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IKEA St. Louis: The Good & Bad

December 10, 2013 Featured, Midtown, Planning & Design 36 Comments

I’ll never forget the first time I stepped into an IKEA store, in August 1990. At that time IKEA only had a handful of stores in the US, I visited the 2nd located in Woodbridge VA outside Washington D.C. All were on the east coast. Since then I’ve shopped at five more IKEA locations, including the two Chicago-area locations: Schaumburg (opened in 1998) and Bolingbrook (opened in 2005).

Today every room in our loft includes products from IKEA:

  • Kitchen: Shelves, serving dishes, silverware, gadgets, bar stools, etc
  • Dining Room: table, art
  • Living Room: sofa, tv stand, wall shelves, end tables,
  • Office: Wall of bookshelves, lighting
  • Bedroom: bed, nightstands, chests, shelving, sheets, duvet, lighting
  • Closet: wood hangers (no wire hangers!)
  • Bathrooms: cart for toiletries, towels, art

We’re happy with the quality of all the items except the sofa — it was the cheapest one they sold about 8 years ago and it needs to be replaced. Was a good value though.

Some of the IKEA trips I’ve had over the years I bought very little — even their compact flat packages are too big for the overhead bins! I can, however, recall 4-5 trips to Schaumburg/Bolingbrook, either by myself or with a friend, where we left with our vehicle packed so tight we barely fit inside to drive back to St. Louis. The time I bought the sofa we were driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee — we tied the sofa to the roof rack because the inside was full. I’ve also made two purchases through a local company that brings back items for a fee. Why share all this? To show I’ve been a customer for many years.

In March I posted that distribution was key to IKEA’s midwest expansion, that we’d see a store only after the Joliet IL distribution center, announced in 2007, was actually open. When it became clear recently that IKEA was going to announce plans for a St. Louis location I wondered if I was off in my assessment so before the press conference last week I asked Joseph Roth about the long-stalled Joliet distribution center. Turns out the St. Louis location is the “tipping point” to justify the new distribution center! When the Kansas City-area IKEA opens next fall it’ll be stocked from an east coast distribution center like the two Chicago area stores have been. Roth said they’re not sure which will open open first: the new distribution center or the St. Louis store. If the St. Louis location opens before the distribution center, it won’t be far behind.   

Last week IKEA officials announced plans to seek approval for a store at Forest Park & Vandeventer:

IKEA, the world’s leading home furnishings retailer, today announced it is submitting plans to the City of St. Louis, Missouri for a store that would increase the Swedish retailer’s presence in the Midwestern United States. The application marks the beginning of the governmental approval process. Until the store opens in Fall 2015, customers can shop at the closest IKEA stores: the Chicago-area IKEA Bolingbrook and IKEA Schaumburg; or online at IKEA-USA.com. Additionally, a Kansas City-area store is under construction and on track to open Fall 2014 in Merriam, KS.

Located in the heart of Midtown St. Louis, the 380,000-square-foot proposed IKEA store would be built along the northern side of Interstate-64 near the Vandeventer Avenue exit. It would sit on nearly 21 acres purchased in the Cortex Innovation District, a vibrant technology community created to commercialize the benefits of university and regional corporate research in St. Louis. One level of parking below the store and spaces accessible at-grade would provide approximately 1,250 parking spaces on-site. Store plans reflect the same unique architectural design for which IKEA stores are known worldwide. IKEA also will evaluate potential on-site power generation to complement its current U.S. renewable energy presence at nearly 90% of its U.S. locations. (IKEA)

IKEA doesn’t own the land yet, that’ll happen if they get approvals to proceed.

Location of the proposed IKEA in St. Louis.
Location of the proposed IKEA in St. Louis. Source: IKEA

The good news:

  1. A lackluster corner will have lots of activity
  2. Adjacent to light rail (MetroLink) and on the #42 MetroBus route.
  3. The store will draw customers from over 100 miles away
  4. Tax revenue generated for the city will be substantial.
  5. 300 permanent jobs will be created
  6. Will likely spur adjacent development consisting of more retail, hotel(s), and restaurants.

