Tucked away quietly in the city of St. Louis is an elegant neighborhood and urban oasis called Lafayette Square. This dreamy Parisian-like neighborhood is adorned with stately historic Victorian townhomes, a coffee shop, unique restaurants, and eccentric boutiques. But what stands out the most in this tight-knit community is the majestic yet serene park situated right in the heart of the neighborhood.
It’s hard to imagine that this coveted neighborhood was once filled with derelict and abandoned buildings. It wasn’t until the last 15 years, a series of developments in the business district and homes injected vibrancy and energy back into this place. Of course, one development success begets further success. So meet the man behind the vision — Chris Goodson.
Thank you so much for making time to meet with me, I’m so excited to chat with you about Lafayette Square!
Absolutely, my pleasure! Please sit and let me know if I can get you anything to drink.
Oh, I’m good! Thank you, though. So you’re the guy behind the success story of Lafayette Square. Tell me, how did you get started?
Haha, of course. Being an entrepreneur at heart since college, I’ve always enjoyed seeing a void that needed to be filled. I was living in Lafayette Square back in the day with my wife and four daughters and I saw an opportunity to move this gem forward. We’ve had numerous buildings that were vacant and abandoned. I took the risk and money I had and personally invested in my first apartment.
That’s a bold move. So where in Lafayette Square was your first development?
There was a quasi-house on Park Ave and Benton Place. I converted those into condos. I started with small projects because I know that the neighborhood was not going to move forward with derelict buildings. Once you fill that, everything will follow through.
Absolutely. So what made you continue to see the potential in the neighborhood?
I must say, it was the park. I knew it was a gem because that’s where people normally congregate. I would be lying if I said I had a 40-year plan. But I kept doing what I was doing until each need was filled.
So what was your ultimate vision for Lafayette Square?
I knew I wanted to create a lifestyle right on Park Ave and realized that the business district needed to be developed. The shops on the business district had broken windows and major issues, and to other people who don’t live here, that was their first glimpse. So I focused on that. Now you have a coffee shop, yoga studio, brewery and restaurants. In addition to that, the current Plaza Fountain used to be a junkyard. We were adamant to clean that up in order to make it a new place for folks to congregate. Now, it’s fun to watch young parents bring their kids to hang out there.
Wow, that’s amazing. I couldn’t agree more. Did you have any other developments besides the business district?
Oh yes, definitely. Right around that time, there was a big black hole for a new development which is the City Hospital. Originally, the City had it scheduled to be demolished. I knew there was an opportunity and asked them to give me a chance to bring it back to life. Look, I’m a romantic and it’d be a shame to tear that beautiful building down. We walked through the building which was about 200,000 sq ft and I said, let’s turn it into a condominium. As soon as that was energized, I met Ricky Nix who owns Butler Pantry and persuaded him to bring his headquarters down to the Palladium. Again, we brought activity back into the city.
Next, I saw the need for amenities in the neighborhood. That’s when I’ve decided to developed the building as what you see now called Walgreens. I also knew we needed a grocery store to sustain the neighborhood. I tried contacting other grocers but many needed the density before they’d consider opening it. Again, I saw the need and jump into the opportunity to open my own grocery store which is now known as Fields Foods.
I notice you mention a lot about bringing activity back into the city. Why do you think that’s important?
Development and public safety goes hand in hand. Obviously with more development and density, crime goes down which is how I surreptitiously ended up in public service as well.
Yes, tell me more about that. You said you were the President of St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners back in 2005. How did you get involved in that?
I was appointed by Governor Blunt at that time. I served on the board for about four years and oversaw St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Wow, I’m impressed. So back to real estate development. As we all know, 2008 was a tough hit for everyone specifically in the real estate business. How did you survive the ordeal?
When the business environment changes, you need to be flexible in pivoting. Sure there were projects I’ve envisioned that were significantly impacted the by the crisis. But I quickly adapted to our new environment. For example, we ended up converting the condos into apartments and that was a success. But the bigger picture is, you need keep to your overall strategy, pivot, and learn from your mistakes.
Lafayette Square is obviously a very coveted neighborhood right now. How does that make you feel to see your work come to fruition? Do you think you’ve achieved your goals?
I would be silly if I don’t say I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the neighborhood the way it is right now. So I have a coffee mug from Ronald Reagan that says, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” It’s been a collective effort to make it to where it is today. I have a funny story, the other day my daughter had her friends over and I asked them where they were going. One of them responded “We are going to a really cool neighborhood with a lot of cool restaurants called Lafayette Square. Have you heard of it?” I smiled.
That’s hilarious! What did your daughter say?
Haha, she said “Oh God, please don’t get him started!”
Going back to your work, any other exciting projects currently in the works?
Yes, definitely! We are expanding Fields Foods throughout the city. So stay tuned for that!
What exciting news! Now let’s get personal. Tell me, who inspires you the most?
Historically, I must say Benjamin Franklin. He was a true Renaissance man who served both the private and public sector’s needs. For example, he had a printing service and at the same time found a way to perfect the United States Postal Service.
Personally, both my parents have been a great inspirations. They’ve always instilled in me a philosophy to be passionate, to take risks and be confident. I’ve played sports like most kids growing up. When I did fall flat on my face, they’d say it’s not a big deal and would tell me to get up. Don’t be afraid to fail.
Do you have any advice for those trying to make it in business?
First and foremost, and I’ve always say this, you have to be passionate in whatever you decide to pursue. If you don’t have that, things will fizzle off. Secondly, you have to do the work over and over again and not stop because it’s mundane. You have to perfect your craft because from there you’d learn from your mistakes and grow. Tom Brady threw 4 interceptions in a game, but he didn’t stop there. He went back to look at the charts. He didn’t lose confidence, and he was willing to adapt. You’ve got to be willing to adapt in business which means taking advice, not losing confidence, and continually reinventing yourself. Too many times in business, people get stuck in their ways and that’s when you hit the edge.
Those are wise words. Alright, last but not least, what’s your philosophy in life?
What wraps up my entire philosophy is understanding the importance of being part of a community. But I always say, you start with your family, your street, your neighborhood and then your city. That’s how it grows.