Do you live in downtown St Louis, Kansas City or Cleveland? Compare 'em?
September 19, 2018 12:55 PM   Subscribe

This is a follow up to my previous question about cities for living downtown and car free. I really need to emphasize that I'm asking about living in these downtowns, not near them but in them. I'm a downtown loft urbanite kind of guy. I'm originally from the east coast, so I feel like I have a decent grasp on what Cleveland is and isn't, but I haven't been there in a long time. I've never been to St. Louis or Kansas City. How do they compare?

Why these three cities?

I can afford $150K. With that, the only downtown places I've found that I can afford to buy are in St. Louis or Kansas City... or maybe Cleveland (though my search continues: see previous question).

Here's me in a nutshell: I'm single, car free, debt free, and in a position to buy a home for the first time. I have poor vision, so I don't drive or bike. I walk or take mass transit, but I prefer to live where I can walk to everything I need for daily life. Groceries, a library, some shopping, dining, etc.

I'm a bit of a homebody, but I prefer living in the heart of a place. I thrive on the hustle & bustle of city life. I love being able to step out my front door and have the city at my feet. I currently live in Portland OR, but I've been priced out of this town. Prices here have skyrocketed over the past decade (a condo I used to rent for $700 is currently selling for around $240K! Ouch). I'm ready for a change anyway.

So... St. Louis. Kansas City. Cleveland. How do they compare? (I'm also open to another city where I could buy downtown for under $150K & walk to everything I'd need for daily life. So, if you know of a city like that... how does it compare?).

Shopping? Groceries? Light rail?

Dating - do people come downtown or do they dread it?

Is the city on the rise, or is it in a downturn? Do you think it'll be better or worse in a decade?

Is it a good or bad time to buy there?

What's the weather really like there?

I've been a renter my whole life, so I'm not even entirely sure what to ask.
posted by Mr Ected to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to any of those three cities, but I see that it's possible to get small condos in Chicago for under $150k even in the Loop (the downtown financial center). I think Chicago is more likely to doing better in a decade than any of the cities you mention, and the weather is no worse.
posted by crazy with stars at 1:07 PM on September 19, 2018

And if Chicago seems too large or too pricey for you, but you have given up on the hopes of avoiding midwestern winters, there are definitely some (although not tons) of condos in your price rand in Minneapolis that would afford you a pretty solid quality of car-less life (you might consider some of the downtown adjacent neighborhoods too which would still have walkable culture and shopping but with less of a generic/corporate feel).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:10 PM on September 19, 2018

"I see that it's possible to get small condos in Chicago for under $150k"

I'd love Love LOVE to live in Chicago, but HOA fees there tend to be $400+, pushing my total monthly bills out of reach. I can afford to put $75K down, but I need my mortgage, taxes, HOA, insurance etc, to be under $1,000 a month.
posted by Mr Ected at 1:14 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

St. Louis is not a walking city, and I would love to say that St. Louis is on the rise, but I'd be hard-pressed to back it up. (Source - grew up near St. Louis, lived there again from 2010-2015.)

Some people love being downtown St. Louis, but many dread it. There's a big suburb/city divide with St. Louis.

St. Louis weather - hot as hell in the summer, and humid. Cold as hell in the winter, and some winters you get a little snow, other winters buckle up - it's snowtime. I think it was 2013 that we had a week where the high temp was never below 106F. You will see temperatures below 0F some winters, though it's not Northern Wisconsin cold.

Spring and fall, though, are lovely.

I think it's an average time to buy? Neither great nor terrible. Note that there are a lot of vacant properties in St. Louis. More than 7,000.

St. Louis County is on the upswing-ish, I think. (If you are a non-native, the divide between "St. Louis City" and "St. Louis County" is non-obvious.) Not sure if any of the cities in St. Louis County really count as walkable. St. Louis does have a light rail system.

Now that I think about it, depending on your age and needs, University City and/or the Central West End of St. Louis might qualify as walkable. Both cities/areas touch or overlap the Delmar Divide.

