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Convention Center, Dome Expansion Into Bottle District Proposed

Michael Calhoun
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(Rendering via CountonDowntown.com)

(Rendering via CountonDowntown.com)

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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – To keep the Rams, regional leaders are gearing up to make major changes to the Edward Jones Dome and Frank de Graaf wonders — why not include the convention center and Bottle District?

“We need to do something bold once in awhile,” the downtown resident and blogger thinks.

And so De Graaf wrote an essay called “A Bold Vision for the Bottle District,” advocating for a 300,000 square foot expansion of America’s Center. He believes a total square footage of one million, along with a shiny new building, would catapult St. Louis from bland mid-size to the bold talk of the convention industry.

“We could host larger, more conventions, and we’d fill that convention center hotel more easily,” he said Wednesday. “The top ten convention centers all have a million square feet or more. We could basically upgrade ourselves one tier and compete for the major conventions.”

He says St. Louis currently competes against the likes of Tampa and Boston, but an expansion would put the city in the same league as Houston, Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans and others.

The new building could support a retractable roof for the Dome. He says other changes, like perhaps a glass wall on the Dome’s north end, could be incorporated into the project.

But what about all of those grand plans of the past, like St. Louis Centre and Ballpark Village?

De Graaf says those projects did or would work to suck the life out of downtown, competing against businesses already in existence over shoppers and diners which aren’t. He compares those “silver bullets” to Paul McKee’s development plan for the Bottle District, which includes low-rise housing and retail.

In fact, de Graaf believes McKee’s development would be more likely to fail because of the site’s isolated location, with a hulking Interstate 70 on one end and the Edward Jones Dome on another. On-and-off ramps to the the Mississippi River Bridge, de Graaf says, would only further the problem, but would be a plus for a convention center addition.

He proposes underground parking for the site, which would be both to the benefit of Rams fans and would allow some parking garages in downtown to be replaced with the type of development McKee is perusing.

“I live downtown, I work downtown. I’m out on the street almost everyday and when conventions are in town, it’s hopping. There’s people everywhere,” he says, betting that bigger conventions would increase demand for more consumer-oriented development in the heart of downtown.

And a downtown with a pulse is more appealing to residents and business owners, creating a snowball effect.

De Graaf’s ideas are just words and images on a website for right now, but he says he’d like the city and Convention and Visitors Commission to seriously consider it.

Listen – Raw interview with Frank de Graaf:

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