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Southside Journal: “Southtown Centre is failing to fulfill promise.”

September 28, 2006 Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, South City, Suburban Sprawl 43 Comments

The Journal proclaims on page one this week that the highly suburban Southtown Centre is “failing to fulfill promise.” Well, I could tell from the sprawl-centric design that it would not do well so in my mind it is fulfilling my expectations.

What both amused and saddened me was the response of 14th-Ward Alderman as quoted in the Surban Journal:

“There’s no reason why that place shouldn’t be full,” Gregali said, “The demographics are great for the shopping center, he said.

As for business, “I think it’s OK. I think it would be better if there were more foot traffic,” Gregali said.

No reason it shouldn’t be full? It should be fully leased based on demographics? Foot traffic? This is precisely why planning fundamentals should not be left to aldermen unless they are skilled in such areas. Gregali, clearly, is not so skilled. But the problems go beyond Gregali.

First of all, demographics are not the sole determining factor for the success of a commercial center. Design plays an increasingly important role to people, especially in an urban context. In addition to wanting a good price on that bag of cat litter at PetsMart people want an attractive and pedestrian-friendly environment. Contrary to what some might suggest, we can actually have both.

I know you come here for the photos as much as the witty dialog so click continue below and check out the images of this disaster.

Southtown Centre - 01.jpgThis is not Southtown Centre you say! True, this is Beck Ave. which is disconnected from Southtown Center by lack of a street connection and good sidewalk connection. This street was cut off from the area prior to the development of Southtown Center but, given the design, I can see why they would not want to be connected.

What should have been built on the old Famous site was something these immediately adjacent neighbors would have clamored to connect to.

Southtown Centre - 04.jpgA rather uneventful connection between the residential portion of Beck Ave, the commercial balance of Beck and where this intersects Ridgewood Ave.

Southtown Centre - 10.jpgHere is the view from the adjacent residential streets. Gregali wishes they had more foot traffic..hmm….what could they have done differently? Say, provide some sidewalks!!! And, just maybe, orient buildings to embrace public streets?

Southtown Centre - 14.jpgSite remains unfinished and looking rather sad for only being 2 years old. Yeah, I’m not sure either why the tenants aren’t lining up to lease here.

Southtown Centre - 16.jpgAs you approach from the area to the south of Chippewa (a different neighborhood per the city) you are not greeted with the most welcoming view.

Southtown Centre - 17.jpgOh look, a diamond pattern in the tall and long brick wall along Chippewa. That must be a pedestrian amenity because we certainly have none in the way of on-street parking or street trees. How could this have been improved? On-street parking, street trees and storefronts facing the public street.

Southtown Centre - 18.jpgThe situation further West along Chippewa is no better. Here we have the parking lot as our view before we get to the retaining wall if we continue. Note the woman crossing the street in the middle of the block.

Southtown Centre - 20.jpgLook! A sidewalk connecting OfficeMax to the public sidewalk along Chippewa. I guess they had to have one token sidewalk…

Are you inspired to go for a walk?

Southtown Centre - 23.jpgOver in the middle of the project we can look back East to the PetsMart and OfficeMax. Don’t try to walk there unless you like walking through parking lots. Sidewalks? We don’t need no stickin’ sidewalks.

‘Hey retailers! We’ve got good demographics in the area. Can you see how attractive this is?’

Southtown Centre - 25.jpgI just wanted to walk across the street to have lunch at the Applebee’s, where is the sidewalk to do so?

Where exactly does Gregali expect foot traffic anway? In the shrubs and mulch? How about in the drive lane with auto traffic? That is really the only two choices a pedestrian is given at this entrance.

I wonder if Kowelmann Engineering “planned” this one before moving on to Loughborough Commons?

Southtown Centre - 26.jpgMaybe I can make it over by the Walgreen’s easier and then get to the street? Oh boy that is a lot of asphalt, better drive rather than walk.

Southtown Centre - 28.jpgI carefully walked down the entrance drive, prepared to jump in the planter rather than getting hit. Note how the pedestrian crossing area for both Chippewa to the south and across the drive to the West puts you in the direct path of cars turning right into the project. Where are my ADA experts — can this possibly comply? Think of the person in a wheelchair, they are literally target practice for some SUV.

Southtown Centre - 29.jpgLooking East on Chippewa we have an attached sidewalk — no parking or street trees to create a feeling of safety from passing cars. Plus we have the lovely retaining wall and the back of a building.

Southtown Centre - 32.jpgLooking back West toward Kingshighway the pedestrian is faced with a very wide crossing and no real protection at the corner while waiting for the cross signal.

Note the scooter turning into the project.

Southtown Centre - 33.jpgLovely. Broken curb and skinned up traffic signal post. Hopefully no pedestrian was nearby when this happened. The curb has been broken for some time but it you are trying to lease these spaces you’d think they’d stay on top of this stuff.

The flowers add some nice color but in no way make up for all the shortcomings of this project.

Southtown Centre - 34.jpgLooking back East again. I’m a pedestrian on the public sidewalk but I don’t have a way to walk into the half vacant center without trampling flowers or risking my life in the entrance/exit.

I want to see Gregali walk from the EB Games in Southtown Centre to the Applebee’s across the street and tell me on camera the pedestrian access is perfectly adequate. In fact, I’ll buy him a $100 gift card to Applebee’s if I can video him walking from one to the other and then telling me the walk was OK. He can then take out his sprawl associates, Ald. Jennifer Florida (D-15th Ward) and Matt Villa (D-11th Ward), to lunch. For those that don’t know, I’m referring to Florida’s Gravois Plaza project lacking good sidewalk connections along with her crime fightin’ McDonald’s drive-thru projects and Matt Villa’s Loughborough Commons with a promised token sidewalk on one half of only a single entrance.

Southtown Centre - 35.jpgIf it were not for the 3-story commercial building on the NW corner of Kingshighway & Chippewa we might think we were out in the suburbs somewhere. Three of the four corners are severely lacking in urban feel.

