SECTION-St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Page
MY VISION FOR THE
Just a single step from the
Metrolink stops at Forest Park, the Central West End, Grand, Union Station, Kiel
Center, Busch Stadium, 8th and Pine, the Convention Center and Laclede’s
Landing are the answers to where St. Louis needs to put its efforts and where
the city should be headed.
Our new forward-thinking mayor must
lead the future of
from the perspective of a first time visitor to our region.
When a tourist takes the Metrolink downtown, what will he or she see?
When their convention is over, what will they do?
When the event at
or the Trans World Dome is over, where should they go?
Currently, the answer is home. If
people who visit our city don’t have anything to do downtown, what will stop
the 2.5 million residents of the region from doing the same thing?
city can brag about having the nation’s fifth largest convention capacity.
Our city is the nation’s largest with legalized gambling.
also has the nation’s most successful light rail system.
But serious further real estate development downtown must be realized in
order for these bragging rights to be turned into significant economic
opportunities for area residents.
development must begin at the key places that continue to attract the most users
of Metrolink. After the two
afternoon Conference USA Tournament games March 5-6, visitors from
shared the experience of long term residents of our region in not having a
thing to do before they entered
and not having a thing to do afterwards. After
each of the three evening games,
Center’s exterior blatantly told everyone to return to their hotels or, for many,
simply get in their car or bus and drive home.
Their view of downtown was dismal and disappointing.
According to one New Orleans
visitor, “I had no idea your downtown was so dilapidated.”
What could I, a citizen of the region, offer other than excuses and
promises that things would get better. My
reply did not deter his swift Metrolink departure for the airport.
Outside the major downtown venues, the views offer nothing to see
IMMEDIATELY and nothing to do IMMEDIATELY.
The new owners of the Dome and
must realize their responsibility as civic leaders to keep their visitors
downtown for other business owners to enjoy.
The key problem for visitors is not being able to see what to do upon
leaving these two world-class facilities. By
keeping all the activity inside the facilities, revenues, seemingly large if you
visit Cleveland, are being lost with the current approach.
before a professional sports event and you’ll find a festive party atmosphere
surrounding the venue. That
atmosphere makes money for the small business people outside and for the big
business people inside. Our current
makes the sidewalks as empty as the upper deck during the Conference USA games.
While a tourist information booth and
free throw shooting booth were inside, people attending the Conference USA
Tournament found nothing outside
. At each Metrolink stop within the
city, simple solutions may fix some of the problems.
Why not have activity on the platforms themselves?
Why not have neighborhood associations hand out brochures on the
surrounding businesses that will be interested in tourist traffic?
Policies that limit street
“action” must be repealed immediately.
must return to the days when newspapers could be purchased on every corner of
downtown, when souvenirs were readily accessible, when hot dogs, peanuts and
chestnuts could be purchased on any downtown street corner.
Allow street musicians and other artists to perform once again on our
streets and at Metrolink and bus stations. In
and London, street musicians are as varied and abundant as the cultures of residents in
those cities. We must enrich our
urban areas with the sounds and smells of
that are an integral part of the experience of visiting any thriving downtown.
Another opportunity to promote
downtown is being missed through the current ticket policies of promoters of
sports events in St. Louis. During the Conference USA games,
the upper deck seats couldn’t have been emptier.
Why not sell those seats as general admission seating on the day of the
game for $5.00? Convention visitors
could be educated of the new policy through hotel concierges, students through
high school and university newspapers and the general public through the local
newspapers and broadcast media. The
policy would produce a “packed house” atmosphere with new faces seeing the
area, its facilities and professional and college sporting events for the first
time. It would also create a home
sports team advantage with the sixth man in basketball being the sold out
audience in the rafters. A free
ticket section for some events would promote good citizenship as it does for the
MUNY. It could also be expanded to
give away seats to area students with good grades, similar to the policy with
the Cardinals at Busch. An
opportunity exists for the owners of sporting venues to promote the businesses
to visitors--subtly advertise the owners of the luxury boxes with plaques below
I believe that a city’s vitality is
shown through its use of mass transportation.
The trolleys of
add atmosphere and convenience to users and visitors of their downtown
Pittsburgh, the downtown trolleys are free. When
trolleys roamed our area, St. Louis
was a vital city. With the
convenience of Metrolink comes a responsibility to make downtown transportation
even more creative and cost effective than current systems offer.
Why not bring back 25 or 50 cent trolleys?
Push bus service to the edges of the city’s perimeter and permit
quieter, battery-powered trolleys to move throughout the heart of downtown.
