Skybridge demolition signals change in St. Louis

Thursday, May 20, 2010 | 12:07 p.m. CDT; updated 12:14 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 20, 2010

ST. LOUIS — When St. Louis Centre opened as what was then the nation's largest urban mall in 1985, it was hailed as a saving grace for downtown. Instead, it was a huge failure.

On Friday, a wrecking ball will begin tearing down the old skybridge that connected the mall with Dillard's department store. Both have been closed for several years. Demolition is expected to take three weeks.

Civic leaders will celebrate what they see as a fresh start for downtown. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that beer and wine will flow as demolition begins Friday afternoon, and a band will play.

"This marks a turning point in the cycle of downtown revitalization," said Maggie Campbell, president of Partnership for Downtown St. Louis. "This has been a physical and psychological barrier. By knocking it down, we're opening up opportunities and carrying the momentum forward."

Civic leaders say the skybridge is an obstacle in the way of allowing a free-flowing Washington Avenue to run from downtown to the Mississippi River and the Gateway Arch grounds. Washington Avenue has become the center of downtown revitalization in St. Louis, with a mix of eclectic shops, condos and restaurants.

So the community is revved up about the skybridge demolition. Invitations for the "bridge bash," complete with corporate sponsorship, promise a party-like atmosphere.

Barbara Geisman, deputy mayor of development, called the bridge "one of the last eyesores in downtown St. Louis. To say we're thrilled to see it go would be an understatement."

Ownership of the shuttered 540,000-square-foot mall has changed hands several times. Plans came and went. Its bridge has been especially frustrating for those who run conventions and promote St. Louis. The city's convention center and several hotels sit near the abandoned mall.

Donna Andrews, public relations director for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, called it "the ugly neighbor next door."

"It's very foreboding and has separated the riverfront from all the great development happening on Washington Avenue," Andrews said. "It seems like the bridge is blocking everything."

Developers plan to turn the old Dillard's into an Embassy Suites hotel and apartments. They plan to turn the old mall into a parking garage with street-level shops.

One of those developers, Amos Harris, said the bridge couldn't be torn down until financing for both projects was worked out. That happened Tuesday. Developers are sharing the $450,000 bridge demolition cost.

All that remains from St. Louis Centre is Macy's, connected to the mall by a similar pedestrian bridge over Locust Street. That bridge is scheduled to be demolished later this year.


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