The bad news:

  1. Most of the activity generated on Vandeventer & Forest Park will be motorists coming and going.  Traffic will be a nightmare if signals aren’t well timed.
  2. Despite being near public transit, many customers and some employees will drive.
  3. Getting out of town visitors to stay and spend more money will be a challenge.
  4. What will be the sales tax rate we’ll have to pay? Bolingbrook IL is 8%, Schaumburg is 10%.
  5. Many of the jobs will be low paying.
  6.  Adjacent development, such as the proposed Midtown Station, will be low-density sprawl.

On Thursday I’ll look at design issues that need to be addressed by IKEA, CORTEX, and the city.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "36 comments" on this Article:

  1. Eric5434 says:

    Re “the bad news”:

    2,3,5,6 – this is “bad news” compared to some hypothetical ideal, but still better than the current situation.

    4 – I find it hard to believe the tax rate will be so much higher that driving to Illinois will be worth it.

    1 – The parking lot will have 1250 spots. Assuming the lot is totally full (unlikely), and each customer stays for an hour, that means 1250 cars coming per hour and 1250 leaving. That equates to about one full lane each direction. Vandeventer and Forest Park are relatively empty multi-lane roads, and Sarah St provides extra capacity, so I don’t see this being a huge obstacle.

  2. RyleyinSTL says:

    Unless I’m missing something….sales tax rate should be 8.491%

    Overall I’m pleased with this news. Sure it would be nice to have seen a more urban design go in here, but the ability for a store like this to spur other activity, and attract people/visitors into the area can’t be overlooked.

  3. JZ71 says:

    The good/bad news:

    1. Traffic will only be a “nightmare” the first couple of weeks after it opens and, possibly, during major sales. The rest of the time it will just be busy, which beats the alternative of not-busy-because-nothing-is-happening!

    2. Being near public transit, at least some customers and a few employees will have the option of not driving, but few will choose that option. As you explained earlier, much of what IKEA sells is not designed to be carried home on public transit, and because this is retail, not many employees who are getting off at 8, 9, 10 or later at night are going to be interested in waiting for the bus if they can just hop in their car and drive home.

    3. Yes, “Getting out of town visitors to stay and spend more money will be a challenge.” I’m not sure why this is “bad” – we’re getting them here, not Chicago or Kansas City – it’s a start, they’re here. The “challenge” is that we need to give them a reason to stay, to linger. We already have many other things to do, but most visitors, just like us, have limited time and limited money. The only big challenge I see is downtown’s (and Forest Park’s) reputation for vehicle break-ins – who wants to buy hundreds of dollars of stuff, only to see it stolen out of your vehicle before you can get it home?!

  4. Cheryl Hammond says:

    After hearing so much about the proposed Boeing subsidies, I have not heard anything about whether there were subsidies to get IKEA to come here. Were there any? If not, that certainly adds a line to the good news.

  5. moe says:

    1) Traffic nightmare…grasping at something to complain about.
    2) Considering your #3 good…well duh. Very few are going to buy furniture and bike it home. But I’m willing to bet many, many employees will transit it.
    3) Pessimism….again (no surprise)…St. Louis has many attractions, and at the very least they will be eating..Midtown restaurants will see sales increase.
    4) Good question….standard procedures given, I’m shooting for 10.5% give or take .5
    5) Then don’t shop there. Have you (or anyone) voiced that concern as a customer to them? Do you know what they pay their employees? Benefits? They’re so lousy that they have been one of Fortune’s Top 100.
    6) In your opinion…grasping at something to complain about.
    Bottom line is Midtown is changing. It’s GOOD for the neighborhood, the City, and the Region. Will there be flaws? sure, especially if they don’t consult you. But Ikea is a store…still a plain, simple store. Big box retail with a rabid fan base.

