image via screengrab
Alex Ihnen was the face of NextSTL.com — and its recent Kickstarter campaign.
It took nine years for Alex Ihnen to build nextSTL.com
into an indispensable resource on St. Louis design, transportation and development. And yet, when it came time for him to leave the city he's covered so remarkably well for nearly a decade, he decided to keep the details under wraps.
But after being contacted by the RFT
last night, Ihnen confirmed that he is, indeed, leaving. By the end of the month he'll be moving with his family to Cincinnati, where his wife will start her residency in pediatric neurology with the Children's Hospital Medical Center.
His departure likely come as a shock, not just to fans of his work, but to the 230 backers of a Kickstarter campaign to fund a "New Next STL."
The campaign, which was launched March 1, crossed its $20,000 goal after 30 days of fundraising, a photo finish that involved coaxing backers to pay up to take the site to the next level.
The Kickstarter's stated goal was paying for a redesign of the website, new branding, attracting more writers and launching a newsletter. (For the sake of full disclosure, I was one of the 230 backers, though my $15 was much less than the average donation of nearly $90.)
The Kickstarter campaign was heavily promoted by the nextSTL Twitter account, which Ihnen single-handily operated, and with which he frequently deployed his trademark wit and incisiveness toward city issues.
On March 16, the nextSTL Twitter account posted excitedly that the Kickstarter had just "flown by" the halfway point.
The very next day, however, the Facebook page for the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center Neurology Residency had an exciting update of their own
:Katie Ihnen was joining their third-year residents.
The announcement, and what it would mean for the nextSTL founder, was nowhere to found on the Kickstarter campaign page. In fact, Ihnen continued to push the campaign via the nextSTL Twitter account. On March 18, for instance, he tweeted
that the campaign needed "just 95 more backers for our New NEXT STL Kickstarter!"
The tweets continued all the way to March 31 deadline. And after that, the updates that followed concerned the printing of t-shirts and fulfillment of the campaign's promised perks — but nothing about the fact that the website's founder and primary writer would no longer be helming the "New Next STL."
In an interview Tuesday night, Ihnen rebuffed suggestions that he had a responsibility to inform his Kickstarter backers of his impending move.
"I think think people value the website, and it's great that people would value me or my content, but I’m not the website," he says. "It is a business and entity that goes beyond me."
Even so, readers might be forgiven for some confusion. Ihnen's not just the site's founder and most recognizable byline; he's also its face. The Kickstarter campaign video
actually showed him walking around St. Louis as clusters of headlines and breaking news circled his head like planets around a sun.
Even after his wife got the job in mid-March, however, Ihnen says he never considered cancelling the campaign outright, or offering an update or disclosure to the backers. He has no plans to offer refunds, though he also stresses that he is committed to honoring his commitments when it comes to the perks that were promised to supporters.
"The money, a good part of it has already been spent on t-shirts and posters," Ihnen says. "The rest is being invested in the site and making it sustainable.
"In my mind," he adds, "the Kickstarter actually saved the website. I was panicked about making sure this was going to live. If we had gone a couple months and there was no new branding, if a website design wasn't coming out, if there wasn't funding for hosting fees, and then I moved, I think it’s likely there wouldn’t be something to hand over for someone to run."
And yes, Ihnen has
lined up a successor to take over nextSTL, as he explained to me in a subsequent message later last night. Developer Jason Deem, who runs the South Side Spaces property development and the Nebula co-working space in the Cherokee neighborhood, will become the site's publisher and owner.
In an email to RFT
, Deem praised nextSTL for its "increasingly important role in facilitating dialogue on development, transportation, and public policy in St. Louis." Deem indicated that even after Ihnen's departure, the nextSTL founder would still have a presence on the platform.
"Both Alex and I wanted to make sure this continued after he left," Deem wrote. "Alex will continue to contribute and host occasional podcasts. But it will take more than one person to do the incredible amount of work that Alex has done and so we’ll be looking for additional contributors to the site in the near future.
"I’m looking forward to building on the momentum and growth of NextSTL and helping to ensure it remains an active and relevant independent locally-owned resource in St. Louis."
Ihnen told the RFT
he'll be leaving town in two or three weeks. He is also currently the executive director of the Dutchtown South Community Development Corporation. He says he gave notice there about two weeks ago.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com