The owners of the old St. Louis Post-Dispatch building are pushing big plans to bring more jobs downtown.
Along with a pending move to 900 North Tucker Blvd. by mobile-payments company Square, the StarWood Group is creating the NoW Innovation District, according to managing partner John Berglund.
"Basically, it is north of Washington. It runs out to 14th Street, up to Cole Street, and then down past the convention center," he said.
"I would say those boundaries are pretty porous, because how can you talk about north of Washington without talking about the businesses and all that on the south side of the street, too?" he added.
The catalyst for the district is the former newspaper building.
The StarWood Group, then operating as StarLake Holdings, purchased the structure in September 2018 for $3.5 million. A few months after that, Square announced it would move into the building, bringing 500 employees from its current location at Cortex to downtown.
The StarWood Group and Square were both launched by St. Louis-native and technology entrepreneur Jim McKelvey.
An email from McKelvey shortly after Square’s announcement touted the benefits of doing business in the city.
"St. Louis is full of talent and economic opportunity, so it should come as no surprise that we’re continuing to grow in our hometown," he wrote.
If the StarWood Group has its way, the growth will not stop with one building. Berglund wants more companies to consider St. Louis for major operations.
He referred to a recent report that JPMorgan Chase & Co. could be moving thousands of jobs out of New York City.
Berglund said St. Louis was not mentioned as a possible spot for those workers and he thinks a downtown innovation district could be key in having the city considered for any similar moves.
"Ultimately, we are about bringing jobs to the region who are not here currently," he said.
At the same time, he said they hope to attract local companies that have grown out of innovations spaces like Cortex and the technology incubator T-Rex.
"As companies come out of T-Rex, where can they go? That’s been a real issue with flexibility, rents, and affordability," he said. "Well, you don’t have to go anywhere. You can stay here."
The idea to set up a district downtown stemmed from a common problem that exists in most cities.
"Really, we had a parking problem," Berglund said. "The expansion of the convention center, which is a very necessary thing but unfortunately is taking out a thousand cars."
A parking study is underway, but those talks have examined ways to make the area stronger and that led to the innovation district.
The StarWood Group is working closely on the parking issue with the St. Louis Development Corporation, but the district has not been formally approved by any city organization.
Berglund said it’s not a self-taxing district, does not have any legal authority and has received no incentives from the city.
The old Post-Dispatch building is different. That nearly $70 million project is eligible for nearly $12 million in tax increment financing.
Documents filed with the city show Square eventually will have approximately 1,250 jobs with an average salary of $76,500.
Berglund expects the mobile-payments company to move into the building from Cortex in roughly 15 months.
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