  6. guest says:

    Why is it that when something good happens, right here in River City, there seems to be this need to pick it apart? What’s the point?

    You know what? Why bother? Why bother working to attract major development to STL. Why bother attracting a coveted national retailer to the Central Corridor and City? Why bother if all we get to hear in return is people with no investment in any of this other than an opinion bitch and moan because the project isn’t up to their standards? Why bother.

    You know what? Try celebrating. Try spreading the good word. Try talking about how much better we are doing than just a few years ago. Try getting on the bandwagon. STL has enough naysaying. We don’t any more of it. We need people in the boat, rowing. Not people on the bank, griping about progress because it doesn’t fit their vision.

    • First, critical analysis of new development is a positive thing done in every major city – St. Louis isn’t unique. I’m a huge IKEA fan, I’m excited in under two years I’ll be 20 minutes away by public transit! Still, when the development of such a large site is on the table we must put aside our excitement and look critically at their request. If this were a Walmart Supercenter the mood would be very different.

      • moe says:

        And THATS the problem…..when the dust settles….this IS a Walmart. A Target. A Best Buy. The only “mood” that would be different is the names of the fans. You like Ikea, you dislike Walmart ….but they are the same thing. Critical analysis….SMH

        • You may not think so but clearly someone else thought I was being too critical of the IKEA news.

        • JZ71 says:

          IKEA will become less special once it’s no longer in some distant city, once it starts to be “everywhere”. Hard Rock started out special, Trader Joe’s, What-A-Burger, In-N-Out burgers, Whole Foods, American Girl, Nordstrom’s, West Elm, the Apple Store, etc, etc. are like IKEA. They’re something a lot of customers really “want” if they don’t have one locally, but tend to view as pretty much just another store once one or more opens up in their local market.

          • I disagree with your premise. Apple now has 250+ stores in the US and they’re packed daily. Every IKEA i’ve been to is also packed, especially on the weekends. These stores remain special.

          • JZ71 says:

            My point wasn’t that IKEA wouldn’t attract customers (as long as they remain relevant), it’s that they would attract customers from a smaller capture area – we now are willing to drive to Chicago, we’ll soon be able to drive to Kansas City. Once it opens here, we’ll be staying local, while customers in Springfield, IL, and Columbia, MO will be making their choices based on what else they want to do on their trip out of town.

          • moe says:

            Exactly how St. Louisians’ treat the Zoo, the Arch, the Brewery, the Art Museum, etc. If everyone in the Metro east would just realize how lucky we are to have A+ institutions…. Sure they’re not perfect, but why should they be? Perfection = stagnation.

      • guest says:

        To what end? Critical analysis to interest whom? The city planning department? The Board of Aldermen? Fellow critics? What is really gained by arm-chair quarterbacking the effort of a major corporation to spend millions of dollars in our city and hire hundreds of workers? We all are better served by supporting these projects and building momentum for more. We should be asking, “What next?”, rather than, “Ooo, this is really bad for these reasons…”.

        • Your viewpoint is why St. Louis Marketplace was such a failure. Everyone was so excited by the new big boxes, including Sam’s nobody asked questions out of fear of offending the retail gods. In short order Sam’s moved to Maplewood, the home center closed, etc.

          • guest says:

            Apples and oranges. IKEA won’t be packing up and moving to Maplewood. IKEA is building its (one per region/one per generation) mostly generic IKEA box (with some underground parking).

            The city is not guaranteeing a big TIF (as was the major downfall at STL Marketplace). No comparison. This is IKEA taking a risk and investing its own money in the city to bring a major, coveted national retailer to STL city. That was never the story at St. Louis Marketplace.

            Our biggest risk is that IKEA the corporation fails or that this store fails, but the chances of that are unlikely, at least for the next 10-15 years.

            At some point, the constant harping on minor details and always bringing up the negative side of things is little more than downer crank journalism. That’s my viewpoint.

