IKEA Coming to City of St. Louis

nextSTL has confirmed that IKEA is coming to the City of St. Louis. An announcement by city officials and IKEA representatives is expected early next week. The Forest Park Avenue at Vandeventer site within CORTEX was first reported here in March and will be the site for the store. Over the past six months, the Swedish retailer and local representative Pace Properties have been focused on making the central city site work, now it’s official. No timetable has been made available, but once the project breaks ground, it’s expected to take approximately 18 months to complete.

The store will be larger than the 359K sf store currently under construction in Merriam, KS, according to sources. Recent parcel consolidation cleared the way for the announcement as Laclede Gas confirmed to nextSTL that a contract is in place to sell several acres to CORTEX and other smaller parcels were purchased. Remaining businesses Crescent Realty and United Refrigeration have recently signed leases nearby, leaving CORTEX and Laclede Gas as the only remaining land owners.

Currently, the nearest IKEA store to St. Louis is 273 miles away in Bolingbrook, IL outside Chicago roughly the same distance as the store currently under construction in Merriam, KS outside Kansas City. That store is approximately 10 miles from downtown Kansas City. There are currently 38 IKEA stores open in the US with locations in Tampa, Charlotte, Brooklyn and near Denver opening since 2008. In addition to the Merriam, KS store, a location is also under construction near Miami, FL.

While the typical IKEA in the US is often located in a high-traffic suburban location, several stores use a more compact development model to shoehorn 300K+ sf onto less than 10 acres. The Denver and San Francisco area stores use structured parking and even the suburban Boston area IKEA places most parking beneath the building.

But the St. Louis store may be most similar to IKEA’s Atlanta location. Located just less than five miles from downtown Atlanta, hundreds of mid-rise apartments have been built across the street, the Atlantic Station retail and office development is down the street, and Georgia Tech sits just to the south. That 366K sf store occupies just more than eight acres. The St. Louis location is just three miles from City Hall and adjacent to Saint Louis University. The grain elevator is not part of the project site and will remain.

{the project site is now controlled by CORTEX and Laclede Gas}

{the Atlanta store utilizes structured parking to fit on ~eight acres near Atlantic Station and Georgia Tech}

In the larger picture, the good news for the city isn’t about needs-assembly furniture or cheap meatballs, it’s the presence of a $100M annual sales retailer, the estimated one million shoppers and 400 employees the single store will bring. And because of the consumer traffic they generate, IKEA stores often attract other retailers. Pace Properties is planning another retail development east of Vandevanter named Midtown Station. That development was first reported here in July. Other development announcements including residential and additional retail is expected to follow soon.

Of course the important shift in development, and retail development into the City of St. Louis, will initially be lost in the fervor over the IKEA name, but the store is locating in the city for a reason. St. Louis is hot and the re-invention of the central corridor appears to just be beginning. The larger story isn’t about a furniture store, it’s about a shift in development towards the city. The city is about to see the same principle of retail momentum play out in the nearby Central West End, as a mixed-use development featuring a 40K sf Whole Foods, the first in the city, will generate traffic and produce sales numbers that will encourage additional investment.

IKEA is simply the latest, albeit most marquee, development focused in a small area along the central I-64 corridor within the city limits. The Barnes-Jewish, Washington University, and Children’s Hospital medical center is the focus of a $1B expansion and renovation effort. The St. Louis College of Pharmacy may invest up to $100M on campus expansion. There’s the new Shriners Hospital, the return of Mercedes to the city for the first time in a couple decades, and the nearby St. Louis Zoo is planning a massive long term expansion. A new MetroLink light rail station is planned nearby and initial study of a streetcar a couple blocks north is underway.

Then there are the residential projects. Aventura’s Phase II is nearly complete, Cortona at Forest Park will soon be occupied, Opus is back with a mixed-use proposal for the Central West End, 260 units are planned for Sarah at West Pine, the Laclede Lofts renovation is near completion and another $70M project including a 40K sf Whole Foods has broken ground at Euclid and West Pine.

Those paying close attention to development in the city have witnessed momentum building, but in St. Louis, where people, jobs and retail have fled for half a century, skepticism is often justified. The idea that perhaps the most sought-after retailer would choose a site known best, if at all, for its thrift stores and vacant land was met with disbelief and derision (and of course the expected denials from IKEA). IKEA will certainly put the city on the map for some, as Whole Foods will for others. Neither will “save” the city. But whether or not one is a fan of either isn’t the point. Each is the result of a burgeoning development pattern and both will add to the trend.

The Merriam store is installing a geothermal heating and cooling system and will feature solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations. The St. Louis IKEA is expected to pursue similar green technology. The Merriam store broke ground in July and is expected to open in Fall 2014.

IKEA had $3.2B in sales in the US for its 2009 fiscal year, the last for which separate sales figures were available. The US remains the company’s second largest market after Germany. The world’s largest furniture retailer has more than 300 stores in nearly 40 countries around the world. Future expansion is expected to focus on China.

CORTEX was founded in 2002 Washington University, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the Missouri Botanical Garden. The district, aiming to lure innovative life science companies and expand research capacity of its member organizations, covers nearly 240 acres in the central city. Blighted by city ordinance in 2005, the district is home to Solae headquarters, the Center for Emerging Technologies, WU and BJC research facilities and offices and soon Cambridge Innovation Center in the 4240 Duncan building. A public plaza featuring green space and room for restaurant and retail is currently under construction.

{CORTEX is home to new construction and renovated warehouses – here, @4240}

{the larger long term vision for CORTEX includes hotel, retail, residential and office}