In an interview with St. Louis Business Journal, Larry Chapman, CEO of Seneca CRE, talks about what it will take to revitalize St. Louis as well as some of the steps he himself is taking to do so. The COVID-19 pandemic and other events of the last few months have caused him to move from larger and more ambitious ventures to ones more closely tailored to the needs of the St. Louis community.
After a long and successful career in commercial real estate, Chapman founded Seneca CRE in 2019 with an explicitly community focused goal, as stated on the official website, “Seneca will undertake complex transactions supporting the growth of the St. Louis region as its primary focus.” In the past he had worked developing warehouses and office space across the United States. His latest project? A 9 Mile Garden in the Inner Ring suburb of Affton Plaza.
Chapman finds inspiration in the freedom his current position provides. “[W]hat always has excited me about my business is, I get to make it up as I go along. I literally get up every morning and make up what I’m going to do for a living. And that part is just fun. I like it,” Chapman said. The food-truck garden is latest manifestation of this bold approach to development. He thinks the local community responds very well to fresh, authentic projects like that.
While Chapman believes that crime rates are definitely slowing down development and revitalization Downtown, there are even more fundamental forces at work. In many cities, business leaders take huge and ambitious risks. Some of this “craziness” is lacking in St. Louis, Chapman says: “Everybody here is more about being safe than they are about doing bold things. As long as that’s the case, then you aren’t going to see a lot. I tell leaders all the time, just do things boldly. People won’t remember how crazy it sounded if it’s successful.”
One thing he has focused on with Seneca CRE is mid-level projects that are highly flexible and suited to the local community and environment. This lines up with his whole philosophy of life and business. An avid reader, Chapman explains it this way, “My philosophy is, read about things that are interesting and unrelated to your business, and it’ll make you and your business better every day. I spend most of my time reading science magazines. Because in the process, I have to think about things differently. And that new thinking process helps me with my business. So I would tell you don’t read more about your subject, read about something else and I promise you your brain will fill in the blanks.”