By. Chris Stritzel
Today, we were punched in the gut when we learned that Amazon would not put us into the top 20 Cities for their second Headquarters. The retail giant just didn't see our potential, or did they. The plans were vague in many ways but offered a vision for what our region COULD look like without Amazon, especially the Downtown/River area. This post is meant to praise certain aspects of the plan, try to incorporate the plan into our it as is and criticize the plan for the vagueness of the proposal to Amazon. That is where we start, with the vagueness of the proposal.
The proposal offered an ungodly vison for Amazon to where the plans just seemed to big to work out. 50,000 employees would have been working in the buildings but the plan looks like it could hold well over 100,000. Soaring towers and districts made specifically for Amazon seems like we would have a large load of abandoned space even if Amazon fills a majority of the buildings. $5 Billion also seems to cheap for a project that would greatly change the way Downtown and East St. Louis looks and feels. Even though Amazon could have played piece meal with it and chosen other aspects to build or include ion their campus, it just seemed sloppy and thrown together without consideration. The plans looks like more of a "Greater Downtown Development Plan" rather than a proposal for a major company's second Headquarters.
Furthermore, the North Riverfront plan was just a supped up version of the plan unveiled by Clayco and Great Rivers Greenway a couple of years ago (we will talk about this later). The usage of a current plan is good and all but also means that there was a lack of creativity regarding this proposal, something I believe Amazon was wanting. On the East side, the proposal includes skyscrapers and towers that would be secluded form Downtown East St. Louis and would be on an island separated by Train Tracks, the River, and bridges on either side of it. That issue with the idea that it may not redevelop East St. Louis is a real bummer and would create a whole city dedicated to Amazon. The proposal also included a cable car that would go across the River. This isn't a theme park, so something like this is ridiculous to have.
It just seems sloppy and doesn't seem like a viable plan for a corporate HQ.
How Can This Be Done Now?
Some good is in this proposal though, it offers us a look at what could happen if we truly "huSTLe" like the proposal says. The proposal sheds light on a City that we could become and one that could help bring East St. Louis back. We have issues to work out on both sides of the River until we are able to unlock our full potential. This "New St. Louis" is still in its infancy as the Old Manufacturing/Industrial Powerhouse City of St. Louis died shortly after World War 2. That infancy needs to grow up and mature until we can lure a company the size of Amazon to St. Louis. Some ways to help speed up the maturity process is to address the burden that has plagued our city for years, Crime.
East St. Louis struggles with it too but not as bad as us. Last year, our homicide count ended at 205 and this year, we are at 6. We have a new police chief (who I hope helps reduce these homicide numbers) and we have people of all backgrounds (both racially and politically) ready to work together to push the city and region into over drive and to truly make change that is worthwhile. We need to HUSTLE though if we are to achieve this dream. Sitting around and hoping that the problem fixes itself is not a viable option anymore. Fixing the crime could lead to East St. Louis coming back and our money issues and poverty problems resolved thus making our city and region great again. It is a domino effect and the first domino is the hardest to knock over, but if we knock it over, the rest will follow and in rapid succession. The other problem we have is fragmentation.
I do not support the idea to merge the City and County governments together or merge the City with the County as a municipality UNTIL we can address the issues above. Plus, the Centrist county will not want the Leftist city to join it until the city can move to a more Centrist-Progressive position. This proposal showed a little but what the regional alliances can do when they work together but it wasn't enough this time around. We need to work more closely on things while remaining independent and then (and only then) do I believe we can begin building this plan as is presented. If we solve our problems as a region, the region will grow whether it is population of job rise. Currently, the plan I see most likely to happen is the "North Riverfront-Bottle District" portion of the proposal. That is currently on the scopes of the Great Rivers Greenway and Paul McKee (but he won't do anything).
As seen in the Renderings above, it offers a vision of renewal and a very urban place to be. And while the ambitious plan may be dialed back to the original North riverfront Redevelopment plan, it could be done if the above reforms and changes are implemented. Towers would look great up here and would certainly bring the City's revitalization further North (which would look good for our City). The plan could be put forward if more Residential units are included and retail takes center stage. It would work out well and make this area "New Town". East St. Louis' plan would have to wait however until their time comes as a City to make its own comeback.
For the AT&T Building, we could implement the proposal here to lure new tenants and uses to the building. The addition on top of the building would make the property more valuable. Maybe even reskinning the exterior would lure tenants. Either way, this part of the Amazon plan seems to be the most likely to happen considering that a hulking 1.1 Million Square foot building is going to be a pain in the ass to lease out and potentially sell in this current market. After all, we need to HUSTLE and it will be hard, but hard work will pay off, it has in cities like Nashville, KC and Indianapolis, so why won't it work here? Answer: Our problems that I mentioned earlier.
This was a big gamble for the region. $6 Billion in incentives and a massive project with beautifully designed towers on par with that in other cities, but we didn't make the cut. That is the harsh reality we will have to live with for now on (or at least until change comes). Our City and Region as a whole is making a comeback, but not as fast as it would have with Amazon, but our time will come when we will grow to the size of the proposal presented and one day, Our City will reclaim its place in America's most business friendly cities.
For now, the best we can do is hope that a recession is not around the corner (even though I am starting to see signs of one) so that we can continue our growth and propel us slowly into "New St. Louis".
#huSTLe from day one.
Note: We stayed clear of politics in this post as this was a bipartisan proposal made up of Republican Governors, our two United States Senators, Regional Mayors and the County Executive. Staying clear form politics gives our readers a un-biased view on an issue like this and is meant to inform the readers while not indoctrinating them. That is the Building St. Louis way