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Pyramid’s South Grand Land Swap Fiasco is Dead

John Steffen’s Pyramid Companies has thankfully been thwarted in their pursuit of mediocrity in areas outside of downtown. The plan, hatched long ago with the full support of Ald. Jennifer Florida, was to allow McDonald’s to construct a suburban-ish drive-thru restaurant on the site of the former Sears store on South Grand. In turn, Pyramid would get to build some senior housing on the current McDonald’s site.

A long battle ensued with a strong and effective grassroots campaign to halt the drive-thru from encroaching into the Gravois Park Neighborhood. On June 21, 2006, however, it looked as though the campaign had lost — the city’s Board of Adjustment denied the neighbors appeal on the variance for the drive-thru. Steffen’s lackeys from Pyramid had a smug look on their face as the ruling went in their favor. Ald. Florida, wisely, wasn’t present. But it seems the whole deal unraveled after that.

The blame is on the deed restriction on the property which reads:

Grantee, by the acceptance of this Deed, agrees, as a covenant running with the land, that the Property shall not be used for retail sales purposes, except that, notwithstanding the foregoing, a portion of the Property may be used for retail sales purposes provided that in no event shall more than fifteen thousand (15,000) square feet of floor area in the aggregate on the Property be used for retail sales purposes and in no event shall any single store, business or other commercial occupant on the Property use more than two thousand (2,000) square feet of floor area on the Property for retail sales purposes. This foregoing use restriction shall be binding on the Grantee and the successors and assigns of Grantee forever.

This restriction on the property has been in place since Pyramid acquired it as part of the Keystone Place project. Such restrictions are typical for stores such as Sears to place on property so a competitor could not take over the building. When the area was in Craig Schmid’s ward, the decision was made to raze the store. This, in hindsight, was a major mistake. But back to the restriction, this was fully known to Pyramid and likely Florida and McDonald’s as they worked on this plan at least since late 2004. Pyramid and McDonald’s are far to experienced in development to have not known and considered the restriction. Most likely, they assumed they’d be able to get away with building it and Sears likely would not have pressed any issue or even known about it. But, it was the adjacent residents that are part of the Keystone Place development, also on former Sears land, that may have had a leg to stand on in court to enforce the restriction. They — Pyramid, Florida and McDonald’s — knew a legal challenge was possible.

So today we have a closed McDonald’s down the street from a closed Burger King. Over on Kingshighway we’ve got a closed Wendy’s and over at Gravois & Jefferson another closed Burger King. Doesn’t look like the city should bank on these high-debt franchises for our future. It is unfortunate the individuals working in these establishments are likely unemployed now. Tax wise things will go on. The city residents that ate at all of these establishments will not stop eating all of a sudden. They will visit other restaurants like Arby’s, Subway or Taco Bell. Or perhaps one of our fine locally owned restaurants. We will still collect the sales tax — it will just come from different places. And hopefully those that worked at the closed places can find work at the others that will handle the additional customers.

Lucas Hudson writes for the ACC about the owner of the McDonald’s franchise that just closed:

He was demonstrative in pointing out what kind of businesses are taking over the area– across the street there are a couple of no-name markets, a non-descript car detaling place that used to be a licensed Firestone branch, and the omnipresent legalized theivery of Rent a Center.

Interesting. Perhaps he is unaware of the condos going into the former Southside National Bank? And while the street has some “no-name” markets what is wrong with that? If you are not a chain place your name is worthless? Conversely, the German-chain Aldi’s next door to McDonald’s isn’t exactly small potatoes. And did the McDonald’s franchise owner (or Lucas for that matter) stop to think that just maybe the McDonald’s chain itself has contributed to the decline of the area since it opened in 1974? For over 30 years a highly auto oriented fast food chain has dominated the corner and now the owner is being critical of other businesses that follow! One of my arguments all along was that we are not going to attract good urban design if we build a new suburban drive-thru.

The Lawrence Group’s renovation of the SSNB is great but it is still needs our help. They need retailers for the base and future urban buildings along Grand & Gravois. They are also taking on the smaller building across Grand with a need for street level retailers. Ald. Florida does deserve kudos for her continued efforts to save and renovate the SSNB but it is not in isolation. Retailers need to see more than simply the footprint of the property in which their store might be located. We must revitalize the street and return it to being a pedestrian-friendly and urban corridor that it once was before the McDonald’s entered the picture in the early 70′s and changed all that. Now that it is closed we have a fighting chance of actually turning this street around.

Back to the ACC:

The ACC just talked to Jennifer Florida about the closing, and she does not currently have plans for the site, but mantains that she wants to go through a “community based planning process”, and used Lafayette Square as a model of successful design.

