Domes, Development, and Downtown Saint Louis
A couple weeks ago, I filmed a video in the Bottle District, just north of the Edward Jones Dome, in which I talked about how unlikely it is that a new football stadium will spark urban regeneration. The area north of the existing dome illustrates the fact that being near a football stadium is certainly no guarantee of development. The economic literature supports this observation.
Some, however, have criticized this characterization and claim that Washington Avenue developments (and downtown growth in general) are examples of regeneration that can be tied to a football stadium cum convention center.
The idea that the Edward Jones Dome has led to a rebirth of Saint Louis is mistaken for a number of reasons. First, the success of downtown can be overstated, and should be taken in context. Consider the changes in population density in Saint Louis City as a whole from 2000 to 2013:
As the census data above illustrate, the city’s population density has been falling in general, as the city shrinks to a few core neighborhoods. While the areas within one mile of the Edward Jones Dome did add population from 2000 to 2013, the total magnitude of the increase is small (4,475 residents) and represents growth from a very small base. In 2010, Saint Louis had the 18th largest metro area population, but it had only the 88th greatest population within one mile of city hall.
Even if one sees the modest growth (in an abnormally under-populated downtown) as major progress, it is a stretch to attribute that growth to the Edward Jones Dome. While it was an expensive project ($280 million in 1992 dollars), development has not radiated from the Dome, as the empty Bottle District can attest. Most of the growth in population is further west along Washington Avenue, likely due to the extensive use of tax subsidies in the area, not the Dome. Incentives from 1999 to 2011 within one mile of the Dome are shown along with population density changes from 2000 to 2013 below:
As we have written before, pushing development downtown via subsidies and lopsided public investment has been the consistent strategy of city hall. All told, from 1999 to 2011, more than $472 million in tax credits have been awarded within a mile of the Edward Jones Dome. With a total population growth just under 4,500 residents, that’s more than $100,000 in tax credits per resident gained.
One would think that if a football stadium drew in residents, such subsidies would be unnecessary. There would be plenty of development north, south, east, and west of the stadium. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. And it’s not likely to be the case with a new riverfront stadium either, unless you consider a sea of parking to be development.