Joe Edwards: Community Champion

It’s hard to tell the story of Joe Edwards without going back to what originally made him famous:  Blueberry Hill restaurant and music club in the Delmar Loop in University City.  At a time when this once-popular business district was in an alarming state of dilapidation, Joe Edwards took a big risk to invest in our aging urban core.  His adaptive reuse of existing buildings is actually the most sustainable development, as the energy and materials embodied in existing structures are largely preserved.  The Loop is a livable, walkable area bustling with restaurants, shopping, arts and entertainment.

Joe turned Blueberry Hill into a showcase of his pop culture memorabilia, and took a hard stance against the rough crowds so his patrons could feel comfortable and safe.  Yet he realized that the surrounding area needed attention too, and found himself purchasing and renovating properties that might otherwise have fallen back into blight.  He co-founded the Loop Special Business District to take on projects affecting the common areas, including lighting, water, trash and landscaping.

When the Tivoli Theatre was labeled “Closed Forever,” Joe again took a significant risk by buying the property and renovating it.  The Tivoli had long been an anchor in the business district, and saving this monument was a key to maintaining the nostalgic feel of The Loop.  Edwards also conceived and implemented the non-profit St. Louis Walk of Fame, which turned the pedestrian sidewalks into an educational attraction highlighting great St. Louisans who have had a national impact on our cultural heritage.

All of these projects spawned a lot of other investment in The Loop, and by the turn of the millennium The Loop was a thriving business district, both day and night.  Yet east of Skinker was a different story, with more boarded-up blight that made it uncomfortable to cross into the St. Louis city limits.  Joe knew that it would take more than a trendy store or restaurant to extend the glamour and appeal of The Loop.  He teamed up with Patrick Hagin to create The Pageant concert nightclub, which opened in 2000.  Ranked 5th best club in the world by Pollstar, this nightclub has attracted touring bands from all over, and has become an eastern anchor for the entertainment district.

Yet perhaps the most ambitious project Joe Edwards has taken on, and the one to which we primarily point for this nomination, is the Moonrise Hotel.  This luxury boutique hotel has established itself as comfortable for people of all walks, from rockers to romantics.  Joe recognized sustainability as an important cornerstone in the building’s operations, and implemented a number of programs in an effort to “go green,” including:

  • A comprehensive recycling program, composting and offering reusable water bottles
  • Locally-sourced, organic foods from nearby growers and farmers in the hotel restaurants
  • Donating leftover food and soap to specialty charities
  • A 60’ solar awning over the Rooftop Terrace Bar that powers the bar and iconic revolving moon
  • A charging station for hotel guests or neighbors to recharge their electric vehicles
  • A Platinum Pure Power membership commitment to purchase renewable energy credits.

The hotel is also exploring lighting and other energy efficiency upgrades to reduce their energy consumption, along with additional renewable energy systems.

With all of these and many more trophies of achievement, Joe Edwards is not resting on his empire.  He is currently actively involved in the Loop Trolley Project, a fixed-track vintage trolley system that will run from The Loop to the Missouri History Museum.  The 2.2 mile route will run from University City’s City Hall east on Delmar Boulevard and then south on DeBaliviere Avenue, connecting two MetroLink stations (Delmar Loop and Forest Park). The Loop Trolley Transportation Development District is exploring the possibility of using solar energy to partially power the electric trolley cars and depot.  This public transit system is projected to have an annual ridership of 750,000, and connect The Loop with the attractions in Forest Park, which attract 12 million visitors annually.

We believe Joe Edwards deserves this award because of his tireless commitment to the St. Louis community, and his efforts to embrace sustainability by reusing existing buildings and making them resource efficient.  His leadership and passion have been catalytic in renovating the urban core that represents a big part of the history of St. Louis, and he has consulted with delegates from cities across the country to share his expertise.   He has truly transformed the built environment, and the community all around the Washington University campus has benefited from this thriving business district.

We need more committed leaders like Joe Edwards.  Joe has combined his growing awareness of “green” with financial viability as an example for other developers across the region and the nation.  What’s particularly remarkable about his vision is that the “numbers” didn’t always add up on projects he committed to.  Where other investors would not have taken the risk, Joe believed enough in the intrinsic value of the property that he convinced other investors to sign on to a renovation project.

The solar project at the Moonrise was a great example of innovation.  The hotel staff explored implementing solar on the rooftop terrace bar as a smart way to add to the hotel’s list of “green” attributes.  When they began planning to put up a fabric awning over the rooftop bar, they discovered how they could leverage financial incentives to put up a solar awning instead.  Joe loved the idea, and made it happen.

Joe is also a pioneer in the installation of St. Louis’ first public EV charging station.  He recognizes the promise that electric vehicles play in a sustainable future, and knows that we need to have charging stations in place for people to feel comfortable about purchasing electric vehicles.  A savvy marketer, Joe also sees this as a way to appeal to the eco-conscious hotel guest that his hotel is positioned to attract.

Joe’s business partner at the Pageant, Pat Hagin, had also explored the potential for solar a year earlier.  After the successful installation of the solar awning at the Moonrise, Joe expressed his overall satisfaction with the project.  His partner decided to expand the solar awning concept to include supplementary solar power on The Pageant’s rooftop, leveraging the peaking financial incentives to purchase 25 years of energy at a levelized cost under three cents per kilowatt hour.  This pioneering spirit will be an inspiration to other business owners up and down The Loop to leverage the solar power on their own rooftops.

Joe continues to learn about the many opportunities to embrace sustainability, and implements new strategies in every project.  A committed community leader and champion for the environment, he is truly a Community Champion.

Joe Edwards was nominated for the Missouri-Gateway Chapter of the US Green Building Council’s Growing Green Awards on March 29.  

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