Now she wants to plan. Great. Let’s see, how long did it take? Ald. Florida was sworn into office on April 17, 2001, nearly six years ago. Where was the “community based planning process” in all the years prior to this controversy? Non-existant! Before this she was in her “you can’t get everything you want” mode of thinking, no doubt instilled in her by old timers like Ald. Fred Wessels. But maybe she has now seen the light, or at least the power of a small & determined group with internet access, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt. Not you Fred, just her…

My friend Steve Wilke-Shapiro has been taking the lead of late on looking at this section of Grand on his excellent 15thWardSTL blog. Click here to read his initial take on the new plan by Pyramid to build senior housing on the old Sears site (as well as the section past the alley to Arkansas St.). You can check out Ald. Florida’s comment-limited blog here. To get an appreciation for Pyramid’s experience at senior housing in a St. Louis neighborhood see my post on Sullivan Place.

Here is what we need to do on South Grand from Utah to a point somewhere south of Chippewa, quite possibly it should match the blighted area which continues to Meramec. First, a community based planning process not driven by the current needs of a particular developer or single property owner. This needs to be followed up with a “zoning overlay” for the district. This overlay would replace the current zoning for that district and would allow us to have greater control over what could be proposed and built within the area. Requirements, such as any surface parking being located behind the building, could be enacted (think Kinkos/Bread Co at Grand & Arsenal). By having quality zoning, something from the 21st century, it will be less important for citizens to scrutinize each and every new project. With new urban-focused zoning for the street this will actually free up Ald. Florida and the developers to plan accordingly and be relatively assured that what they propose will not meet with strong resistance from the community. Citizens, rather than having to waste countless hours tracking down details of every project on every parcel, can hopefully move on to doing comprehensive planning in other parts of their neighborhoods and even work with the developers along Grand on finding tenants.

After all this we do have the potential to make something great happen on South Grand. Actions speak louder than words and right now the ball is in Ald. Florida’s court.

  • john

    Wow what a messy web of deceit is created when politicians work to deceive! Citizens should not have to spend all this time to correct whay others are elected to do.

    It will be interesting to see how Ald. Florida addresses these new demands in her new blog. Hopefully residents will finally be provided with a viable and productive forum.

  • samizdat

    Slightly OT: Has anyone noticed the disappearance of the red granite bases on the Melba building? Stolen, or removed and stored away for safe-keeping? Info, anyone?

  • good job

    Way to chase a taxpaying and job-generating business away, jackass.

  • Dutchtowner

    ^Not to pick too many nits but you should have capitalized the “j”, Jackass.

    For the reasons Steve noted above there will most likely be no net loss of taxes or jobs, Jackass. Do you think people are going to stop eating crappy fast food because that McDonald’s has closed, Jackass? They will go to another slop house down the street — there are plenty of them, Jackass. Nobody comes into the city from West County to pick up their Big Mac from the Grand & Chippewa McDonald’s, Jackass.

    I have lived close by for nearly 10 years and in that time I have never heard that business described as anything but a poorly run, trash-generating, blight and a hinderance to development in the area, Jackass. So, good riddance, we are all the better off without it, Jackass.

  • Clogs In My Eyes

    That neighborhood is such a prize. It’s a good thing that a vocal minority shut down the deal and helped to shutter a viable business. It was really hurting the image of the Rent A Center.

  • Urban Reader

    Uh oh.

    It looks like the Town Talk crowd finally got internet access.

  • GMichaud

    A vocal miniority did not shut it down, an informed majority did. As for as the Rent A Center, businesses change, study the history of the city. McDonalds was not a viable business, like Ducthtowner points out, it was a poorly run piece of junk. It is puzzling why there are people who defend a second rate world, when it is possilbe to do so much better.
    McDonalds is not the future of the city, a nice food establishment run by Greeks, Italians, Chinese, Vietmanese, or anybody else is more likely to attract the interest of city residents or bring outsiders into town.
    Who in the world would go to visit a sloppy McDonalds when the same crap is everywhere in St. Louis, or all over America for that matter?

    If the neighborhood has problems, concerned citizens are trying to correct them, but those neighborhood problems where brought to you by the same people, the same decision making process that brought us McDonalds in the first place.
    McDonalds symbolizes what is wrong in this country, catering to corporate money at the expense of everything else, and for what?, crappy food and poor jobs with no future. At least with a real restaurant it can be possible someone can become a star chef and open their own restaurant.