There's a decent flow of musical acts that tour through, and you have The Muny and The Fox Theatre as well as smaller venues that will provide a lot of opportunity to hit up plays & musicals.

The St. Louis Art Museum is fantastic, and St. Louis has many very nice parks for stretching your legs and getting a little exercise.

Full disclosure, I am unabashedly a fan of St. Louis. I do not live there currently for a number of reasons, but am about 70% sure I'll move back at some point. It has a lot of character, a lot of cultural arts, visual arts, great food & beer scene, and some fine people. The city also has its problems - and it's going to take a minor miracle for St. Louis City to regain ground economically and population-wise.
posted by jzb at 1:15 PM on September 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have not technically lived in St. Louis, so can't speak to trajectory or dating, but I spent several months there with no car last year. It seemed like there was some revitalization happening, but downtown itself did not have hustle or bustle. Nor traffic, unless there was a home game (baseball or hockey).

Maybe one of the other neighborhoods jzb mentions, though? Forest Park would be amazing to live next to.
posted by mersen at 1:36 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Downtown Kansas City has recently been gentrified/revitalized. I lived down there between 2010-2012 or so. If you're in the heart of downtown (say near the River Market), you have a large, nice grocery store, many restaurants, a movie theater, and the main branch of the KC public library within walking distance or via streetcar (which is new, and which doesn't run super far but is likely to be expanded over time; also there's an express bus from downtown to the Plaza, which is a bit further south and gives you access to shopping, Whole Foods, and the art museums). You're near the Sprint Center (hosts concerts, mainly, and exhibition hockey/basketball, as well as chunks of the NCAA tournament usually; it was built in part to attract an NBA or NHL team but didn't, which was probably good overall).

The nightlife is unfortunately centered on the Power and Light district (or was when I lived there) which were expensive and generic bro bars.

Kansas City can be a hard place to meet people if you're not from there, from what I can tell, and for what it's worth. I'm not super sure if I'd recommend it, and I think KC can be a hard place to live without a car, but it's more possible now than any time in the city's recent history I think.
posted by dismas at 1:37 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Cleveland is my hometown and my mom would be ecstatic if I moved home and got a condo downtown. Subsequently, I get periodic updates about the increasing amenities available in that area and although I'm not moving home any time soon, it really does sound like living in downtown Cleveland is way more appealing than it used to be.

Importantly, public transit has improved significantly in the past five years or so and a real grocery store finally opened up downtown. There's definitely plenty of dining and a reasonable amount of shopping, although weirdly, you have to go out to the suburbs to shop at a chain clothing store. The main Cleveland public library is downtown and a gem. Lots of theater and other cultural attractions right in the area, too. See more info about living downtown here.

One thing to know is that the weather in Cleveland is a pretty typical Midwestern four seasons jam, with snowy, bitterly cold winters (and Cleveland gets more than its share of snow, due to the lake effect) and sultry, steamy summers. If you're walking and taking public transit, you'll definitely want to invest in a really good coat and boots for winter.

Cleveland is visibly on the upswing, with more young people moving to the city for work, and more services springing up to cater to them. US News and World Reports has a good overview in the 2018 "Best Places to Live" report.
posted by merriment at 1:39 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I used to live in the Central West End of St. Louis, in a little apartment overlooking the Basilica Cathedral. It is a truly lovely neighborhood, definitely walkable, and the light rail isn't too far away if you want to get to the airport or into downtown proper without having to drive. We could walk to grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, the library, the post office, Forest Park, a movie theatre... I loved it there.

Midwestern weather is going to be a chore for you coming from Oregon, though. Midwestern summers and winters are both brutal. I'm originally from the KC area and the summer we spent in St. Louis seemed especially horrible to me compared with what I had grown up with, but maybe we just got unlucky. You're at the mouth of a huge river where it joins another huge river, though, so you aren't ever going to escape a swampy summer.
posted by something something at 1:40 PM on September 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I never spent a lot of time downtown in STL, but there are things to do. There's a casino, and Busch Stadium is a big deal in terms of everyday life there. There's a light rail that goes from downtown to most other parts of the metro area that you'd actually want to go to (Forest Park, Delmar Loop, the airport, etc.).

