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At Ikea Groundbreaking, Regional Leaders Hail Swedish Retailer's Economic Promise

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

In many ways, breaking ground on St. Louis's first Ikea store is a lot easier than putting together the Swedish furniture maker's latest bookshelf. For Mayor Francis Slay, he just needed a shovel and speech. 

“Fortunately for a groundbreaking, you don’t need an Allen wrench or instructions,” Slay quipped. 

Slay joined other political leaders and business dignitaries on Tuesday to officially break ground on the 380,000-square-foot store. Ikea's future location is in the Cortex Innovation District in St. Louis’ central corridor. It's the Swedish retailer’s first store in the state of Missouri. The store is expected to spur around 500 construction jobs and close to 300 retailing positions.

Ikea has gained popularity over the years for selling utilitarian, do-it-yourself furniture and home furnishing. Many of the store’s chairs, tables, desks and bookshelves can be constructed just using the aforementioned Allen wrench.

“There are few retailers that generate the kind of enthusiasm that Ikea does,” said Cortex president and CEO Dennis Lower. “There is a uniqueness and a mystique to the company and their products. They don’t just sell products. They sell products that they design and they make. They create. They innovate. They have a distinct editorial bias that informs the products that they sell.”

Numerous officials at Tuesday’s groundbreaking made note of how Ikea's St. Louis store could become a regional shopping destination when it opens in the fall of 2015. The next closest Ikea location for a number of states is in suburban Chicago, a reality that Slay said prompted around 100,000 St. Louis residents to go elsewhere for Ikea wares.

“So they’re taking our money here and they’re spending it somewhere,” Slay said. “This will be an opportunity not only to keep that money in St. Louis, but to bring dollars from an eight state area to come into St. Louis and shop.”

Reed Lyons, Ikea's real estate manager, said nailing down the details of the St. Louis store was complicated. The company is taking advantage of tax increment financing that was already available at Cortex. But the company has completed all of the needed steps to open its new store in the fall of 2015. 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
From right: St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22th Ward, IKEA's Joseph Roth, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, St. Louis Development Corporation President Otis Williams and Secretary of State Jason Kander give their approval to the future IKEA location.

“When we announced and filed our plans for this future store, I pointed out while we previously built stores on small tightly configured sites or urban redevelopment locations or sites bisected by utility lines or an assemblage of multiple parcels — more than 20 to be exact — with multiple landowners,” Lyons said. “This site presented all of these complexities combined.”

“However, it was worth it,” he added. “This was the kind of deal where everything had to go right. And it did. As you can see, this is a fantastic site.”

Secretary of State Jason Kander — a Kansas City native who resides in Columbia — joined some of the region’s leaders at the groundbreaking. He said the store represents a “proud moment” for the city. 

“Not only do we see evidence of Ikea's remarkable business success, with its 38 other stores across the country, we see a reflection of St. Louis values,” Kander said. “Jobs with competitive pay and benefits. An emphasis on renewable energy and sustainable practices. And affordable goods for working families.”

“These are signs of a race to the top,” he said. “And they are just some of the benefits that Ikea will bring to the entire St. Louis region.” 

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.