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  • Writer's pictureEmerald Capital Strategic Advisors

St. Louis Gateway Arch Analysis

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

Have Visitors Returned to the St. Louis Gateway Arch to Pre-Pandemic Levels?

The Gateway Arch ("The Arch"), located in St. Louis, Missouri, is a 630-foot monument that serves as a symbol of the city and the western expansion of the United States. The Arch was renovated and expanded costing a total $380+ million to modernize the facility and museum as well update the grounds surrounding the Arch. On July 3, 2018, the new museum opened and 500,000 visited the Arch in July 2018. A year and a half later, the COVID Pandemic Lockdowns took place, and the Arch closed its doors until June 17, 2020, when the Gateway Arch opened with limited access and visitorship.


With the Arch fully open to visitors, Emerald Capital is now revisiting the Arch using data from Placer ai to explore if the Arch visitorship is back at pre-pandemic levels. Emerald Capital will outline how the Arch compares currently to National, State, and local attractions, analyze how the Arch visitorship compares to pre-pandemic levels and assess what the driving factors are causing reduced visitorship.


ABOUT EMERALD CAPITAL

Emerald Capital is a National Advisory firm specializing in economic development, incentive financing, site selection, among other services. We can assist in evaluating companies and how they are performing with prior history and competitors.


WHERE DOES THE ARCH RANK IN VISITORSHIP WITH NATIONAL, STATE, AND LOCAL ATTRATCTIONS?

Nationally, the St. Louis Gateway Arch is the 106th most visited destination, behind the Seattle Space Needle (1.53 million visitors) and ahead of the Lincoln Park Zoo (1.45 million visitors).


In Missouri, The Arch is the 7th most visited attraction behind The St. Louis Zoo (2 million visitors), Silver Dollar City (1.98 million visitors), Kansas City Union Station (1.8 million visitors).


Locally in St. Louis, the Arch is the third most visited attraction behind only the St. Louis Zoo (2 million visitors) and Ballpark Village (1.67 million visitors).


Top Attractions in Missouri

Rank

Name

Visits

Location

1

St. Louis Zoo

2,090,987

St. Louis, MO

2

Silver Dollar City

1,984,308

Branson, MO

3

KC Union Station

1,827,365

Kansas City, MO

4

The District STL

1,804,566

Chesterfield, MO

5

Ballpark Village

1,671,452

St. Louis, MO

6

KC Live

1,658,176

Kansas City, MO

7

The Gateway Arch

1,470,549

St. Louis, MO

8

Worlds of Fun

1,390,991

Kansas City, MO

9

STL City Foundry

1,344,623

St. Louis, MO

10

Six Flags St. Louis

1,122,540

Eureka, MO

ANALYZING CURRENT VS. PRE-PANDEMIC VISITORSHIP

As can be seen below, leading into the COVID Pandemic, December 2021 levels were still below the pre-pandemic levels in December 2019.


Visitorship has not returned to pre-pandemic levels over the past 12 months while compared to 2019. Over the past 12 months, The Arch averaged 122,241 visitors per month while in 2019, the Arch averaged 197,653 visitors per month.


FACTORS DRIVING REDUCED VISITORSHIP

The Arch over the past 12 months had 1.47 million visitors. On average, visitors went to the Arch 1.26 times and stayed 85 minutes. Clearly, the data shows (and is assumed) that the Arch is a tourist destination but at a reduced level prior to the COVID shutdowns. Emerald Capital reviewed several trends and determined visitorship is down due to the following factors:


Crime & Perception of St. Louis

St. Louis has been ranked by numerous outlets as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States but also the world. In a 2022 analysis by Statista.com, St. Louis is the highest ranked city outside of Latin America for murders (60.59 murders per 100,000 inhabitants).


Studying crimes in a 1-mile radius around the Arch in the past 90 days, there have been 389 total crime incidents. Of those incidents, the most frequent incidents were assaults and thefts followed by vandalism and shootings.

Shootings

Assault

Robbery

Burglary

Theft

Vandalism

Arrest

Total

58

66

19

29

123

65

29

389

Total crimes from July 1, 2022 - Sept. 30, 2022, within one mile from the Gateway Arch.


Reduction in Conventions

Downtown conventions are a big driver for St. Louis tourism. Out of town visitors that attend large scale conventions will attend the Arch while breaking away from the convention. In the past, the St. Louis Convention Center has booked large scale conventions. But in recent times, the St. Louis Convention Center has lost out on those larger conventions due to geographic competition with municipalities upgrading and building new convention centers to compete for those convention dollars.

Over the past 12 months, approximately 643,000 visitors came to conventions at the St. Louis Convention Center. Comparing that to pre-covid times, in 2019, approximately 1.03 million people visited the St. Louis Convention Center.



