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Moseley To Open Cinema Downtown

February 22, 2006 Downtown, Local Business 23 Comments

The Post-Dispatch’s Deb Peterson is reporting local theatre owner Harmon Moseley will open a theatre in part of the Jefferson Arms. For those that have lived here a while you’ll recall the various attempts to have a theatre downtown — behind the train shed turned parking lot at Union Station.

The lame idea that people would drive to Union Station to see a film was absurd. Of course they hoped people would take in dinner while they were there. Well, they thought wrong. Destination places tend to do well as long as they are the new & hot destination.

A theatre will do great at Jefferson Arms. Not so much because of the building (although it is interesting) but because of the location on Tucker at Locust. With the many downtown residents and the many more of us that like to visit friends downtown I can see it staying busy.

Moseley says he wants to “raise the bar” in St. Louis by including a full bar. Great idea as some recent movies require a good stiff drink to deal with the poor script and lackluster performances. They cannot all be Brokeback Mountain.

Now for a mini-rant…

In the last five years we’ve witnessed a virtually empty downtown transform into an interesting downtown. We are a long way from being 24/7 but each new enterprise helps. A neighborhood needs all those places necessary for daily life. A theatre isn’t exactly a necessity but I can’t imagine doing without the option.

Downtown leaders need to be marketing the businesses that have opened. They are doing a poor job.

For example, take the Explore St. Louis site from the Regional Commerce & Growth Association (RCGA). They list the following neighborhoods in St. Louis: Laclede’s Landing, The Ville, Lafayette Square, Soulard, South Grand, The Hill. Uh, hello, Downtown!!! You know, the place where your offices are and where we have this white elephant convention center and near bankrupt convention hotel.

The Loop does well because of the efforts of Joe Edwards and other merchants. They have no bureaucratic entity like the Downtown Partnership or Downtown Now to deal with. They get organize, decide what they are going to do and then do it. We kinda have that downtown already with the developers bringing in new business owners. Do we need the Partnership?

Maybe some of our independent filmmakers in town can put together a documentary on the politics behind the razing of the Century Building. Wouldn’t that make an interesting opening film in the Jefferson Arms?

– Steve

  • http://urbanelitist.blogspot.com stlpcsolutions

    About time. The nearest theater that I enjoy to downtown is the Moolah. If we can get a good urbanistic theater that will be self sustaining, then excellent!

    Will there be a bar as in the Moolah? Besides the couches, that is one of its main selling points.

  • will

    I hope our leaders begin to realize that this actually is a neighborhood! Rather than continually trying to build save-the-day projects that draw people downtown, lets keep building the little stuff like this and make people want to live downtown and support the neighborhood on a regular basis. Residents care about their neighborhood and will be more likely to support it than others.

    [REPLY - Great point! I cringe everytime I hear about some new massive project that is going to magically fix everything. Nothing does that. The best big project would be in-traffic streetcars as these reinforce the notion of neighborhood and get people from neighborhood to neighborhood. Just think if downtown leaders had built a streetcar circulator line 25 years ago with the $95 million spent on St. Louis Centre. - SLP]

  • Skeptic

    I wish Harmon the best of luck with this.

    But if it ends up being a place where trashy people hoot and holler and talk back at the movie screen then it won’t last.

    You can flame away at me but you know it’s true.

  • Michael Draga

    The biggest difference of where people go to shop, being we are an automobile society is FREE parking! There is plenty of free parking at the Loop, Grand South Grand, and every damn shopping center in town. I hadn’t been to the landing in some years, due to Mississippi Nights not being the prime venue after the Pagent was built (thanks Joe Edwards). I had to go to the landing because of a friend was having an engagement party. I tried to find a place to park for free. There used to be places one could find if they knew downtown. The last ditch effort I used to park on Memorial right at Washington. I now find out that those 4 or 5 spots are no longer there. I ended up parking at the Arch parking for $6.00. NO MORE will I find a reason to go to the Landing.

    We used to be able to park on the Riverfront with no charge. The city is giving prime space for parking on Washington to Valet parking concerns. This is a slap in the face to St. Louis citizens who pay their taxes and actually choose to LIVE in the city. I don’t know if everyone knew, but the parking meters in town COST MORE TO MAINTAIN THAN THE MONEY THEY RECEIVE FROM THEM!

    If the powers that be want the city to thrive…….. Parking will have to be done something about.

