16 Apr Ep. 14: Alex Ihnen NextSTL.com Creator/Owner
In this episode, Adam interviews Alex Ihnen, the creator and owner of NextSTL.com.
Email any questions to [email protected]
0:42-Alex explains how he went from growing up in Indiana to living in St. Louis and running NextSTL.com
2:32-Is NextSTL.com a full-time job for Alex
3:45-What inspired Alex to start blogging about St. Louis
4:42-How does Alex get the ideas for the stories on NextSTL.com
6:03-Why go through the trouble of creating and finding interesting charts, graphs, & pictures for stories
7:12-What is Alex’s criteria for what goes up on NextSTL.com
8:22-Does Alex have a team of writers
9:22-What part of the site gets the most traffic
11:03-Does Alex hope his site will make people take action
15:51-The bigger story behind a million square foot shopping mall failing within 20 years
18:29-What will the new IKEA do for property values in that area
19:55-SLU, MOBOT, Wash U, BJC Healthcare, UMSL and the Cortex Innovation Community
27:33-The inconvenient elevated highways between The Edwards Jones Dome and the river
31:46-Why have so many people gotten upset over the plan to tear down The Village Bar in Des Peres
34:26-Thinking about what St. Louis could be and the options that are working in other cities 37:11-Parts of town that could be worth investing in
39:00-Who lives under Alex’s roof
39:33-When is Alex at his best
40:03-What is one of Alex’s favorite blogs
40:35-What is Alex’s guilty pleasure 41:10-Has Alex had a mentor
Adam-Welcome. Welcome, to this weeks Hermann London Real Estate Group Realtor Podcast. This is Episode 14 and we are recording live from the Hermann London studio in beautiful downtown Maplewood, Missouri. I am excited about today’s guest. A little nervous to be honest, a little intimidated I guess I would say. But we have Alex Ihnen on the program today, he is the owner and main author of NextSTL.com. Alex is sitting here in our studio with us. Alex would you do me a favor and introduce yourself, tell us a little something.
Alex- Yes, thanks for having me. People in St. Louis, is that mainly your audience?
Adam- It’s a round the world, it’s global. Every realtor in the world listens, all investors.
Alex- So for Missourians, I’m a Hoosier and not that kind of Hoosier, I’m an actual Hoosier So lay off, it’s overwhelming. I have been here a decade and I’m not over it.
Adam- You already saw on my questions I was going to say you went to Indiana. Could you not get in to Missouri or what happened?
Alex- I know I am Journalism degree too. Does Missouri have a Journalism too?
Adam- Yes, they do.
Alex- Just kidding. I was just afraid that you’d go far from home. You know I actually looked be an Engineer because my dad’s an Engineer. I was an Engineer for 1 year but then I wisened up.
Adam- What can you tell us about yourself?
Alex- What can I tell you, I didn’t go high-school here. I grew up in Northern, Indiana. Followed my girlfriend now wife here about 11 years ago. She came here to do Phd at Washington University. Let’s see, 2 houses, 3 children and several degrees later were still here. I got bored so I wanted to start writing about development and kind of get engaged in the community. So I started a website, another iteration of maybe 5 or 6 years ago. Wrote everyday for about 3 years and it’s kind of evolved from there.
Adam- So is this your full time job?
Alex- No, I lose money in doing this. This is my hobby, my addiction my obsessions, whatever it is. So I’ve been in fundraising for awhile. I am starting something new maybe as early as next week. So you ought to check it or something.
Adam- We should have you on on next week so you can announce it maybe. Do you fund-raise for charities?
Alex- Well, I’ve worked for Indiana University, I’ve worked for the University of Missouri St. Louis, I’ve worked for Washington University and also the contemporary art museum in town. So here and there.
Adam- So are you guys making phone calls, you’re networking.
Adam- Yes, for Washington University I was traveling. I covered New England, Florida and Ohio. Met with the alumnus and did events, things like that. The art museum is much more local interest but yes doing individual, face to face fund raising.
Adam- I hope you have kind of an easy time doing that becasue if you called me. I would have been like, Oh let me stop what I’m doing and take this call, because honestly I think I’ve been to a few things where you were a panelist. I’m kind of friends with Frank DeGraff from downtown so which he is not doing that anymore anyway.
Alex- Frank is listening to this, he’s in North Carolina now.
Adam- I think Frank does listen I hope, you’ll never know. I’m not sure. So you got into this just because of a hobby.