  • http://www.diabetoboy.com/diabetoblog Diabetoboy

    I think the folks at that McDonald’s screwed with the residents’ heads by putting in a backwards drive-thru first and not correcting it until the late 1980s at best.

    Take a look, particularly from the 2:54 mark:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7z7x7Xtwk8

  • Maurice

    In reference to the comment about maybe some nice greek, italian, chinese restaurants would attract the interest. I will simply bring to the forefront the fact that McD’s, the Hardees, Wendy’s, Burger King, etc actually do serve a purpose.

    Now before you go screeming…think about it…besides the family meal McD’s has made successful (who has a kid that hasn’t had a fun meal?) these places are called FAST food for a reason…they are fast. Now I’m not a great fan of fast food either. But where else can one go for lunch when your boss only give you 30 minutes or you only make $7.00 an hour. Not everyone can take hour lunches to wait at a restaurant nor can afford the $10-15 each day for a meal (and don’t forget the tip).

    The ethnic foods are great, they just are customer friendly under the situation I outlined…limited income and limited time.

    So again, I’m not a fan of fast food, but they do serve a purpose.

  • GMichaud

    A guillotine serves a purpose also.

    I try to patronize shops like the little Mexican deli with the outside seating on Cherokee if I want a meal fast and cheap. It’s better for you and tastes like real food.

  • Capitalized Jackass

    You “urbanist” elitists are really unbelievable. Real people can’t eat aesthetics, and they can’t use aesthetics to pay their bills.

  • Travis Cape

    McDonald’s could have rebuilt their restaurant on the existing site or possibly the one of the former Burger King. That option obviously didn’t suit the owners and they’re to blame for the closing. Neighborhood residents only fought against relocation to a site that would have been detrimental to residents and the streetscape.

    The sooner that both the old McDonald’s and Burger King are bulldozed, the better off we’ll all be.

  • Jim Zavist

    Fast food is like abortions – if you don’t like them, don’t have one! I, for one, like my Big Macs, and I don’t think anyone should think they have the right to tell me I can’t have have one (or more!). And, obviously, the industry fills a need in modern society, otherwise it wouldn’t be thriving like it is.

    I do agree that residents have the right to work with their elected to officials to influence how and where growth occurs, but I also believe that, to a certain degree, if you don’t own it, you don’t control it. Property owners have a right to benefit from their investment in a property, and, in most cases, successful investments do more to raise the entire neighborhood than they do to harm it. Not every neighbor will be “golden” and not evey piece of land can be made into a park, but, overall, investment and reinvestment beats the alternative, that, unfortunately, marks too much of our fair city. And remember that, except for a few very rare instances, we were all at one point newcomers to “our” current neighborhoods.

    I find it to be pretty hypocritical for any new resident to expect any existing business or resident to change or close if they there before someone moved in. Caveat emptor – you knew (or should have known) what you were buying or renting. It’s like expecting that you’ll be able to change your new boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse – what you see is pretty much what you get! With new development, it is, up to a point, a different situation. If it fits the rules that are already in place, there isn’t (and shouldn’t) be much existing residents can do. But if changes are “needed” (or the existing rules no longer work or adequately protect the current vision for that neighborhood), changing them should be an open, inclusive and comprehensive process, not something that happens “behind closed doors”!

    Bottom line, living in a city is all about respect, allowing people with a variety of outlooks on life to work at surviving and, hopefully, thriving. And, yes, life is messy – not every part of town can (or should) look like the CWE or Lafayette Square or Soulard. South Grand here is walking a fine line. Obviously, several existing businesses have recently closed. The real litmus test will be what replaces them. Be careful what you hope for. Further north (and south), there are stretches of Grand that are marked by vacant stores and weedy parking lots. There are also pockets around the the City Diner that appear to be doinng better. We know what you want – what will you get?!

  • http://www.15thwardstl.org/node/163 15thWardSTL

    Jim Z Said:
    I, for one, like my Big Macs, and I don’t think anyone should think they have the right to tell me I can’t have have one (or more!).”

    This false argument keeps popping up. Nobody is trying to pry your Big Mac out of your hand. I eat at McDonald’s as well on occasion. What most of us are saying is that the FORM of the McDonald’s standard drive-thru restaurant doesn’t belong in an “F-Neighborhood Commercial” district because it is not a pedestrian FORM. Only the fringe wants to shut down McDonald’s. Most of us simply want a design that is more pedestrian-friendly and a better physical neighbor to the adjacent uses. If McDonald’s doesn’t want to do this then it is THEIR choice not to rebuild – I can’t make that decision for them, but I can advocate for an environment where citizens have a say in the form and use of public space and public money.

