely than any state in the country.”
Jason's reporting explores the pros and cons of the debate, which has played out in the legislature around efforts to cap historic tax credits. The battle is likely to continue in the next session, and the Beacon will continue to analyze the implications and the larger question of what might keep the heart of our region healthy.