Alex- Yes, I mean the main thing was I lived in Forest Park, South East at that time I started this. I went to a neighborhood meeting about a jury hotel proposal which is kind of a live idea that may eventually happen. But this was 5 or 6 years ago there were 200 people in the community meeting and I was kind of jazzed up about it thinking, here’s this big proposal on my neighborhood, it’s kind of exciting, it’s a couple of blocks away. Some people hated it, some people loved it. Kind of an energizing experience. I went home and thought,I can’t wait to read about this on the new tomorrow. Of course I wanted to cover stuff like that, you know. Local media does not cover events like that. Certainly not about the early discussions about development, like that. Talked to neighbors about it, they were kinda like, Oh where do I find out more. And I’m like, Oh there is no place. That was about that time where you could finally hit a couple of buttons and oh you have a website. You start and go to Google and you get a blogspot website and off you go, so that’s what I did.
Adam- Looking through your website, it’s always interesting. You seem to be the first to know. Maybe I’m the last to know. But you seem to be the first to know about a lot of these projects. Do you go to every neighborhood meeting across town. I mean, you know about all those stuff.
Alex- No, it’s in a sense to involve to the point where in I get a lot of information sent to me. People aren’t out looking for me but there are neighborhood meeting like I was 5 years ago and they say, and say a developer just came and told us what has happened with this warehouse, what do you know about it or here’s what they told me, what more can you find out. Information is available. To be honest I write about, I don’t do a lot of deep digging. There’s not a lot of phone calls and meetings and things like that. You know, a lot of stuff is available publicly. So we have many municipalities and St. Louis regions. I check the Clayton City website regularly. I look for the preservation board agenda of the day that’s out for the City. So a lot of these stuff is out publicly, it’s not just something that people, like you are not going to pay attention all this stuff. You’re not going to bookmark 17 websites and see what Richmond heights in Maplewood and Clayton are always up to every week. So I do that and I have other people checking on building permits and things like that as they come through. So it’s generally public stuff but then I get other people. You know they enjoy the site and they’re asking questions so I can get a lead.
Adam- So the information is out there, you just sort of know have know how to find it.
Alex- A lot of it, yes.
Adam- And you said you were going to be an Engineer but obviously that you sort of a technical and analytical type guy. I noticed that because when I’m reading through your articles, it’s not just, there might close down on some streets on Gravois I don’t like that. You got graphs, you’ve got pictures, you got charts. You’ve given depths with some things and I’m sure people appreciate that.
Alex- Well, that’s one of the things that tells a story. It’s easy to write and write and write. When I was doing something everyday, lot of times it’s about on YouTube video about around about 75 words, right. Kind of evolved. I have to stop from writing more, because I get into so many things, I’m not going to write 3,000 words about street closures and no one’s going to read that. But if you can show those pictures it really tells a story and that’s the frustrating thing locally and media is that everything from our biggest paper to some other website can say, Hey there’s an apartment complex coming to Clayton, they don’t put a picture with it. Or put one really bad, small, old picture. You are not really telling anyone a story, you are not really getting anyone information. Our viewers are pretty basic but it’s not always done so the more you can illustrate with that the more people are going to understand it.
Adam- So I’ve noticed you have information on there like basic picture of a boarded up house is going to be rehabbed. And then there’s information like the whole in depth article is closing a street. What is your sort of criteria for the website. Or how do you choose who makes the cut because you can’t write whatever house who’s going to be rehabbed right.
Alex- Right, a lot of things, I mean the rehabbed houses, those are basically permit base. Like a permit comes into the city to issue to rehab a house and that’s how we find out about it. Just kind of a blurb that we like to throw out there. Just so people take in a one step back. I think I look at it as,were trying to create a larger narrative about what’s happening in the city and the region. So there are little house rehabs but then there are the big transportation issues and there are sports stadium issues there’s all kinds of things, right. So it’s little bit like we don’t exclude much of anything, the challenge is to getting people to write. So I write, less than I did before maybe twice a week maybe three times a lot that’s happening. And there are a couple of other contributors who’s writes every week maybe. Someone emails me and says, Hey I’ve got a story here, I wrote it. It’s probably going to get published.
Adam- And you sort of proof read it and make sure its up to your quality and standards I supposed. So now you’ve built a team of writers I guess that are, just writing their passion about things like you are.
Alex- Yes, and I think it’s hard. I went through Journalism school and have been writing, especially for the website a lot. It’s hard to get people to write. So I’ve probably had 80 meetings of people who said they want to write, and that’s great. And then they kind of stumble around the story for about a month and a half and never going to finish. It’s easy to lose track of just how difficult it is to write and edit and things like that. So I try to tell people that it’s an open submission process and people would send me stuff all the time. Some of it I spend a lot of time editing some of it I don’t edit much at all I just proof read. From my point of view, coming from the back end. It’s a bit of a hot fudge or not. We don’t have like, Hey Tuesday we’re going to write about a preservation, Wednesday we’re writing about transportation. There’s a ton out there. Writers have so much information out here and so many projects happening that there’s no assurance of things to write about. I wish I could write twice as much, there’s a lot of happening in St. Louis.
