Interstate 64 at Illinois Highway 159 is the busiest intersection of any road south of Interstate 80 in Illinois with a traffic count of 75,000 cars a day. It also marks the spot of an enigma — the seemingly well-placed but struggling Fairview Heights Plaza shopping center.
The retail center fell into receivership following the Great Recession, but this spring it will be re-energized with a family entertainment anchor thanks in part to some of the best minds in real estate provided through the Urban Land Institute St. Louis.
A long-standing public perception is that the St. Louis region tends to struggle with cooperative efforts to strengthen communities. The Urban Land Institute St. Louis is demonstrating otherwise with its technical assistance panels. In spring 2018, the city of Fairview Heights engaged a technical assistance panel to explore how to revitalize Fairview Heights Plaza and 72 acres of undeveloped land to the north. It was an easy sell to the Wall Street owners of the retail center because the institute is the gold standard of smart land use.
The Urban Land Institute’s membership includes some of the most talented people in real estate development. In the case of our panel, that was Richmond Heights City Manager Amy Hamilton, Lawrence Group Senior Associate Angie Eslinger, Green Street Development Group Vice President Brian Pratt, Bi-State Development Associate Project Manager Liza Farr, PGAV Project Manager Adam Stroud and Urban Planning and Economic Development Senior Consultant Robert Lewis.
Members of the technical assistance panel provided a strong public- and private-sector perspective on what the market would support in a revitalized Fairview Heights Plaza. One thing panel members saw was Fairview Heights’ strength as a retail hub. We’re a community of less than 18,000, but we draw shoppers from all over Southern Illinois to Fairview Heights Plaza, St. Clair Square and surrounding retail enclaves. In re-envisioning Fairview Heights Plaza, the panel recommended an energizing catalyst that compliments the surrounding retail. The idea will take shape this spring when Urban Air Adventure Park opens to feature family entertainment with indoor sky diving, go-carts, trampolines and other attractions.
The intensity of the panel’s outside perspective by local experts and its deep dive into what the market would support brings clarity to the potential of smart land use. That, in turn, energizes a sense of urgency to private ownership and a sense of opportunity to public leadership. The momentum has led us to explore a comprehensive new business district that may include the 72 acres and Fairview Heights Plaza as well as other commercial areas north of Interstate 64. We are also considering more pedestrian-oriented development linking the shopping center to other centers across Illinois 159.
Over the years, the Urban Land Institute’s panels have benefited the Cortex district, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Citizens for Modern Transit and Bi-State Development, the municipalities of Cool Valley, Ferguson, Maryland Heights, Swansea and others. In each case, local Urban Land Institute expertise in responsible land use and planning was tapped to provide unbiased opinions to help revitalize struggling real estate, explore improvements to suburban corridors, or suggest the highest and best use of undeveloped land.
Technical assistance panel members don’t benefit if a piece of land becomes a business district or a lifestyle shopping center or a multifamily development. They simply and effectively explore what the market will support in an underutilized land asset that will attract private investment, spur economic development and energize further development.
Collaboration to create better communities is possible in the St. Louis region, and it can begin by tapping the best that the Urban Land Institute St. Louis has to offer.
Paul Ellis is director of economic development for the city of Fairview Heights and has more than 30 years of experience in economic development.