          • tpekren says:

            Guest, your mistaken in part of the TIF. This is within the CORTEX TIF that is already approved and established and therefore Ikea and CORTEX will each get a return of the sales taxes generated. I believe they are estimating CORTEX share of the sales tax revenue will be $2 million a year. Not sure what the numbers are for IKEA/Pace
            I do agree, IKEA and Marketplace are apples and oranges. IKEA being a much better deal for the city and a much better location. Marketplace was an all around retail mistake on everyone’s part including the city.

          • The specifics are different but the excitement of getting a sought-after big box (Sam’s) is the same. People didn’t ask questions of the city or developer and the project was a disaster. The IKEA won’t be a disaster but if we ask questions now it’ll be better than if we blindly accepted what we’re given.

          • moe says:

            It’s always convenient to say ‘people didn’t ask questions’ and all that blah. They did and they do. One of the biggest mistakes you and others CONTINUE to make is that by looking at some newspaper articles and such, you think you know everything that went on. Backwards armchair quarterback. You and others continue to act as if all the planners and parties involved were incompetent. That you know best. You conveniently forget to take into account what was going on at the time in society, whether it is the Marketplace, the Arch grounds, or Ikea, etc. The Marketplace was one of the first uses of TIFFs in our area. It’s called a Learning Curve. There also were economic and other issues involved that even our region had no control over. Who would have thought just 6 years ago the Roberts Brothers and a host of other developers would go belly up? Who’s to say that if the tea nuts get control of the Federal budget, that Cortex and BJC won’t go belly up? (want to laugh..go ahead, but you better check out who is in these blocks and what they do and just how much federal research dollars are flowing into the coffers over private research dollars. What, you think BJC (or SLU) would have the medical research they have now with out Uncle Sam’s help???). My point is that despite all the best planning, mistakes happen and circumstances can change. Sometimes overnight. Hell, Ikea could be sold or could go bankrupt tomorrow!
            And regardless of all of what I’ve written above….sometimes, just sometimes…developers just don’t give a crap about what you and other people have to say about their projects. They aren’t like certain City departments that, just because you visit with them and you get a ped. crossing painted, they should bow to your whim. For every crossing you post about how ‘the City listened to you’, there are a handful of people asking: who are you to get special treatment, when I can’t even get a sidewalk in the first place.

          • I was here when Marketplace happened, as well as Southtowne Plaza, Loughborough Commons, Gravois Plaza rebuild, etc.

  7. Urban Reason says:

    After several years of watching dense walkable developments & beautiful TOD’s downsized in my current city of residence (which makes driving on St. Louis streets feel like a tranquil Sunday drive on a country road), I’ve become fairly averse to arguments based around fears of increased traffic. It’s the responsibility of the city to invest in infrastructure for biking, walking, transit, and related zoning codes (IMO), it’s only the responsibility of developers to plan for and accommodate them.

    The biggest tragedy inherent in the implementation of this design, from my perspective, is the lost opportunity at the intersection of FPP and Vandeventer to the massive suburban surface lot. While CORTEX hasn’t had the best track record, NextSTL had some plans from the older design for that space which had reserved the corner for a mixed use development (see included image), perserving Duncan as a through street and even including a nice urban park between two buildings. This design is a major step backward from that.

    My hope is that the developers can be convinced to do the right thing and push IKEA to keep their space on the originally planned city block or to contribute to some kind of parking structure with a combination of street-level retail and residential.

    (old plan)

  8. guest says:

    “On Thursday I’ll look at design issues that need to be addressed by IKEA, CORTEX, and the city.” Wow. You are the arbiter of “design issues that need to be addressed”? Seriously? Did someone name you king and forget to tell the rest of us? C’mon, Steve. You need to lighten up. Or seek an appointment to the Planning Commission. Or something. The tone of this post is “you know what’s best, better than everyone else”. That is a bit much. We all have ideas, and you have a lot of good ones, but we have to work together to get things done. Let’s work together, shall we?