Adam- You have analytics on your site, what would you say is the most popular section of the site is. Or kind of the most, who gets most traffic, like what’s the best article you’ve ever had.
Alex- Well, we don’t do much to pursue things like that. But the things you see, I can write about a $200 million tax proposal and it it kinda gets a lot of yawns or the hospital system spending a billion dollars on buildings in ten years, yes that’s what they do. And you write about a bar closing or mention, or talk about the cardinals. Anything like that, it’s pretty predictable in St. Louis and everybody goes nuts. It’s the same, across the media. Those are the things that people share with their friends. That’s what you see, you see things take off at that point.
Adam- I guess those are the things that are sort of easier for people that you want. When they are reading your website they don’t necessary want to get up an arms about the billion dollars being spent on something but they can get up an arm and start a Facebook group about the village bar closing.
Alex- They can. Yes, poor village bar.
Adam- I was going to ask you about that. I’m going to talk about that with you in a little bit if you don’t mind. There’s not necessarily most popular area of your website basically.
Alex- No, but it’s kind of a stories that people have memories of. Going to a place that’s something that their personally passionate about. And so if it was just, if I could rearrange the site and spend all the time I wanted in one area. It would be more posse based, it would be more you know trying to give back on to why people should care. And know why their sidewalks are. Why people should care for streets open or close. I mean that’s the stuff I’m passionate about, my want people to know about, that’s not the most popular stuff on the site at all that’s the bouncing act.
Adam- Okay, and I guess that’s probably a little frustrating where you, the stuff you are really passionate about. You want to make change, you want to use your website as sort of a platform to get this information out there. But you have to really get people to take action from the site or care or write.
Alex- Yes, I think I have to be realistic just about how much time to spend on the expectations of results. So I’ve done some of these panels and people have said, tell me about 3 stories that changed a project or made a big difference. I always kind of struggle with that a little bit. Because I think it’s more about creating a community that’s aware of these things. So that when a neighborhood hears about a change to their street, people are a little bit more aware of options and at least understand they can get engaged or someone else learns like Hey I can look at the Clayton City website and find proposals 3 months ahead of the first meeting. I mean that’s what love to see happen. So I don’t know, I totally bail out at that point and kind of take a step back and realized. I write about these stuff, I hope people, sometimes there’s something specific people can take actions with but it takes a community to kind of take an issue and run with it. So I don’t try to do it myself and I don’t try to get out there and say, Hey follow me, we’re going to achieve.
Adam- Pretty sure you’re bringing awareness and you’re giving people an opportunity to know about something. Sort of educating them that they can find more information now.
Alex- Well I always say, to be completely honest this is a pretty selfish endeavor. I mean I started writing about this stuff because I wanted to read more about it and I wanted to learn more so I do it because I like doing it. You know if 200 people read the website a day that would be awesome. And if 2,000 people read the website today that’s cool too.
Adam- It’s like a fun hobby for you too.
Alex- Yes, yes, I enjoy it.
Adam- So I have a couple of projects to ask you about. Just from looking to your website and from discussions I’ve had some other people. I’m interested, it sounds like you know you’re the guy to ask about this type of thing. What do they think about doing to the Crestwood mall.
Adam- The mall itself it will go away. So it’s taking it down and in the proposal, the city of Crestwood released today is basically a strip mall and some restaurants and then about 250 for the exact number apartments. Kind of the East end at the site and the rest is kind of a car open space with basically water retention rain garden. A small community garden place.
Adam- Because the mall basically failed I guess.
Alex- Yes and here’s what’s, this is what’s amazing that we’ve been writing about on the site. This is a great example looking at Crestwood of what we’ve want to bring awareness to. We write about Crestwood and there’s always one or two however many people who jump up in like, Hey why are you tracking Crestwood, it’s a great place to live. Like the schools are highly rated. Yes, but you know every community, by no community is static right. You either, growing or declining all the time and have to be aware of this kind of future threats. So Cretswood mall produced a lot of tax revenue for Crestwood for a very long time. It’s producing almost zero right now. What’s shocking about the mall is seen as larger trend nationally away from shopping centers especially ones that are not on major interstate traffic routes. At that mall, less than ten years ago was assessed to at you know 25-30 million dollars. It’s sold to 3.6 million. Well, it’s a huge site a million square foot mall so for three and a half million dollars. Their homes are not too far from where were sitting right now this offer three and a half million dollars.
