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Old North’s Pedestrian Mall May Soon Be Gone!

September 1, 2006 North City, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Transportation 10 Comments

P-DMarch77Although it has now been a dozen years since I moved from Old North to Dutchtown I still have a soft spot for the area. It has been in the last five years or so that things have really begun to accelerate in the neighborhood — more rehabs as well as new construction. Proximity to downtown and friendly neighbors are among the selling points.

The most recent meeting of the neighborhood was this past Tuesday where the topic of the 14th Street Pedestrian Mall was addressed. For years area residents have been trying to undo the mistake made in 1977 of removing the street and creating a dead environment. Recently this has started to become a reality with the help of RHCDA and Rosemann Architects. But first, some history.

Pedestrian Malls where thought to be a the saving grace of downtowns and other urban shopping districts. Cities all over the country followed Kalamazoo Michigan after they turned created the first pedestrian mall in the US in 1959. It was in 1998 they reopened the street. For more history on Kalamazoo’s pedestrian mall click here. Boulder Colorado did a pedestrian mall at the same time as the 14th Street mall, 1977. They seem to be updating but retaining and celebrating theirs (link). Throughout this country most have been removed. In places, such as Memphis and Denver, these malls permit transit vehicles such as vintage streetcars (Memphis) or buses (Denver).

Anti-car advocates, of which I consider myself on the fringe, favor car-free environments. Where you have really high density this works well. Where you don’t have density the spaces look abandoned and unsafe. That was the situation with 14th Street. I never once felt unsafe there and businesses were open but it simply didn’t look that way. The malling (mauling?) of the street had the reverse affect of those that designed it — people were driven away from the street and area in droves.

14th St Mall Site Plan PresentationThe proposed site plan returns traffic and parking to both 14th and Montgomery streets — a much needed improvement. In addition to the new street improvements many of the surround buildings have already been purchased and will be renovated during the first phase of the project. Other buildings on 14th are privately owned and will not be taken. New construction is planned on vacant lots both on 14th and around it in future phases.

This project must still work its way through the various approval steps, including the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

I have some initial reservations about the streetscape plan but I will hold those back until I’ve had a chance to talk with the local residents, the RHCDA and Rosemann Architects. I want to congratulate everyone involved for finally getting a project to this point — I look forward to working with them to see it to fruition.

– Steve


Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. Sean Thomas says:

    Thanks for the congratulations, Steve. Please note that the 14th Street redevelopment will be carried out through a partnership of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and the Regional Housing & Community Development Alliance. We are very early in this process and the site plan shown here is a work in progress –and will go through some changes before implementation. The major part of the announcement on Tuesday was that much of the community’s vision, as expressed in numerous community planning sessions over many years, is finally working its way toward reality. Stay tuned.

  2. anon says:

    Is it artistic impression, or does the second story doorway on the second building on the right look like it’s already boarded up?

    Maybe the PD commercial artist at the time didn’t have much faith in the 14th Street Mall concept, either?

  3. SMSPlanstu says:

    Show Me State ~ Show Me Financing

    From the RHCDA website

    RHCDA’s Predevelopment Loan Fund was established in 1993 with a $170,000 contribution from the May Company to provide neighborhood based not-for-profit organizations a source of funds for costs incurred during the early stages of real estate development/redevelopment projects in their neighborhoods. Most of these organizations do not have the financial ability to pay for the fees and costs necessary to get a development project to the point where construction loan funds become available. Conventional financing from banks is generally not available to these organizations to pay for these predevelopment costs. Neither do these organizations have sufficient built-up equity or reserve funds to initiate the projects they plan to develop. That is the purpose of this Fund—to accelerate the time from project inception to construction start-up. The Predevelopment Loan Fund has now grown to $2.25 million, with the May Company increasing its contribution to $500,000, along with a $1 million line of credit from State Farm Insurance, a $500,000 line of credit from Fannie Mae, and a $250,000 line of credit from Southwest Bank.

    Thus, this was a major philanthropic organization set up by and financed by May Company; Ralston Purina helped save historic LaSalle housing and buildings. Both companies have been taken over by larger national or international organizations. Will their new bosses at Federated and Nestle be as considerate and continue the philanthropic actions of their former competitors? Did the RHCDA get another $500,000 when Federated took over?

