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      These are interesting times in the Gateway City. In recent months there have been several events and announcements that — while unrelated — combine to form a harbinger of good things to come for St. Louis.
Al-Ortbals-mugOrtbals    In August, ground was broken on the CityArchRiver 2015 project, the $350 million plan to reorient the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, make it more user friendly, tie it into downtown St. Louis and make the riverfront more useful and attractive. Reconstructing the Arch grounds, creating a new museum entrance, capping the I-70 depressed lanes and raising Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard will, I think, turn the Gateway Expansion Memorial into the catalyst for development that it was expected to be 50 years ago.
    On Dec. 4, IKEA announced it was coming to St. Louis. While it might seem silly to laud a retail store as a catalyst for future development, this deal is unique for a several reasons. One is that the selection of St. Louis is an imprimatur that’s not easily won. There are only 36 IKEA stores in the U.S. and most of those are located along the coasts. The company does not have stores, for example, in Milwaukee or New Orleans, Memphis or Nashville, Indianapolis or Cleveland. The location of a store here makes a powerful, positive statement about the metro economy.
    Two, IKEA stores have a huge market area. When some of my neighbors were remodeling their kitchen a few years ago, they ordered all the cabinets from IKEA; rented a truck and drove to Chicago to get them. When IKEA announced it was putting a store in Kansas City last year, they said it was because they already had 60,000 customers in the Kansas City area. This when the closest store was 500 miles away and IKEA doesn’t deliver!
    But, perhaps more important is where they chose to put it. If you’ve ever seen an IKEA store, you know that they are usually on the outskirts of town on the interstate highway. The Chicago stores, for example, are in Bolingbrook and Schaumburg. The Kansas City store is being built out in Johnson County, Kansas. When I first heard the rumor of an IKEA store coming to St. Louis, I would have bet money it would go in St. Charles County.
    This one, however, is going into the heart of the city of St. Louis at the intersection of Forest Park and Vandeventer. What a statement this makes! Billions of dollars have been invested in that corridor over the last 20 years — the SLU campus, the SLU Medical Center, the Wash. U. Medical Center, Cortex, Grand Center, A.G. Edwards/Wells Fargo. The selection of this site is a statement from 5,000 miles away that says, ‘I like what you’re doing there!’ Because IKEA selected such a location for its only St. Louis store, I expect it to be a further catalyst for development in the city.
    On Dec. 9, TriStar Properties, the developer of Gateway Commerce Center, announced that it was going to build a 540,000-square-foot industrial building in the business park — the first speculatively built industrial building to be erected in metro St. Louis since 2007. It will be expandable up to 1 million square feet. If you’re looking for green shoots sprouting from a burned out economy, this one is fluorescent. Not only does it show that a developer has the confidence to make a huge investment on the if-come; it also reveals that a lender has the confidence to lend him most of the money. This speaks volumes about both the economy’s resurgence and Gateway’s drawing power. If this wager is successful, expect it to instigate a building boom.
    Finally, next month the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge will open. Its architecture doesn’t just make a dramatic statement on the St. Louis skyline. With its sweeping curves it will move people seamlessly into downtown St. Louis, drawing the two sides of the river closer together. It will reduce congestion and make hundreds of acres on both ends of the bridge attractive for development. It was a long hard battle to get here but we’ve made it and the investment in time, toil and treasure will pay huge dividends.
    I’m sure you all can add to this list, making the vision of our future prospects all the more bright. Happy New Year!
    Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (618) 659-1997.