Adam- Yes, not too far from there either
Alex- And then we don’t know things might be kind of flipping on their head in St. Louis where the Ikea site that’s going into a location that no one would have believed two years ago is on is about 20 acres that sold for I think about a million dollars an acre. So you take this urban kind of site where people laughed at the idea. Like the salvation Army across the street as a goodwill next door. Nobody wants this sold for exponentially more than Crestwood mall site. So you start looking at these values in these trends and the point is that there are challenges facing all St. Louis communities and to act like there aren’t or to act like we’re Crestwood these are our problems, we’re fine. It’s been grateful living for 20 years so next 20 years we are going to be just as good, is a little bit silly. Adam- So the Crestwood mall story in itself is kind of interesting but I guess you’re saying that it points our what is happening in the bigger picture.
Alex- Well St. Louis is at what 7 or 8 malls indoor malls, completely decline and fail. And then you you go back that one. I was born in 77 and like I’ve been cruising the mall in mid 80’s and late 80’s. That was like downtown Crestwood if there is one right. It was the mall, it was packed. You go for 20 years and it’s closed. I mean that should shock people you know that should really open some eyes. But I guess the story isn’t, Oh they’re going to tear down this abandoned building and put some retail and small apartments in there. What do you think the bigger story is?
Alex- I think the bigger story is, what kind of development pattern is viable long term. So that mall started in the 40’s or 50’s, I mean it was an early mall, it was enclosed in the mid 80’s and then failed 20 years alter. So what should Crestwood be doing so that 20 years from, now they don’t have a hundred acre site that’s abandoned again. That generates no tax revenue or generates very little for the size of the site.
Adam- What should they be doing? Alex- It should be more dense, I think. You know I think there should be more apartments. I think it should be.. there is no downtown Crestwood, and it could be. It could be a walk way area, it could be maybe like the North side of Kirkwood, you know the north part downtown of Kirkwood. That doesn’t mean it there’s no park or anything, it just means that this could be.. this could generate more revenue for the city of Crestwood. And in Crestwood, you know without retail revenue is facing some challenges. You know, you’re not going to survive just on property taxes and things forever.
Adam- So I’m sure this goes deeper and deeper and deeper you know. But like, who do you think the decisions.. who made this decision. Is there like, kind of local Mayor or who made this decision?
Alex – Yes, you know it’s a balancing act. I mean, it’s so maybe this is the best they could do right now right. So it’s a vacant site doesn’t do good for them at all. So they are adding residential some luxury apartments. That’s probably a great option for Crestwood and maybe a place to live for people that are looking for that type of home. But you know the Mayor and the City Council has to deal with the residences of Crestwood. They don’t certainly want apartment towers or some of these developments. They are a little bit like, if you divide it up in both single-family homes they probably be happy. But they want places to shop, they probably want a grocery store or something like that so it’s always a balancing act. This I think is part of the people miss on the website, is in many ways were.. we try to be very cognizant of reality. Whether as political reality or economic reality and then try to like, you know ignore it. We understand the limitations but we also seek to be very aspirational and so whether closing streets or rebuilding a mall site. Part of the issue is like trying to explain what’s possible and what really are the options instead of sitting back and Oh the City Council told us that this is kind of the best we can do so who am I to say. Well, were all residents of the region, I think we should be informed in a kind of way more often than we do.
Adam- I guess the who am I to say is sort of the lethargic or whatever added to that. It’s probably really frustrating to you, when you write these articles about these big things happening and people just can’t quite get behind it because they are sort of like, who ma I to deal with that right? Well you’ve mentioned Ikea. I mean were you obviously, everyone was surprised maybe with that location. What do you think Ikea has. It’s funny, coz it is just a business right. It’s just a business who has this big warehouse store but has done so much for that area. You think it has increased property value? What do you think it’s done.
Adam- Yes, I think its done a lot. In fact at the time that was announced, there were other developments. Retail on the East side and some other places, since that is installed because they’re trying to maximize the price they get. I think retailers that they were looking at initially were maybe lower end or lower rent retailers and now that IKEA is, building is up they’re basically able to go back and say, Oh yes we told you the rent would be and we just added $10 a square foot to right now. So I think that’s going to take some time to shake out. That’s going to, I think what people don’t realize, especially to that central core there’s only, I mean you got to imagine, attempts developed. I live in Forest Park Southeast in 2006 and people at that time kind of thought, it’s better than it used to be and it’s kind of done and there’s some vacant buildings but it was like not even getting started yet. And there’s not going to be a lot of demolition out there but the amount of vacant land and empty buildings is massive. What the hospital has planned about Washington University has planned for cortex, I mean you’re adding 15,000 more jobs you know 2,000-3,000 more apartments. I mean that’s a massive change.
Adam- Can you just sort of tell me a little bit about that. I hear a lot about cortex. I saw pictures of my friends down at the openings and all that kind of stuff. What is the deal with all that.
