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The New QuikTrip at Gravois & Chippewa Should Be An Urban Prototype

The general consensus is the relocation of an existing QT from the Bevo area up the street to the wedge at Gravois & Chippewa is OK. Assuming that to be these case, let’s discuss the design options for the site.

But it is a gas station you say, implying options to do not exist for the site layout. After all, everyone knows you place the building as far back on the site and put all the pump islands out front. What is to debate?

Well, that very assumption!

Yes, I’m calling for QT to build an urban gas station like those required in other cities around the world. Not only are the design options interesting and more urban, it makes better use of the land which can return higher profits. Here is the basic argument: flip the typical site plan around — put the building next to the street and the pumps in back.

First, let’s see just how wasteful QT is with land development.

Existing QT on Gravois at PestalozziAt we can see from the existing QT to the east on Gravois they have made little attempt to maximize the site. As a result, a very large land area that was originally many smaller parcels is reduced to only serving one function: the QT. This is not an urban model and is well suited to far suburban areas but not in an urbanized city environment.

But this post is not about what they did wrong at this site and what it could look like if rebuilt. I’m showing the example at right to demonstrate wasteful site planning practices common among such entities as large gas stations.

Alternate QT for Gravois & ChippewaAt left is my crude diagram of the [proposed] site [at Gravois & Chippewa]. The teal color represents the canopy over the gas pumps with the red rectangle representing QT’s standard building design. The blue triangle represents an urban opportunity. Here is what I picture: a 2-3 story building with street-level retail and small living spaces above. These might be rental, perhaps condo? The building might be designed to create some live/work spaces. The building might end up being more than a single building.

What does all this change accomplish? Several things. First, an urban building at the corner reduces the visual impact of the gas station while still providing that service. The urban corner building also begins to place some “community” in the area where, according to Ald. Kirner, none exists. This would be an incremental step toward rebuilding what was once two highly pedestrian friendly urban corridors.

I am not calling for QT to design a special building to house their function —- I’m tolerant of the standard formula. They actually do a decent job of connecting their buildings to public sidewalks which could be easily accomplish in the site plan mockup I’m showing. And the urban building?

I’m guessing folks are going to say two things. One being there is no demand for either retail or living spaces in the area and second that QT is not in the business of building such buildings. True, demand may not exist at the moment or even five years. But if QT builds their facility in the manner I’m suggesting and plants some evergreen trees behind the building it certainly wouldn’t look any worse than coming down Gravois looking at nothing but gas pumps. As demand increases and say MetroLink ends up on Gravois or the tracks nearby then we are ready to do some urban in-fill without having to relocate or rebuild the QT — we’d be that much ahead. And I wouldn’t expect QT to build the building — I’d expect them to sell or lease the land. A non-profit housing group could lease the land from QT on a long term lease so that QT got a good tax write off and then build some smaller living spaces without any off-street parking. This would be great for those who either can’t drive or don’t want to drive. On-street parking could serve the retail spaces.

Think of this as land banking — we are saving this corner that might normally be wasted through typical sprawl planning and holding it until we are ready for something a bit more urban. To move the process along I’d favor some sort of tax incentives to QT so they could offer this land on the cheap to a developer that completed a structure that met some basic urban criteria. This could be a win for the city and QT.

– Steve


Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. travis reems says:


    I agree generally with your comments on this issue, but think the goal of the blue building is a little far reaching. The blue building would serve well as the QT space, and if you turn the teal structure 90 degrees so that it is perpendicular to the QT building it would work better with the existing curb cuts, which could all stay.

    [URWell, Travis, you’ve not justified why you think my blue building concept is “far reaching” and you’ve managed to suggest something that QT would actually never do — build an atypical retail building with entrances facing onto both public streets and their pumps. Also, they don’t place the island perpendicular to the building either. Curb cuts are significantly cheaper to alter than the other items you suggested. – SLP]

  2. Jim says:

    Do you have any examples of “an urban gas station like those required in other cities around the world”? Pictures help me learn.

    Also, in your alternate photo, isn’t there quite a bit of space still left there to use? When I originally heard about this, I assumed that the QT building would simply be built where the current buildings are at the car lot. The pump island would then lie perpendicular to the building so that Gravois and Chippewa drivers have equally easy access. This isn’t to attack your alternate, but that’s how I pictured it compared to your Gravois/Pestalozzi example, especially considering this land is a peninsula, and you don’t have to figure access for three streets of traffic.

    [URFunny you should ask about pictures, I am working on just such a post for tomorrow.

    I haven’t see an site plan from QT so I’m not sure exactly how they intend to layout the site. My guess is they will place their building to the west (backed up to those existing buildings on the left) with the islands roughly where I’ve shown it and the balance just being parking or big useless grass.

