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WSJ calls Downtown St. Louis real estate a ‘nightmare,’ critics and locals respond

In World
April 10, 2024

ST. LOUIS – A recent Wall Street Journal article called the real estate situation of Downtown St. Louis a “nightmare” while explaining challenges around vacant properties in the city.

Commercial property reporter Konrad Putzier published an article Tuesday morning titled “The Real Estate Nightmare Unfolding in Downtown St. Louis.” It describes Downtown St. Louis as being in a “doom loop.”

WSJ calls Downtown St. Louis real estate a ‘nightmare,’ critics and locals respond

The article first focuses on the Railway Exchange Building, which once served St. Louis’ railroad and retail industries for several decades. FOX 2 learned last year that city officials may consider eminent domain for the property. The building has been boarded up for several years, subject to fires and wiring concerns, according to FOX 2 and WSJ reports.

WSJ suggests that the vacant Railway Exchange Building represents a trend of decay in the heart of Downtown St. Louis, saying one stretch of 15 blocks of downtown “sit largely quiet as office buildings have emptied out in recent years.”

Kurt Weigle is senior vice president and chief downtown officer for Greater St. Louis, Inc. He said the problems highlighted by the article are nothing new but adds there are positive factors that should not be ignored.

“The future of downtowns is going to be a lot more mixing of uses. It’s got to be a lot more residential,” he said. “We’ve already started to see that.”

Approximately 10,000 residents call downtown St. Louis home; one of those residents is Jonathan Harley. He recently moved to downtown from another state.

“Before I moved here, I was under the impression that people were leaving in masses,” Harley said. “As I moved down here and live down here, I don’t see that.”

Other residents, including Rakeem Golden and Michael Thomas think that the quality of life is good downtown. Thomas believes it’s going to get better.

Weigle said some of the problems downtown has experienced are the reasons Greater St. Louis, Inc. was formed.  Government, business, and civic groups are working together to combat the issues.

“We cannot have a strong metro without a strong downtown,” Weigle said.

He adds that positive signs include an increase in downtown restaurants, hotel bookings, and Gateway Arch visitors. In an effort to address the future of the old Railway Exchange building, a development team has been working alongside architectural and financial experts.

“We’re knee-deep in this, and I know we’re going to get it done,” he said.

Local Response

GREATER ST. LOUIS, INC.

Local nonprofit Greater St. Louis, Inc. offered the following statement to FOX 2 in criticism of Wall Street Journal’s report:

“We are all acutely aware of the challenges our Downtown faces. This is why ‘Restoring the Core’ of the City of St. Louis, as identified in the STL 2030 Jobs Plan, is a top priority of the business community. We are working on these issues every single day.

“Let’s be clear: the St. Louis metro will not grow without a strong Downtown. The complex challenges we confront in Downtown did not appear overnight, and they will not be fixed overnight.

“But rather than adopt the dramatic, pessimistic tone in the article, the St. Louis region’s civic-minded business community is rallying to address these challenges head-on. While there is much work to do, we are making and seeing progress and will continue our work, day in and day out, to make Downtown the world-class neighborhood at the heart of our world-class metro.”

A Greater St. Louis Inc. spokesperson also tells FOX 2 that the story and a study from the University of Toronto cited within it cover just a small section of Downtown St. Louis and does not reflect downtown as a whole.

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TISHAURA JONES

The St. Louis Mayor’s Office shared the following statement to FOX 2 addressing the article on behalf of Mayor Tishaura Jones:

“I am optimistic about the future of our city and confident in my administration’s ability to continue our focused revitalization of Downtown. From law firms to tech startups, retail and restaurants, Downtown St. Louis has caught the eye of businesses from all backgrounds, cultures, and sectors. Through partnerships with Greater St. Louis, Inc. and the St. Louis Development Corporation, the City of St. Louis is building toward a day in the not-too-distant future when Downtown serves as a cultural beacon for our entire region.”

CARA SPENCER

St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer (Ward 8), who also spoke with FOX 2 on Tuesday over the recent sale of the vacant AT&T Tower, shared the following comments with us in a phone call Wednesday:

“The article is truly devastating. It’s devastating to our brand. I think this should be a wake-up call to how important our downtown is to our city, to our region, to our St. Louis identity.

“We’re taking action to promote development and get folks in [vacant buildings], including authorizing eminent domain and redevelopment packages for both the Railway Exchange and Millennium Hotel.

“If we’re not serious about making those successful and to development, then what the Wall Street Journal is playing to could be the reality for years to come. I think it’s important that we take this as a critical warning and take these concerns very seriously.”

CITIZENS FOR A GREATER DOWNTOWN ST. LOUIS

Community group Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis offered the following statement, in part, to FOX 2 on the Wall Street Journal’s report:

“The most damaging part of the recent front-page article “The Real Estate Nightmare Unfolding in Downtown St. Louis” published in the Wall Street Journal is that it is largely accurate. The conditions that the article describes echo exactly what our group has been warning about for nearly six years, long before the pandemic accelerated the decline of our downtown.

“While downtown today is now safer than it has been in a while, the rampant graffiti on our buildings, our filthy sidewalks, vacant storefronts, and empty buildings are vivid illustrations of the price that we have paid for fecklessness and neglect. No amount of civic spin or planted feel-good news stories will obscure that obvious truth.

“Perhaps the terrible picture exposed to the world by the Wall Street Journal will be a wake-up call to government, business, property owners and civic organizations to put aside self-interest and work together to marshal our collective resources in a truly collaborative effort to fix our downtown. It is not too late to do that.”

FOX 2 reported last year that more than 20,000 properties in the City of St. Louis are sitting vacant.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to FOX 2.

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