Southtown Centre - 36.jpgTo the credit of someone involved with this project, the Walgreen’s actually has a couple of decent pedestrian connection points. Granted, I’d much prefer a building up to the sidewalk with parking in back or on-street but if you are going to do the suburban thing at least make it so people can get there on foot. This is really one of the few spots in this project where they get a “C”. The rest is pretty much a big “F.”

Southtown Centre - 40.jpgYikes, what is that contraption? I suppose this is a real attempt at some sort of pedestrian amenity. Sure, I’m going to sit here amid a wide plain sidewalk and a big parking lot next to a Walgreen’s.

Southtown Centre - 41.jpgWhat a tragic pedestrian environment. The developer didn’t even replace the old sidewalk!

Southtown Centre - 46.jpgNo trash cans are provided anywhere close to the bus shelter.

Southtown Centre - 49.jpgBetween the back of the Walgreen’s and the front of another is a sidewalk that takes you further into Southtown Centre. It doesn’t really connect to anything and has cars on both sides but it is a start.

Southtown Centre - 52.jpgNear Kingshway a small building houses a Starbucks (with drive-thru, of course) and a Cold Stone Creamery.

Southtown Centre - 54.jpgWhat’s this? A sidewalk leading to the Starbucks? Can it be true? Not really, it connects you to the drive-thru lane but the railing prevents you from getting to the front door to get your coffee fix. Besides, you’d be in a car if they really cared.

Southtown Centre - 56.jpgThe opposite view to show you this really is a sidewalk to nowhere. Also, it is not ADA compliant. Try wheeling from the public sidewalk on Kingshighway to get a brew, it is a very very long route through the parking area.

Southtown Centre - 58.jpgAt Beck and Kingshighway we have another intersection where the pedestrian is basically in the path of turning cars. This intersection is not conducive to encouraging those living West of Kingshighway to walk to Southtown Centre.

Southtown Centre - 66.jpgThis is the other end of that sidewalk that gets you into the project yet it fails to connect to anything. Note the little triangle of concrete attached to the sidewalk with some locked up tables and chairs. They really shouldn’t bother unlocking those because I cannot fathom anyone actually wanting to sit there.

Southtown Centre - 67.jpgAnd the view from the seats in front of Cold Stone? Not much better than the isolated triangle. If you like the backs of chain drug stores, however, this is your ideal spot.

Southtown Centre - 71.jpgWe’re back at the end of the long sidewalk. As I indicated, it doesn’t really connect to anything. The closest is the strip building seen in the left of the image but it is across the main drive and the distance is considerable.

Southtown Centre - 75.jpgSo, I ask you — any clues why the demographics of the area hasn’t created a stampede of retailers trying to sign a lease? Or why people are not eager to walk from their adjacent homes to the strip center?

A total of 75 images can be found on Flickr.

Ald. Gregali is up for re-election in March 2007.


Currently there are "43 comments" on this Article:

  1. StlMark says:

    Next to the Marketplace development on Manchester, this is the 2nd worst in my opinion. The history is typical of St. Louis development. The Famous building was razed to develop a Home Quarters warehouse. That company went bankrupt and the City was left with their backs against the wall and an empty lot. Then K-Mart was going to develop the site. Neighbors were unhappy because that company was facing bankrupcy at the time. The Southtown Coalition was formed to provide input on the current strip mall. This was the best they could come up with? Remember, there is an equally hideous strip mall across Chippewa that used to have a Walgreens. It has been empty since the Walgreens moved across the street.

  2. GMichaud says:

    What a great presentation. All of the alderman in St. Louis should be required to view this on a power point presentation. It is city planning 101. The only thing that is missing is drawings of a soluton that will work. I find it funny that with all of the lust for money these guys exhibit, they don’t understand good design actually makes money.
    I hope you can at least get Gregali to look at your presentation so he can begin to understand what is wrong with what he and the alderman throughout the city are allowing as development. Great cities throughout the world make developers conform to the planning needs of the cities, and not the other way around.
    Does Gregali think Paris would allow such a monstrosity in its urban core?, of course not, nor should St. Louis.

  3. Jim Zavist says:

    While the design is marginal, at best, the fundamental problem here is a combination of the demographics (a given), the economic dynamic of the surrounding area (not great) and the current tenant mix (not great, either). “Build it and they will come” does NOT hold true in the world of retail. While the “rooftops” are there, and the incomes are certainly above average to the west and south, there just isn’t any real spark to draw shoppers into the area. Or, to put it another way, why come here, when you can either go a mile or so west, to Hampton & Chippewa, and find much better quality (and yes, marginally better design and fewer holes in the urban fabric) or go a bit further into Brentwood (Eager Rd. & Brentwood Blvd. / Galleria area) or down south to the South County Mall area (which sucks from a design standpoint, but has some strong regional draws like Cotsco and Krispy Kreme, plus, gasp, real department stores)?

    Walking to shopping works / is a draw when it’s “neighborhood” types of businesses – restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores, and yes, even some grocery-shopping trips. But if I’m buying office supplies (a ream of paper or a file cabinet) or bulk dog food (in the 40-lb. bag), it’s no longer needs to be a “neighborhood” trip, and I’m, yes, going to drive to some big-box mecca where I can knock out all of my to-do list, and this takes a synergy that simply isn’t present here.

    I live pretty close to Hampden & Chippewa, so Southtown is certainly in my sphere of shopping opportunities, but rarely on my radar. The two biggest reasons I trek over to the area are Home Depot (further north) and Jack-in-the-Box (diagonally opposite). I/we occasionally go to Petsmart or Office Depot, but are just as likely to go to the ones in Brentwood – they’re interchangeable, and it’s just a matter of convenience and/or when I remember I need to get something. Urban design, good or bad, plays absolutely no role in my decision – a box is a box and what’s inside doesn’t really change between locations. The Starbucks was a draw until recently, until the new one opened closer to me near Ted Drewes on Chippewa. That leaves Cold Stone, and I make a conscious effort to stay away from there (I don’t need any more tasty, sugary, empty calories on a regular basis)!