    Once we’ve seen their site plan we can begin to look at more urban tweaks. Check back tomorrow for some amazing images to help “envision” how streets can be transformed. – SLP]

  3. maurice says:

    and who will rent/but these shops and condos that you propose? Why would a business owner want to open a store where his traffic will be a 1/4 of what it is in a stip mall just down the street?

    And be realistic…who will want to live above a gas station overlooking a car lot? This isn’t the SSBank where you are 4,5, 6 stories above the noise.

    Be realistic steve.

    [URFirst, the “blue” building is a quite large space and could be 2-3 buildings or a single large building. The standard formula gas station building would be on the adjoining property. So, nobody would be living above a gas station.

    I’m not sure of the exact traffic counts on Gravois or Chippewa but I’d be willing to bet they are higher than the traffic going past the Penn Station sub shop at Gravois Plaza.

    And who would rent these places? Well, who is going to rent the places above the retail in Florida’s project for the current McDonald’s at Grand & Chippewa? Who rents the places above the stores on Grand? Who is buying the new places facing Grand across from Compton Heights? Not everyone wants a single-family detached house nor can everyone afford such a place. – SLP]

  4. Brady Dorman says:

    are the two photos of the same site? they look like very different sites? was your 2nd pic just an example site?

    [UR As indicated in the text, the first image is their location on Gravois to the east — an example of how wasteful they are when it comes to good site planning. The second image is the proposed site for a new QT where I’ve superimposed what I’d like to see happen. Hope that helps clarify. – SLP]

  5. Your Virtual Alderman says:


    I know how QT works. They have a prototype store they build over and over again. Well, actually it keeps expanding.

    But they’re not concerned about being “urban”.

    They’re concerned about branding their “offer”, parking *in front* of the store, lots of gas pumps, and “cutting off” competition.

    If anyone wants to see how they “fit” into a neighborhoood, just look at the faux “french ends” on the Gravois store near St. Francis DeSales.

    QT makes its name on service, cleanliness, convenience and beating the competition into the ground.

    “Urbanity” is nowhere in their mission statement.

    [UR Yes, you are correct. And what a lovely addition to our city? This is why I was sticking with a standard building type rather than push them into an urban building for themselves. You got me on visibility — they want gas pumps and all their glory to be highly visible as you drive down Gravois or Chippewa. – SLP]

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    Why not make the QT the “tenant” and expand the blue over the red?

    Better yet, why not bury the whole thing? Let QT have 90% of the site and use the remaining 10% for a parking ramp and a building lobby. Use all or part of the second floor for tenant parking and an exterior sign band. Put 3-6 floors of affordable housing wrapping around a courtyard with a pool.

    What QT really wants is visibility and easy access. The could care less what’s happening above +24′. Covering the whole gas island and parking area would actually be an advantage to them, as long as they can get the signage and corporate image they want.

    Sure, it’s a trade-off on the micro level – the ambiance for the pedestrian on that block would change little. The big positive change, on a more-macro scale, is that it would help recreate an urban corridor with substantial, multi-story structures lining the street edge. Plus, it would create a much more desirable residential component. Looking into a QT parking lot isn’t a great amenity. Watching people drive in and out of your building would help to contain the noise and light pollution, as well.

    [URExcellent, now we are into some creative thinking. Not sure how it would work to have gas pumps going within a building but I suppose with the right fire suppression system it could work. – SLP]

  7. Your Virtual Alderman says:


    Like I said, I know QT. They *are* a tenant.

    After they build a store, they sell it and lease it back from an investor.

    Like so many other retail operations, it is a predictable income stream provided by QT rental payments that undewrites the operation.

    QT builds a store according to the investment requirements of its takeout investors. By selling its stores, QT frees up cash to continue its expansion.

    The design you see in St. Louis is the same you will find in Kansas City, Atlanta, and Tulsa.

    They have scouted out the St. Louis area for years. They have “counted” the volume projections for prime corners, and based on projected “inside store” and gas sales, they know exactly how much they are willing to pay for any location.

    Originally they would not open stores in the City of St. Louis, not because of neighborhood oppostion or design requirements, but rather because of a city ordinance prohibiting the sale of alcohol and gasoline at the same location.

    Once they overcame that obstacle, QT started expanding at city location. Now QT is recognized as a leader in the gasoline and convenience store business.

    They outclass 7-11s by far. They “guarantee” their gasoline. And they have friendly, clean cut employees.

    Since the beginning, QT set a goal of building 100 stores in the St. Louis market. They are only about half way there.

