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Alternative Site Plan for Loughborough Commons

Today I was test driving some fun features with Google Maps (custom maps, drawing tools). Using the old image of the area which is now Loughborough Commons I drew one concept I had for streets and land use in the area. As you will see, my idea is quite different than what is being constructed. lc_concept1

The first thing to notice is that I have retained nearly every home that was located at the corner of the site along Grand & Loughborough. I’ve then cut public streets through the site to create numerous other smaller parcels. The main artery would be extending Loughborough Drive through the site to create a 5-block long commercial district (shown in blue). Buildings facing this street would be “mixed use” with retail/resturant on the ground floor and office or residential above (shown in purple). Residential housing of various forms would face Grand, shown in red. The two big orange boxes would be a Schnuck’s & Lowe’s with the gray box in the middle representing surface parking. Side streets from the adjacent neighborhood would be brought through the site — connecting the commercial district to the existing housing stock.
Mixed-Use (purple):

Lining both sides of a new Loughborough Drive, as well as facing Loughborough, these mixed use buildings would be a minimum of 2 stories high but up to 5 stories. The street-level would be designed for retail/restaurant tenants such as St. Louis Bread Co, Great Clips, Qdoba, Starbucks, and Office Max. Upper floors could contain office space or residential units. Retail parking would be on-street diagonal parking along Loughborough Drive. Shoppers would be encouraged to park once and check out multiple stores via foot.

The main street of Loughborough Drive would be just that — a main street. Think a cross between an old shopping district (Delmar in The Loop), a pedestrian friendly “lifestyle center” (the Boulevard on Brentwood) and a New Urbanist town center (New Town at St. Charles). This was one of the few sites large enough in the city to have developed such a mixed-use model connecting to an existing and stable neighborhood.
Big Box (orange):

This concepts accepts the necessity of big box retailing for the masses. It also accepts most big box shoppers will arive by car, so surface parking is provided between the two stores. The big box stores would not face the main shopping street (Loughborough Drive) but would instead face each other. Both would have excellent visibility from I-55. Blow & Roswell would be used to access the surface parking for the big box stores.

Two options existed for the Schnuck’s here. One is for Schnuck’s to have built on the south location I show above while the existing store remained open. Once the new store was open the old one could have been razed for the new Lowe’s. An alternative would have been to add on to the existing Schnuck’s and basically create a new entrance facing Blow St. The bulk of the existing structure could have been reused, reducing the amount of debris heading to a land fill.

Those shopping on the main street would have easy access to the big box stores, and vice versa, without having to move their cars.
Residential (red):

Housing would be located on this section of Grand, facing existing single-family detached homes. This housing would have a rear alley (shown in yellow) with rear loaded garages. Ideally the residential mix would have varied from condo buildings with shared underground parking to townhouses with individual garages. Garages at the alley might also have had granny flats for small & affordable housing. Low to moderate income and senior housing could easily be mixed in with market rate housing both in the residential section facing Grand as well as above the retail in the mixed-use areas.

For the most part I have “bent” the side streets like Robert & French as they cross Loughborough Drive. This allows the new mixed-use buildings to become more in the line of sight as well as to block views of the highway. However, making these streets perpendicular to Loughborough Drive helps create square corners which are cheaper in new construction than odd angles.

This is only one version of an alternative street grid for the site. Perhap when it has failed in 20 years we can take another stab at the site and get it right.


Currently there are "23 comments" on this Article:

  1. TM says:

    Amazing what putting a little thought into a site plan can yield. Something like this would make a nice sustainable retail center for this area of the city; a physical form adaptable to several different forms of transit and economic circumstances. If oil prices continue to rise, or getting cheap goods from overseas becomes untenable for some other reason, what becomes of the big-box clearing house behind a sea of parking like Lowe’s? 20 years may be optimistic for it’s viability, the waste in the current site plan is obscene.
    I could see a store like Lowe’s objecting to having it’s entrance relegated to a side street, perhaps insisting that it be brought up to the new “Loughborough Drive”. After seeing it from the highway and exiting, the driver then has to make 3 left turns before they’re within sight of it. This doesn’t seem like a huge hinderance but such stores are used to being withing easy sight of their customers. All things considered, it wouldn’t seem to be a huge concession. I’m also interested as to where the loading/unloading areas for the big boxes would be, as the smaller side streets might not fit the bill for this, especially on the southern parcel.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — At some point I had done a sketch for myself that had the Loughborough Drive terminating in the Lowe’s entrance.  That actually worked well as I recall — their entrance being offset to one side of the store — it created a nice terminous for the main street — an ‘anchor’ if you will.  I can think of various other combinations of street configurations — it would have been wise to explore a number of more urban choices.