    Ways to improve things? More big boxes and more strip malls (to replace the funeral home, church and theatre) is one scenario, but probably won’t work any better than what’s already there – the demographics and the economics simply aren’t there, and there are established competitors not that far away. An auto mega mall? It could work, especially to give the dealers further north a place to move to if and when light rail follows the rail line across Kingshighway – doing so would free up some prime parcels for transit-oriented development. Realistically, the best outcome would be a clean-sheet start, with the street grid brought back, mixed use with a heavy residential (multi-story) component being introduced, and a focus on smaller-scale, ground-level urban retail. Start on the SE corner, rotate around and redevelop the SW corner, and the likelihood is that the NE corner will follow of its own accord.

    Unfortunately, short term, what you see is all you’re gonna get, and it’s likely to get worse, not better, as the chain gods choose not to renew the leases at their under-performing stores here . . .

  4. john says:

    Exactly… ugly, pedestrian unfriendly, etc. Would only feel comfortable going there if I drove a oversized Suburban, which I fortunately don’t have.

    StLouisans continue to accept lower quality. Even the developments in the urban core (Promenade, Galleria, Boulevard, Brentwood Square) are deficient in many respects. They’re designed for autoholics and no not represent new urbanism.

    Of course when local elceted leaders only care about sales tax revenues this is what you get. Just imagine how ugly this will get when shoppers realize there are better alternatives.

  5. Jason says:

    I actually rode the bus here to the eye doc yesterday, and I thought the same thing about the trash by the bus stop. For such a busy stop why doesn’t Walgreens provide a trash can(since Metro or Wall won’t). It would help the anemic appearance of the area in front of the store.

    You are right about trying to walk this place. I cut through the two foot landscaped area to get into the shopping center from Kingshighway since I couldn’t find a nearby sidewalk to get in. The distance b/w the Starbucks and the ‘strip mall’ are daunting for a pedestrian. Even worse the Southtown Centre is already losing retailers with the Fashion Guys moving to Sarah and Lindell. Two years and still nothing going on here, someone needs to be held accountable. I imagine this place becoming more vacant after some leases run out and the tenants run to the more appealing Loughborough Commons Sprawl Centre.

  6. DeBaliviere says:

    As a North Hampton resident (I live roughly halfway between Hampton and Kingshighway), I rarely ever visit this shopping center. Aside from PetsMart, it has added virtually nothing to the neighborhood in terms of shopping ammenities and certainly is no better than the strip mall on the south side of Chippewa where Walgreens was previously located (perhaps that center could be demoed and redeveloped in a more urban fashion). The demographics in the neighborhood are favorable enough to support a Borders, Old Navy, etc. (during the whole K-Mart debacle, I seem to remember seeing stats that showed our demographics being quite similar to those of the Lindbergh/Watson intersection in Sunset Hills), so why has DDR not been able to lure these prize tenants?

  7. Matt says:

    I live exactly 3 blocks from this abomination, oh so slightly closer than Debaliviere. I rarely shop here even though it is a few feet closer (Literaly only a few feet closer) than Hampton Village, but there is just nothing there for me besides Office Max, and every once in a while Cold Stone. Even thiough I am so close, I have only felt the urge to walk once, and only have ridden my bike a couple of times. As much as I hate to say it, I drive because it is such a pain to walk to.

    On the other hand, while still suburban in nature, I have no problem riding my bike down to Target.

  8. DeBaliviere says:

    Exactly. While I don’t like the design/layout of Southtown Center one bit, I would be able to accept it if it had some decent tenants.

  9. Brandon says:

    Wasn’t the original proposal for this site a bit more urban than the result we see now? I remeber seeing renderings a few years back for it. Then again, it may have just been what the community desired for and not that of the developers.

    Heck, as stated above, even auto-happy Hampton Village is a vast improvement over this. But much of it was built when pedestrians still had SOME thought in the design process.

  10. anon says:

    DDR, the developer, is milking a TIF they received at Southtown in negotiated settlement for the city not permitting Kmart to build on the site.

    However, unlike St. Louis Marketplace, the Southtown TIF is guaranteed by the developer, not the city. Pretty soon, DDR will have to lower their rents.

    Maybe then they will sign some leases. For the time being, they’re holding out as long as possible for the highest possible lease rate they can get.

  11. Mike Wissinger says:

    I was at several of the Southtown metings, and the final design doesn’t have much in common with the concensus recommendations that I remember. As I recall, we were really hoping for mixed-use with sidewalk-facing commercial along kingshiway, mirroring and improving upon the existing structures on the west side. Since the developer was hoping to put in one big box and call the job done, I guess they considered this to be a concession to the people. Despite missing the point of the requests completely, they probably blame us meddling activist types for the failure to fill space.

  12. jeff says:

    I had an image in my mind of your head exploding when you read his comments. Sitting at the breakfast table, reading the article, heart rate slowly increasing, face getting red, palms getting sweaty, and then, just as he expresses his thoughts on foot traffic, your head spontaneously combusts, a la a cartoon, or the Kentucky Fried Movie.

  13. citysighter says:

    Walgreens does not deserve a “C” for “a couple of decent pedestrian connection points.” Why not? Walgreens neglected to stripe the parking spot that the pedestrian connection point leads to. Cars always parked in that spot and blocked the way of any pedestrian who tried to use the accessway.

    Walgreens striped the parking spot a month or so after I sent them an email. I’d give them a “D” for having to be told to do the obvious.

  14. Douglas Duckworth says:


    1. People of all socioeconomic status need food, school supplies, etc.
    2. If the area was a draw then perhaps people of higher socioeconomic status would move into walking distance (assuming this place was completely redesigned and pedestrian friendly).

    Demographics are not the biggest concern, as it is design. An excellent design will attract residents as it is cheaper and more fun to walk one block than to drive a car. An excellent design would attract many exciting shops as well which would then attract residents who like those shops.

    The design is the reason this has failed not the demographics.

    Our aldermen and planners need to pressure developers to conform to urban standards and in many cases go above and beyond them. With a revolutionary design these areas could see new residents and more interest.

    We must make the City a huge contrast from the suburbs. Why would residents from the County move here if it looks the same but has bad schools and more crime?

