« Previous Idea | Main | Next Idea »

June 04, 2006

St. Louis Centre Redevelopment

Categories St. Louis 

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

The skypass from Famous-Barr to the parking structure has a Starbucks inside.

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:

  1. Whole Foods
    Currently there are few shopping options in downtown St. Louis, and nothing on par with the quality and variety of Whole Foods
  2. Gym/Spa
    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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. ESPN Zone
    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.
  6. 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.
  7. Dry Cleaners
  8. Eyeglass store
    Lenscrafters, D.O.C., or better yet a cool independent store like you find in New York and other big cities
  9. Blockbuster or other video rental store
  10. Nail Salon
  11. 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…

Old Dilliards building.

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.

Links and Sources


Rem Koolhaas... don't we all just wish! Your write up is good, but there are somethings you should know... the coffee shop on the FaMacy*s-Barr bridge is not a Starbuck's... it is just part of the department store's food and beverage service. There is, however, a Starbuck's just outside of the store at one of the intersections... I want to say Olive and ?? don't remember which cross street. As for an office supply store... Office Depot had a location on the ground level of St. Louis Centre about 8 or 9 years ago (when the mall was considerably more healthy) that was a flop and only lasted 1 or 2 years. This is the space that is currently occupied by Gold's Gym. As far as IKEA is concerned... the old Dillard's space is ideal but an IKEA requires LOTS of parking... which St. Louisan's aren't willing to pay for... this is one of the key reasons St. Louis Centre failed so badly in the first place... an IKEA also needs easy access to get to and from... and St. Louis' downtown streets, both in how they are one way and how small they are make this virtually impossible. You can probably count on IKEA to pop up in the Chesterfield Valley in the next 5 years though.

If any retail is going to anchor the ground floor of the old St. Louis Centre, it would be nice to have a Walgreens back in downtown, a Trader Joe's (they frequently anchor these types of redevelopments) in downtown areas... Pittsburgh, PA is a case where a Trader Joe's has just opened in a rehabbed urban area... TJ's will usually open numerous stores in mid-market cities like St. Louis where Whole Foods will just open one and make it a destination store in that market. It would also be great to just have a Schnucks back in Downtown to be honest. Since they closed the store on Cass Ave in 2000, there has not been a grocery retailer in downtown. Straub's may even be an option with all of the yuppies moving into the lofts. They need to be creative with filling this ground level retail but need to make sure it is businesses that make sense and will not be "fly-by-night". Sadly, most apparel chains will probably pass on coming back to Downtown STL... Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Express, Victoria's Secret, and all the other major mall players still have a bad taste in their mouth from their first go-round in Downtown St. Louis.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2