  8. Jason says:

    Steve, I think you propose an interesting utopian view of what could become of the existing used car parking lot. In this case however I would have to disagree with your suggestions. While I would welcome such a development that you suggest, this intersection would probably look more odd with a building right at the corner than what is currently there today. I think it would almost look out of place since all the other sides do not have buildings fronting them. Also asking a corporation like QT to be sensitive to urban issues is almost a waste of time. You would probably have a better chance getting them to build a leed certified building (green building) putting solar panels on the huge flat roof of the gas canopy, and offering alternative fuels such as biodiesel and the like. Their MO (main objective) is to have a safe clean highly visible store. Your solution would take away the highly visible portion as well as the customer’s feeling of safety being in a very well lit open space right next to the road. The site that you pictured of their existing store has this feeling, as well as do the new sites they built at Loughborough and the one in Affton. They closed down the old Affton site and its still sitting vacant. This one was a more urban scheme that actually had some of the parking in the back with a second entrance. Granted the pumps were still out front, but it took up alot less real estate than the new prototype.

    The new location looks like it would be a prime place to give back something as almost a small park or fountain. Some trees and green space out front that you mentioned in your previous posts, while still orienting the building to capture views from all sides to satisfy their marketing objectives. I think trying to work with them in this manner would be more effective then trying to make them modify their protoype to fit an urban scheme that may be better suited for a different location (like their current Bevo store).

    [URIt really should be us, as a collective society, that determines our physical environment and not the wishes of a Tulsa corporation. BTW, you should see the size of the QT’s in Tulsa!

    I’ll agree that “asking” QT to be sensitive is likely a waste of time. We shouldn’t ask. We need to develop some guidelines and mandate them. If they want to profit in our market they’ll have to go along or hit the road. If they won’t, someone else will fill the void (see, free market ideas at work).

    I think you might be onto something with the green building concept, solar panels and alternate fuels. This could certainly be something we could require of future fueling stations.

    But back to the layout, if the blue building(s) is tiny then you are right, it would look weird. But if it was big enough it would be OK. In a few years another corner might get an infill building. In 20 years all four corners might be far more urban. You simply cannot say we should not build urban on one corner because they others are not there yet — change will never occur under that logic. -SLP]

  9. Maurice says:

    Steve, I agree with you in many aspects. However, with this QT property…They have a set design that they work with, just like Walgreens, Schnucks, Walmart…you name it, they have a style and brand all their own. That is why they are successful.

    Yes, the QT could be more envir. friendly with the use of solar panels, bio fuels available, etc. I give you that, and I’m sure that QT and the others are on top of it. When the demand for bio fuels is there, they will have a way to offer them.

    But don’t expect business (and people) to pour money into projects that they have no way to recoup. You do not go into business to give money away. You make money.

    The shops along grant are successful because they are independent shops offering an indiviual product. When you start mulitplying, you fail. So what I’m saying is that we need lots of small business people that have individual product to sell that their customers cannot get cheaper at Petsmart, Office Max, Sams, etc.

    In this day and age, it is extremely difficult for the small bus. to make it, it at all. And those that try need every advantage they can get..and that includes high traffic patterns (strip malls, busy streets, etc. AND parking)

    I know you have lofty thoughts, and somewhere in between Orwell’s ’84 and your vision is reality.

    I leave you with this: Look at Hartford Coffee. A wonderful small business coffee shop in a predominately residential neighborhood (but there are some other unique small businesses in the area as well). Many of your readers live in this area, right? And many of your readers would agre with you that we need more bike/ped. facilities, right? Yet how many of these same people drive the 1 or 2 or 3 blocks to get their cup of coffee?
    Why aren’t they walking? or riding their bikes? (I know, I know, some of them do, but not enough of them and that is my point…for everyone wanting sidewalks and bike lots, they want that as they drive pass in their cars.) You have to recognize that and allow that. Short of an immediate stoppage (not shortage) of oil, will people change.

    [UR OK, I appreciate your comment and perspective. You are very correct in that many people, myself included at times, drive to something I could easily walk or bike to. We are very conditioned to depend upon our car and it will take lots of work to break that. It make take a sudden jump to $10/gal for gas to make it happen but I hope not. This is why I advocate gradual change — one project at time. Through this slow process the transition is less painful.

    I was not the advocate of the solor panels although it really could be smart for them to consider such a use of the canpopy. They could actually sell the energy back to Ameren. Between the energy recovered and the good PR it might be feasible — at least on a test basis it would make sense.

    My proposal, if you read it again, was to use their standard building — no changes to it whatsoever. With each unique site they acquire they must place the building on the site — the site design process. This is where I am suggesting they consider placing the building in a manner different than their norm — but still the same building with their standard interior layout so that they don’t have to go back to the drawing board.

    The blue parcel might just be that for many years, a parcel of empty land. Someone might want to buy it in a year or it could be 10 years. But it would be there and ready.

    Many of the stores where I shop have only on-street parking. True, I’m not so conventional. But, some speciality retailers can survive without massive off street parking lots. Also, folks such as insurance agents, lawyers, real estate companies, chiropractors, dentists can often service their clients from on-street parking, access to mass transit or by being within walking distance.