With the resources of Emerson
Electric and McDonnell Douglas, why not become the first city in the country to
run its downtown traffic lights with “smart” lights?
Electronic “eyes” could determine when car volume requires a light to
change. Such a futuristic system
might also incorporate Clarence Harmon’s vision for “smart”
streets--cameras relaying information back to a central police office that looks
out for and records trouble on our streets.
The electronic light system could also be adjusted for times, such as
after heavily attended sports events, when people traffic requires special
stoplight strategies. By combining
both electronic systems,
would become a city with the safest traffic system and safest sidewalks for
anyone to walk on.
Taxi service is a major disappointment for visitors to our city.
needs more cabs roaming key tourist and entertainment locations to facilitate
their use. Why not have the city
bid, with high quality of service as the key criteria, for cabs to either wait
at each Metrolink stop or to be dispatched on a priority basis from phones at
each station that are tied directly to the bid-winning taxi service?
Contracts would be renewed only if quality of service was up to
From my own experiences of attendance at Rams and Billikens games, a number of
the solutions to downtown’s disappointments appear to be staring
right out the door of a Metrolink train.
At Forest Park, the top of the station stairs produces a view of a poorly surfaced, often full
parking lot, an abandoned coffee shop, a strip mall catering to lower class
neighborhood residents and an abandoned former gas station.
This view, combined with the knowledge of the recent sale of Redel’s
Restaurant, should send a clear message to Bi-State and the St. Louis
Development Corporation that a once upper-scale neighborhood is on the brink of
disaster. A small but aggressive
development project would produce a visitor’s information booth, a new
multi-level retail and parking complex offering visitors and middle and
upper-class residents and business people access to shopping and dining that
would rival the
Central West End. The increased neighborhood sales
and rental revenues would produce increased tax revenues that should offset the
city’s cost of underwriting such a project.
The Central West End stop should be developed jointly by
and Bi-State. Clearly, a free and
frequent trolley car should carry Metrolink passengers along
Euclid. Around the stop,
should be encouraged to be more of a public citizen and develop retail and
dining activity within view of the station that would encourage visitors to
pursue the rest of the neighborhood.
A similar approach could occur with
joining Bi-State in promoting
Grand Boulevard. A free and convenient shuttle
could carry visitors and Metrolink users north to the
area and south to the
and the Tower Grove East neighborhood. Another
shuttle could carry visitors to the
and the Shaw neighborhood. Increased
visitor traffic would come as these cultural and residential areas stablized
with fill-in retail and dining development.
Metrolink parking lots could be developed near such smaller projects
where empty and easily condemnable housing and business space now exist.
Our community should actively support Emily Pulitzer’s vision for a new
Center. By having a separate new location
for modern art, the facility could exhibit extensive collections of 20th century
paintings and drawings as well as photography, sculpture, textiles,
architecture, film and unusual mixed media exhibits.
The strategy works well in art capitals such as
. In addition, modern “art”
could also include a center for dance, jazz or other entertainment that is often
combined with sculpture, film and photography.
An integrated modern “arts” facility would become a welcome full-time
anchor in the emerging
Development along the south side of
would solve a major need for in-your-face entertainment surrounding the Union
Station and Kiel Center Metrolink stops. Currently
the area bordering the Metrolink tracks is filled with underutilized parking and
low-tech industrial companies. Surely
this prime real estate could be put to a better use.
Development should include attractions that draw people from the street
both in daytime and late evening hours.
Hollywood, House of Blues and other nationally recognized multi-use entertainment
facilities would offer St. Louisans and tourists something currently not
available in this region. Perhaps a
glass sidewalk, similar to the
’s over Highway 40, could run over the tracks that border
. Should Mississippi Nights be
forced from its current location, they would be an obvious first choice tenant
project. Why not have a superior
restaurant/nightclub provide sidewalk and table front views of their kitchen or
bar in action? What about Blueberry
Hill in the City or a Hail, Hail Rock n’ Roll Cafe?
Development of the
area is key to providing the tens of thousands of
visitors with memorable alternatives to “returning home” after events.
Parking could be better managed and developed south of the new project.
Around Busch Stadium, the Cupples Warehouses and others could be converted to
house new entertainment venues, perhaps performing arts complexes for dance,
film and/or theatre, and modern art museums with office buildings related to the
Arts. Indoor film studios require
large open spaces, the type that Cupples and other sites could readily be
converted to accommodate. If you go
Toronto, you’ll see a thriving film industry in action.
High-end hotel/apartment complexes are regularly filled to capacity with
three and six month film staff, including actors, directors and producers.
