After graduating from Duke University in 1972, Joe Edwards returned home to St. Louis, Missouri. It was here that he opened Blueberry Hill, a restaurant, bar, and live music venue. Edwards specifically selected its location on Delmar Boulevard, a retail area locally known as “The Loop” that was named for the streetcar which used to turn around there.
Throughout the 1920’s and 30’s, the Loop was a shopping and nightlife destination featuring stylish boutiques and theatres. The Loop fell into decline throughout the 1960’s when the emergence of the automobile pushed development further away from the city and resulted in the subsequent disuse of the trolley. By the early 1970’s, the area was crime-ridden and largely abandoned. Soon after opening Blueberry Hill, Edwards was confronted by the realization that the establishment would not survive if the neighborhood did not succeed.
He thus formed The Loop Special Business District, which persuaded residents to address the area’s urban planning issues including security, sanitation, and beautification. As a St. Louis native, Edwards saw the potential in the area, and Blueberry Hill began to attract other businesses from around the city. He also worked with the University City Council to change the zoning of the Loop to require ground floor retail, widen the sidewalks to encourage street traffic, and draw more businesses.
In 1995, Edwards invested in a second building. When he caught word that the Tivoli Movie Theater had gone out of business, he purchased the building and spent $2 million dollars to return the theater to its original 1924 design. The theater is now run by Landmark Theatres and functions as an art-house theater.
In 2000, Edwards once again demonstrated tremendous faith in the Delmar Loop, when he opened The Pageant, a 33,000 square foot concert venue. This project was important because it marked the first development that crossed the invisible line that had long discouraged development past Skinker Boulevard and North of Delmar. Dividing St. Louis County and the City Center, it was an area long seen as dangerous.
In 2003, by continuing to blur this divide, he opened a bowling alley and martini lounge named Pin up Bowl, and in 2009, the Moonrise Hotel, a boutique space-themed hotel. This past year, Edwards opened a 24-7 diner, called Peacock Loop Diner. The diner is on the ground floor of a Washington University dorm, which in August 2014, brought 400 WashU students to share in the Loop neighborhood living experience, acting as a testament to the resurgence of Delmar.
Edwards has been dubbed “The Duke of Delmar” for his creative business ideas and success as a driving force to bring development back to the University City Loop. The next project in talks for the Loop is to reinstate the former trolley system, with the hope that by connecting the street to Forest Park attractions, it will bring further visitors. Not surprisingly, Joe Edwards is behind this vision, serving as chairman of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District.
Are there creative developers in your city that have reinvigorated economically depressed areas? What areas in your community could use similar advocates? Share your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Data linked to sources. Images by Lindsay Naughton.