    Jim Z Said:
    “I find it to be pretty hypocritical for any new resident to expect any existing business or resident to change or close if they there before someone moved in.”

    What you are either ignoring or don’t know is that the residents who purchased homes at Keystone Place (adjacent to the proposed McDonald’s relocation) were told by Pyramid that the remainder of the site would be single-family homes. In fact, they WERE there first. Dispite Jennifer Florida’s assertion that the Drive Thru would increase their property values, I think most people would not agree.

    Jim Z Said:
    “If it fits the rules that are already in place, there isn’t (and shouldn’t) be much existing residents can do. But if changes are “needed” (or the existing rules no longer work or adequately protect the current vision for that neighborhood), changing them should be an open, inclusive and comprehensive process, not something that happens “behind closed doors”!”.

    The McDonald’s DIDN’T fit the rules, and that is ultimately why the development ended up not moving forward. The proposed senior building actually appears, in spite of its relatively poor plan, to conform better to the intention of the zoning ordinance than the McDonald’s.

  • http://countenance.wordpress.com St. Louis CofCC Blogmeister

    Is the BK on S. Grand south of Chippewa gone?

    The BK near Soulard Market closed awhile back, about the same time the one on Jefferson and Victor did.

    BK must be pulling out of this city for some reason.

  • Josh

    Jackass: weird. I use aesthetics to pay my bills, it pays them pretty damn well infact… and usually I have enough left over to eat – eat pretty damn well infact.

  • Jim Zavist

    Like I said, different rules need to apply to new and to existing. A developer should not be able to easily have the rules changed IF they will negatively impact existing residents. The problem many neighborhoods face (but apparently not here) is that current zoning and development rules allow new developments that many residents would find objectionable. The time to figure this out is before a developer starts considering a new project, not when it’s going in for permits. There’s too much assuming that happens at the neighborhood level, assuming that what you see will stay that way indefinitely. In this case, the developer was “stretching the envelope” and the neighborhood was right in pushing back, and as things ultimately worked out, the rules “held” and the neighbors were protected.

    Where I have a bigger problem is with all the negative attacks aimed at the existing fast food operations in the area. With the exception of the new White Castle, the others have been there in some form or another for probably 30 years or more. They were legal when they went in and they’re legal now. They have only very limited control over what their customers do (i.e., littering) after they leave their sites. It’s not their fault that a minority of their customers throw trash out their car windows, any more than cigarette manufacturers are “responsible” for all the cigarette butts that line our gutters and cover our medians. People can be good citizens and good neighbors or they can be obnoxious jerks. Unfortunately, everyone’s money is green, so there’s little incentive not to sell to jerks.

    Would I like to see a more urban “form” both preserved and developed in St. Louis? Sure, yes. Would I be willing to give up drive-thru’s to make sure it happened? Maybe, but not at the expense of having a business choose not to locate within the city. Much like anti-smoking ordinances, there’s a limit to what a city can or should do on its own to “encourage” (i.e. mandate) PC behaviors. Make it too hard to do business in the city and the business will flow to the county.

    Maybe I’m just getting too cynical in my old (mid-50′s) age, especially when it’s combined with my libertarian streak. I just have a big problem with having the rules changed “after the fact”. People work hard to build their businesses and livelihoods, and too many people think they have an inherent right to tell other people what they should or should not be doing. If there were money to be made building new buildings based on what made sense during the Depression and the streetcar era, trust me, they would be being built. Unfortunately, we live in an autocentric world these days, and our new architecture reflects this. I just got back from a long weekend in southern California, and much of the built environment out there was exceedingly depressing – mile after mile of multi-lane highways lined with franchises and strip malls. But, while I don’t like it, I respect the rights of people who choose to live there – I voted with my butt and got back on the plane and came back here.

    Is St. Louis perfect? No, of course not. Can it be improved? Sure it can. But we all walk a fine line between having our “rights” respected and imposing our world views on others. We may agree on a lot, but we don’t agree on everything. And when we don’t agree, who gets to be the “decider”? (Hopefully, it won’t be George.) In this case, it appears that the neighborhood may have “won” – we’ll see what the future actually brings. My nagging fear, however, is that what the neighbors really want and what the market will bear may be too far apart to come to fruition. And if that’s actually the case, will having multiple vacant parcels be the best solution for nurturing a community?

  • Craig

    Mr. Zavist is right on point here. The net effect of this McDonald’s being stopped from moving is that yet another vacant lot opens up, several people probably lost jobs, and an entrepreneurial franchise owner is out some cash.

    What will take its place? My guess is that it will be either nothing or a standard “strip” development with marginal retailers selling crap to the poor–things like cell phones and hair extensions.

