The St. Louis Centre is a 20 year old shopping center in the heart of downtown St. Louis. However, despite being a stone’s throw away from the St. Louis Convention Center, a short walk from the new Busch Stadium, having a Metrolink stop right outside, and sky-passes to all the neighboring office buildings, it is over a 50% vacant and contributes to a decaying downtown. To say it needs help would be an understatement, and as much as I’d love to see a comprehensive plan developed by Diller and Scofidio or Rem Koolhaas, pragmatically placing some much needed businesses and services would go a long way. Currently the plan is to turn it into more condos and offices. However, the St. Louis Centre should become a response to the needs of new downtown loft residents.
The St. Louis Center today
When visiting the St. Louis Centre today two words come to mind, depressing and embarrassing. The escalators are always busted, and if you wanted to buy something other than cheap gold chains, baseball hats, or St. Louis Stuff (that’s the name of actual store) you’re out of luck. There is a Walgreens on the fourth floor (which is great when the escalators are broken) and a Famous-Barr department store. As much as I despise huge businesses for being, well, evil; I have to hand it to Famous-Barr (soon to be Macy’s). There’s no way they’re making money off the store (it was completely dead on the Saturday afternoon I was there) but they haven’t closed it yet, and as far as I know they don’t plan to.That said, it’s clean, there’s tons of natural light, the plants are well maintained, and while it is a bit dated looking it’s a very attractive place.
Which is where the embarrassing part comes in, there’s no good reason for the St. Louis Centre to be in such bad shape except for the fact that all the families and much of the wealth in St. Louis has moved to the suburbs.
What the St. Louis Centre Should be
In the last 5 years over 1000 people have moved into downtown St. Louis. And more and more lofts just keep popping up. The St. Louis Centre should become a response to the urban lifestyle and focus on providing services and shopping to fill everyday needs of the residents and eventually small businesses. Currently they want to turn it into more condos and offices, which, quite frankly, are the last thing downtown St. Louis needs. Here’s what downtown St. Louis does need, all of which could easily find a space in the St. Louis Centre:
- Whole Foods
Currently there are few shopping options in downtown St. Louis, and nothing on par with the quality and variety of Whole Foods
A Gold’s Gym has opened on the 7th street side of the St. Louis Center, but a place that offers spa services will be in demand soon.
- Landmark Movie Theater
The Moolah Temple is the nearest movie theater to downtown St. Louis and it’s 4 miles away. Landmark already has several fantastic theaters in the St. Louis area, but nothing downtown.
- Barnes and Noble/Borders
Again there are a few bookstores in downtown such as the AIA Bookstore, but nothing with the range of a Barnes and Noble or Borders
One of these opened in the MCI Center in DC and it’s a huge hit. With the stadium so nearby, one has a very good chance in St. Louis.
- Office Depot of other
office supply chain
I would expect that as more people move in to the area, more home-based and small business will open up. A convenient office supply store will be in huge demand.
- Dry Cleaners
- Eyeglass store
Lenscrafters, D.O.C., or better yet a cool independent store like you find in New York and other big cities
- Blockbuster or other video rental store
- Nail Salon
- Sur La Table or William Sonoma
Both of these companies already have stores in the Plaza Frontenec which is about 12 miles away. And if there's one thing I know it's that yuppies love cool kitchen supplies.
Given how active downtown St. Louis can be at night (especially on first Friday), the doors shouldn’t lock until at least 1am or later. And while the task of filling such a large mall may seem daunting, if they focus on bringing in medium to large size stores such as Blockbuster and Office Max, the building will fill up quickly.
As for Anchor stores…
On the south end of the St. Louis Center is a huge Famous-Barr Department Store, currently there is no other anchor store. Formerly the skypass over Washington lead to a Dillard’s Department Store, but it’s now closed off and vacant. Currently the plan is to tear down the skypass, but the fate of the old Dillard’s site is very unclear. They should leave the skypass intact and maintain the site for another anchor store. So what should it be? IKEA of course. I’ve already covered why IKEA should build a store in St. Louis in a previous entry, and this is the perfect location. It’s a beautiful historic building that would make a stunning rehab as an IKEA. I did a quick analysis using Google Earth and a new IKEA store is around 400,000 square feet. The old Dillard’s building is about 66,700 square feet per floor, so an IKEA would need about 6 stories, still leaving several floors open in the building.
Enough with the lofts already
Open up any St. Louis publication and you’ll see dozens of ads for new lofts and condos in downtown St. Louis. My impression is that these places are selling well. Nonetheless, if basic services and shopping is inconvenient or non-existent, sales will plummet and people will move right back out. Developing the St. Louis Centre back into a shopping center could be the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle.