Back in the early nineties, you could buy empty loft buildings on Washington Avenue for $.50 to $1.00 per square foot (that's a 10-story building for about $100,000). The streets were mostly empty.
The place was safe enough, there just weren't too many of us down here. Most of the people living downtown were elderly, low income or both. The streets rolled up at 5 o'clock, and on weekends, outside of baseball games, downtown St. Louis was pretty much a ghost town. Not any more!
City Museum arrived. ArtLoft opened. The state historic tax credit drove hundreds of millions in investment, and, wow, have things changed. Pedestrian traffic is way up. Well over ten thousand people of various races, ages, and incomes call downtown home. Shopping, dining, and lodging options abound. Downtown St. Louis is once again a competitive destination choice.
A few years ago, a sidewalk hot dog vendor named Carlo, opened a stand at 6th and Olive. He gets lines of people for lunch during the week. But now, downtown has picked up so much, he's expanded his hours to Saturdays! Downtown St. Louis with enough pedestrian traffic to support sidewalk vendors on a Saturday. Can you believe it?
Some never would. Some still don't. The naysayers will continue to knock the city based on the eanings tax or the public schools, but there's no denying it: downtown St. Louis is back. A downslide of about fifty years is finally over, and now, in only about ten years*, we've turned the thing around. The Roberts Tower is under construction. Ballpark Village is under construction. Plans are in the works to make the Arch an integral part of downtown.
For years, you could say that all roads led away from downtown. Finally, the tide has turned. Those roads run in both directions, and people are coming back.
* Debatable. I believe the turnaround really started in the mid-60s, by big downtown redevelopment projects including the Arch, Busch Stadium 1, and large corporations building office towers under long term redevelopment agreements.
Those projects kept downtown relevant through the thin years of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Had they not been built, we might have never maintained the civic energy to reach the positive results we are seeing now.