  15. Joe Frank says:

    I think the funny-looking thing on the corner in front of Walgreens is meant to be a bus shelter.

    Not that I’ve ever seen it used as such, but for 10+ years there was no place to sit and wait for a bus at this busy transfer point, so I guess something is slightly better than nothing.

    I actually thought the pedestrian connections were a little better than most centers like this, especially that one from Chippewa to the OfficeMax and PetsMart, which are indeed the anchor stores. No driveway crossing necessary.

    We shop at Southtown Centre all the time, both at PetsMart (we have 5 cats and 2 dogs, after all!) and OfficeMax (much better location than the Office Depot further south off Kingshighway).

    Maybe they should get the post office moved off Ridgewood into there. Although the old Walgreens across Chippewa near Shop N Save would be a better spot — that little strip center is really, really dead now.

    Unfortunately, with both Chippewa and Kingshighway being very busy streets, and Chippewa not as wide here, on-street parking seems unlikely. Those two very wide streets are the main obstacle to pedestrian access; although, yeah, the driveway entrances don’t help much. As for the neighborhood to the east on Beck: those are very long, very deep blocks, surrounded by commercial/industrial areas to the north, east, and west. You wouldn’t get much pedestrian traffic from there regardless of the design, I think.

    Even though Southtown Famous-Barr itself was placed right up the corner sidewalk, it still had a huge parking lot in back, plus the tunnel connecting to more parking across Chippewa (about where Applebee’s and Steak N Shake are now). It was an interesting hybrid of suburban and urban design. Actually, it was considered a “suburban” store by Famous, along with Northland, when opened in 1951. Remember, a lot of the houses a few blocks west of this location were built in the 1940s and 50s.

    [UR Actually Joe, I observed a number of people walking in the area to the north and east of the project. The area has a number of houses and easily connects to things happening along Morganford. All are potential customers. Some vacant land right there would have made excellent places for townhouses or condos if they were adjacent to an asset of a shopping center rather than a liability.

    The thing as a bus shelter is amusing as the bus stops on both streets are not near corner so it really can’t serve that function.

  16. Mike says:

    Very funny write-up. I don’t agree with you on Loughborough Commons, but this thing is a disaster.

    The more important thing is how do you stop these things before they happen in the future. Here’s hoping that we find a way.

  17. Johnpaul says:

    I could go on and on about this abomination. Nice presentation.

    The only decent thing that can be said of the developer is that they have done a pretty decent job of keeping the H&R Block’s, the Check cashing joints and other predatory businesses out of the center. (with the exception of Walgreen’s)They still allow however, a clothing store complete with bars on the window at night. I mean, come on, it is 2006…get an alarm…get a camera… do they really need bars on the windows to prevent someone from breaking in and stealing their overpriced durables. Maybe they do and maybe I am naive, but it is still a hell of a thing. When I see bars on the windows I think “ghetto”

    Plus, where is my Del Taco and my Buffalo Wild Wings that was advertised on the signs out front for a year prior to the development being “developed”? Oh that’s right, Walgreens needed to leave the building across the street empty as they do in so many places.

    Thanks again Walgreens. You continue to piss me off.

    Steve you got my vote for BOSL, but that “newspaper” is still a P.O.S.

    One more thing: I work with a few people that are closely involved with PetSmart and the word was that this particular PetSmart had the biggest Grand Opening revenue of any PetSmart in the country.

    I think it is also common knowledge that the Kingshighway Home Despot is the busiest in the metro area. Second is South County.

    That being said, the demo is ripe.

  18. Mike says:

    Is that true about the Kingshighway Home Depot?

    I go there because it is close, but service at that place is awful, even for a big box store.

  19. StL_Stadtroller says:

    Johnpaul – I think you’re confusing “busiest” with “crappiest/slowest service”
    The HD only LOOKS busy because it takes 30-40 minutes to get through the check-out lanes there. I often find it faster to drive all the way out to the H-D in Brentwood.

    And as for PetSmart, we no longer shop there due to the constant, large volume of dead fish in the tanks, lack of maintenance care, and cruel storage/treatment of the Betta fish in these stores.

    Anyway, back to “Southtown”….
    Steve’s comments hit the nail on the head. This place is an absolute joke. Nay, a total MOCKERY of the area.

    Instead of a better-connected street grid where Beck could be opened to Kingshighway (and the new traffic signals there) we get people cutting through on my street – Tholozan – and tearing up the 25mph limit street at 50mph to bypass the intersection at Chip/Kings. Including tractor-trailers. About 2x a year I’ll come home to find a cop staked out in front of my hosue and watch as he nails dozens of folks one after another. Good fun.

    Instead of Ridgewood connecting through to Tholozan we get a back alley that only serves for cargo loading and trash dumpsters (which can’t be placed in the stalls correctly for some reason).

    Even AUTO access from the Beck/Ridgewood corner is awkward.

    And gee Wally, we got us a new Walgreens! In fact, we gots FOUR of the damned things all within about a mile of each other. how many are acually open 24hrs? Who is shopping at these aboninations so much to keep them all in business???

    I think about it over and over, and yet I still fail to see why we could not have gotten something more like S. Grand with parking in back and busineses facing Kings/Chip. put the ADA parking on the street in front. Regular parking, bike racks, scooter stalls etc all out back with room to spare.

    I live right up the street from this place yet rarely walk there. Sometimes I get in the car and drive there w/out even realizing that d’oh, I could have WALKED!! Yet I regularly walk to the AutoZone, Uncle Bills, etc. It’s all about access.

    What’s with that mess of weeds at the end of Beck and the creepy vactant lot at Ridgewood/Tholozan? Why is there nothing but a pile of rubble alongside PetDumb? Why hasn’t Beck (presumably a major entrance connector since there’s a brand-new traffic signal) been re-surfaced in the last 25 years or so?

    I feel like Woody Guthrie… Why oh why, oh why? Because Because Because.

    If I were on Star Trek I’d beam the whole damned thing to the Moon and make them start over until they got it right.

