The U.S. recession of 2007 to 2009. The reconstruction of the Gateway Arch grounds and St. Louis riverfront. The elimination of three blocks of Washington Avenue and its massive parking garage. The opening of Ballpark Village. The Rams football team's move to Los Angeles.
Each of these things had a negative effect on the Laclede's Landing dining and entertainment district in the past 10 years. All together, they were devastating.
"It's been a 1-2-3-4-5 punch, not just a punch to the head and then you get back up and keep fighting," said John Clark, president of Laclede's Landing Community Improvement District.
One indicator of the tough times: The number of bars and restaurants dropped from 17 to six. That included the shuttering of stalwarts such as Sundeckers, Hannegan's, Jake's Steaks and Show-Me's.
But Clark is more optimistic these days. Nearly five years of construction has ended at Gateway Arch National Park to the south, and its new museum is set to open July 3. Fair St. Louis will return to the riverfront over Fourth of July weekend for the first time in four years.
A renewed interest in Laclede's Landing, where most buildings date back to the 1800s, has resulted in $20 million worth of investment. That includes the first-ever residential development, Peper Lofts. A six-story brick building on First Street is being converted into 49 luxury apartments with a rooftop sundeck.
Another company is hoping to create more housing on Second Street.
"Two buildings are under contract by a developer out of Pittsburgh who does residential," Clark said. "I know their financing has been approved. They've been here several times. I'd say it's likely to be a real deal."
New restaurants and event space
A new Mexican restaurant, Mas Tequila Cantina, opened its doors last month at 708 N. Second St. on Laclede's Landing. Renovations are underway at 612North for three new businesses: Kimchi Guys Korean fusion restaurant, Miss Java coffee shop and KOR, a 125-person event space with an outdoor patio.
All are on the first floor of The Cutlery building, which has been repaired since 2015, when one side collapsed, closing the Drunken Fish and driving out office tenants. Today, the fifth floor houses an event space called VUE, offering birds-eye views of the riverfront.
"It has a very large kitchen," Clark said. "They can handle up to 350 people. (The owner) has spent between $2 and $3 million on the building."
Great Rivers Greenway also is making an investment, turning a weedy half acre of vacant land into The Katherine Ward Burg Garden. Owners of the old Witte Hardware building are remodeling its lobby and offices with plans for a first-floor restaurant. The former Train Wreck Saloon is being converted into a new dining and entertainment venue.
Clark and others wanted to share their Laclede's Landing plans, so they hosted an open house June 13 at VUE, 612 N. Second St.
'We survived the storm'
One person happy about the sea change on Laclede's Landing is Belleville native Ryan Loeffler, who's been operating Big Daddy's on the Landing for 11 years. The sports bar and restaurant seats more than 300 people in a dining room with exposed-brick walls and a shady courtyard with a wrought-iron fence and umbrella tables.
"We're still here," said Loeffler, 41, of South St. Louis. "We survived the storm. I bought the building. Now is a time to keep working hard and recreate things."
Other businesses still around are Morgan Street Brewery, The Lou Eats & Drinks (formerly Joey B's), Last Call on the Landing and the legendary Old Spaghetti Factory, which dates back to 1977.
Big Daddy's was attracting more Cardinals fans before 2014, when Ballpark Village restaurant, bar and entertainment complex opened across the street from Busch Stadium. Then the Rams moved in 2016, ending the practice of out-of-town football fans spending long weekends in the city.
Loeffler reduced his staff, cut his own salary and watched several friends go out of business on Laclede's Landing.
"Ballpark Village killed us," he said. "But I can't knock them. It's their God-given right to own it. You can't do anything about it. You can't compete with billionaires. You just do your best. We're winning our customers back one by one."
Loeffler likes Laclede's Landing because of its historic atmosphere and its customers, who come from all 50 states and other countries. He's starting to see more business from people moving to newly renovated lofts in downtown St. Louis. He expects some to walk to the district's Big Muddy Blues Festival over Labor Day Weekend.
Namesake is French explorer
Laclede's Landing is named for Pierre Laclede, a French fur trader and explorer who founded the village of St. Louis in 1764 with Auguste Chouteau.
By the early 1900s, the Mississippi riverfront was packed with warehouses and other buildings. The city demolished nearly 500 of them in the 1930s and '40s to make way for what now is Gateway Arch National Park. But they saved nine blocks, which were transformed into a dining and entertainment district with retail and office space in the 1970s.
About 10 years ago, property owners OK'd the creation of Laclede's Landing Community Improvement District to levy taxes and use the money for security, beautification, infrastructure and economic development. The latter proved challenging.
"(The current investment) clearly is a very good start after the pains of the last five years," Clark said. "There are multiple things happening at the same time, and that garners more interest."
On a recent Monday afternoon, streets and sidewalks on Laclede's Landing were quiet and mostly empty. Few people were willing to eat outside in such hot, humid weather.
Inside Mas Tequila Cantina, six customers sat at the bar. Honeymooners Tim Kochem and his wife, Heather, of Ames, Iowa, needed a cool drink after walking across the Gateway Arch grounds on the way to their car. Diana Griffin and Montia Flynn, of St. Louis, were celebrating a medical milestone.
Griffin, 34, a certified nurse's assistant, is a huge Laclede's Landing fan.
"Everything is close and tight," she said. "You can go from one place to the next, and no one bar is the same. Everybody has a specialty. It's a mixed crowd. There's always live music or a D.J. It's a cool, calm and collected atmosphere."