Ryan Loeffler is ready for things to get back to normal.
For the last five years, accessibility and parking around Loeffler’s downtown St. Louis restaurant, Big Daddy’s on The Landing, has been a nightmare due to the $380 million renovation of the Gateway Arch grounds. “What we didn’t know was that redevelopment comes with a cost,” Loeffler said.
The renovation demolished major accessways and removed a main parking ramp on Washington Avenue, forcing many restaurants housed in the historic business district, known as Laclede’s Landing, to close. Loeffler’s restaurant is now just one of six currently open in the district, where there were 17 before construction began about five years ago, according to district officials.
To top it off, the area had already fallen on hard times due to a number of factors, including the Great Recession, the opening of the rival Ballpark Village district, poor press over rising city crime and the loss of the St. Louis Rams football team.
But with major Fourth of July celebrations scheduled to honor the reopening of the Arch grounds this week, and construction finally complete, Loeffler and other stakeholders at Laclede’s Landing are feeling optimistic that things might soon get back to normal.
Vicki Owings, president of the Laclede’s Landing Merchant Association, said with the reopening of the Arch grounds on Tuesday and the return of Fair Saint Louis — the annual holiday music festival — she’s expecting significant traffic for the area’s businesses. “I think St. Louisans who have not been downtown in the last few years are going to be flocking down for the Fourth of July,” she said. “So, we’re all very excited.”
The weeklong event series included the reopening of the newly renovated Gateway Arch Museum on Tuesday; Fourth of July celebrations at the Gateway Arch grounds on Wednesday; and several live music events, including Fair Saint Louis, between Thursday and Saturday.
Owings said there are already signs of recovery for Laclede’s Landing, including three new businesses scheduled to open in the district soon. Kimchi Guys, Miss Java and STL Axe Throwing have all announced opening storefronts at Laclede’s Landing, she said, and STL Axe Throwing is scheduled to open later this month.
Jesus Jaime is the district’s newest tenant. He and his brother, Javier Geminiano, opened Más Tequila Cantina in Laclede’s Landing two months ago. Just 10 years ago, the area would have been bustling with traffic, Jaime said, but for years, the place has been a ghost town.
Rather than seeing that as a deterrent, Jaime said, he saw an opportunity because no other Mexican restaurant existed in that part of town. It was also an opportunity to help rebuild an important St. Louis neighborhood, he said. “I wanted to help out,” he said. “It’s close to the Arch, it’s a big part of Missouri. I love this area.”
So far, business has been good, Jamie said, and he expects the July Fourth celebrations to keep his lunch traffic steady.
Loeffler is expecting a good turnout, too. During construction, Big Daddy’s saw a 40 percent decrease in revenue, he said, compared to pre-construction numbers. During that time, he had to decrease his staff by about a third.
But with the long holiday week and the Arch grounds reopening, Loeffler said, he’s bringing those numbers back up. Currently, he has about 55 people on staff for the week, he said, compared to the 65 he had employed before construction.
Loeffler said that he doesn’t expect he’ll see the same kind of business he saw before the renovation simply because construction is over. But he’s confident he can at least slowly grow back some of the business he lost over the years.
Jaime feels the same way, and he wants to be part of those who are trying to rebuild Laclede’s Landing to its former glory. “Each business that opens in this area helps a lot,” he said. “Soon, maybe it’ll be the same as before. Maybe better.”