Downtown St. Louis, on a scale of 1-10
By Elia Powers
Posted 11:55 a.m. Mon., May 18 - Ever had an epiphany about downtown St. Louis and wished someone was there to write down your thoughts?
The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis , a group that represents a range of firms and nonprofits focused on urban revitalization, is not only taking notes but also actively seeking out opinions on how to make downtown more vibrant.
An eight-person contingent from the group Metropolis St. Louis , which states as its mission to attract and keep young people here, accepted a recent invitation to talk with Jim Cloar, president and CEO of the partnership, about how downtown can be more attractive to the younger crowd.
As he’s done with other focus groups, Cloar started by asking team Metropolis to write down cities with vibrant downtowns. Some of the favorites were Chicago, Boston, Madison, Wis., Austin, Tex., and Portland, Ore., according to Leslie Proud, vice president of Metropolis. The group agreed that these places all have reliable public transportation, pedestrian-friendly streets with people on them at all hours, and a good mixture of stores, restaurants and entertainment.
Next came the fun part. Cloar asked everyone to rank different aspects of downtown life on a scale of 1-10. Proud gave transportation a six and the restaurant/bar scene an eight — and team Metropolis generally agreed with her positive assessment of options for eating and drinking. The group at first gave high marks to the entertainment options downtown. “But when I told them not to count sports, the ranking dropped down,” Cloar said. “The question, then, is how to leverage the popularity of sports.”
Cloar said he was surprised not to hear more talk about the importance of live music venues. People in the focus group did praise clubs such as BB’s and said they wanted more intimate places to hear music. There was also a concern that not enough St. Louisans know about the venues already out there.
As far as shopping, Cloar said he heard from Metropolis members that they want more modest rather than upscale options. Proud said downtown seems to be missing everday stores like Walgreens.
Greg Horowitz, another member of the focus group, said compared to a decade ago the housing options downtown are much improved. Team Metropolis ranked downtown as a place to live about a 6.5 out of 10.
The group’s biggest complaint is that downtown feels like it’s not connected to other parts of the city. “You can’t just walk from midtown to Lafayette Square,” Proud said. “There are areas where there’s not much going on.”
Or, as Horowitz said: “There’s a lot of momentum from Clayton to Wash. U. to SLU, but we want to keep that line moving east. Downtown is vibrant and so are the areas around the campuses, but there’s a dead zone in between.” Cloar said he’s hearing from other focus groups that connections — both within downtown and between downtown and midtown — are important.
One of team Metropolis’s suggestions is a downtown bus loop that would run continuously, and shuttles that would take people from downtown to other parts of the city. Proud said she’d also like to see better signage around Busch Stadium that clearly notes the proximity of attractions like Washington Avenue.
Cloar said he plans to use this information to create an updated vision for downtown. The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis has already met with more than 30 groups and is seeking more suggestions online.
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