Alex- I mean it’s a collaboration between lots of entities from the Botanical Garden to the University of Missouri,St. Louis. But it’s basically a hundred and twenty acres of space that’s was like industrial warehouse space. Kind of the Nexus between Midtown to St. Louis University, the Washington University Medical Campus, Botanical garden, isn’t far away they did a plant research science. So these got together in the city pass an ordinance declaring this redevelopment area. So for those institutions what that means is there’s no demolition review, there’s a large pull of tax increment financing so that allows them to recoup any of the sales taxes or other taxes generated by their developments they can reduce sidewalks and redo light, So basically became you know hundred acres of whatever they wanted to do with it. They were able to turn that and bring in you know technology jobs, lure the Cambridge Innovation Center there which is basically a hub for entrepreneurial groups and start ups. So it’s become kind of another senator of technology job growth in the region.
Adam- So they said, here’s a hundred acres do whatever you want to do with it and basically we’ll help you pay for it.
Alex- Pretty much.
Adam- Yes, but is this a good example. of.. Like hey that was a good thing that happened versus sometime you probably like I wish they wouldn’t have..
Alex- Yes, I think it’s not a 100% positive. There’s some certainly some things that will change about how their developing but it’s a great thing for St. Louis. And it’s already become a model for what other places they’re trying to do. And for better or worse St. Louis is at that point where you can get these things, think about you know Johns Hopkins you know medical school or Carnegie Mellon or Cornell. These places are in geographical locations or Harvard. You don’t find a hundred acres in Boston right. So we have this incredible opportunity to grow and so we’re at a point where it’s kinda like our past decline is now an opportunity and hopefully we take advantage of it. We don’t have a chance to redo it, there isn’t a second hundred acres that we can redevelop.
Adam- Is there another area over town you think is kind of ready to go for something like that or a good opportunity for something like that?
Alex- The near North side was clearly an opportunity area, but it’s you know North starting about the prude I go side, the Palm key, North regeneration stuff.
Adam- Where is he with that, because I don’t…
Alex- Well, currently not paying his taxes on anything he owns. He is being sued by a bank and nothing’s happening.
Adam- I saw a presentation from him about a year ago or so, when the new library downtown opened up. He had lots of big plans, some like he was doing a lot of good thing..
Alex- But we’re going on a decade of it, he owns a thousand pieces of land the city sold him another thousand pieces. He’s redeveloping rights for fifteen hundred acres and he’s done virtually nothing with it, over a decade. And you’re looking at from a real estate point of view. He had an excuse of the economic down turn maybe the reality of it for several years but we’re on a real boom period in St. Louis now. I mean you have cranes diving the skylines everywhere and you can’t get a dollar General built, you know.
Adam- So does he, is he kind of sort of like he wants it all or nothing. Is he sort of waiting to do the whole plan?
Alex- Well he said from the very beginning he’s in the business for luring jobs to a location. So his entire premises, if he could get like he did in Wing Haven. If you can get a MasterCard or somebody to relocate 4,000 jobs to his development that he would spin off everything. I mean he’s not a builder. So if he can lure jobs get a big office building builder or corporate campus, then he could sell lots to a developer who then would build houses and other things. So he’s always said he’s in the business of luring jobs, it just hasn’t happened at all. Adam- It’s kind of like a chicken or an egg thing right. Because someone doesn’t want to put their big company in an area where their employees don’t want to go.
Alex- I mean the amazing thing is, most of what Paul McKee owns is not, let me find the right words for it. But it’s not dangerous, it’s empty. It’s not where the violence in the city is, it’s not where it’s scary. What’s scared to walk it because it’s empty. Like there’s nothing there. I mean you have 7 vacant lots between 2 occupied houses or something, you know. And very few businesses, so the potential is there. You know, you started off even skeptics thought well at least one person will control the development rights which is a positive thing. So when you look at it, they way St. Louis was developed yet, 25 foot wide lots and you have thousands of them. And you have hundreds and hundreds of different owners so you just couldn’t build anything. And so what he has been able to do is aggregate all this lots. Since 2000 pieces of land which should be good but now needs to be in someone else’s hands.
Adam- And what do you think should happen with that area?
Alex- I mean hopefully the lands stays together with a single owner. But I think you have to,someone is not… there’s potential even with a single owner involved. But what they need to do is take a step back and really open up after to this other people instead of trying to direct everything to one entity. I mean its too big of a project, you know you can’t bite off big pieces at a time.
Adam- Was just like what happened in Cortex, wherein you said lots of different groups came together to kind of do something great and yet it needs to happen here.
