October 25, 2008 | by Thomas J. Finan, Publisher
There was good news for Downtown St. Louis and bad-but-hopeful news for the St. Louis Metro Area as whole when the St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers held a program on Downtown Development Oct. 23 at the Busch Stadium Champions Club.
Bill DeWitt III, Cardinals president, said that the Cardinals still hope to see construction underway in the Spring of 2009 on Ballpark Village. DeWitt said that the Cardinals plan to sell TIF bonds for the project in March, "...if some semblance of order comes to the market."
DeWitt said that the project has been reconfigured to push residential development into Phase II in recognition of current residential market realities. The Cardinals have lease commitments in place on 80 percent of the office/commercial space in Phase I, contingent on the sales of the TIF bonds, he said.
DeWitt countered criticism of tax break given to the Cardinals. Despite the City's elimination of the admission tax, revenues to the City have increased from $6 million to $10 million a year since the new stadium opened, DeWitt said.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay focused on the gains that Downtown St. Louis has made in recent years. "Eight years ago Downtown St. Louis was a place where businesses were leaving," he said.
"We now have a vibrant Downtown, where people are living. If Downtown is doing better it's going to help the entire region."
Slay noted the effort to create a Downtown streetscape, most notably the Gateway Mall sculpture garden project. Slay said that he had originally approached the Gateway Foundation for $350,000 for planning for the mall and ended up getting $30 million to fund the sculpture garden.
He said that he is encouraged by the National Park Service's decision to consider plans that would develop some of the Arch grounds with amenities.
"What the Arch grounds do (now) is disconnect us from our riverfront. You can buy plum butter or beef jerky there, but you can't buy a hamburger."
Slay said that while the demise of John Steffen's Pyramid Companies was unfortunate, Pyramid had left the properties poised to be redeveloped. "Pyramid advanced the rehab-ability of the properties, " Slay stated. "Every one of the properties are now in the hands of people who want to get things done."
Howard Wall, vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis addressed employment and housing issues related to the St. Louis MSA. Wall said that the St. Louis area is tracking along with the U.S. economy in terms of jobs lost. St. Louis' only area of job growth Q3 of 2007 to Q3 of 2008 has been health care and education, Wall said. He said that the Fed is expecting a continued slowdown all business sectors.