  20. Matt says:

    I fogot to mention this in my original reply, but I’m glad you pointed out the sidewalk that dumps directly into the Starbuck’s Drive Thru and railing. That was literally the very first thing I noticed the first time I went to Cold Stone. I just stood there and stared for a moment. Then I laughed at the complete lack of planning. And it wasn’t a good laugh. It was one of those if they had only thought for just a moment laughs.

  21. Adam says:

    beam? i think you mean photon torpedos. that place deserves no less.

  22. Jason Toon says:

    Thank you! I work a couple of blocks from Southtown Centre and walk there sometimes to get something from Walgreen’s or whatever. The ugly, dangerous “design” (har har) of this place makes me think the company that “designed” (tee hee) this abortion should start drug-testing their employees. I certainly can’t make any sense of the logic behind this place – not when I’m sober, at least.

    As somebody who’s just old enough to have gone to the Southtown Famous a lot as a kid – bought school clothes there, ate onion soup with my mom, caught the bus out front, the whole bit – I’ve always thought this development was a tragedy. Another huge hole blown in the city I love, for no good reason. Another sucking wound.

    So who’s running against Gregali? Any takers here?

  23. susan says:

    When Mr. Gregali says Southtown Centre has great demographics, exactly what does he mean? Who are the targeted shoppers supposed to be?

  24. equals42 says:

    I hate to admit I’m waiting for the new Loughborough Commons Lowes to open so I can never shop at that Home Depot again. The service is horrible and the management is more interested in short-sighted gains in their bonuses than long-term profits. My father still manages a Home Depot in Los Angeles. The little things that make Lowes pleasant like shopping carts that actually role are discretionary spending on the part of the manager. How messed up are the carts at the Kinghighway Home Depot?

    The manager has to obey staffing level mandates from corporate which explains the complete lack of employees in any section you might actually have questions. [Notice the profit centers are always overstaffed? The credit desk always has some goofball ready to help you fill out a credit application.] If this really has the highest sales in the metro area, the manager is phoning it in. I predict the sales rankings will change soon when Lowes opens.

  25. Markr says:

    I had an off line communication with Steve, But there are still things that do not make sense to me. I have trouble understanding how a city alderman be it Villa or Gregali or any one of them has so much influence that they alone are the king Pins to changing how planning and development take place in projects in theie appointed ward areas. I mean, Matt Villa does not prosper because he lets a pour design go through. I guess if he starts to make demands of the developers they could in turn take their money and leave but wait, don’t the developers also want to ensure that the project is a complete success? Why are they not interested in good community friendly design and planning. I know this is all more expensive(maybe)on the front end but I would think the long term payoff would be in the developers best interest. Would Matt Villa have lost votes if the deal at Loughborough commons fell through because he tried to impose some expensive planning standards? There seems to be more to the politics. I would really like to see the entire money trail. I believe it is much more complex than just educating Villa, Gregali or the entire Board. It is kind of like the BJC lease of Forest Park property.. the details are always much more complex that what hits the printed pages.

  26. Jason says:

    Steve- Thanks for covering this. The only reason that there is nobody in this place is because they spelled “center” wrong. Just kidding…

    I was saying the exact same thing as many when reading that article. Back in the day, the neighborhood groups and residents were up in arms about a big box retail coming to the site. They successfully thwarted the K-mart just in time for them to go bankrupt (probably helped the chain in the end) There were some beautiful renderings of street fronting retail and smaller parking areas, almost similar in feel to the area across from the Galleria now. I am not sure when the design changed, maybe the neighbors had their backs turned when the final site plan was submitted. I do remember them saying two smaller anchors would be in the development instead of one big box retailer, but HEY they kept the same footprint and just put a wall down the middle. That was difficult. I am sure they were laughing the entire time. Well. Now they realize what crappy design gets you. Had the place been a little more thought out and better designed I am sure there would be more stores now. Why quizno’s took the far end like they did, I have no idea. Anyway… I take you back to Cross Keys. Go to Florissant and check it out. You can do big box and make it look nice. It helps if you have some more upscale anchors too. The borders up there has got some good detail on the exterior.

    As a side note- Steve you might want to get by Loughborough Commons today. they are pouring curbs at the entrance and I didnt see any curb cuts for access. Maybe they just hadn’t gotten that far yet.

  27. Jason says:

    Well, after a little searching I found the following…


    Archives of the stores that promised to move into the site. Note Marshalls, Pier 1, Chevys, etc..



    Archives relating the fight against the Big-K.


    Tiny rendering and good article- one of my favorite sites…

    Thats all I got. Didnt pick any of your old posts Steve- I thought you could link those yourself if you wanted to.


  28. Anon#4 says:

    The last post clearly shows that the end product at Southtown looks nothing like what the community wanted.

    It looks like the design of a civil engineer working with a calculator and protractor in the back offices of DDR, not one off the desk of a site planner or architect.

    You have to wonder how much more successful the project would be now if the developer would have listened to some community feedback.


  29. Johnpaul says:

    In regards to my earlier comments about Home Depot and PetSmart just let me say this:

    I work with the Banfield Pet Hospital in Brentwood. The Vet there was asked to open a Banfield in the Southtown PetSmart, and he declined because his plate was full and also, apparently, the PetSmart folks scared him away by discussing “questionable demographics” so he did not do it. This is why the store there is smaller than other PetSmarts (they had no faith in it) and it took a year or so longer to get a Banfield in the store. When I heard the Doc had considered opening the Banfield in Southtown I talked to him a little about it. It was during this discussion that he told me about the record setting Grand Opening of the store. Now, whether or not the store is still doing great numbers is questionable, but I find it hard to believe that people are resorting to buying dog food at Target again since PetSmart is so convenient.

    As far as Home Depot goes I learned that the South Kingshighway store is the busiest from a manger at the South County store. He claimed, and I have no reason to not believe him, and every reason to believe him, that this store has the highest revenue in the metro area, followed by South County. Incredibly, he told me that although the California stores are collectively the busiest stores, the busiest in the country is Fairbanks, Alaska.