Lower St. Louis Cardinals Attendance

Over the past 12 months, approximately 5.77 million people attended Busch Stadium for St. Louis Cardinals games and other events. The St. Louis Cardinals draw fans from all over the Midwest and throughout the United States. There is a common overlap that out-of-town families come to a ballgame and visit the Arch when in town. To compare that with pre-pandemic numbers, in 2019, 6.24 million people visited Busch Stadium, nearly a 470,000 reduction in attendance. Factors contributing to the decrease in visitorship is crime (discussed above), the St. Louis Cardinals declining in competitiveness for a National Championship, and more recently inflationary pressures for spending dollars. With a reduction of tourism to the city to attend St. Louis Cardinals games, the Arch would naturally see lower levels of attendance. The below graph shows monthly attendance at Busch Stadium over the past 12 months (Green) vs the prior 3 years (Black) prior to the COVID pandemic.


Visitorship for the Arch could be impacted by the St. Louis Cardinals season by season depending on if they are competitive or not, which is often a driver if families spend dollars to travel to St. Louis to attend a baseball game.



The Return Factor/Lack of Riverfront Activation and Parking Issues

Another set of factors are lack of activities around the Arch Grounds, the downturn of the Laclede’s Landing District, and accessibility to the Arch Grounds.


Prior to the $300+ million redevelopment, there were parking facilities on the Arch Grounds for ease of access to the Arch. The redevelopment plans called for removing that parking garage and the plan to replace that lost parking was other parking garages in Downtown St. Louis that were 2-3 blocks away from the Arch Grounds. This has led to a reduction in ease of access to the Arch Grounds and visitorship, especially compounding with the crime factor for visitors to walk 2-3 blocks from the Arch Grounds.

Laclede’s Landing, which is a district that neighbors the Arch Grounds to the North, was once a vibrant area that attracted tourists as well as locals with restaurants, bars, concert venues, and other entertainment venues. Today, Laclede’s Landing consists of mostly vacant buildings due primarily to redevelopment mentioned above. With the Arch Grounds redevelopment, parking and street access to Laclede’s Landing was removed limiting access to the district. Common complaints about Laclede’s Landing are that it is hard to find or difficult to get to. There are local developers currently trying to bring back the Laclede’s Landing District that will consist of residential, office, and retail.


Most Municipalities located on a riverfront activate their riverfronts as they are keys to tourism for their respective markets. Similar markets such as Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Buffalo and Oklahoma City have activated their waterfront locations with retail, entertainment, and other tourism attractions to bring people to their waterfront. St. Louis has yet to fully activate their waterfront to provide those attractions and density to the Mississippi river waterfront. Doing so would increase traffic through the Arch.


Inflation

As discussed above regarding Busch Stadium, there are recent inflationary pressures that have slowed tourism for families to come to St. Louis.


MEASURES THAT WOULD INCREASE VISITORSHIP OF THE GATEWAY ARCH


A Safer Downtown

As discussed above, St. Louis has the worst crime statistics in the United States. It is no secret that crime has negatively impacted the perception of St. Louis and reduced tourism to the city. With an increased presence of policing in downtown St. Louis, a plan by the City of St. Louis to support an increase in population density in the downtown corridor, crime would begin to be reduced. There are measures by the mayor and her administration to increase the police presence downtown, which is a good start.


A More Competitive Convention Center

The St. Louis Convention Center is planning a $210 million expansion and facelift that will include a 61,000 SF ballroom, an outdoor plaza, a new exhibit hall, and redesigning of existing exhibits and entrances. While the planned $210 million expansion will help in competing for larger, A list conventions, it still falls short in comparison to regional facilities. Nashville’s convention center should be a NorthStar for St. Louis’ design. Nashville is frequently listed in the top 10 US Convention Center rankings due to the cohesive design and new amenities (hotels, restaurants, etc.) surrounding the convention center.


One issue with St. Louis’ Convention Center is that it is not an efficient design and is four separate facilities cobbled together instead of one cohesive convention center. A complete tear down and redesign with new surrounding hospitality and retail options would be a better plan but would come at an additional cost. However, the new and more cohesive design would allow St. Louis to compete with cities like Nashville, Indianapolis, and now Louisville in the Midwest/Southeast.


Ease of Access

As discussed above, it is difficult to get to the Arch for families and individuals with disabilities. The Arch Grounds used to have a parking garage for ease of access to the Arch Grounds. A plan with the US Parks service or the City of St. Louis should provide a new parking garage on either the Arch Grounds or in an adjacent neighborhood at Laclede’s Landing for visitors to be able to park adjacently to the Arch Grounds.


An Activated Riverfront

St. Louis needs to take advantage of one of its historic and beautiful resources, the Mighty Mississippi. An activated riverfront on the Arch Grounds with residential, restaurants and bars would draw people to the riverfront and promote further tax revenue for the City of St. Louis. Similar cities such as Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia have activated their waterfronts to create vibrant new districts to attract tourists and locals. The addition would attract younger adults to move downtown, which creates density that would assist in crime reduction.


Pittsburgh Strip District



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