Thursday, March 5, 2015

Vital Signs

The catchphrase for the past 20 years or so in St. Louis has been "the revitalization of Downtown." At this point it has become more tired than true. Many attempts have come and gone, some whose traces still linger - from Washington Avenue to more recently, Ballpark Village and the newly labeled Stadium District. Blocks of the Downtown area where millions of dollars are pumped into so to attract young people. Revitalization should never be about young people though. After all the majority of young people, or as we like to call them Millennials, these days live at home well into their 20s. This means that ultimately these businesses where a decent amount of equity is at stake, are at best looking at four days (Thursday thru Sunday), but realistically two days (Friday and Saturday) of the week to fill their bars and restaurants while twentysomethings file into the City for the weekend and are able to bum around their select few friends who have made the move into their own apartment or house.

What the Downtown area needs is not another young and hip spot for suburban kids to drink their petty plights away at. It needs a focus on its current makeup, which by the way, is not all that bleak. The Downtown St. Louis area is now home to at least three co-working spaces; companies with hope and a desire to stay in the community. Hopefully the vast majority of these organizations make it out of co-working phase and into full blown offices of their own. God knows there's no shortage of lofts in the area, so fortunately there will be housing available to those looking to have an effortless commute to work. What are those people to do though in terms of building a lifestyle outside of work? The gyms, the corner nail salons, the home goods stores, I mean where is the Chipotle for crying out loud?

The current landscape of larger investment going into Downtown St. Louis likely falls in one of these buckets: higher education facilities, sporting venues (which includes the MAC), Millennial and tourist centric hospitality and finally non-profits. You can't revitalize an area based on these, except of course the non-profit realm where contributions are certainly needed.

I'm not so naive to think the neighborhood is immune to pitfalls. It is, which is hindering any other type of growth. Safety, security and any other type of law enforcement absolutely needs to step up. Tax dollars need to be spent appropriately. Attitudes need to change. These aren't easy obstacles to overcome, but they are entirely possible to pass nonetheless.

The focus has to shift. It cannot exclusively be about how to either fix the homeless problem, or how to attract the wealthy to keep coming Downtown. It has to be about how to build around the rugged entrepreneurial middle
class by empowering them to help take action where it is needed with those who have not, and connecting them to those who have so they can educate on where we go from here.

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