    You can’t create a market for urban development by sheer force of will. The neighbors basically kicked their own neighborhood while it was down on this issue.

    When the Trader Joe’s, Crate and Barrel, or even the next Royale is lured into the 15th Ward, let me know.

  • Kara

    Jim,
    I think you are overly concerned about the market and its need for autocentric development. If accommodating cars were the key to success than all the new strip malls in St. Louis would be a success, right? Well, it appears to me that the newer developments that are the most successful are the ones that consider the pedestrian in their design. The desirable part of Grand with the higher adjacent home property values also happens to be the part that attracts pedestrians. The newer buildings in the Loop are also pedestrian oriented and we can all agree that the Loop is highly successful. This argument isn’t about simply wanting pretty buildings, but is also about the fact that an attractive built environment attracts people, which then attracts business. It is in the city’s best interest to build this way. WalgreenÂ’s, McDonald’s, etc are all capable of being placed in attractive buildings. It is possible to still have parking and drive thrus in the back, in a place that doesn’t detract from the streetscape.

    Strip malls do well in the suburbs, but it is not because of their design. Suburbanites don’t shop there because they love the strip mall experience. They shop there because it is the nearest place of business for them. Strip malls in the suburbs do well because they are located in places where people already want to be, places that fulfill their particular needs. And these people want to be there specifically because it is not the city. The suburbs attract people in spite of the way the retail strips are designed. The city attracts people because of the way retail and residential areas are designed (places that encourage street life, density, diversity, etc.) Cities will never attract suburbanites, as they are only interested in non-city places, but a well designed city will very easily attract those wanting a city environment.

    I think people in St. Louis tend to be more concerned about these issues than they do in other cities because St. Louis was at one time an excellent example of how great a city can be. Much of the architecture and infrastructure from those days is still in place and was built at a level of quality that will never be built anywhere in America again. St. Louis is special in this way and is worth preserving and bringing back. Continued strip mall development in the city gives little to hope for though.

  • Jim Zavist

    I straddle the fence, as an architect and a community activist, of wanting to push for excellence in design and, as a pragmatist, wanting to see something built, to see growth in small increments. I also see great opportunity for creative reuse and renovation, and that’s only slowly starting to happen around here. St. Louis city and the inner-ring suburban towns are in the same boat. Much of our/their built environment is not new, and a good part of it, especially in certain areas, is deteriorating fast. To use a crude analogy, we need to keep the ship from sinking before we can even think about polishing the teak. There is a perception among many americans, and especially among many retailers, that “new” is either better and/or easier to do.

    Wal·Mart does not want to go into an old car dealership or furniture store – they want to nuke the site and drop in one of their standard boxes. Why? Because it’s predictable, there won’t be any significant surprises. The same goes for many other chain retailers, but not all. Starbucks, Subway and Trader Joe’s are three that spring to mind as more willing to take the “hermit crab” approach, and to move into more unique sites. The same also goes for local mom-and-pop operations and local start-ups – they’re much more interested in lower costs and location than in standardization. Aha, you say, let’s just ban / discourage chain retail. The reality is that this only works, and not well, in limited, high-demand areas (and St. Louis ain’t one). People are people, and people make choices. Many, perhaps too many, simply want/like to shop at chain retailers and/or are intimidated and/or scared by the unfamiliar/unknown. Others are intrigued by and gravitate to the unfamiliar and the unique. They’re two, overlapping markets. At one point, Starbucks was new and unique here, now, to some, it’s the evil chain.

    This is a long-winded way of trying to say that demand drives retail, which in turn drives “the market”, which in turn influences how architecture and the built environment gets used, abused, abandoned, redeveloped and sprawled. We can plan until we’re blue in the face, but until there’s a certain level of demand, the best one can hope for is the status quo, while the worst is what’s happening on the north side. We don’t live in Disneyland, so we can’t just wave a magic wand and have stage sets magically appear. We live in a gritty, struggling, urban city that needs to win its battles in small increments. We need to attract good jobs. We need to build on what makes us unique. But we also need to maintain and grow our tax base, which can’t be done by requiring PC architecture in every corner of the city – in many parts, it does boil down to a crappy new box or nothing at all, leaving the vacant lot / crumbling vacant building.

    Until we get to the point where we have some more leverage, we are at the mercy of what the market demands. It takes money and momentum to see good, urban architecture get built. There are areas like the CWE, along Washington, around Lafayette Square and in parts of downtown where this is happening. I don’t see this same momentum along S. Grand. Would I like to? Sure, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening yet. The community needs to decide (and does seem to be doing so) whether it’s better to maintain the staus quo (a typical commercial strip with autocentic architecture) or to wait for the market to improve to a point where a developer can convince the “right” tenants to pay the higher rents and/or to pay the higher acquisition costs needed to construct new, multi-story structures in this particular sub-market.

