Ikea is crunchy.
So says Dennis Lower, president and chief executive of the Cortex research district and a key player in the effort that lured the global home furnishings retailer to St. Louis.
Crunchy? Lower uses the term that refers to younger, educated, eco-conscious people drawn to urban living. It’s the demographic repopulating the city’s central corridor and a key segment of Ikea’s customer profile.
As a result, the Swedish furniture retailer touts the renewable materials in its products, energy-efficient stores and zeal to reduce waste that goes to landfills. Ergo, Ikea is crunchy. And it’s coming to the Central West End.
The 21-acre Ikea site is within the Cortex district, which is progressing toward its goal of becoming a 24-7 hub of scientific research supported by stores and residences for thousands of people. Ikea plans to open its St. Louis outpost in fall 2015 at Forest Park and Vandeventer avenues.
“It will appeal to a lot of the workforce that populates the district,” Lower said.
Snagging Ikea is a big step forward for the area and Cortex, a nonprofit organization that oversees development of the 200-acre district. Cortex was formed in 2002 by Washington University, BJC HealthCare, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis University and the Missouri Botanical Garden to capture the commercial benefits of university and corporate research.
Sitework for the 380,000-square-foot store began this spring. It will employ about 300 people and generate millions of dollars in sales tax revenue for the city and tax-increment financing district.
The Ikea project is not just a boon to the region’s central corridor — the narrow stretch from the riverfront to Interstate 170, roughly bounded by Delmar Boulevard to the north and Interstate 64 (Highway 40) to the south.
It also shows that the corridor is emerging as the region’s best example of dense, mixed-use, transit-friendly, car-optional living.
Hank Webber, Washington University’s executive vice chancellor for administration, said the St. Louis Ikea is “a lot more than a store.”
Speaking after the project’s formal groundbreaking Tuesday, Webber said the Swedish company’s calculation that its $100 million investment at Forest Park and Vandeventer will pay off represents a “sea change” for the city. More than an anchor, Ikea will drive further development, he said.
“We’re finally seeing a critical mass … and Ikea wants to be part of that,” Webber said. “They don’t have to be here.”
Ikea will enhance the Cortex area as well as the region’s “central spine” between downtown and Interstate 170, he added.
More Cortex developments already are in the works. Cortex is evaluating two “intriguing” proposals for a mid-rise apartment building with stores just west of the Ikea site, Lower said.
Plans are coming together for a new research building east of nearly full @4240, a 1940s factory turned into offices and science labs, he said.
“We need more space,” said Lower, adding that Cortex also is working to bring a business hotel to the district.
Within walking distance north of the Ikea property are a half-dozen apartment projects, totaling several hundred units, either planned, under construction or recently completed.
Ikea is anticipating much more than walk-up business. Company officials said the St. Louis store will draw customers from six states. Already, the Swedish retailer has 100,000 St. Louis-area customers who drive hundreds of miles to existing stores, Ikea officials said.
Just east of the Ikea site, on Forest Park Avenue, is a proposed big-box development called Midtown Station. Officials of Pace Properties, which is behind the project, say the property, now a closed brake-parts factory, is more marketable now that Ikea has arrived.
Steve Heitz, Pace’s vice president of development, said Friday he hopes to secure Midtown Station tenants by this fall. He said Ikea’s presence in the neighborhood “certainly” helps Midtown Station’s marketing effort.
“It transforms the area into more of a retail area,” Heitz said. “Ikea generates a lot of traffic.”
Passing through the Midtown Station site is an unused rail line that connects to Cortex, Ikea’s property and other parts of the central corridor. The Great Rivers Greenway District hopes to incorporate the line, part of which runs alongside MetroLink tracks, into the district’s regional network of bikeways.
“There is a lot of momentum right now for the connection from Forest Park, through Cortex, to SLU and Grand Center,” said Susan Trautman, Great Rivers’ executive director.
The district plans to gauge public support for extending the bikeway north through the SLU campus to the old Hodiamont streetcar right-of-way that connects to the St. Vincent Greenway north of Delmar Boulevard.
“It would make a nice loop,” Trautman said.
Not all transportation-related development in the area is encouraging.
The showdown between Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, and the Republican-led Legislature reached a new level last Tuesday when the governor vetoed 10 bills that provided tax breaks. Nixon cut $1.1 billion from the state budget, citing the tax break bills and the Legislature’s inability to pass Medicaid expansion and tax amnesty.
Among the casualties were bills to help fund a Cortex business incubator and $11 million for a MetroLink station within the district. The Legislature can override vetoes during a session in September, but a two-thirds majority in both chambers is required.
Lower said Cortex is seeking grants, among other sources, to pay for the MetroLink station, which he said is crucial to the growth of Cortex.
“We have a number of lines in the water,” he said. “Whatever comes in first, we’ll go with that.”
The above map by Chris Spurlock and Walker Moskop displays the age of buildings in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. Building age was determined using parcel data kept by the city and county governments. In the case of a single parcel housing multiple buildings, the age of the oldest building is displayed. The map does not represent a comprehensive picture of building age, as data for certain parcels was unavailable.
SOURCES: City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County*
*Information provided by St. Charles County GIS. Further information is available by contacting the Department of Information Systems, 201 N. Second St., St. Charles, Missouri 63301; Telephone (636) 949-7480, Facsimile (636) 949-7483.