In general, though, I don't think STL is much of a downtown-living city. Like jzb said, there's a huge city*/suburb divide in the metro, to the point where even people in not-so-nice suburbs look down on people in nice urban neighborhoods. And the people in the nicer parts of the city in turn look down on the more urban parts. I'm a few years away from living there (2010), but when I was there, I didn't really get the sense people were moving back to downtown like they are in other cities like Portland. It's more of a place to go for special events. There are
a lot of vibrant neighborhoods in the city, but downtown isn't one of them.

If you're looking at STL, I would suggest Central West End or maybe near the southwest corner of Forest Park (the corner of Oakland and Skinker). Both are relatively urban (there are high-rises overlooking the park in both areas), walkable, and fun. The Delmar Loop is great, but there's not a full grocery store within walking distance and aside from Delmar Boulevard itself, it couldn't be described as urban.

And of course, if you're black, I would never recommend STL. It's not surprising that the Michael Brown thing happened there. There will probably be STL defenders who dispute this, but I'm saying that, as a white man, the level of overt racism made me uncomfortable. I can't see how a POC would feel safe.

*The city of St. Louis is independent of St. Louis County (kind of like how cities are in Virginia), so in practice, the city/county divide is city/suburb.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:00 PM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I live in St. Louis county and also own investment property in the city. I love St. Louis. It's affordable and quirky and interesting.

Downtown St. Louis has made some strides in recent years. The new arch grounds and museum are fantastic. CityGarden is lovely. But people don't really live downtown. It is absolutely dead after the office workers leave for the day. The hustle and bustle is reserved for days when the Cardinals are playing.

Yes, you can get a good deal on a loft. Lofts were over-developed during the housing boom. A lot of them went into foreclosure and were snapped up by investors. There are no regulations on AirBnBs in St. Louis city, so you may find yourself surrounded by short term renters. But supply far exceeds demand on these lofts, so they're affordable.

If you are in the St. Louis area, some of the inner suburbs like Maplewood would fit your budget, but they won't feel big and urban. The Central West End is a possibility, perhaps. It's very walkable and still feels urban. Unfortunately crime is a problem in St. Louis city and it feels like it could either way at this point -- I am not sure if it's getting worse or better. Before our governor resigned he was also pushing for ending the state historic tax credits, which dis-incentivizes people who want to bring the old buildings back to life. Not sure how that's working out now.

Another city you might consider is Omaha, Nebraska -- Particularly the Old Market area. Omaha is very pedestrian-friendly, and generally has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Here's a loft for around 100k there. The winters are occasionally snowy, though. But you would be surprised at how urban the downtown feels.
posted by Ostara at 2:00 PM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm not too worried about wild weather, though I can take the cold better than humid heat. I've lived in Dallas, Houston and Florida. I definitely prefer dry heat to humid heat, but I can cope. And I went to college near Erie PA, which is part of why I feel like I have a better understanding of Cleveland than St. Louis or Kansas City. But I've never lived in downtown Cleveland.
posted by Mr Ected at 2:02 PM on September 19, 2018

I don't know what your work situation is but got the impression it is remote somehow. If it is is moving abroad an option? It would open up thousands more walkable living situations, the US is probably the worst country for walkability outside maybe the middle east

In the US I wonder if St Paul (of Minneapolis- St. Paul) might work for you? Friends of mine just moved there and I was really surprised by how reasonable real estate seemed to be.
posted by fshgrl at 2:20 PM on September 19, 2018

"If you are in the St. Louis area, some of the inner suburbs like Maplewood would fit your budget"

You couldn't pay me to live in a suburb. That's not the life I want in any way shape or form. The second sentence of my question sums it up: I really need to emphasize that I'm asking about living in these downtowns, not near them but in them.