    • The planning commission doesn’t do any actual planning, the name should be the variance from the 1947 plan commission. For 9+ years I’ve put my ideas out into the public realm for consideration and I’ll continue to do so.

      • guest says:

        Not true. All plans for neighborhoods, all zoning changes, and all redevelopment plans are first approved or modified at the Planning Commission before they go to the Board of Aldermen. The Planning Commission adopted and enforces the city’s Strategic Land Use Plan (approved in the early 2000s). Appeals on Preservation Board demolition denials also go to the Planning Commission.

        • Planning doesn’t originate at the planning commission. Planning, what little we have, comes from those who organize and push for some pre-thought rather than be reactionaries.
          The land use plan was the first step to a new zoning code, but when Rolin Stanley left so did the push for it. The land use plan and current zoning aren’t compatible and the 1947 zoning code trumps it.

    • gmichaud says:

      Not sure what your problem is, analysis of a project is a good thing, there is not enough of that done in St. Louis as it stands now. Have you ever heard of Ada Louise Huxtable or Paul Goldberger? They where prominent architectural critics who didn’t simply praise everything, but offered critical analysis and comment to improve the built environment. In St. Louis there is Urban Review and a few other blogs that offer comment and analysis, that’s it. The major media does almost nothing on that front.

      The result: a tore up, disconnected urban environment that is the St. Louis region. I guess you mean by work together, let’s do things my way. Notice that you are busy attacking Steve and not addressing the comments or analysis. The point here is to have a discussion about the urban environment. If all you want to do is take out your pom poms and cheer you should join the Chamber of Commerce.

  9. JZ71 says:

    On a different issue, why are you buying “art” from IKEA? We have many local art galleries, many local art shows and many local artists struggling to make a living. One of your basic tenets is street level retail. Both art galleries and artist studios are great uses of the small, street-level spaces that you covet, but the only way you’ll see more of them is to buy what they’re selling!

    • I also have a couple of pieces by local artists, prominently displayed. One I had commissioned just for me, the other custom framed by a local frame shop owned by a friend.

  10. guest says:

    There has been lots of planning. Planning at the Arch grounds. Planning in Forest Park. Planning Skinker DeBaliviere. TOD Planning. Sustainability Planning. Planning in Lafayette Square. Planning for Northside Regeneration. For a built out city, we have different planning needs. It’s a false narrative to say St. Louis doesn’t do planning.

  11. John R says:

    I can see some benefits from extended stays…. for example the family from Paducah who comes to see the Cards and visit the zoo that finds themselves going home with a couple hundred $$ worth of svensuch and smorgenborgen and vice versa. I don’t know how many thousands of people from outside the region will visit IKEA annually and what percentage of those who do will wrap it into a lengthened stay beyond IKEA power shopping, but it won’t be insignificant .

    It also is interesting to compare with the Arch, where the economic impact study looked at the range of potential economic benefits depending upon how much time the improvements extend tourist stays in the region.

    • Greg says:

      IKEA sells svensuch and smorgenborgen?!? Awesome 😀

      • moe says:

        What the heck is svensuch and smorgenborgen?

        • John R says:

          svensuch are miscellaneous IKEA products usually found near check-out and includes FYRKANTIG, RIKTIG OGLA (sorry for not inculding the umlauts) and the ever-beloved GRONKULLA. smorgenborgen is a food product that is an acquired taste… basically it is horse meat with ligonberry sauce.

  12. soularddave says:

    We should ALWAYS be seeking comment, ideas, and examining criticisms. Attack lingo has no place in the civil process, but sure, bring in counter arguments like this example: “I already have to wait thru 2 phases of the light there. It seems like there needs to be major changes to management of traffic patterns at that intersection”.

  13. soularddave says:

    BTW, I am excited about a NEW, major retailer entering the St. Louis market. I remember when this was a busy topic on the StLouist and with Metropolis. The mood then, was: “Wouldn’t it be exciting to get an IKEA store here”.

    So its been a good idea for a long time. What other ideas are out there waiting to come to fruition?



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