    What I’m saying is that it’s a gamble – the market may improve and demand will grow and the numbers will start to work – it’s happening on Washington, so it could happen here, as well. But it is a gamble, one that most aldermen are apparently not willing to take, wanting “a bird in hand instead of three in the bush” . . .

  • Jim Zavist

    I’m also not a fan of autocentric architecture, I’ve just accepted it as a simple fact of life. All architecture is a reflection of its time. You find a few sterling examples, a fair amount of fair to good, a whole lot of more-or-less adequate and some truly bad stuff. The new urbanist ideal dervies from the old urban “ideal” based on walking and streetcar lines. Prior to that was the town square, train station and a much more rural lifestyle based on the horse as the primary means of transportation. Architecural examples from that period include the victorian, the Sears house and the company town. Autocentric can also be classified as mid-century modern, and is coming back into style, as all architectural styles tend to do.

    I like “urban” architecture, be it new or old, and would like to see a lot more of it built around here, especially in the city. The challenges here are the human component and the transit component. Most of us are inherently lazy, and will choose to drive (or be driven) over walking 90-97% of the time. St. Louis can and often is “too” hot, cold, rainy, snowy, humid, dark and/or scary to be comfortable as a pedestrian or bicyclist, and many times the dsetination is too far away, so we just get in our car, truck, SUV or scooter and motor on over. To use the word-du-jour, this informs our built environment – we need a place to stash our personal transportation device and it’s a whole lot cheaper to build parking on grade than to go up or to go down and/or under. Combine that with cheap land values pretty much any place in the area and, voila, the answer will pretty much always be surface parking, which in turn drives autocentric architecture!

    The other component is public transportation, or more precisely, the lack thereof. The 2-3-4 story commercial structures we all profess to love so much pretty much all grew up along our multiple streetcar lines, which the local residents walked to. They were built when the personal car was a luxury, when it was rare for any family to have more than one. Buy a clue, folks, that ain’t the case today. The same reasons I listed above are the reasons most people choose not to ride public transit, which in turn is why service is limited and convincing most voters to support a tax increas to build more will be a real challenge. In cities like Denver and Dallas, where there is interest in TOD (transit-oriented development) and actual higher-density projects are being built in suburban areas, it’s being driven by significant investments in light rail systems that actually give people muultiple viable options on how to get around without using their own personal transportation. Can that happen here? Maybe. It’s going to take vision, leadership and a significant public investment . . .

    Until then, St. Louis will remain an autocentric community and our architecture will reflect that fact. We can push to make it look better and we can do a better job of hiding the parking. We can even push for more durable materials and designs with more inherent flexibility (to allow for easier reuse). But until we develop a rail transit system that can get more peope more places more easily, the vast majority of us will continue to rely on our own personal transportation to get around and our architecture and our built environment will continue to be autocentric – sorry . . .

  • http://15thWardSTL.org Steve Wilke-Shapiro

    Design doesn’t have to be “autocentric” to accommodate cars in a meaningful way. A little creativity and forward thinking can go a long way towards creating pedestrian-oriented environments that can be accessed easily by car as well. There are areas where an autocentric design may fit – South Kingshighway comes to mind. The choice has been made a long time ago to go that direction. South Grand is not yet at that point. Surrounded on both sides by residential development, it is and should be developed as a pedestrian-oriented corridor.

    South Grand just plain isn’t the place for an autocentric typology. If McDonald’s and Wal-Mart want to build there they can either make some concessions or find another location thank you very much. I would much rather see a vacant parcel held until the right time by my house on South Grand than another Drive-Thru fast food restaurant.

  • commonsense

    This is directed to the immediately preceding comment, but may as well be directed at all of you. If you don’t want a McDonald’s or a Wal-Mart or an “auto-centric” development nearby, buy the property yourself.

    You want a vacant lot by your house, buy it and leave it vacant, but don’t let value go unrealized because you have some elitist moral objection to the character of the design.

  • GMichaud

    There is a certain fatalistic view put forth by some bloggers that if the City does not capitulate to strip malls and businesses like McDonalds it will mean the city is a failure. To the contrary, the city can only succeed if it begins to demand that new business conforms to an urban model. Around the world there are McDonalds doing business in urban storefronts without a drive through or even any adjacent parking. The fact McDonalds is willing to take the hermit crab approach in other cities should make it clear that if there are urban standards they will follow them. Even tiny Tallinn, Estonia has made McDonalds conform to urban patterns without parking and a drive through.