    Service drives, potentially wide, could be along the highway side of the big boxes and accessed via LD on off hours.  This is simply an early concept, not a final master plan. 

    Yes, such a grid allows for flexibility and even if a portion doesn’t fare well it does not doom the entire project.] 

  2. TM says:

    another interesting idea might be to allow the big boxes to have a small storefront space along Loughborough Drive which would lead customers back to the big box behind the mixed-use area.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, excellent point.  Areas like the Floral, deli and pharmacy of the grocery store all lend themselves to guiding the shopper to the bigger store.  This would, of course, require getting away from the standard model far moreso than I was suggesting.  But yes, the options abound.]

  3. laclede says:


    You are good at computers!

  4. stlmark says:


  5. Maurice says:

    That is a very interesting presentation. It certainly puts out some different ideas. Too bad we will never know if it would have been successful.

  6. Jason says:

    uh- isnt it a little late? I can appreciate the attempt but at this point I think just making sure that they put some sidewalks in and make the place accessible, and looking at the stuff they are constructing now is what should be focused on.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Well, yes and no.  Yes the site is already being developed in an outdated big box fashion — a form of development no longer being used in most suburbs. On the bright side when this is failing and looking bad in 15-20 years we will already have a head start on the replacement development.  But actually this design exercise was done to show people that alternatives were possible — what was built was not the only choice.  We need to keep this in mind was we look to other areas of the city & region for future development.]

  7. Kara says:

    This is a great plan for this site. How many more retail spaces, offices, private homes, condos, and apartments would be able to be offered with this plan than in the development that was built? How much more revenue could be generated in these additional spaces using this plan instead of the one that was built? Would this be enough to offset the higher cost of quality design and materials and make it “worth it” to the developer? Of course the long term benefits would be far greater, but I am considering the shortsightedness of most developers and politicians.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Without doing some detailed counts and a pro-forma for the development it is hard to say.  The development costs certainly would be higher but so would the revenues from the better use of the land. I believe my proposal would have been more financially successful in the short and long term.  As individual buildings no longer met current needs they could be updated or replaced much easier than via a traditional/outdated big box development where razing the entire site again is the norm.

    The beauty of this concept is the various blocks create lots of opportunity for buildings of various scales while working together.  Arrival points are many and all modes of arrvival can be supported. New housing facing Grand would have helped boost the values of the housing to the west (the back of a Lowe’s doesn’t exactly help resale value).]  

  8. Kara says:

    I understand the numerous benefits of such a design, including long term economic benefits as well as simply making the neighborhood a better place to live and visit. These benefits like the ones you mentioned should be enough to convince politicians that quality design is worth fighting for. In order to convince developers though, they need some short term incentives, since they aren’t actually invested in the neighborhood for the long term. Maybe such a report comparing short term profits in each type of development (urban vs. suburban forms) could be a key to convincing them that an urban design form is a better way to go.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The developer, Desco, is a member of the Urban Land Institute just as I am.  All they need to do is read the monthly magazine to see example after example of better shopping center design.  The short-term incentive is quicker leases and higher rents.  But the bottom line is the bottom line, many developers will do the very least they can get away with — it is the rare developer that will strive for a well-designed pedestrian-friendly project.] 

  9. GMichaud says:

    Your analysis points to just how little Desco and the political arm of St. Louis thinks about these issues. As you point out this is only one version of an alternate street grid for this site. The lack of creativity and of any kind of critical thinking by the political, corporate establishment is nothing short of astounding.
    The irony is Desco could do so much better financially with a well designed project. The city would also benefit with the formation of urban standards which will attract more residents and businesses (and hence more tax money). The crap they built at Loughborough Commons is so unimaginative that Desco should fire whoever is in charge of their design division. The project is an embarrassment to the people of St. Louis.

  10. The Vest says:

    I do not believe this center will fail, so we will not get a second chance in 20 years, which is a shame. My concern is that that people will still shop at Schnucks and Lowes despite the horrible design because, well, people like to shop at Schnucks and Lowes, and the project will be deemed a ‘success’. As a ‘success’ this could be used as a model for future developments, a situation that does not bode well for STL.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — In 20 years LC will be looking very tired and dated, it will not be the new kid on the block at that time.]

