Thursday, July 31, 2008

P-D Feature on Craig Heller

David Bonetti of the Post-Dispatch had a nice
feature LoftWorks’ Craig Heller on Sunday, a few quotes from which stood out to me:
"It's unfortunate what we've done to this city," Heller says. "In many ways we've abandoned it. It's hard to imagine that at the turn of the last century it was the fourth largest city in America. There is an anti-urban bias among many people who live in this area. That's too bad, because most people who live in urban areas love the experience."

This notion of an “anti-urban bias” in St. Louis is dead-on; I experience it all the time. I’ve yet to visit any other city whose residents harbor such feelings of loathing toward their urban environment. And as a result, the problems that we face are of our own creation. Sure, we suffer when an out-of-town parent company like Macy’s decides to close its offices here, but that’s something that’s largely out of our control – that decision was made by non-St. Louisans in a distant corporate office. The bleeding of firms from downtown as well as the decision on the part of startup companies to locate in the suburbs, however, is entirely on us. In order to turn things around, the city needs to make itself as attractive as possible to companies of all sizes, while our business leaders need to develop some sense of civic pride and big picture thinking and make a commitment to improving our downtown.

I would expand Heller’s quote that “most people who live in urban areas love the experience” to include those people who work downtown – I’ve worked in several different St. Louis area employment centers and downtown is by far the most convenient and most enjoyable.
In 1998, when developer Craig Heller's firm LoftWorks renovated the Merchandise Mart's old annex into residential lofts, people told him he was crazy. "No one wants to live downtown," he recalls being told by nearly everybody. But when the condos in what's now called 10th Street Lofts quickly sold out, and he moved on to his next project, the skeptics kept at it. "Tenth Street Lofts was a fluke, you'll never sell Louderman Lofts. Nobody wants to live downtown."

Who the hell are these people? In just about any other city, people would be pleased to hear that someone was making an investment (and a sizeable one, at that) in our neglected downtown.

5 comments:

Scott said...

Another part of the problem of people not in a hurry to move into downtown and the city is the city earnings tax. There has got to be a better way to generate revenue than to "penalize" people financially to live in the city.

goat314 said...

You hit it dead on, St. Louisans have an anti-urban sentiment and race problems have put the city on life support. Hopefully the younger generation will be able to reverse some of this horrible ideas and see that we have the bones of a world class city waiting for some meat to be put on them.

Anonymous said...

Well, the region could come to their senses and realize the city is forced to have an earnings tax because they get NO state support. EVERY SINGLE SUCCESSFUL CITY RECEIVES STATE FINANCIAL SUPPORT BECAUSE THEIR STATES UNDERSTAND THE HEART OF A REGION IS IT's CITY. UNTIL OUR REGION DEMANDS STATE SUPPORT FOR OUR CITY WE WILL CONTINUE TO FAIL AS A REGION.

We are dying folks and it is our own fault.

Anonymous said...

I think this goes back to the long-standing stupidity of the county/city division, a wasteful state of affairs that is almost unique in the country. Anyone from out of town rightly finds it bizarre that the city isn't in St. Louis County.

Matt Kastner said...

I don't think people are anti-urban, I just think they are so stuck in there ways that any change is scary. Talk to anyone over the age of sixty and they will reminisce about the glory days in the city. Younger generations didn't have that.

Some of the misconceptions about the city were originally founded in reality, its just that people can't seem to get it through their head that things change. I like to use Manchester in Forest Park Southeast as an example. Mention that you are going down to the area to anyone who hasn't been there in over five years and they think you're crazy. Once they see it for themselves they are astounded. That's what I like about your blog and one of the reasons I do mine. There is just so much great stuff going on that most people have no idea is going on. Things that we drive by daily and take for granted are totally unknown to many suburbanites who left during the years of exodus.

Scott: I do think the earnings tax is a deterrent for regional businesses considering locating in the city, but I don't think is as much of an issue for individuals. Private residents don't have to pay for trash or yard waste pickup and the water and sewer are partially subsidized. That makes up for most if not all of the negative effects. Now the people that work here and live in the county are getting hosed.