    Living in the wedge could be ideal for someone that bikes, walks or uses mass transit as the location is very convenient to many locations. And, as I indicated, we could look at structuring local financial incentives so that it would become more feasible to develop the parcel in a more dense and urban fashion, allowing QT to take the risk. – SLP]

  10. Thomas says:

    Your Virtual Alderman: I’d like to buy you a beer. Even at QT. You’re my hero.

  11. Ted says:

    I saw a gas station similar to what you are proposing in Antwerp, Belgium. I wish I had taken a picture of it now. It fit into the street so well. It didn’t have all the parking that this site has, but it addressed the street while still functioning very well as a gas station.

    [UR – Well, just run back over there and snap a few. We’ll wait…. While we are waiting the point is the goals of profit for a gas station and a more pedestrian friendly environment are not mutually exclusive.]

  12. Ted says:

    On a side note…sort of, Antwerp and St. Louis, if just looking at the city, are very similar in terms of population density (if I did my calculations right), yet Antwerp has so much more street life than St. Louis. St. Louis has 349,000 people in 61 square miles and Antwerp has 470,416 people in 22,076 hectares (85 square miles). It is amazing how land use and transportation policies can make such a difference on a city.

  13. Jim Zavist says:

    Another aside – this is a real problem in search of a real solution. Trying to create an economic argument for a small grocery store every half mile is an academic exercise, at best. Heck, TOD assumes that transit stations should be a mile apart to balance walkability with functionality.

    The reality remains that good urban design can help steer some growth and direct and concentrate certain activites in more-desirable areas. Good design and good intentions, however, rarely creates the right (successful) environment for a specific activity without having the buy-in and support of the activity. “Build it and they will come” made for a great movie. It doesn’t make for great or wise investment in the urban fabric nd the public infrastructure.

    Bottom line, you can’t legislate success. You can give the entrepreneur some / more / better tools to build their business, but when someone has their own money on the line, they’re going to vote for (and invest in) the best financial outcome over any outside design influences.

    [UR Good form-based zoning can help guide the way to a common vision for the community.]

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    Maybe you can get a check cashing place into the blue building. Maybe Simple Pleasures would like a better location. 😉

    Unfortunately, the real challenge with your concept is simply no parking, not on site nor on the street for the blue building. I know, I know, in a perfect world, no one would drive. This ain’t a perfect world. No one in their right mind would open a business here without ANY parking, and it would likely be a tough sell for residential, but if the price were low enough . . .

    [UR – I’d have on-street parking on both Chippewa and Gravois. Any bus stops can be between drives for the QT, leaving on-street spaces near the storefronts for those running into those businesses. Make the blue space big enough and we can squeez in some parking in back between it and the QT building.]

  15. newsteve says:

    As I recall, one of your beefs with the McDonalds fiasco was the thought that the people who purchased homes directly behind the new McDonald’s site wouldnt want nor would they likely have purchased these homes had they known that they would be facing a well lit, oversized parking lot. Who will buy a condo with a monstrous, well lit, 24 hour convenience store/gas station in their back yard. Maybe there are people who would – it seems to me that in a commercial area there could be a more attractive urban type QT – but we live with this every day – maybe some trees and attractive landscaping – but a gas station is a gas station – they will always look like gas stations – well lit pumps in front of a building.

    [UR – Good question. The placement I am suggesting uses the QT building as a divider or “buffer” between the blue urban building and the actual gas pumps. I’m also thinking the building would be designed with units facing outward toward Gravois & Chippewa much like the apartments over retail along Grand and in other older urban areas. Back service entrances would back up to the QT.

    The real problem is that until the entire area was urbanized the units would face car lots. Single persons on more limited means are more willing to deal with some unsightly neighbors than someone buying a $200K single family detached home.]

  16. maurice says:

    Steve, I appreciate your response. I disagree with the solar panel thoughts though. I think that if more people used them, they c ould cut energy use. When I use to live in Phx, they had a program where you recieved tax credits AND the power company had to buy what you did not use. Unfortunately at that time, even with the incentives, they were too expensive for residential use.

    Technology has changed. I would love to see every one use some solar..either for power generation or water heating.

    [UR – Help me out, I don’t get what you disagree with about solar panels? You seem to be arguing in favor of having them based on what I am hearing. Technology is changing quickly. From a policy standpoint I don’t think we want to be mandating solar panels (well, not yet anyway). Rewarding their implimentation is quite another story. A green roof on the gas station canopy and the QT would be a nice alternative to solar panels.]

  17. JohnnyVirus says:

    The new QuikTrip at Chippewa and Gravios is a disappointment to me as well, considering they are trying to pick up characteristics of nearby 7-11’s by selling nachos and hot dogs with the option of putting chili and cheese on them. However, QuikTrip will charge you for using the chili and cheese option, while 7-11 provides that product/service option for free. Ha.

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