It's rare that a developer/businessman makes a list of top public benefactors. Rarer still are they elevated to local royalty. "In this city, Joe Edwards is a prince," Ray Hartmann, founder of St. Louis's Riverfront Times, tells The Christian Science Monitor. "Or at least he's the closest thing that we've got."
For urbanists, this story is touching — and it's a tale that has been repeated with different actors in cities and neighborhoods all across America in recent decades. Edwards, who has spearheaded revival of the The Loop neighborhood in St. Louis, has been at it longer than most in a city that desperately needs some good stories. In urban decline, St. Louis rivals Detroit.
Edwards began by opening a restaurant in the early 1970s in a part of town with great history and architecture — but it was dying. He became a tireless activist for reviving the old streetcar neighborhood at a time when cities were decades away from coming back. Edward's successful business enabled him to buy a classic old theater and restore it for $2 million, open a 33,000-square-foot performance space, and start other businesses.
His latest venture is leading an effort to bring the streetcar back — for which the city has received a $25 million TIGER grant from the Department of Transportation.
The pony-tailed Edwards is described as a hippy with know-how, energy, good intentions, and luck. That's a good combination. That citizens appear to be ready to put up a statue in his honor is a story of our times that should be an inspiration to other urbanists and developers.
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