Entrepreneur Joe Edwards helps make St. Louis vibrant again
By restoring buildings and activity to a historic St. Louis neighborhood Joe Edwards has become a powerful force for civic good.
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Part of what drove Edwards, however, was simply love – love for his hometown. St. Louis is a special place, Edwards says. "The architecture is phenomenal, and the scale of the city is human. You can get anywhere in 20 minutes."Skip to next paragraph
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It didn't make sense to him that neither residents nor outsiders were getting full enjoyment out of a city that seemed to be so full of potential – and he wanted to turn that attitude around.
Blueberry Hill began to do just that, drawing patrons from around the city; and as it did, Edwards continued expanding. Today, Blueberry Hill occupies four storefronts combined into one – a total of 10,000 square feet – and does a lively business seven days a week.
As Blueberry Hill thrived, so did the little neighborhood – thanks to constant vigilance by Edwards. "Joe guarded [The Loop] like a mother hen," Mr. McClellan says.
In 1995, Edwards woke up one morning, picked up the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and saw an image that "pierced my heart," he says. The Tivoli, The Loop's elegant 1924 movie theater, had gone out of business and was up for sale.
Within four weeks, Edwards had raised cash by taking out a loan on Blueberry Hill and had become the Tivoli's new owner. It was a decision motivated by sentiment, not business sense. "I just wanted to get it into safe hands," he says.
Once he had the theater under his protection, Edwards and his wife spent $2 million to return it – in every detail – to its 1924 splendor. He then turned it over to Landmark Theatres to run as an art-house movie theater – making the place a draw for a crowd of smart creative types from all over the St. Louis area.
During the next decade, Edwards's projects leaped to a whole new level. In 2000, he opened The Pageant, a 33,000-square-foot state-of-the-art performance space farther down Delmar. (This was a particularly significant project: In building it, Edwards crossed the boundary from St. Louis County into the City of St. Louis itself – an area that other businesspeople had tended to view as too crime-ridden to cultivate.)
In 2003, he opened Pin-Up Bowl, a bowling alley and lounge in a historical building on The Loop. In 2009, he opened the Moonrise Hotel, a 125-room boutique luxury hotel on The Loop, within walking distance of The Pageant.
"I've never met Joe Edwards," one Loop-area property owner told McClellan after Edwards opened the Moonrise and nearby property values soared. "But he's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
And Edwards is not content to rest on his laurels. His next project, set to come to fruition in 2013, will be a re-creation of The Loop's trolley system, funded by $25 million in federal stimulus money. The 2.2-mile trolley track will connect The Loop to Forest Park – a popular city attraction. The hope is that the colorful transit link will bring a further flow of tourist dollars into The Loop.
But it's not just about money. As other small creative businesses – antique stores, a vintage clothing boutique, a bike shop, a flower shop – have been drawn to The Loop in the wake of Edwards's success, a whole new element of fun has come into the city. Edwards has brought "a certain inimitable, nonmanufacturable flavor" to St. Louis, wrote St. Louis Magazine editor Stephen Schenkenberg in 2009 when the magazine named Edwards "a St. Louis luminary."