The key to doing this is getting students engaged in the community that surrounds the universities, making students feel "at home" and invested in their surroundings. When they graduate, if students have built an appreciation for St. Louis, more might be likely to stay here instead of moving on to other regions.
While there are many facets to how a university can sell its students on St. Louis, how the university treats it surroundings chooses to invest outside the campus proper can play large role in how students perceive the city around them. Looking at how two of the regions top colleges, Washington University and St. louis University interact with their surroundings, there is a severe contrast. Wash U invests heavily in the communities around both the main and medical campus, whereas SLU responds to the city surrounding its campus' by removing it; demolishing buildings and replacing them with either surface parking or empty grass lots, creating isolated fenced compounds for its students.
The business section of Friday's Post highlighted some of Washington University's outreach and investment in its surroundings including the renovation of an underutilized building at Delmar and Skinker (photo above) for student housing over retail space. For years Wash U has purchased and maintained dozens of historic apartment buildings in both St. Louis and University City through its subsidiary Quadrangle Housing. Many buildings in the Parkview Gardens neighborhood north of the Loop that were once burned-out, abandoned and boarded are now home to Wash U students. While the Loop has lost its reputation as an edgy cool place to hang out that my friends and I enjoyed in our youth, the influx of Wash U students living in the area has been a contributor to the areas revitalization. The environment that exists in the Loop today no doubt has an effect on Wash U students here from out of town and I would speculate that living and interacting with the neighborhoods around the campus has contributed to some students decisions not to leave the region after they graduate. Another thing that WU does to encourage students to interact with the city is providing them with free Metro passes. I am not sure if SLU does the same.
In contrast, in location after location St. Louis University has acquired properties around its main campus, removed buildings and left fenced vacant lots or asphalt parking lots in its wake. Instead of investing in the areas around campus, most of SLU investment has been in increasing the size of its compound and in the process reducing density creating a sterile office park or even prison like feel with its ubiquitous black fences. Instead of nurturing what is there and adding to it, SLU's mentality when it has contemplated investing in mixed use development outside its walls has been clear cut and wait for a big project to magically materialize. A significant example of this it the intersection of Grand and Lindell. SLU bought the historic Marina building on the northeast corner and instead of renovating, kicked out the remaining tenants, demolished it and a neighboring building then even after receiving numerous proposals for development, failed to spur anything to happen there during the most favorable real estate development market in decades. Now even as the economy begins to sputter back to life, it will likely be years before anything happens there. This failure could have been an opportunity to link its students to Grand Center and help re-activate that area, instead it perpetuates isolation of the university from the City around it.
On the southwest corner of the same intersection, SLU bought a bank building (that was a historic structure hidden under a layer of plain stucco) and demolished it for a lifeless plaza and fountain. Over on Locust and Washington, east of Grand, SLU demolished several buildings including a historic livery stable for surface parking lots, cutting an asphalt moat between its students and the revitalized Locust Business District that has emerged in recent years with a series of small developments.
and a block of Josephine Baker that SLU removed (now grass)
What kind of message does SLU's development (or should I say destruction) mentality as well as its fear induced iron fence barricades send to its students about the City around them? How many students move away after their experience at SLU because they have come to think about St. Louis as a reflection of the lifeless surroundings around SLU's main and medical campus'? Fortunately, private developers such as the Gills and Jasson Johnson have capitalized on development opportunities, attracted students to live off campus and created nodes of activity near St. Louis University.
It may be possible that SLU is slowly changing their tune about how it invests in the neighborhoods surrounding them. Steve Smith of the Lawrence Group has gotten SLU to be an investor in a new boutique hotel where Olive splits off from Lindell Boulevard, and over on Locust, SLU is renovating two small buildings east of the Livery Stable location that many feared would come down for more parking. Lets hope this effort is not to little, too late.