These days St. Louis, as a city and as a tourist draw, doesn't have the best buzz. Once a thriving American metropolis, its population has shrunk to 350,000, down half a million since 1950, when Stan "The Man" Musial and TWA were both major players here.But not all of Solomon's assessments leave a bad aftertaste. There are plenty of diamonds in the rough, or as he puts it: "Like the seedling conifers poking through the rubble and ash short years after Mount St. Helens blew her volcanic top - there are signs of life, downtown and in places where decayed apartments, an obsolete hospital, and fetid public housing towers were mercifully flattened."They include the neighborhoods of Soulard, the Hill, Delmar Loop and the Central West End, whose "restaurants and wine bars and galleries so slick you won't believe you're this close to either Kansas City."
(Boosters will remind negative nabobs that the population of the St. Louis metro area has stabilized at near 3 million. Realists will remind boosters that the soul of a metro area is the city at its heart, and that this soul is troubled.)
Downtown's retail district, aside from the old Famous-Barr department store that's now a Macy's, is no longer a retail district. Union Station, which tried to be a mall, is now essentially a food court and a construction zone. (Marriott, whose hotel adjoins it, is converting much of what was shops to a lobby, fitness center, and other amenities.)
A downtown condo boomlet designed to take advantage of the city's under-occupied commercial architecture - some of it classic - was a spotty thing even before the current financial situation and today is largely in limbo; a multipurpose "Ballpark Village" meant to accompany, enhance, and help pay for the Cardinals' new Busch Stadium next door is still a vacant lot three-plus years after the ballpark's 2006 debut.
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