    Admittedly the Aldermen are not well informed about urban issues, and I guess they can be excused for a lack of knowledge in city planning (Although you would think this should be one of the most important topics on their agenda). If there is some good to come out of this perhaps it is time to organize urban training for the Aldermen. It is clear they do not understand how to capitalize on the urban form of St. Louis and turn it into an asset when dealing with economic development.

    The urban form of St. Louis is the result of thousands of years of human development. The strip mall is the Johnny come lately. In fact, in the not too distant future there will be a realization that the suburbs will need to be reconfigured to accept mass transit and pedestrian use. The far flung McMansions in Chesterfield and St. Charles County will become albatrosses that will be worth nothing, and they will become financial burdens for their owners.
    It is enviable for this change to occur. Energy shortages, global warming and the need to create a sustainable environment that utilizes resources in a more rational manner will dominate city, urban and regional planning questions more and more as the years go by. In actuality the conditions already demand that these considerations should be a top priority.

    By the way the elitists are the McDonalds, the Wal Marts, the Descos and their partners in government. They are the ones shoving crap down the throats of the people irregardless of the consequences for the culture. The people are beginning to rebel at becoming pawns to their lust and greed for money and power. It is simple. The urbanists are only asking to be included in the debate. They are asking the cities be designed for the people and not for some scheme to make money irregardless what it does to the quality of life. There is this hilarious notion that America is a democracy. Hell with Iraq, lets establish democracy in America first. If it was not for these blogs the people would not have a voice.

  • http://www.stlua.blogspot.com Douglas Duckworth

    I was going to post this on ACC, yet its no longer on the front page.

    That McDonald’s was a slum. The owner, Jim Proctor, should receive little sympathy. It generated massive amounts of trash and noise pollution. The CSB reports were many and disturbing. The move would have further damaged property values as this pollution would be even closer to Keystone. The site plan would have caused traffic problems on Grand as well.

    If you do not want a vacant McDonald’s then lobby Florida, work with citizen groups, and contact local business. This area could see big change in 5 years with an engaged group of St. Louis residents. If you want to generate jobs then we need comprehensive planning which enables a connected urban environment on South Grand. This environment will attract business that does not damage property values.

    Perhaps tell Conway and Florida to expedite Board Bill 159, which establishes a South Grand Community Improvement District.

    http://stlcin.missouri.org/alderman/bbDetail.cfm?BBId=1226

    The residents and business owners are demanding a better South Grand. Settling for a McDonald’s, which would reduce property values and interfere with further development, indicates lack of vision.

    It is time for Grand to live up to its name. Suburban development has no place in St. Louis.

  • Jim Zavist

    Steve, GM & Doug – I truly do respect your vision and perspective. We’ll have to agree to disagree on how much we live in and need to respond an autocentric world, but, bottom line, I’m a big believer in each community’s need to decide where it’s headed and how it’s going to get there.

    “I would much rather see a vacant parcel held until the right time by my house on South Grand than another Drive-Thru fast food restaurant.” is a valid, understandable and defensible position. The only question is how long will the wait be – drive out MLK or Natural Bridge and you’ll see multiple parcels that have been “waiting” for decades.

    “South Grand just plain isn’t the place for an autocentric typology.” I disagree. There are blocks adjacent to and south of Tower Grove Park that are very much out-of-downtown urban in character, and should be preserved and nurtured. But once you get south of Utah Place (except for a block or so either side of Gravois), the street becomes more suburban, with some blocks having just multiple residential units, many examples of smaller-scale streetcorner retail, and yes, many examples of existing autocentric drive-in and drive-thru architecture that’s been around for 30, 40, 50 or more years. Could this part become “better” (and benefit from) if denser urban architecture were built? Probably. Should the residents push for this? Certainly. But, in many ways, development and densification is also about place holders, energy and viability. While a street with multiple vacant parcels is a “blank canvas and “ripe for redevelopment”, it’s also one that isn’t very attractive to potential retailers or developers. “Outsiders” aren’t stupid – they want to know why all the old businesses moved away or shut down – they want some assurance of success. That’s why I think it’s critical to balance a grand vision (pardon the pun) with pragmatic reality. Turn away too many businesses and all will start to look elsewhere . . .

  • Jim Zavist

    Two examples – there are a couple of smaller chains that have landed in greater St. Louis recently that would appear to be great additions to South Grand (and many other areas, like along Manchester, CWE, etc.), Dewey’s Pizza and Noodles, but they chose to locate “elsewhere”. They occupy storefronts that are typical throughout St. Louis, and while they require parking, it can be on-street, and they don’t have drive-thru’s.