Alex- Yes, I just think there has to be, I don’t know. You need to start experimenting. I mean the reason, the way the better growth I think happens is when you have competing entities or just wide range of ideas instead of having 1 developer comes and says, Oh we’ll build a greenway here and we’re going to build houses on these 7 blocks and some corporate campus on these 3 blocks. It’s too prescriptive and so no one gets excited about it no one else is invested in it. So he’s the only person who you know is trying. So that’s not a bad thing, I mean I admire him for what he’s trying to do but my God, it’s obviously not working and since he’s in control of the site you’d be nuts to buy something. I mean you could go in and buy someones house at that site now and you’d be crazy to do it because he has the development rights for the whole area. And everyone kind of sits back and waits for him to make it happen. Adam- What does that mean exactly, he has development rights. He can just come in and eminent domain to take the property.
Alex- They’re looking at doing that now for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. They’re looking at using him that domain for another 35-45 occupied homes in the area and things like that. Redevelopment rights just means he has, the City has given him first option to buy any vacant land, any City on land to really plan on the development of the areas.
Adam- So if another group comes in and they want to do something with that area, will they have to buy all that from him?
Alex- He would sell off part means what he should be doing it by selling off corners and things like that but he’s trying to take the 3-4 presumably more marketable intersections get a high price for him. You know, so he’s a lot of money invested now but he’s trying.. yes, the market’s not supporting what he’s trying to do obviously. But that’s an opportunity, the things that’s shocking is people don’t realize it’s proximity to the rest of the city. I mean you’re 3 miles from downtown maybe by 2 miles in a lot of what he has. He owns things actually right on the North side of downtown. But it’s a great location so there’s clearly an opportunity there but when you look across St. Louis and there’s vacancy on the South side, there’s vacancy just North in the loop area which is obviously successful in a lot of ways. So it’s hard to be optimistic about his you know, development.
Adam- I’ve spent a lot of time down in that area and I’ve always been surprised when how close I really am to downtown you know because I’m in an area where I’m a little bit scared, a little bit abandoned or whatever. And then you turn around and then you know, there’s the archer there the Met building or whatever. It’s right there, strange. Oh, my friend wants me to ask you about, what do you think about the raised highways between the dome and the river. I’m sure you’re familiar with all that stuff.
Alex- Yes, for years I’ve worked on a group but still in existence but not a lot of hard work happening called a City to river.
Adam- Oh you were involved in that?
Alex- Yes. Myself and I shared it for awhile and still stayed on the committees maybe about 5 of us did presentations and we’ve had a moment where kind of coinciding with the arch redesign right area. We want every business and every entity up and down I seventy, everyone signed on in support of the idea removing that stretch of interstate except for that one hotel. We thought we had this moment where it was like, Oh we’ve got all support we want, we have some political support, we have all the owners of buildings and they were dreaming of what they could do with the highway gone and then politically we just got you know charms, run over whatever you want to say by the City Arch river effort. So the city through the mayor’s office and other people decided you know this is our chance to review the arch grounds so they’re kind of in charge of development, what happens and they certainly opposed to our idea.
Adam- They opposed to it or kind of want to do that
Alex- Yes, I think they were opposed to it, I think that they felt it was a threat to their project getting done or something. They’re doing a lot of heavy lifting, trying to raise millions and millions of dollars. I think the idea on their end was you know this idea that these guys are bringing gains any attraction, it’s going to delay our plan. It’s going to take away money from our plan. It’s going to interrupt what we’re trying to get done.
Adam- What is the problem with the way it is now?
Alex- There’s a problem with the interstate, really separating our Riverfront from downtown. So if you’re a pedestrian you’ll easily look at a map, you just cross the street but the experience walking along that stretch of interstate is pretty deadening. You only have to look it, what faces the interstate to understand the effect. So you look at a hotel, it’s back is towards the arch, it’s back of the hotel, the service entry and stuff, it’s like facing the arch facing the river it’s a very unpleasant experience. You’re walking on broken sidewalks and in to gravel and stuff. There are no restaurants or businesses facing the arch you know. You think from outside St. Louis, I thought this before, I’ll grab a coffee and sit the sidewalk cafe and look at the arch. It should be shocking that you can’t do that and that;s because you have this elevated interstate transient elevator interstate again. And then the plan unfortunately to remove somebody’s downtown streets which I always thought was pleasant to walk on even across Memorial Drive. Basically disrupted the street, rerouted traffic a block West if you’re visiting Arch you still have to cross it. It’s just poor planning I think but it was was one of these things I think happens too often, hear words of plans that’s hatched and endorsed and maybe impartially funded before anyone catches it. Then what do you do you know.
Adam- Okay, so I mean I guess the idea is that you be at the walk out of the dome and kind of walk across some streets there and be more businesses and more buildings.
