"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.