In St. Louis, I'm looking between the blocks around Schnucks Cullinaria & over toward Washington & 20th (a Fields grocery store just announced it'll open at 17th & Washington). I'm especially interested in lofts around Washington & 14th ish.

In Kansas City, I'm seeing lofts I can afford around 8th & Broadway, but I wish I could be even closer to downtown or to groceries.

In Cleveland, I'm seeing places near Constantinos Market, but I feel like my money goes so much further in STL or KC. If I could get one of those STL lofts in downtown Cleveland for $120K I'd be on a plane tomorrow! ...I think?

I'm also an architecture junkie, and the beauty of the old buildings in STL blow me away.
posted by Mr Ected at 2:22 PM on September 19, 2018

I'd recommend CWE, South Grand area, South Kingshighway area for places that are both walkable and have ready access to transit.

For suburbs, Maplewood is more like an extension of the city than a suburb. They have light rail access, A walkable commercial strip and all around cool stuff to hang out at. Seriously, Manchester and Southwest Ave run right into M-wood and it's not like a huge divide of 'you are not in the city now here are your big boxes and whiteness'. Those are further down when you get to Hanley :).

I used to work in the building that the Fields Foods is going into. I'm probably going to be house hunting again in a year and I'm not ruling out 1706 Washington. However, downtown is completely dead after business hours and especially on weekends, unless there's sportsball or sportspuck happening, but most of the people hanging out because of those aren't city locals.

Cleveland and Ohio in general will have more of an eastern culture than St. Louis which is solidly midwestern. Summers here suck SO BAD for humidity, and we all bitch about it.

Do not, under any circumstances, rent from Asprient or any company Asprient adjacent.. They've taken over some of the lofts downtown and and have a lot of property in the CWE. No one rents from them and has a good story.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 2:39 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm from Kansas City, lived car-free in Portland for eight years and spent five months in KC again this spring. I'll echo dismas' comments – you want to live as close to River Market (or possibly Crossroads, Westport or Plaza) as possible. Still, you'll be cut off from huge swathes of the city. People are friendly but it's very hard to make pals without a car. Events are not well advertised and a lot of the city's best scenes are underground/ take place in private homes. I'm fairly social and it was not at all unusual for me to put in 45-60m of driving time on a regular night, just hopping around to see pals. Only the streetcar and a few express bus lines are fast/frequent enough to be viable, and they have a short reach. You will have a very hard time getting to fun stuff in, say, the West Bottoms (which is very close to River Market!) or any of the neighborhoods ringing downtown, much less the suburbs. It will continue to gentrify, also get ready for hot muggy summers and cold slushy winters. A lot of rad places for sale/rent don't advertise online so keep that in mind as you trawl for research.

Personally if you are staying in U.S. I would reconsider home ownership? Why not keep renting in a big city? Philly might work. Or look at vibrant college towns. Lawrence KS, Lincoln NE etc. Get a great loft right on Main Street and reap the benefits of uni life. I definitely would not move to one of the places on your list without spending a week walking around! I suspect it will come down to *very* precise geography for you. Even five blocks in one of these cities makes a huge difference in livability.
posted by fritillary at 2:42 PM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's been a couple years, but when we were there St. Louis seemed...rough. Lots of commercial vacancies. Weirdly big gaps between neighborhoods. Beyond dead at night. Cleveland was way more happening, both downtown and elsewhere in the city. I'd happily pay a premium to live in Cleveland over St. Louis.

