Another Blue City Caught in Doom Loop of Business Closures, Increased Crime

The downtown core of St. Louis, Missouri, which has not had a Republican mayor since 1949, finds itself trapped in a downward doom loop, plagued by vacant buildings, criminal activity, and shuttered businesses, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal paints a grim picture of a city center in distress, with boarded-up properties and occasional raids by emergency services searching for squatters and missing persons.

Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson described the area as “a very dangerous place,” recounting a tragic incident during a 2023 raid where a search dog fell through an open window and later succumbed to its injuries.

The city also faced a fire last year at a building, suspected to have been caused by copper thieves.

The iconic 44-story building, formerly owned by AT&T, now sits empty, recently selling for a mere $3.5 million—a staggering drop from its 2006 sale price of $205 million. “Cities such as San Francisco and Chicago are trying to save their downtown office districts from spiraling into a doom loop. St. Louis is already trapped in one,” the WSJ reported.

Residents express feelings of depression and fear at the sight of vacant shops and restaurants, with deserted sidewalks and ominous signs urging visitors to “park in well-lit areas.”

According to data from the University of Toronto’s School of Cities, St. Louis experienced the steepest decline in foot traffic among 66 major U.S. cities between the start of the pandemic in 2020 and the summer of 2023.

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Kevin McDermott of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writing in the New York Times last year, noted that “St. Louis has been steadily losing population for years, dipping below 300,000 in 2020 for the first time since the mid-1800s, but the coronavirus accelerated the decline.”

The city’s infrastructure has also suffered, with a bridge connecting the Railway Exchange Building to a nearby parking garage being demolished last year due to frequent break-ins. Despite security measures, trespassers continue to find ways to circumvent them.

Professor Glenn MacDonald of Washington University summed up the predicament: “It’s a classic chicken and egg kind of deal. People don’t go there because there’s nothing to do. There’s nothing to do because people don’t go there.”

Empty streets have led to speeding drivers, resulting in a tragic incident in 2017 where a 17-year-old volleyball player lost both her legs. Businesses have resorted to hiring private security, and one barbecue joint even discovered a bullet hole in its smoker. The city has also witnessed the departure of major retailers, such as Macy’s.

In an effort to revitalize the area, St. Louis has initiated a campaign to attract businesses and residents by enhancing landscaping, adding bike lanes, and installing traffic barriers. Greater St. Louis Inc., a civic organization, has launched a program offering up to $50,000 for retailers to relocate downtown and assist with construction costs.

Despite the challenges, some local leaders remain hopeful. Alderman Rasheen Aldridge told First Alert 4 that she believes the downtown area is experiencing positive changes.

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However, Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis acknowledged that the WSJ article is “largely accurate,” echoing warnings they have been issuing for nearly six years, long before the pandemic exacerbated the decline.