  11. Jim Zavist says:

    Conceptually, I like it. The one big concern I have is the assumption that big box will work when it’s “hard to get to”. There’s a project in suburban Denver (3600 S. Jason, Englewood, CO., on Mapquest) that tried this and failed. The big box on the south was a now-defunct chain like Lowe’s and Home Depot, while the big box on the north was a now-defunct membership warehouse like Sam’s Club or Cotsco – they shared a parking lot, but getting in and out was (and still is) a pain. (Currently, the southern building is the corporate offices for the Sports Authority, while the northern building has been split in half, with one half being an Office Max and the other half a tire store.)

    Realistically, I’d shift the big boxes a block north, putting Schnuck’s in the southern box (so they could stay in business while building their new store) and put Lowe’s in the northern box, and give them both the visibility and the direct access they probably need to be viable over the long haul. Yeah, it wouldn’t great having a blank wall along Loughborough, but I’d offset that with putting a light rail station on your southern orange block – with Koeln Avenue having a connection under 55, and with the current Northside-Southside study planning a station for the area, locating one at the southern end of this site would be a better TOD solution (being further away from the park and having pedestrian access on both sides of 55 as well as to the north and south) and would allow for the ulltimate development of multiple mixed-use projects beyond this site.

    As a side note – if you go north of the project I referenced in Denver (across Hampden), you run into a fairly successful TOD project, the Englewood Town Center – the diamond-shaped building is the new Englewood city hall (a renovated department store), north of that is the light rail station, north of that is an apartment complex, north of that is light rail parking. East of city hall is “lifestyle”-type shopping, and the big box further east is a Wal·Mart, with an Office Max in one of the smaller boxes on Hampden. Is it perfect? No – you can’t get to the light rail station from the west side due to a freight railroad and what’s essentially a freeway, and the new strip retail isn’t very creative. But it is a great replacement for a defunct enclosed shopping mall (Cinderella City) that was once the “biggest mall west of the Mississippi”.

    [UrbanReviewSTL  – The suburban Denver example is probably not a qood one.  If the two big boxes failed due to other reasons then it is not fair to associate the idea of big boxes facing each other with a shared parking lot.  This may well have been used hundreds of times successfully. 

    But as you point out there is room to play with grid and the shifting around of the elements.  My suggestion was not meant as the end-all of ideas but simply a starting point for various revisions such as you suggest.  The grid concept and phased construction would have permitted the development of a future transit station along the rail right of way.  Of couse, the concept for this station by officials is as a park-n-ride for suburbanites.]

  12. john says:

    If this is so easy to design, so obvious, so beneficial, then who is preventing such or failing to make meaningful and positive contributions in their position of responsibility? Or is this really what most locals want as they are extremely auto-dependent and unaware of what more livable communities look like?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Those failing are many — the developers, the professionals (engineers, architects, planners), the elected officials and the bureaucrats.  But largely we the public are to blame for the mess we’ve got.  We continue to elect the same inept “leaders” and think Loughborough Commons is OK because we like the new grocery store better than the old one.]

  13. Thor Randelson says:

    Hmm, very interesting design Steve.

    Looking it over, I don’t know if I would keep the homes along Grand and Loughboro Avenue. Given the location just off of I-55 and the potential for a good TOD in the future with either metrolink or with some sort of MAX like service, I think the idea of turning that area into higher density 2 to 4 story residential might be in order.

    The other concern I would have is about block bounded by French, I-55, Loughboro and Loughboro. I might have rather flipped the design and places the Schnucks on that block, with the parking and the Lowes following on the block southward, finally with another surface parking lot on the block furthest south, thereby giving Schnucks the visibility they seek from the major street and I-55 and giving both Lowes and Schnucks more access to surface parking which they would demand.

    Other than that, it is a great rough design Steve. Too bad elected officials don’t recognize its inherent benefits.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — We are likely a good 15-never years away from rail transit at this site so I was looking for something more feasible now but flexible enough to handle later.  My point in keeping the houses at the corner of Loughborough and Grand was that they didn’t need to go — they could remain in place and clearly if demand was such in the area in the future someone  might develop those parcels later.  Development doesn’t have to be the one shot all or nothing silver bullet the developers keep pushing and the elected officials keep accepting.]

  14. Thor Randelson says:

    One more thing after seeing the park-n-ride comment. While I am not sure that the economics of this development alone would support a parking garage, if it were combined with a park-n-ride transit station, I feel much more confident that a garage could be built, thereby freeing up more land for development.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — This is where a surface parking lot today might become a parking structure in 15 years if transit is brought to the site.  Flexibility over planned obsolescence.]  