I agree with others that you should consider Minneapolis and -- I know this is going to sound crazy -- Indianapolis, which is actually really nice and vibrant. Minneapolis is just straight-up great. Indy and Cleveland feel fun and scrappy and up-and-coming. Downtown St. Louis, with the notable exception of the City Museum, just bummed me right the hell out.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:44 PM on September 19, 2018

Indianapolis is an island, though. There isn't fuckall to do in Indiana and the entire state is flat. At least if you live in St. Louis or Cleveland there's some fabulous natural features within an hour if not closer.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 2:51 PM on September 19, 2018

Or: what about Milwaukee? I'm seeing a few loft-ish places for under $150k right downtown. I like Milwaukee. Lots of good food, beautiful beaches, and the bus system worked fine when I lived there.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:51 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have lived in the STL suburbs all of my life. If I had to live somewhere where I didn't have a car, it definitely would not be STL (city or suburbs). People will look down on you for it, for one thing. Also, it is very difficult to get from place to place even with the light rail which is quite limited and the busses which are not dependable. In STL you can live in a nice neighborhood that is one block from a neighborhood of abandoned housing. There are islands of niceness in a field of suck. There is also a lot of casual (and often not so casual!) racism and Missouri is very conservative as a state, although I doubt Indiana or Kansas are much better. The humidity is awful in the summer.

I have visited Indianapolis and based on that single week I can say it is infinitely nicer and more walkable than the entirety of STL. Just to throw that out there.
posted by possibilityleft at 2:56 PM on September 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

I think the Cleve is a good call. If you want to go to a more residential/urban areas Ohio City and area around Case Western have that urban feel you like.
posted by sandmanwv at 3:56 PM on September 19, 2018

I would rent first. If your baseline is Portland, a Rust Belt city, even a recovering one, may have a different sort of vibe than what you mean when you say urban. (I grew up in one; it feels quite different to me than Portland.) Also, none of them really emphasize public transit, which you're going to need. So I think you might want to do a trial run first--prices are unlikely to escalate crazily in a year or two, and if you love it/find the transit manageable, you can still buy.
posted by praemunire at 5:07 PM on September 19, 2018

"If your baseline is Portland..."

It's not. I've lived in Pittsburgh, Scranton, Dallas, Houston, Daytona, Augusta, etc etc etc. I've also lived abroad.
posted by Mr Ected at 5:14 PM on September 19, 2018

Kansas City native here, seconding Dismas's comment above. Downtown KC has had a bit of a renaissance in the past couple of decades and is a pretty nice place to be these days. I think living car-free might be doable but it wouldn't necessarily be easy. The streetcar and MAX bus gives you access to most of downtown, the Plaza and Westport and maybe some points south. Beyond that I think would get a bit trickier without a car.

Dating is certainly doable but it is kind of a town where it seems like everyone already has their social circle - lots of folks grew up around here and transplants aren't as common, or at least it always seemed that way to me. Might take a bit of time to meet new people.

I don't know current prices, but when I left $150K could still get you a pretty good loft downtown. Cost for other stuff (groceries, etc) seem downright cheap to me, but then again I live in the DC area now.
posted by photo guy at 8:14 PM on September 19, 2018

I've lived in Kansas City for about 10 years now. I've never actually been to St. Louis or Cleveland, but I was just talking to a guy at a party last weekend who grew up in St. Louis and still visits frequently, and the exact topic of the differences between the two came up. He said that from his perspective, Kansas City really feels like a place that's actively trying to improve itself, attract business, and just kind of be a modern city in general. Whereas St. Louis... isn't. (Again, his view not mine.)

What I can vouch for is that Kansas City does feel like a place that's on the upswing. There's just an undercurrent of busyness and investment that I find very invigorating and exciting, personally. It's a very nice place to live.

That said, I'm spending my first ever night in Portland literally tonight, and spent the entire evening moseying from my downtown hotel to Powell's and back. Kansas City is... not Portland. Depending what you mean by "shopping," that alone could be a dealbreaker.

I'm not all that qualified to speak to the dating scene in KC, but downtown KC is extremely easy to access by car, compared to a lot of cities, and most people in the metro do have cars. So I would think it wouldn't be too big a deal for any of your potential dates to come to you, especially since there are plenty of date-type activities to do downtown.

What's the weather really like there?