    I agree the service is horrible and I certainly avoid that dump at all costs, choosing instead Virginia Hardware or Hanneke on the hill when I can. But you have to figure that their customer base stretches far north until the St.Charles Rock road store becomes closer to people. East, all the way to the river. South until Linbergh and Lemay Ferry becomes closer and West until Hanley or Sunset Hills becomes closer. It is a huge area that the store services.

    I regretfully, am also looking forward to the Lowe’s Opening. This will level a drastic blow to the Home Depot.

  30. Jim Zavist says:

    I’ve been doing commercial architecture for 3 decades, working with both developers and tenants, both locally and elsewhere in the country. So when I question the demographics of an area, don’t take it personally. Retailers, especially large, successful ones are pretty dispassionate when it comes to numbers – they either “work” or they don’t. These guys are investing millions of dollars opening and running stores, and they are all about the money. And just because a certain corner (likely) won’t work for, say, an Old Navy, doesn’t mean that it won’t work for another tenant.

    Retail, especially chain retail, follows pretty predictable patterns. The traditional mall is anchored by several department stores and has a food court with an Orange Julius. They draw from a population base of x, and you won’t see another one opening nearby unless the current one is either on a downward slide and/or the suburbs further out are growing and the new mall can intercept those shoppers. Destination retailers, like Bass Pro Shops, have only one place in town. Big boxes and smaller chains like being near each other, so you end up with our hated suburban power centers like Gravois Bluffs or out in Chesterfield. All these types are regional draws, want to be on major highways (so a lot of people can get to them relatively easily), and because the” cost of entry” is so high, you don’t see a lot of local businesses. (For an expanded explanation, check out the trade journal’s blunt assessment at http://retailtrafficmag.com/mag/retail_chains_gang/index.html.)

    Step down a notch and you get the typical strip shopping center anchored by a grocery store at the intersection of two major surface streets. They draw from a much smaller area (several neighborhoods), a mile or two in diameter, and are the home to a different type of chain, usually franchised (Subway, UPS store, etc.), and more than a few local businesses, like cleaners, insurance agents and hair cutting places. ItÂ’s not unusual to see competing centers on adjacent corners anchored by the traditional local players in the grocery business (here, itÂ’s Schnucks, Dierbergs and Shop-and-Save). These are what the demographics say will work in places like most suburbs and in many parts of the city like south city, and this is what you get. ItÂ’s also what a lot of Aldermen seem to want, since itÂ’s what they know (or believe) their constituents want and because they are actually doable in many cases.

    Step down another notch and you get into the Walgreens, and the “hermit crabs” of the world, places like Save-a-Lot, Hobby Lobby and Big Lots, who move into vacated grocery stores and declining strip centers. You sometimes start seeing Office Depot/Office Max/Staples looking at these locations IF there’s a certain level of business activity in the area. You can also see storefront churches, government offices and workout gyms if the center’s owners are getting really desperate.

    Finally, you get down to the Convenient Food Marts, the Huck’s and the QT’s of the world. They’re slowly but surely replacing the corner gas stations and the truly neighborhood businesses out there. In many areas, these vacant stores are being replaced by local restaurants – whether this is a good or bad thing is a matter of personal opinion. Bottom line, as Pogo said, “I have seen the enemy and he is us.” Businesses open with optimism and close when they don’t (or no longer) make money. Krispy Kreme should’ve worked in downtown Clayton, but it closed a month ago, maybe a year after it opened. Anyone around for more than a few years can name a multitude of local businesses “that used to be there”. If we want more local business, we need to spend our money with them. And if we don’t want chain business, we just need to vote with our feet. WalMart may be reviled by neighborhood activists of many stripes, but they always seem to be making a ton of money after they open!

    As for “good design”, trust me, chain retailers are much more interested in the numbers than in the quality (or the lack thereof) in the architecture. And the bigger the draw the “name” is, the less they care what the box they’re in looks like. They want their image (signs, graphics, colors) to be visible, they want the inside to be like every other store in the chain and they want customers (traffic counts, parking spaces, other stores to create a synergy). The chain’s leasing folks pick the site, we architects make it work, whether it’s a stand-alone suburban structure, a new lifestyle center, an existing mall or an urban storefront. If the square footage is right, the exposure good and the number of real or potential shoppers above a certain threshold, they want to talk. If not, they don’t want to waste their time. Retail is all about risk, and the last thing most retailers want to do is think too far outside the box, both literally and figuratively.

    Which, in a very roundabout way, gets us back to Southtown. The intersection of Chippewa & Kingshighway is not much different than the intersections of Grand & Chippewa, Hampton & Chippewa, Watson & Laclede Station, Manchester & Brentwood, Manchester & McCausland, etc., etc. It may be a neighborhood focal point, but it’s certainly no regional draw (nor would most of us want it to be). These days, it may be able to support a grocery store and the ancillary strip mall, but it likely won’t support a “department” store like Kohl’s, Old Navy, Sears or JC Penney. Do these places have or want to be in the general area? Yes, but they want to be “where their friends are”. The general area around both the Galleria and the South County Mall are examples of this dynamic. You have a regional mall. You have big boxes, everything from Best Buy to Borders to PetsMart. You have multiple chain restaurants. You have a Target. And they’re all relatively successful. City people will drive “this far”, but probably won’t drive much further to patronize these chains. Country people have to drive further, and since the stores are right off major freeways, they can actually find them. And because they’re all in one place, you get a synergy of impulse buying, an ability to comparison shop and just a general level of excitement or buying frenzy that seems to make people more willing to spend money.

    Traditional downtowns used to have this excitement. Some, like Chicago and New York, still do, St. Louis does not. Ballpark Village has the potential to bring in some new spark, but it won’t be traditional retail. Kingshighway is a lot like Manchester Road, only on a much smaller scale. It’s a surface street that has, in many ways, seen better days. It still has a lot of retail, but it’s not the highest quality. It serves a local market, and because there’s a lot of existing, older real estate, the rents are lower than what would support a major reinvestment. The newer centers further out draw from a larger trade area, the ever-expanding suburbs – they capture the folks who live outside 270 as well as those of us who live “inside the beltway”. This is truly a case of having to adapt or die. This isn’t all bad, either, if it’s treated as an opportunity to both identify and to cater to the needs of the local community. Grocery stores are always good. So would be day care. What about some ethnic restaurants? Copying someone else rarely is a recipe for success. Being unique is! And, unfortunately, it isn’t all about the urban and architectural design, but it is all about product . . .