  • Nate

    Does downtown need a hook? A better name than ‘downtown’.

    I’m just thinking that growing up, downtown wasn’t associated with living or shopping, but with working.

    So what are possible ‘brand names’ for downtown, that would convey that it’s livable space now?

  • Craig

    As far as brand-names for downtown, nothing could capture the essence of the new “renaissance” better than “Tax-Credit Park” or “Subsidyville.” “New Chesterfield” has a nice ring to it. Maybe “Trend-ton.”

  • Becker

    The negativity of the “progressives” who visit this blog is quite amazing.

  • Will Winter

    How about LouDo?

  • 314

    “The negativity of the “progressives” who visit this blog is quite amazing.”

    Indeed it is, Becker!

    First we’ve been told the new theater at Jefferson Arms could attract “trashy people (that) hoot and holler and talk back at the movie screen”. I would submit that Moseley theaters are nothing like their mainstream suburban counterparts- they don’t attract the same clientele as the Regal 18 at St. Louis Mills, where one would expect such behavior.

    Free parking in downtown may have been a reasonable expectation when our downtown was literally dormant a few years ago. In other words, please show me a vibrant downtown where you DON’T have to pay to park your car. I don’t miss the money it costs to park downtown when I think of how dreary and desolate it was just a few years ago. If you do miss that nominal amount of dough, I recommend Chesterfield.

    Calling downtown “Tax Credit Park” or “Subsidyville” is patently ridiculous, when wasteful sprawl and the roads that support it have been subsidized by local, state, and federal governments for decades. I’d rather see tax subsidies going toward revitalizing our core and its historic structures (that give Saint Louis a unique identity and competitive advantage) instead of developing malls and strip centers on supposedly “blighted” floodplains and bluffs that will undoubtedly be obsolete in 20 years.

    Sheesh! If the idea of providing subsidies to developers responsible for the renaissance of our downtown bothers you, or the concept that parking in a vibrant downtown should come at a price, then by all means please start your own blog with a suburban slant.

    [REPLY - Thank you! Your comment saved me from having to address those prior comments. - SLP]

  • http://www.eco-absence.org Michael Allen

    Don’t want to pay to park?

    Don’t bring your car! It’s that simple.

    Anyone who wants to say “no, it’s not that simple” is experiencing the growing pains of a city that is experiencing major changes that will render current St. Louis car culture impossible. There is no way we can have auto dependency and the redesification of the city. And there is no way the region will grow without the redensification — the car culture is going to have to die.

  • Ant C

    Very interesting comments. The Chase has free parking for theatre customers, you can be sure to count on the same for the new theatre in Jefferson Arms. Trashy people that hoot and holler are not tollerated at any of the St Louis Cinemas locations. The new theatre will be a very special experience that I hope will benefit downtown, it’s residents, and St Louis city in general.

  • http://www.springfieldwesley.com SMSPlanstu

    The subsidizing of buildings in downtown St. Louis makes much more sense than the greater subsidization of gas, low-interest home loans, and infrastructure by our state and Federal governments. Realistically, sprawl has been subsudized for fifty years and is not sustainable. This makes subsidies for TIF and historic tax credits a misnomer that do actually pay for themselves by the more investment they spur.

  • awb

    Parking at meters is free after 7 pm weekdays, and free all day on weekends (for the area around the Jefferson Arms). I wonder how far people who go to the cinemas at St. Louis Mills and other suburban malls walk from their car to the front door? How would that compare to people parking on the streets near the Jefferson Arms and walking to the cinema there. I will welcome the cinema-goers who will populate the sidewalks around the JA. For those who need a parking lot, I have this advice: Learn how to parallel park.

    Of course, street parking near Lucas Park Grill and Copia is relegated to valet parking, so don’t try to park there in the evenings.

  • Craig

    Please don’t confuse me for the person who suggested that more free parking be added to downtown. That won’t happen and it’s not necessary.

    But I don’t know why you jumped on me for the tongue-in-cheek nicknames for downtown that I suggested. It’s objectively true–no matter what your feelings–that what characterizes virtually all of redevelopment downtown is government subsidies in the form of TIF and tax credits.

    No tax credits, no new development downtown.

    I’m not a huge fan of TIF districts or tax credits anywhere they are used, including suburban locales like Des Peres and Chesterfield. But at least West County Mall and the Gumbo Flats Monstrocity are retail giants, pumping their municipalities with sales tax revenue. Same with Gravois Bluffs.