Pretty shitty, honestly. It's probably the main reason more people don't move to the Midwest. Sorry to leave things on a sour note :)
posted by slenderloris at 9:35 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mr Ected, are you certain those are the only cities with downtown condos you can afford? I think you should buy this condo in St. Paul but only because I cannot. It is located in the Lowertown neighborhood of downtown St. Paul, with a walk score of 94 out of 100 on one site and only 66 on another, which is super confusing (and I honestly think the second one is wrong because the street photo doesn't look like the building listing at all).

Naturally, you will check that out if you have any interest in it. If you put down $70,000 the mortgage plus insurance plus monthly HOA fee of $321 should come in at just under $1,000 if I did the mortgage calculator correctly, which is a 50/50 proposition at best.

One odd thing about this condo is that it has been listed for 79 days and a history of dropping prices, so it may have some fatal flaw that cannot be spotted from a mere listing. There are less expensive condos available in Lowertown but they appear to be newer, smaller ones. A Forbes article on affordable, walkable cities turned me on to the Lowertown neighborhood, which appears to have a grocery store within half a mile, shopping, restaurants, parks, etc.

BTW Thrillist agrees that KC is one of the most under appreciated cities you should totally move to but also argues on behalf of several other cities including Grand Rapids. "With walkable neighborhoods full of beautiful -- and affordable -- housing, and a lively Downtown, Grand Rapids is flush with energy these days. If it's not the best beer city east of the Mississippi, it's damn close, and it offers much of the art, food, and music trappings you'd find in Chicago or Detroit, only at half the price and one-quarter the commute times."

The Heartside-Downtown Grand Rapids neighborhood has a walk score of 94. "There are about 144 restaurants, bars and coffee shops in Heartside-Downtown. People in Heartside-Downtown can walk to an average of 22 restaurants, bars and coffee shops in 5 minutes." I don't own a car either, and that sounds pretty wonderful. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:19 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think the thing to understand about St. Louis is that the city is small. There are more than 90 municipalities that surround it. "Suburbs" means a different thing in St. Louis than it might mean in other places. The city of St. Louis does not exist within a county. It's an entity all by itself. When you are talking about St. Louis city, you are talking about a small area. An urban core full of potential but limited by funds and vision and leadership.

St. Louis is around 300,000 people. KC is bigger, 450,000 or so. Downtown KC is in better shape. But there are a lot of creative, hard-working people who are trying to make St. Louis better. If you plug in to this network you'll find a lot of good people and it's very energizing.

If you can accept an experience that is sometimes rough around the edges .... but where people are friendly .... it's worth a shot.
posted by Ostara at 10:54 PM on September 20, 2018

"where people are friendly"

Are you referring to St. Louis? Really?
posted by kevinbelt at 6:18 AM on September 21, 2018

Downtown/Lowertown St Paul is an interesting option - there is a reason that minneapolitans call it "St. Small" somewhat derisively - the sidewalks USED TO roll up at 5pm on weekdays (between the two twin cities minneapolis had the business/culture side and st paul got stuck with the capitol and state govt offices).

things have changed a lot since i lived there - there is a light rail connecting the two downtowns (its slow but there is a platform two blocks from the loft Bella Donna linked to). The Lund's grocery store across the street from that loft is a little upscale for regular use but nice - the farmers market is about a ten minute walk. There is the new minor league baseball stadium, overall id say its still quiet and on the small side but its definitely on the upswing.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:13 AM on September 21, 2018

Is downtown St Paul a thriving neighborhood? Groceries, shops, pubs, people, life?

And is the climate there conducive to a truly car-free life?

I haven't counted any city out of my search yet, though I can handle cold better than brutal heat. I love snow.

I'm still leaning toward Cleveland, but even that is just a maybe at this point. The Playhouse Square area seems great, the warehouse district is only a few blocks away and it has potential. The downtown trolley could be very helpful, and there's light rail - especially if I choose the warehouse district. It seems odd to me that Cleveland's light rail goes to the western edge of downtown instead of into the heart of it.
posted by Mr Ected at 3:59 PM on September 23, 2018

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