Can Laclede’s Landing Survive Government Planning?
Recently, the Post-Dispatch reported that many businesses in Laclede’s Landing, a riverfront entertainment district in downtown Saint Louis, are struggling to stay afloat. Half of the district’s 14 bars have closed in the last 18 months.
The immediate culprit of the decline is construction: work on the area’s road system and renovations to the Arch grounds have made the Landing difficult to get to for tourists and residents alike. With construction slated to continue for the next couple of years, many local businesses are calling it quits. According to some business owners, regional planners were so focused with large improvements to the riverfront that they were unwilling to heed the concerns of the neighborhood.
Officials can argue that, despite the present hard times, the area will be better served in the long run by riverfront improvements. However, Laclede’s Landing has deeper problems than transitory construction disruptions. Saint Louis has changed since the 80s and 90s, when the Landing was downtown’s premier entertainment district. From the mid-90s onward, Laclede’s Landing has had to deal with the rise of competitor bar districts, often heavily subsidized by the city and state government.
We can see evidence of the declining comparative vitality of Laclede’s Landing in the neighborhood’s building permits. In the 1990s, Laclede’s Landing had a greater value of building permits per square mile than other entertainment districts in the city, excluding the Central West End.
Since the 1990s, Laclede’s Landing has been eclipsed. Whereas the Landing had more building permits than the center of Washington Avenue in the 1990s, in the 2000s Washington Avenue had more than ten times the permits of Laclede’s Landing. From 2011-2014, Laclede’s Landing had the least new building permits by value of any of the neighborhoods sampled, even falling behind the upstart Cherokee Street. Lacelde’s Landing was also the only entertainment district to have fewer building permits in the 2000s than it had in the 90s.
One entertainment district being eclipsed by others is no reason to blame regional planners. However, the competition has not been on a level playing field. The region and state have given extensive tax credits to much of Laclede’s Landing’s competition (especially nearby Washington Avenue), as the map below shows:
In just the sample area of Washington Avenue, the city handed out more than $60 million in tax credits from 1999-2011. The sample area of the Central West End received almost $50 million. Laclede’s Landing, by comparison, received less than $2 million in tax credits.
The future of Laclede’s Landing is uncertain. But it seems assured that Saint Louis will continue to make where people spend their free time a matter of public policy. And while government preference can create well publicized winners, it can also make losers. In the 70s, Laclede’s Landing was arguably part of the former, now, it is in danger of joining the latter group.