    These developments are all located in thriving, growing communities. Despite the car-hating neighsayers, this trend of growth in the suburbs will continue in the next 20 years and the tax revenue generated by these retail centers will increase.

    On the other hand we have downtown with its largely residential resurgence. Many of these new residents pay little to no property taxes to the city due to various incentives. They do their shopping in inner-ring suburbs like Maplewood and Richmond Heights, leaving their sales tax money behind. What little revenue the new residents are generating comes from the city’s 1% earnings tax. Meanwhile, old folks living on the hill are being taxed to death by the city to try to make up for this. Downtown continues to fail to generate large retail development and the accompnaying sales tax revenue.

    No matter how much you like dense, urban development, you have to ask yourself if the incentives given to the developers will be worth it in the long run. And of course it depends on what you mean by “worth it.”

    Economically, the subsidies won’t be worth it unless the residents spark some retail growth. Things are very much up in the air on that front (and I would argue that they’re not looking good, Gelateria or no Gelateria–but that can be saved for later).

    If you place great worth in feeling happy that several hundred more people are living downtown at great cost to the state and region then you will feel that the subsidies are worth it. To you, losing money is okay as long as you feel good about what you are losing it for (like playing pull-tab games at a church carnival).

    I think that the later attitude, when practiced by governments, is disastrous. That’s what worries me about downtown.

  • Dan

    Negativity or not, you’ve gotta admit that “New Chesterfield” is damn funny. I was thinking more along the lines of “Little Clayton” personally. Maybe even “West East St. Louis”. That has a nice ring to it.

  • 314

    Craig-

    You‘re correct about the current wave of downtown development- I agree that it wouldn’t progress at a torrid pace (or perhaps at all) without incentives.

    You said you’re not a fan of subsidies- and I think your cynical comments about downtown’s future proved that. However, you go to great lengths to defend the same practice in prosperous suburbs like Des Peres, Chesterfield, and Fenton- suburbs that owe their existence to decades of subsidies and now need them the least.

    Is it worth it to subsidize development in our Balkanzied suburbs that are locked in a zero-sum battle for businesses, retail, jobs, and ultimately residents? Isn’t it much more difficult, financially and logistically, to renovate and reconfigure a 100 year-old high rise instead of building a two mile-long strip mall in a floodplain?

    You may see things differently, but I believe the region will benefit from a stronger core and downtown, not from subsidized, anonymous, and disposable retail strip centers designed to siphon tax dollars from one suburb to the next.

    I won’t pretend to be a financial expert, but I would suppose the subsidies used for downtown development (stadia and convention facilities excluded) are dwarfed by comparison to the total of suburban giveaways.

    Suggesting that retail can’t or won’t succeed in downtown St. Louis is putting the cart before the horse IMHO. The critical mass of residents is just getting to the point where start-up businesses (Gelateria, City Grocers, etc.) feel comfortable coming into the area. Now we’re seeing investors like Harmon Moseley and Joe Edwards, with successful operations elsewhere in the area, “taking a chance” on downtown.

    So it’s not a stretch to suggest that some national retailers like Borders or Whole Foods could be next (especially with plans to build Ballpark Village and re-do St. Louis Centre finally in place). It is a stretch, however, to think that large-scale retail development can occur without a residential base.

    You ask how the city and state can afford to continue providing incentives, and I wonder how they could afford not to continue this practice as long as the focus is building downtown’s critical mass.

    Finally, I sincerely apologize if any of this seemed terse or combative, because that was not my intention. Clearly, we view the value and appropriateness of subsidies from very different perspectives.

  • Craig

    Thanks for the reply, 314. I’m just writing in the spirit of a good discussion just as you are.

    I wasn’t necessarily defending the use of TIF in the suburbs. I was just pointing out that the suburban municipalities that created the TIF districts did so mostly for retail developments that generate an awful lot of tax revenue. So at least those municipalities are getting something of a return for compromising on the property tax.

    In my view, the TIFs used and being proposed downtown are mostly for residential developments. You just won’t see the same return unless retail follows the residents.

    So it seems to me that downtown might be looking nicer and drawing more people (like me) to either live in it or visit it. That is mostly due to tax credits and, in some instances, TIF. But downtown is really a financial Potemkin village unless some tax revenue is generated. Without new tax revenue, St. Louis city’s financial crisis will worsen, and the tax credits will have done nothing but make a few developers rich and stick the loftdweller with a depreciating investment. Should public policy encourage that scenario?