Alex- I think in on a morning Park in Chicago and Michigan Avenue in Chicago as an example. Many people would always complain of the traffic here. Michigan Avenue handles 50-60 thousand cars a day and tens of thousands of people walking and spending money. Kings Highway for between the Central West End and Forest Park about 50,000 cars a day. People cross it to go running, it’s not scary. I mean it could be better. But no one just like, I really wanted to go to the park today but you know it’s a scary street to cross. And the whole premise of the city, the city Arch project is that you’re spinning almost four hundred million dollars on the arch and as a result a million more visitors will visit downtown per year. I mean that’s the economic premise that this is going to pay off because a million more people visit, go to restaurants and stay in hotels. So on one hand they’re saying, everyone’s going to visit downtown, and to walk around downtown. You cross the street every 250 feet right. But then they’re saying that people will visit the arch because there’s just one more street to cross. Just imagine coming here to cross 28 streets, going to a baseball game would be like, the Arch is over there, yeah. small street, yeah next time, you know. We’ll come back later or next time. I think it’s just a missed opportunity.
Adam- Well let’s talk about the Village bar.
Alex- Don’t know much about it, Other than it’s under contract.
Adam- Is that sort of another like small example of redevelopment that’s happening? I mean that’s been a bar that’s been around forever. A lot of my friends and I myself went, used to go there a lot. Then now the, I guess the owners who said we’ll never sell, they’ve died their kids just selling it out.
Alex- Yes, I guess some of these happens there’s just generation turnover this things that people swore, it would never happen. Things change so I think it marks you know it’s kind of sad for a lot of people. But I think it’s somewhat more inevitable. I think you look at other examples around town. You know bars that were institutions for a long time but they happen because someone’s passionate about it. Now and eventually it gets sold. And you look at development patterns around the village bar obviously it’s not, it doesn’t fit anymore right. The road’s been widened, once if not twice. There’s a big retail development around there so at some point it’s valuable enough as with the different use that somebody buys it or whatever..
Adam- Doesn’t exactly fit, it doesn’t. But that’s whats cool about. Instead of going to Applebee’s or Elephant bar you go to the Village the Bellagio!
Alex- This was frustrating there’s an economic argument to me about all these developments whether it’s gravel air, whether it’s Crestwood Mall or something. But there is also a political side of it and what people don’t realize is that whether the Department transportation or the streets department you know. I don’t know what municipalities the Village bars in. The zoning and land use, all that political decision. There’s nothing that says this has to be for this user, this has to be done for this user, you have to get an exception for this. Those are political decision, you know. If people were involved in they’re people who cared about having small businesses on their and sidewalks in front of them or something like that, a lot of people also think that you know. But otherwise these things happen, again people step back and think it’s inevitable or just,well it’s sad but that’s just what happens. You know, doesn’t have to be that way.
Adam- Doesn’t have to be that way. I think most people are sad, particularly about The Village Bar because they have so many good memories there, you know. And not because we don’t want to put the Chipotle there or whatever is it that you’re going to go on there.
Alex- But then if you ask people if you want to sacrifice the village bar for a Chipotle. No they won’t right.
Adam- They can put the Chipotle anywhere else
Alex- And that’s where you realize that these discussion that we have for the website are kind of boring. Because their land use their zoning and their taxation issue. But those are the things that matter. If you want places like the village bar to stay and then sometimes things happen because, you know people died. Ownership changes and there’s nothing you can do.
Adam- You know I’ve asked you about a few different projects and I basically had the highlights from your website right. What are some of the other biggest projects or changes or trends going on that you’d like the public to be aware of?
Alex- I think real awareness about what signals could be, I think what’s unfortunate on the site as we engage quite a few critiques of buildings and redevelopment plans. It’s easy to find things wrong or find things that we don’t like. SO we reduced some time on that but in our mind, my mind it’s always couched in what’s possible. I want people to be aware of other options and understand it, you know. They’re great idea in Annapolis or great ideas in Columbus,Ohio, they’re great ideas in Boston or great ideas in Paris that we can use, you know. So just bringing this awareness to what could be in it the way the city is now is not in the city whether that’s Clayton or Crestwood or St. Charles. These are all choices the individuals made in their small choices that dictate our daily experience. So there’s a shop and save across the street here which that didn’t have to be there. It was Kmart right, I think before. But the other side of the street where locators are vibrant shops that I guarantee create a lot more tax revenue for Maplewood than the shop in Save does. Roads through the City of St. Louis have been widened multiple times, places are being torn down probably this week that don’t need to be torn down. Not all things are inevitable so people need to be aware of I think how great St. Louis could be. How we need to maybe control the narrative of the city a little bit more. I’ve been using example of Memphis, Tennessee. I was there almost 2 years ago now and love everybody in Memphis if you’re listening. But we came feeling like this is a dirty, I guess there was a parade downtown the day before something, that’s just dirty everywhere. Was totally empty, walked around downtown, didn’t see another soul until I stepped into the Peabody hotel and there’s a thousand people staring at ducks right, great. You leave the hotel and no one’s around the area. You drive past used car dealerships and strip malls to get to Graceland. Tons of people there. You go to and then you leave and you just go through kind of depressing areas and then you get to Sun Records. That’s awesome, that’s on there surrounded by kind of John, right. St. Louis has everything, we have the, go to the blue city deli. Go to sue, go to Lafayette Square, come to Maplewood. It’s an amazing place and somehow we don’t tell that story. And we need to start connecting to these places so. I don’t know. People need to be aware of just what we have in the potential that we have here.
