Ask the mayor of any financially-beleaguered midwestern city about the one thing their city could really use to get back on track, and they’ll likely tell you some version of the same thing: a big investment from a big job creator, right in their downtown core. And if they could have two things, they might add this: a little money to clear some of the derelict buildings that have been blighting those same downtown neighborhoods, and create a space for even more investment.
St. Louis, MO, just got both of those wishes granted—and by the same fairy godmother. Tech giant Square had committed to create a massive tax-incentive-funded expansion campus in the center of the Gateway City, and co-founder Jack Dorsey’s private partnership, the St. Louis Blight Authority, has committing to $500,000 demolishing 18 vacant structures in the immediate vicinity, in addition to 12 buildings slated for demolition by the city itself.
If you’re screaming “What?! Didn’t St. Louis already do this during the era of Pruitt Igoe?” at your screen right now, you’re not alone. And today, we’re bringing in a guest for a very special in-depth episode of Upzoned.
Architectural historian, preservationist and essayist Michael Allen recently wrote a viral article for CityLab that dives deep into the complex story behind the new square headquarters, and he continued the conversation with fellow St. Louisan and Upzoned host Kea. Why is St. Louis making the same big tax-incentive gambles in the name of growth that they’ve been doing for generations? How did the North side get so fragile in the first place? And how can the city use policy and creative thinking to turn vacant buildings into homes for St. Louisans who want to be able to buy, instead of knocking them down?