    Maybe the new residents of downtown will spur large-scale retail growth (and the much-wanted tax revenue). As I said, it’s up in the air right now. My gut tells me that several hundred new residents is not enough to get retailers to come downtown. We’ll see.

  • http://jghitzert.blogspot.com JG Hitzert

    I used to work with Harman. I worked with him for thirteen years and my guess is he wouldn’t touch the Jeff Arms without a ton of free parking for moviegoers. It was a constant wrangle down at the Chase but we did it. I live in Portland now but I am sure he has plenty of parking at the Moolah too. Either way though you could always park in Debaliver and take the Metrolink.

    It sounds like a helluva an idea and I wish I was there to do the start up. It was my favorite part of the business dealing with the chaos and sorting out all the things that have to be sorted out. One thing I doubt will need sorting though is parking.

    Best,
    Jason G. Hitzert

  • 314

    Craig- I appreciate your reply- and I’ve enjoyed this discussion.

    With all due respect, I hope your gut is wrong about downtown’s long-term future! :)

    I knew *you* weren’t defending the suburbs per se. I brought up the decades-long practice of our federal, state, and local governments subsidizing suburbia since it’s fashionable for many suburbanites to kvetch about any public money used for downtown development. And again, I’m not including stadia or convention facilities, since there’s widespread opposition to this practice along with questionable returns on the investment over the long haul.

    You’re absolutely right about the danger of not attracting a significant amount of retailers downtown. I’m not a numbers guy by any means, but I like to think it’s a corner we’re getting ready to turn.

    Please don’t quote a novice armchair analyst like me on exact numbers, but I know we’re looking at no less than $2 billion of investment in downtown in this decade, and we’re talking about thousands of new housing units when structures completed during that time coupled with those in progress are taken into account.

    On a less tangible note, there’s a new energy and changing attitudes about downtown development. Look at developers like Kevin McGowan and John Steffen, that can’t seem to stop putting their money where their mouths are.

    While that attitude is certainly good for business, IMHO these men and others investing in downtown express a belief in its future that goes beyond the hollow platitudes you’d expect to hear from any developer about the latest project or the next big thing…

    As you said, time will tell. And we cannot become content with the progress, and assume the retail will follow residents simply because that’s the trend elsewhere.

    Saint Louis has many unique challenges- oftentimes it’s harder work than it is elsewhere to bring about change. It is (and it will be) a delicate balance to subsidize the future without giving away everything *including* the kitchen sink. Still, I like to think these efforts aren’t all for naught, and I believe Saint Louis is generally moving forward for the first time in ages.

  • http://zombiekiller.blogspot.com cyr

    Damn it!!!! South Grand. Put it on south Grand!

    I can’t wait for the day when downtown is happening enough that people will just take for granted that parking is going to cost them $10+ and not complain about it.

  • Travis Cape

    I wish Harman the best with this project. As Jason Hitzert wrote, I am sure adequate parking is in the plan. You can wish and hope that people won’t drive, but we all know they will.

    I got a laugh at the last post about a theatre on South Grand. Harman himself was responsible for the destruction of the Ritz theatre in the mid 80’s. Give that some thought when you’re parking next to the King & I.

    Give Harman all the credit you want, but realize that all of his theatres were significantly paid for by the developers of the buildings surrounding them.

  • http://zombiekiller.blogspot.com cyr

    I forgot that he was the owner and operator of the Ritz (R.I.P.). Did he actively participate in the Ritz’s destruction or is he responsible for it by closing the theater’s door? Did he pull an Avalon on it?

    I still want my movie theater…

  • Travis Cape

    In response to cyr, Harman programmed the Ritz and drew a crowd that the neighborhood wasn’t too fond of. In the end, the city bought the theatre and demolished it for the parking lot we have today. I lay the blame for that demolition solely on Harman as he was in charge of theatre operations.

    The Avalon is a whole other matter. Harman’s brother John was the last operator. He leased it from the owner, who is just plain crazy. John closed the Avalon because he couldn’t continue to operate a theatre that was physically deteriorating as fast as it was. The owner refused to help much with needed repairs.

    At this point, the Avalon has been closed for so long that it needs so many systems brought up to code that it probably will never happen.

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