  15. Jim Zavist says:

    As for the chicken-or-egg question about whether or not a bad location choice was symptomatic of the chains’ thinking on site development, or whether the chains just weren’t succesful competitors, the Denver site still doesn’t work well (for big boxes) – the new Wal·Mart is doing much better even though it’s just as far back from Hampden AND it has no exposure to the S. Santa Fe “freeway”. I don’t know if a “better” name/business model is why, or if it’s because you can drive in and out more easily/follow a straight line. Your concept of maximizing visibility from the freeway is good – I’m just not sure that forcing all the big-box traffic onto a mixed-use main street benefits either the big boxes OR the mixed-use businesses and residents.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Valid point.  One could argue that LC as built is difficult — lines of cars in front of Schnuck’s trying to get to Lowe’s.  Once more of the parking lot opens I think you will see people driving through parking areas to avoid the front of Schnuck’s.  As built people by all modes have only two choices for entry — not the 7+ I had suggested – drivers coming from various points may not start at Loughborough and enter down the main street.   Another street to allow those seeking to get to a big box quickly would help to avoid the main street —that is the beauty of a grid.]

  16. LisaS says:

    Vest, look around town. How many 15-20 year old strip centers do you see out there that are still “successful”–meaning, most spaces are occupied by tenants that don’t include payday loans and fly-by-night cell phone stores? Schnucks may stay, but in the current retail paradigm, newer is always better, unless the location is just completely abysmal–and when the time comes (20 years? how old was the Schnucks that was on the site?) the taxpayers will probably foot part of the bill to refresh the store again.

  17. TM says:

    ^ That’s what drives me nuts about the 15-year TIFs that get handed out to developers. They get to keep their tax revenue for the prime years of the development, then when the market and tenants have turned over, and the development is starting to look shabby, the city gets to start collecting. What a great deal!

  18. Steve! People don’t like walking to Schnuck’s and Lowes. Have you tried carrying 200 dollars of groceries or hardware a couple of blocks?

  19. streetgrid says:


    What do you think explains the fifty-plus years of success at the grandaddy of strip centers: Hampton Village? An abundance of white bread perhaps?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The old saying, “an exception to the rule” comes to mind…]

  20. Adam says:

    1) ALL of hampton village could fit in the parking lot at loughborough commons.
    2) the smaller scale makes hampton village more accessible (and there is a sidewalk!)
    3) hampton village is surrounded by a semi-walkable environment including other destinations like target, the library, a park, some cafes, etc.
    4) hampton village at least makes an attempt at some sort of style (e.g the tower thingy)

    obviously hampton village has a LOT of problems but loughborough commons is orders of magnitude worse in every respect.

  21. LisaS says:

    streetgrid, in addition to the factors noted by Steve and Adam, I’ll revert to the mantra learned from my real estate broker grandmother:

    Location, location, location.

  22. GMichaud says:

    Hampton Village was completely redone about 10 years ago. I think the whole point here is that the citizens of St. Louis deserve a well designed city, served by transit, that is energy efficient and sustainable, with many small scale opportunities available.
    The model of development that Loughborough Commons represents is already an archaic dinosaur that will become extinct of its own accord. Demise in twenty years?, maybe, it does not fit into a new age of urban revival that is necessary for survival in the coming years. It is a model that cannot be sustained.

  23. Joe Frank says:

    I agree Loughborough Commons has a number of site-planning problems, but you also have to remember the major expense involved in the regrading of the Nordyne furnace plant site to lift it out of the flood plain. I’m not saying that was a sustainable, environmentally-friendly policy decision, but it got all the necessary approvals and permits, I believe.

    Also, be aware there IS a Transportation Development District/Community Improvement District in place for Loughborough Commons. Go to http://dors.mo.gov/tax/strgis/input.jsp and enter 600 Loughborough, 63111.

    The sales tax on purchases at Lowe’s, Schnucks, and anything else that gets built in that center in the future, is 1% higher than most other parts of the city.

    I do not know what project(s) for which the TDD is earmarked.

    But I don’t know that Steve’s site plan would change the traffic patterns all that much. Most drivers would still enter from Loughborough. Some pedestrians and cyclists might use the extensions of French, Blow, Roswell, and Robert, but the only drivers coming that way would be those from the immediate neighborhood to the west.

    I think the TDD should be used not just to upgrade the Loughborough overpass at the BNSF tracks and at I-55, but also to build a secondary overpass at Blow Street and/or underpass at Robert Avenue, whatever could be accomplished without losing any houses in the remarkably intact neighborhood along Idaho Avenue, which is essentially part of the I-55 off-ramp to Loughborough.

    The many dramatic grade changes in this vicinity might make that very expensive, however.


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