During my own recent visit, I was actively recruited to be an extra on a
movie set. Imagine what visitors to
our city would say if they were offered the same opportunity.
’s public policies permit filmmakers to close down streets on short notice and
provide immediate access to knowledgeable filmmaking support personnel, persons
who know where and how to make movies happen.
We can easily compete with any city in the country with the quantity of
attractive, unique settings available for filmmaking.
If the unions in our city could be as cooperative as those in other
cities, training in the local unions would develop to readily support studios
with highly trained laborers who would provide large quantities of reliable
work. Unions must be encouraged to
approach filmmakers with a can-do attitude instead of a what’s-in-it-for-me
attitude. With a smart approach,
filmmakers would find a labor force that knows how to compete for dollars lost
and other studio-friendly locations.
At Eighth and Pine, the image of
could not be worse. One abandoned
office building after another is enclosed in protective orange tape to advise
visitors and residents to move on. Serious
underwriting of real estate development will be needed to salvage this area.
If the buildings could be converted to mixed-use structures, the
prospects are excellent that the Metrolink stop would become a new hub for
vibrant residents and small businesses downtown.
When the Mansion House thrived in the early 70’s, the streets were
filled with people. TWA and rental
car companies occupied space. Florists
and other small businesses lined the first floors of numerous buildings.
Perhaps what is needed for the 90’s and beyond is a bit more
imagination. When Union Station
opened, the mall was filled with unique-to-St. Louis businesses.
Why not develop Eighth and Pine with this same theme?
Can you imagine how attractive downtown would be if you could shop at
Viviano’s, Sam Cavato’s or the Library Ltd. downtown?
Residents in high rise complexes in downtown
enjoy retailers who cater to tenants’ needs on the first and second floors of
their apartment and condominium buildings. St.
Louisans would welcome and require such convenience as well.
Around the Trans World Dome and
Laclede’s Landing, empty lots reflect empty visions.
Large sports bars and theme restaurants would give conventioneers
immediate reasons to stay downtown. Around
Busch Stadium or the Dome, why not re-construct a 90’s version of the 1904
World’s Fair Ferris Wheel? Imagine
how frequently such a structure would be used before and after Cardinals games.
Special night lighting would draw traffic right off the Interstates.
A visitor to
will hear of the
Museum. The museum brings in busloads of
school students to educate them on the history of footwear, from cavemen to
current celebrities. This is not a
tourist trap but a multi-million dollar project
driven by one manufacturer to the benefit of the community.
Visitors learn about the footwear industry and the sociological and
anthropological impact of footwear. Our
city is one of the richest in the world in its textile and soft goods history.
The area around the Convention Center and former garment district is
ideal for development of a similarly new textile museum that could include
frequent visits from seasoned industry veterans, including long term executive
and labor personnel from Brown Shoe, International Hat, International Shoe and
Edison Brothers. Members of our
region could provide our youth with in-depth, hands-on knowledge of what it was
like to emmigrate from
to work here in a shoe factory in the early 1900’s.
They could explain how textiles such as hats and ties are designed and
marketed. Replicas of plant shop
floors could give students an understanding of how their grandparents performed
their jobs here just 50 years ago.
Another museum opportunity exists if
would be willing to move (or unload) its share of the
Transportation. As one of the world’s leading
centers of ground transportation,
should have a world-class facility near its downtown area.
By moving the Museum downtown, the majority of visitors and residents
would in the least gainer greater access to such a facility.
If placed near underdeveloped land and abandoned railroad tracks, the
facility would have the room for growth and adequate storage that the current
Museum does not have. The City of
Sacramento, California has one of the most impressive transportation museums in
can have a similarly impressive museum if it is placed downtown.
We can make the City of
THE place for tourists and all
residents to go at night and on weekends. We
can make St. Louis a memorable and culturally unique experience for visitors,
especially those from competing cities such as Louisville, Milwaukee, Charlotte,
New Orleans, Cincinnati, Memphis and Kansas City.
We can make St. Louisans in the outlying region jealous of the cultural
activity that a thriving downtown can offer.
It will take vision, hard work and a city government and unions that
welcome the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs and developers.
The result of an imaginative approach to creating a dynamic downtown will
aid tremendously in efforts to provide better educational opportunities in our
region. A vital downtown can also
aid in efforts to unify our community as a region filled with racial and ethnic
diversity. Opportunities for and
efforts toward success can be a contagious phenomenon.
Such efforts and their results can happen and must in order for
Aaron Williams is President of
Aaron Consulting, Inc., a nationwide attorney recruiting firm, based in the
DeBaliviere neighborhood in the City of
since its formation in 1990.