Adam- Well, damn. I wish I would have ended on there.
Alex- We’re not done? We have more?
Adam- I just have a few more questions for you. Six more questions for you actually, do you mind?
Adam- So quickly if you were a real estate investor. I don’t know if you invest in real estate or not. But if you were what would you then you’re looking for kind a buy and hold strategy, the long term plan. Do you have a certain area you would invest in?
Alex- Well I have to admit I’m not an investor. I mean in terms of St. Louis. I’m in suburban growth is not over here by any means so you look at places that do have good school districts like I’m in Kirkwood has its own town, it’s a suburb kind of but a real town. You go West to ball in some of its places, I think they’re great places to invest. I mean it’s hard to see 50 years from now, I don’t know. 10-20 years, they’re going to be great places to live.
Adam- What about in the City?
Alex- In the city you have to look at the central core, I think. There’s some trouble spots unfortunately South of this, South side of the City when you get down to you know Dutchtown Marine Villa that’s the far South. Where jobs have disappeared. Basically there aren’t many manufacturing jobs across our city like there used to be so the growth you’re seeing is in health care education and that’s a great anchor institution you know with the Universities in town and hospital complex. Anywhere along the Central core I think is a great place. They’re good places to invest.
Adam- I’m shocked that base on your first answer was Kirkwood. Alex- I know, I know. But yet you have to be honest. Those have got to be the most stable, predictable markets on. These aren’t places of regenerating. There are still places in the city where you could still buy empty homes for forty thousand and you may be renovate some around 300. So there’s more opportunity in the city but you have to be honest about the type of region were in.
Adam- Lastly, I ask this the same 5 questions on everybody Alex. You ready? These are more personal type of questions. Who lives under your roof?
Alex- Well, there were some mice living under my roof recently. hahaha Other than invading animals. We have myself and my wife Katie and our son Oscar, daughter Lucy and another daughter, Harriet. So 6 years old, 4 years old and 8th months old.
Adam- All right, Congratulations no pets other than the mice.
Alex- No pets, other than the mice.
Adam- So where are you your best?
Alex- I don’t know. It’s when I’m with my kids and just enjoying you know St. Louis I think. I get annoyed it’s hard to be happy when dealing with the challenges that we face because the real challenges are tough and I’m not in my best when doing that. Maybe I am but it’s not as enjoyable.
Adam- You are super good with what you are doing. Other than on your own, what is your favorite blog or podcast that stuff because you read a lot from that’s how I know
Alex- I know, I know. There’s a bunch. Here’s what I really like coz it’s fun to read. There’s this one called, it’s a blog by Nikki Dwyer who’s just a resident in Central West End in it’s called.. kind this little you know snippets of life in the Central West End. It’s some like holiday decorating windows. Some of its developments and some of its flowers in the Spring and stuff. So I love seeing that slice of life kind of things. There are a number blogs in St. Louis that does that.
Adam- Cool.What is your guilty pleasure?
Alex- A good beer I guess. You name it, were down the road from Schlafly, Urban Chestnut, 4hands, Perennial. St. Louis is in the middle of a beer Renaissance. I’m taking advantage of it.
Adam- So do you have a favorite beer, a favorite local beer?
Alex- Probably yeah. The standard is the urban chestnut.
Adam- That’s the beer for you. Alex- More than anything else, yeah. Everything from four hands recently has been amazing so..
Adam- I had their like peanut butter chocolate dockside
Alex- I have not had that.
Adam- It’s really good. Okay, who is your mentor and how have you thanked them. Will end on that.
Alex- If anyone out there is looking for a mentor, a young man such as myself. Adam- Someone had to mentor you on the right path. You’re doing great things.
Alex- I don’t know, I might have just some great friends. I was on a cycling team in college and just with 3 other guys were outstanding kind of professionally and with their families and stuff. They’ve been great and so you know I can look to them as maybe role models. And then I searched far and wide there are great developers in town that I talk to all the time.
Adam- Real estate developers?
Alex- Yes and a lot of them. I don’t want to point out.
Adam- So you don’t necessarily don’t have one person you would call your mentor?
Alex- No, probably not.
Adam- I appreciate you coming on. I’m sure was going to be happy to hear it and thanks to Joey, our producer. Joey Vosevich and well tune in next time for the next great guest and the next St. Louis Real Estate Update. Thanks, take care!