ST. LOUIS — The oldest university west of the Mississippi River is returning to its downtown St. Louis roots.
Saint Louis University officially opened its downtown law school Friday with a ribbon-cutting presided over by the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, the university president, and Mayor Francis Slay, a 1980 law graduate. The 12-story building on Tucker Boulevard is next to the city's civil courts building and just blocks from the federal courthouse, the U.S. Attorney's Office and many prominent downtown law firms.
SLU began as a small Catholic college nearly 200 years ago on land where the Gateway Arch now stands. The Jesuit school's current campus is located several miles west of the central city in midtown St. Louis.
School leaders said the new location will allow students to work closely with the city's expansive legal community and will serve as a valuable recruiting tool in a competitive market.
"The decision to move boldly to the heart of the legal community downtown will prove transformative to us," said Dean Michael Wolff, a former state Supreme Court justice who spent 23 years on the school's law faculty before his high court appointment.
The $32 million project included a donation of the $15 million building by developer Joe Scott and his wife, Loretta, for whom Scott Hall is named. The Anheuser-Busch Foundation also donated r $3 million toward renovations.
The gleaming improvements to what Slay called a one-time "nondescript" office building were on full display Friday. The campus cafeteria looks more like a high-end restaurant, replete with an open kitchen for cooking brick-oven pizzas. The building's hallmark is a 12th-floor rooftop patio with sweeping views of the Arch, Union Station and other downtown landmarks.
Slay called the university's downtown commitment an important part of his administration's longstanding efforts at revitalizing the urban core. In the past 12 years, he said, the number of vacant downtown buildings declined from nearly 150 to fewer than 30, fueled by $5 billion in recent investment.
"Just as St. Louis University's campus has been transformed, so has downtown," Slay said.
The mayor also made a public pitch for some of the law school's 600 students to live downtown. Christine Beam, 26, already got the message. The fourth-year student, a native Ohioan who is simultaneously studying for a master's degree in public health, recently moved to a downtown apartment within walking distance of the new building.
"I'm afraid I'm going to be distracted because the views are so good," she joked.