Good coffee, promising jobs.
Cities need both, and St. Louis is starting to deliver, said Hank Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Cities must create an attractive environment where people want to live and an environment where people have good economic opportunities,” said Webber, an expert in urban planning. “It’s like good pitching and good hitting in baseball — they are both essential ingredients.”
St. Louis’ central corridor, the 8-mile stretch from the Gateway Arch to Clayton, is growing fast.
There’s new construction on the riverfront and at the Gateway Arch, new nightlife downtown, new attractions in Grand Center and new housing near Saint Louis University and in the Central West End.
And don’t forget Ikea. The Swedish retailer, which typically locates its megastores in the suburbs, plans to build in the CORTEX innovation district on Forest Park Avenue.
The trick, stressed Webber, is to support projects that are win-win for both the university and region. The $80 million Lofts of Washington University complex in the Delmar Loop serves as an example. The project provides housing for students, but it also will bring a grocery store and a 24-hour diner — and hence, more foot traffic and tax revenue — to one of the region’s most vital neighborhoods.
“The environment our students and faculty want requires that tens of thousands of non-university people chose to live here too,” Webber said. “The Loop isn’t supported entirely by us. The Pageant isn’t there just because of our students. We have to meet an interest that is larger than the university’s.”
Although St. Louis and the university can be proud of the central corridor’s success, much work is left to do to improve the region. Stretches of vacant buildings, especially between Tucker Boulevard and Grand Center, undermine the core’s strength. The corridor also is too narrow and short, Hoal said. Next steps, he said, are to widen the corridor to include neighborhoods to the north and south and to extend it east into Illinois.
The greatest challenge, however, remains in North St. Louis city and county, where residents need more jobs and better schools. Hoal urged local leaders to find a regional solution.
It can be done. In 1972, leaders established the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District, which oversees St. Louis’ world-class cultural institutions. And in 2000, voters approved the Great Rivers Greenway District, which has created miles of trails connecting the region’s communities.
“We can’t leave people behind,” Hoal said. “Where we have chosen to act more regionally, we have been successful. That needs to be elevated if St. Louis is to be a growing, innovative place that attracts people.
“Take, for example, education. We are watching school districts go down in a spiral. We are not going to solve our educational dilemma unless we have a broader strategy for regional issues. If we could come up with that common vision, our track record shows we can outperform any city.”