St. Louis' light rail system gaining popularity with developers

Monday, June 25, 2007
A metrolink train passed by construction on Thursday at Hanley Station in St. Louis. (KEVIN MANNING ~ St. Louis Post Dispatch)

ST. LOUIS -- Ridership in the St. Louis region's light rail system is rising steadily, and developers are capitalizing on mass transit's popularity.

Developers of a 550-acre office, industrial and retail development in St. Louis County are only half a mile from a MetroLink station.

And they've pledged $3 million toward a new station planned for the project site.

"I enjoy telling people we will be served by two MetroLink stations," said Chris McKee, president of McEagle Properties. "I really see it as a competitive advantage."

Other developers are pitching proximity to the St. Louis region's light-rail system as a bonus for tenants. Projects worth about $750 million are being built or planned near MetroLink stations, as developers capitalize on heightened interest in mass transit.

The MetroLink system opened its first line in July 1993.

In April, almost 81,000 people rode the light-rail system every day, up from 65,663 in April 2006. Ridership was projected to exceed 86,000 daily passengers by 2020, but that should happen by 2010, Larry Salci, Metro's president and chief executive, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Nearly 21.9 million riders are expected to use MetroLink this year, a 32 percent increase over the almost 16.6 million last year.

The addition last August of the 8.2-mile cross county extension, along with realigning the bus routes that feed MetroLink, has helped to increase ridership, Salci said.

"Connectivity is what was missing before," he said.

As a result, Salci said, more developers are working with MetroLink to create mixed-use developments -- those that include offices, retail and residential components -- with access to public transportation.

"MetroLink is becoming a marketing tool," Salci said.

It was for NorthPark, as developers tried to attract the national headquarters and main campus of Vatterott College, whose students rely on public transportation. They succeeded, and construction has started.

The light-rail system also is getting attention from people such as Ryan Wachter, a professional who finds it a convenient alternative to cars.

Wachter, 27, is buying a condo in the St. Louis suburb, Brentwood, less than two blocks from the MetroLink station.

He uses it regularly to get to work, baseball games and to the airport.

One developer's marketing materials tout it as a "Transit Oriented Development," capitalizing on its location near a MetroLink station.

Such developments are cropping up all over the nation, said Thomas Bisacquino, president of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.

"People will pay a premium to be in a good-size mixed-use infill project with access to mass transit," he said.

Reconstruction of Highway 40 in St. Louis and its suburbs, and impending road closures, have created a greater awareness about public transportation, and it is much higher on people's priority lists, said Andrew Checkley, project manager for a condominium development.

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