ST. LOUIS — Square Inc. has signed a 15-year lease for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s headquarters building downtown in a deal that will allow the Silicon Valley firm co-founded by St. Louis natives Jack Dorsey and Jim McKelvey to more than double its workforce here.
“St. Louis has been an amazing home and partner to us,” Dorsey said in a statement. “This city has so much energy, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”
The Post-Dispatch, which will be moving to 901 North 10th Street next month, sold its longtime home at 900 North Tucker to McKelvey’s StarLake Holdings in September. A replacement tenant for the 1931 structure, which was built for the now-defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat and became the Post-Dispatch headquarters in 1959, had not been identified, though McKelvey’s ownership prompted speculation that Square was eyeing it as a regional office. McKelvey is a member of Square’s board of directors; StarLake also owns the 10th Street building.
Square already employs about 500 people in the thriving Cortex tech district in the city’s Central West End — the payment processing firm’s second-largest office behind its San Francisco headquarters — with office leases there allowing it to grow to about 700 people.
But Dorsey, in town in October to launch the new Square Terminal credit and debit card-reading device, alluded to a likely downtown office as the company continues to grow jobs here. Mayor Lyda Krewson had suggested then that adding workers downtown would be the biggest help for St. Louis. She said last week that “the strength of the region” is tied to downtown’s strength.
“I do absolutely believe that the core of the region is downtown St. Louis,” Krewson said.
The Post-Dispatch building lease would give Square space for as many as 1,400 local employees, and the company plans to move all of its employees from Cortex to the downtown building within the next few years. Downtown, with a vacancy rate around 15 percent, has among the lowest office rental rates in the region, while Cortex is often much more expensive. Still, the St. Louis region is far cheaper than coastal markets where tech firms such as Square congregate.
Square is leasing nearly all of the 235,000-square-foot building, leaving only about 10,000 square feet open. StarLake has only just started to rehab the old newspaper building, so it could be more than a year before Square begins adding employees downtown.
Many of Square’s local employees are in compliance, customer support and other back-office functions. But the company has also begun hiring software engineers locally, significant because Dorsey and McKelvey in 2009 relocated the company to San Francisco because of difficulty finding the tech talent here to scale the business.
In October, Dorsey said he’d like to see software engineers eventually make up 40% of the St. Louis workforce. The office here has followed the blueprint of other satellite offices around the world, which are first staffed with a small number of Square employees from San Francisco before training and hiring local talent.
“St. Louis is full of talent and economic opportunity, so it should come as no surprise that we’re continuing to grow in our hometown,” McKelvey said in a statement.
Square’s announcement is a vote of confidence for the region’s workforce and what Krewson said is growing momentum among tech and creative businesses downtown. Incubators for growing tech firms like T-Rex on Washington Avenue now house hundreds of employees, and some anticipate a further boost when the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency opens its new headquarters and relocates some 3,000 people just north of downtown in the coming years.
“A lot of the talent that Square and creative tech companies are looking to attract are people who want to live and work in the city of St. Louis,” Krewson said.
Locally, McKelvey has started nonprofit LaunchCode, which trains people for careers in the tech industry and contracts with employers who need employee training. McKelvey also has made multimillion-dollar gifts to Washington University’s engineering school in recent years — a school that now bears his name — funding construction of a new computer science building, scholarships, faculty recruitment and an unconstrained endowment.
Dorsey was in St. Louis this month to co-launch a new nonprofit with Detroit philanthropist Bill Pulte that aims to finance demolitions and cleanup in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood of north St. Louis, which is beset with population loss, vacancy and disinvestment. Asked then about adding jobs downtown, Dorsey said only that “we’re looking to build in St. Louis.”
The Missouri Department of Economic Development has already provided several million dollars in state payroll tax breaks to the company since it opened its St. Louis office in 2015. And StarLake hopes to use state historic and brownfield tax credits to rehab the 900 North Tucker building.
Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-University City, said, “It’s terrific to see major tech companies like Square recognize the wealth of talent we have in St. Louis.
“Square has its roots in St. Louis and I’m thrilled to see their continued growth in our community,” he said in a statement.