  31. dna says:

    I don’t know if I missed this in your piece, but when a car pulls in to the WalgreenÂ’s lot, if there is a lot of traffic coming out of the center (I guess we don’t need to worry about that every happening) the cars needing to make a left in to WalgreenÂ’s are blocked by vehicles waiting for the green light. I have witness some pretty pissed off driving in that center around the WalgreenÂ’s. It seems to me that even driving in or out of this center was poorly thought through.

    [UR – Great observation! I really didn’t touch on the awkwardness of the auto circulation but I have observed the same thing — thanks for brining up that point. I guess the architects & engineers behind this project didn’t make it work for anyone.]

  32. Adam says:

    The chain’s leasing folks pick the site, we architects make it work …

    jim, have you ever worked on a project for one of the big box retailers? i’m not trying to ambush you or anything, but if you have i have to ask why? i understand we all have to make a living. and you might say that if you don’t do it someone else will, but i feel like that same mentality keeps places like walmart making huge profits. “my not shopping there won’t make a difference, so i might as well shop there.”

    again no offense intended, just wondering.

  33. matt says:

    When i saw this photo (16th one down), i realized that this project is rather weak by recent exurban standards (lifestyle centers, etc) much less very basic urban design. most projects like this in the *suburbs* of northern midwestern cities and northern front range cities have much better pedestrian and even bicycle connections.

  34. Jim Zavist says:

    No, never for one of the big boys. Out in Colorado, I worked for the owners of one of the older traditional malls for a while (Southglenn), and have worked on multiple strip shopping centers, both there and here, in St. Charles County. The bulk of my work out there was rotating tenants in and out of existing structures, not building new ones. Other than a few houses, the only significant “new” structure I was involved with was a gym and theatre complex for a charter school I’d previously put into a vacant K-Mart (creative reuse + increased density).

    Yeah, I’m conflicted . . . I’ve come to peace with the fact that they’re going to get built with or without my input, and if I can make things a little bit better and/or raise the owners’ awareness even just a little bit, I’ve done something to improve the world. (Plus, I enjoy the pace and the challenge of helping close the deal.) Or to put it another way, would my not doing the work stop, slow down or improve the project? Hell no!

    That said, I still think the challenge is bigger than any of us, it’s about society. Something as simple as spending your money in the city where you live (so your sales tax dollars actually come back to you) can be difficult with the siren song of New! Better Selection! Better Prices! I may be getting cynical in my old age, but it still is very much a market-driven world out there. We complain about the loss the Hazelwood Ford plant while local imported car sales continue to climb. I regularly eat at the City Diner, Jackson’s and the Bottleworks and I also regularly eat at Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Penn Station. Am I a hypocrite or a savvy consumer? Do I like “variety” or “suburban crap”? Probably more than a little of both. Bottom line, it IS all about choice . . .

  35. Jim Zavist says:

    More thoughts & observations – There are really three entities that control development, the developer, the highway or the traffic engineer and the city/county. Most tenants are followers, not leaders. They don’t even look at a property until a for sale or for lease sign is out front.

    The developer is a major player (obviously). It’s the Golden Rule – he who has the gold rules. That’s why we in the design profession are limited in practicing what we preach – we like to eat and we like to solve problems, and developers are our clients.

    Traffic/highway engineers play a much bigger role than many people realize. Build a new freeway or just an off ramp and you open up a chunk of land for more intensive use, whther it’s a new shopping center or a new subdivision. They also impact things on a smaller scale. One reason Southtown isn’t doing better than it is is that access is a problem. There are two ways in, and the one on the north is both a “back door” and hard to navigate. On a slightly bigger scale, it’s a major reason the Marketplace on Manchester is rapidly fading. You can’t easily get to the “front door” on Manchester from Hampton on the east, I-44 on the south or I-64/40 on the north (unless you know where to make several turns). And on the east, Manchester is two lanes thru Maplewood – good for the businesses in Maplewood, but not so great if you’re trying to lure customers from further west THRU Maplewood. The opposite is true at centers that “work” The Brentwood/Galleria area has direct freeway access from three directions. Gravois Bluffs is at the intersection of two major roads, as is the South County Mall complex, plus they’re all actually visible from one or more major highways.

    Finally, you have the unholy alliance between the planning director and the elected officials. Most Planners “get it” and are trying to do the “right”/”better” thing. Most elected officials have no design background, and are at the mercy of what they’re told by the development community (more/new is better/gets you more taxes), their constituents (NIMBY/I want more services) and their budget staff (we need more taxes or you’ll have to cut services), and are, in many cases, deathly afraid of scaring off a potential project, so they’re willing to set a pretty low bar when it comes to design. It’s only in wealthy areas (Ladue, Town & Country, etc.) or in areas experiencing rapid growth (Denver, Naples, FL., etc.) do you find officials willing to risk a short-term loss of a project (and its taxes) and are willing to wait for something better / more appropriate.

    The final part of the equation are the intangible things that generate success. North County and South County Malls are about the same age. Both have good access, but one area’s thriving and one’s on the verge of closing. South Town is a mile from Hampton Village. South Town should be doing better than a, what, 40-50-year-old center a mile away, but it’s not. The tenant mix is similar, as is the access. The only explanations are demographics, management and fear. Having a richer community means there’s more money to be spent. Good management includes keeping the stores well-stocked, clean and staffed by motivated employees. And fear is a tough one – we know our own neighborhoods, but we hear way too much about shootings elsewhere. The perception of crime, not the reality, can do a lot to kill retail anywhere, and it’s one thing the city can do to improve our neighborhoods. Crime happens. It’s the sensational, the repetetive and the unsolved that really do damage. The best mall in Denver had some car jackings and assaults in their parking garage. It was made a priority for the police to address, and the capture of suspects was well publicized.

