Letters Column

Week of March 2, 2006

news real, January 12, 2006

Off Centre

A downtown IKEA! That's the ticket!I read with great interest Mike Seely's story regarding the future of St. Louis Centre ["Paint It Black"]. I've often wondered why such an attractive interior space connected by sky bridges to one of the largest office towers in downtown sits nearly vacant. Having volunteered as a local ambassador to the thousands of tourists in town for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, I can say that I wouldn't have sent someone to St. Louis Centre if they begged me to tell them where it was!

I have long contended that the reason St. Louis Centre failed is due to the fact that it offers nothing you can't find elsewhere in the metro area. Why would a typical suburban shopper want to shop at a downtown mall where they would have to navigate confusing one-way streets, pay to park, deal with the drunks and panhandlers on the street, smell urine-soaked sidewalks and tolerate rundown stores with close-out merchandise and surly employees, when they can stop at any one of the malls in their own neighborhood?

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What St. Louis Centre needs is a major retailer to occupy a good amount of its space with goods you can't get anywhere else in this region. Doing so would force suburbanites to come downtown to shop if they want to purchase something from that particular retailer. IKEA would be a fantastic choice, though I'm not certain how willing a participant they would be. The closest IKEA to St. Louis is suburban Chicago, and the two times I've visited that store, I've run into people I know from St. Louis! If not IKEA, certainly there is another retailer with broad regional appeal that hasn't yet tapped the St. Louis market.

Kudos to Barry Cohen for doing his part to save the Centre, but artists taking over the third floor won't attract me to do anything more than browse. Browsers don't pay the bills and generate the tax revenue the city needs from that location. A visitor to St. Louis for the figure-skating championships was shocked to learn that downtown offered no place to see a movie. Thankfully, I had a copy of the RFT and was able to give MetroLink directions to both the Chase and Tivoli.

If St. Louis expects tourists and locals to give downtown another chance, city leaders and developers need to start thinking on a bigger and broader platform. I don't think the average tourist is interested in a four-story downtown mall featuring an array of starving-artist kiosks, beauty-supply and pager stores, payday loan counters and "Everything's a Dollar" shops.
Chris Dunaway, St. Louis

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