    Dewey’s opened two locations here, both suburban, the first in “downtown” Kirkwood, the second at Delmar & North-South. They come from Cincinnati, so they’re no stranger to urban areas. Noodle’s has opened two locations, so far, the first at South County Mall, the second on Olive out toward I-270. They’re headquartered in Boulder, CO., a bastion of PC thinking and intensive, creative urban living. We’ve already pointed out that Trader Joe’s would appear to be a great addition to the city, as well.

    Which gets to the core of the struggle in most urban areas and in St. Louis in particular – why do retailers, especially, the “cool”, “good” or “desirable” ones, choose to locate elsewhere? My contention is that the local architecture is of little importance, the urban environment is of slightly greater importanace, and that it’s the economics that really drive these decisions. These retailers want to succeed and they’re going to pick the location with the best demographics, and until ours improve, we’re going to be fighting an uphill battle.

    Washington St. downtown has reinvented itself as a residential area, and the retail is following. The good news is that much of south St. Louis is stable – the trick is breaking beyond this stability IF the goal is to move the existing tenant mix upscale. But, be careful what you ask for. Higher-end retail is typically adjacent to higher-end residential neighborhoods. This gentrification is good if you’re currently a property owner and want to cash out from the appreciation (and move away) or are willing to pay higher property taxes and to deal with more on-street parking pressures if you want to stay. It’s NOT good if you’re renting, since you’ll either be paying sharply higher rents or seeing your unit go condo.

    Bottom line, it’s a complex problem, one worth fighting for, but also one that will likely only be won incrementally, and certainly not “over night” . . .

  • Jim Zavist

    “irregardless” is not a word – “regardless” is the better and correct choice.

  • Osage

    While Zavist is helping us get ready for the SATs, I would like to comment on this string. I am a casual reader of the blog, and I find the long 500 word “comments” a bit tedious. I’m not here to regulate posters’ behavior, but I would just say that longer entries are probably more likely to be skipped or skimmed by the vast majority of readers.

  • GMichaud

    I realize that there are people who have the attention span of a flat worm.
    In fact many issues are complex and when the debate necessitates longer pieces, to me such postings are welcome. Short comments cannot even begin to touch the scope of the multi dimensional problems that have been avoided by this community for decades. Detailed discussion is needed,not sound bites.
    Yes, there will be some readers who will skip over longer articles. I for one am glad to see writers taking the time to share their thoughts, whether I agree with them or not.
    St. Louis would be a much different city if this sort of thing had been going on since the fifties. Only in recent years have questions been raised about urban policy and the impact on the environment. If anything these longer pieces should be expanded into articles for other news media, to books, to lectures and to the classroom.

  • jason

    wow- what happens when you fall off the face of the earth. I feel like a flatworm tonight as I skimmed most of the longer responses wishing I had time to devote more to understand the issues. I definitely agree with the whole stance on the P&P proctor issue. Can you have fast food slumlords? I have had an issue with them for a while now but only because they can never seem to get my order right. I know its not their deal, but calling back when you leave them many messages is. Anyway, Aesthetics is something that many of us (read everyday citizens) take for granted. I think Richard flordia would argue that the creative class would not shop in your establishment if you didnt atleast make an attempt to cater to the aesthetic side. There are almost as many empty fast food places as there are QT/7-11/and BP location now. A big thank you goes out to the Bale Bakery who is taking the Long John Silvers on Kinshighway. I promise I will come by when you open.

  • Jim Zavist

    Guilty as charged – I get verbose when I get energized and/or when discussing/arguing complex topics. Unfortunately, “sound bites” aren’t always adequate to cover a lot of topics. Fortunately, most mice are now equipped with scroll wheels, so it’s pretty easy to “fast forward” through the tedious and/or repetitive stuff . . .

  • GMichaud

    By the way I was not suggesting that people who skim articles have the patience of a flat worm (or is it flatworm?), skimming articles is a good way to get info to see if it is relevant to your interests. I disagree however with the notion that the comments should be shortened, if someone has something to say, I certainly hope they would say it. Being energized is a good thing, I know I enjoy the energy and passion of these blogs.

    Americans are well known for their short attention span, It should not be necessary to stoop to the lowest levels of communication in order to satisfy the least curious among us.

  • anonymous

    keep the longer comments coming. If you are interested in the complex topic, you will read on, if not, maybe just pick up a point or two, hopefully reading more at a later date.

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