  4. Joe B says:

    They need to simply open the streets and let nature take its course. If the market it there, it will thrive on its own. If the market is not there, you can’t simply make one up. S Grand, Delmar Loop, CWE, Maplewood,Antique Row and Cherokee on the other side of Jefferson all developed this way. Governments simply cannot develop areas like this. It takes small business owners who believe in their product and service to make an area work. No government agency can take credit for any of the above mentioned areas. Maplewood transformed itself before the govt even knew what was happening.

  5. Paul says:

    This is very exciting! Having participated in a charrette for this area back in 1998, its nice to see something real finally coming to fruition. I like the proposed mix of businesses and residential. maybe in the future there can be more businesses, but doing the residential in some of the storefronts now gives the opportunity to activate all of the empty buildings in a relativly short amount time.

  6. Anthony Coffin says:

    “Joe B” First, the city could not afford to open up the street grid if there was no revenue to be made from it. Second, RHCDA and ONSLRG are not government entities. I agree with you one hundred percent about commercial districs growing organicaly. I would like to see the area developed with the pedestrian mall intact, however there is little support for that. Commerce is not a driving force behind the RHCDA’s plans. Hopefully, if commerce proves succesful, all of the storefronts can be opened up.
    Personaly I will miss the mall, with its mysterious feel of an abandoned european plaza. However, I recently noticed and almost equaly mysterious pedestrian plaza on 10th St in LaSalle Park.

  7. “They need to simply open the streets and let nature take its course.”

    Where do you suppose the money to open up the street would come from? What business would locate to this abandoned strip of falling down buildings and put up with the negative activity that breeds because of them?

    “S Grand, Delmar Loop, CWE, Maplewood,Antique Row and Cherokee on the other side of Jefferson all developed this way.

    The 14th. Street mall has a completely different set of cricumstances than any of these other commercial districts. Two major glaring difference are – tenants and structural integrity of the buildings! Most of the buildings on the mall have been left vacant for such a long time that they are missing entire roofs, floors and in many cases, half the building all together. It’s extremely difficult to lure tenants to a building that: a. the owner won’t sell or make necessary improvements to rent; b. the business owner is faced with putting $150 a square foot into rehabbing; c. is surrounded by vacant buildings on all sides and then vacant blocks of land beyond that.

    As potential “developers” have come and gone over the last 25 years, owners of much of the real estate on this two block strip have been trained to believe that the big payoff was just around the corner. That dangling carrot has been an enormous roadblock to getting anything done with the mall.

    As a resident (i’m also a board member of ONSLRG), I for one am ECSTATIC to see this project come into reality. Having retail sprinkled throughout the site, with the remainder storefront space made live/work, gives the district the ability to take on an organic process to it’s growth. A business owner needs a residential base to locate and operate in an area. That same residential base wants to see businesses that will provide them with goods and services before they are willing to move in. This design allows for the conversion of ground floor residential into commercial space after the 5 year tax credit period, as the market demands.

    This has been a community-driven development process and as a resident, I feel like the design is very representational of what the community would like to see happen with the 14th. Business and more residents while maintaining the integrity and character of the buildings in the area. Pretty simple.

  8. Jason Toon says:

    Excuse my ignorance about how to read the schematic, but what’s the big pink square at the intersection of 14th & Montgomery, right in the middle of the plan? Does that just denote a certain kind of intersection (e.g. 4-way stop, etc.), or will there be some kind of structure there? Again, I know I should probably know this. Thanks in advance for schooling me.

    [UR Good call, that is an overly decorative paving pattern glorifying an area that should not receive so much attention or money. It is on my list of things to suggest they change. – SLP]

  9. I agree with Steve that the paving pattern should be removed from the plan. The 14th Street commercial district actually stretched from Howard on the south (some would say down one more block to Mullanphy) up to Wright Street on the north, covering more than just the two blocks that were arbitrarily chosen for the mall. The paving would reinforce the separation of those two blocks from the rest of 14th Street, which retains amazing potential throughout Old North.

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