    [UR – As is typical with us, I’m going to agree with part and disagree with other parts of what you said.

    In this case it really was a developer and the city (Ald. Gregali) that determined what was built as a traffic engineer wasn’t really involved by locating a highway off ramp.

    I agree with you on access only if you are trying to create a regional draw. Southtown, due to its inner location, should have served only as a local draw — those that would reach it via surface streets. Also, Southtown is different than Hampton Village in that everyone is accustomed to HV whereass there is nothing about Southtown to attract them — either via tenant mix or design.

    Had the 10-11 acres of Southtown been designed from an urban perspective with streets, sidewalks and mixed uses — connecting to adjacent residential streets — a different synergy could have been created.

    You are right that the developer will not do such a thing on their own — they must be forced. Some exceptions do exist, these are often in the form of architects/planners turned developers so they no longer rely on that crutch of saying they just do what the developers say.

    Also, I believe that other cities are able to insist on better design in part because they are experiencing more growth — at the same time they are getting more growth because better design is improving the quality of life (or at least the perception thereof). ]

  36. Scott says:

    I moved to the city about a year ago because I thought it would be more interesting and funner than the county because you could walk places and admire neat designs of buildings and now that I live here I find that the new shopping centers and new buildings they are building are just as uninteresting and boring as the suburbs. If wanted to live in the county I would have stayed in the county. I believe the city should be in example of the urban form and not change it for any developer. I like to walk places and would much prefer this over driving any day the city needs to get its act together.

  37. Jim Zavist says:

    HV proper has 4 or 5 ways in off of Hampton and Chippewa, as does the new Target, and the Walgreens has 2. And I’ve ignored all backside delivery drive aisles.

    ST has only one access point off Chippewa for everyone, none directly off of Kingshighway, plus that back entrance off Kingshighway via Beck, and you can thank a traffic engineer for that decision. Yes, it’s good for keeping traffic moving on the adjacent streets. No, it’s not good for enticing peole into shop.

    As I said earlier, I’m no big fan of the suburban feel of ST, and from the pictures I’ve seen of the Famous store, that was BIG loss from the urban environment. And yes, more urban would’ve been / perhaps will be a much better for the long haul – someone just opted for the quick-buck, bird-in-hand solution this time around . . .

    And Scott, while I feel your disappointment, we all need to remember that what was typically being built in the 1920’s along streetcar lines differs from what was typically being built in the 1950’s along four- and six-lane arterials and differs from what is now being built along our interstates . . . commercial architecture IS a reflection of its time and place. Sure there will always be better examples when there’s money available to “throw at the problem” – Country Club Plaza in KC is one great example, Water Tower Place in Chicago is another, as are the Festival Marketplaces that Rouse built in the ’70’s and ’80’s in Boston and Baltimore.

    Mediocre, suburban, “crap”, boring architecture IS a tough call. It all gets back to the dollars and selling the sizzle, not the steak. What actually would be better at South Town right now? What’s there or a vacant lot? Personally, I’d rather see a shopping center that’s doing well than either a vacant lot or a nearly-vacant, older shopping center, like what’s across the street. And, yes, I’d love to see a true urban / New Urban / CWE-type of development there, but obviously, the numbers simply didn’t work, whick gets back the original question – new and mediocre OR a vacant lot? Tough choice . . .

  38. GMichaud says:

    Jim Zavist
    I have enough of a background in both architecture and development to know that the choice at Southtown is not between the new and mediocre or a vacant lot. Most developers do stick with formula development, it’s easy and the standards are extremely low, as Steve Pattersons presentation shows so well.
    I’ll run a few ideas by you to indicate some potential ways to increase revenue with a more urban approach.
    1. Integration of mass transit, this is a major intersection, a major transit stop would make the propery more useful both socially and financially. The potential to use transit for the enhancment projects is almost completely ignored.
    2. Once you have good transit connections it opens up the possibility of including eldery housing and housing for people who just need to get around safely and cannot or do not wish to drive.
    3. Add an additional 2 stories to these ground floor buildings for rental units, condos or offices.
    4. Creation of market square or public space for vendors and other events for promotion of the location.
    These are a few conceptual ideas. I admit it could chase someone like Walgreens away, but good architectural design would overcome such a loss, and perhaps convince Walgreens to think a in different way.
    The biggest challenge in St. Louis is to overcome the momentum of formula development that is suburban based. Companies like Walgreens will eventually be made to conform to the urbanized environment, and they will accept that verdict after they see they have no choice.
    It may be that the solution will have to come from someone building such a development to prove that it works. Projects have already been built in this manner in other cities, so there is already proof that you don’t need suburban solutions to be successful in an urban environment.
    The change may also be forced by global warming or massive shortages of oil. This will probably happen if we don’t change our ways in the near future.
    Ultimately, Walgreens, Schnucks, Office Max and the rest of the mass market retailers are simply lazy, they just want to plug their mindless formula in over and over because they imagine that is how you make money. The result is the Southtown Centre.
    The numbers will work for a well designed project, that I am certain of. Mediocrity is not an option.

  39. Jim Zavist says:

    I like the concept – unfortunately, mediocrity is the end result IF our elected officials accept it . . . they have the final say on what gets built . . .

  40. Maurice says:

    I would agree that the Southtown project is below anyone’s expectations. A failure on all levels. Starbucks, Petsmart and Cold Stone are the biggest draws,and probably in that order. But they can’t do it alone. I have walked there many times and have to come into the area fom behind it. It is not the best. Plain and simple.

    It should be noted that the garden at the end of Beck and Ridgeview behind the project is maintained by ONE individual who cares about her neighborhood and her street. I can only imagine what that would look liek without her care.

    As for the HD> IT is easy to be the highest in sales dollars when there is no competition. Wait till Lowes opens. HD iS IN FOR A SURPRISE

  41. Jason Toon says:

    Yes, I’d rather see a vacant lot there than Southtown Centre. At least then, there’d be some chance that a decent development would be built there during my lifetime. Now that whole parcel is out of commission for redevelopment for decades.

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