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SLU + Grand Center; The Intersection of Asphalt & Demolition

Saint Louis University (SLU) President Fr. Biondi, a member of the Board of Directors of Grand Center, thinks a new basketball arena will help Grand Center by bringing thousands of people to midtown. Others apparently agree. However, they are all wrong. Yes, thousands will come to basketball games — all driving cars on the highways and streets. Some will come to the games via mass transit while some students will, it is thought, walk from their nearby dorms. The notion, however, that thousands attending a sporting event in a single indoor facility will have net positive impact on surrounding areas is unproven at best. This is the Reaganomics of urban planning theory.

A few years back Fr. Biondi and SLU VP Kathleen Brady wanted to locate their massive arena on the western end of the emerging Locust Business District, adjacent to Grand Center. SLU bought a number of buildings but could not get the huge quantity of land they needed, some owners thankfully refused to sell to SLU. Unable to get their first location they shifted gears and decided to locate the arena south of Laclede and west of Compton. The Locust Business District, many thought, was safe from SLU’s over worked wrecking ball.

At the ground breaking for the new arena last August I spoke one-on-one with the Alderman for the area, Mike McMillan (since elected License Collector). McMillan had this to say to me at the time:

“If there had been a lot of demolition over in the Locust Business District it would have had a significant negative impact on the long-term success of that area so this project being here is a lot better for the surrounding community.”

A very astute observation the part of former 19th-ward Alderman McMillan, demolition can indeed have a negative impact on areas in the long term. The problem is his hand-picked successor, Marlene Davis, seems to think demolition in the Locust Business District is OK. Unfortunately this area is conveniently excluded from any oversight by the city’s Preservation Board, a group appointed by the Mayor to review demolition permits and other preservation related matters. Yesterday the city issued a demolition permit to Bellon Wrecking to raze one of numerous buildings owned by SLU in the Locust Business District. The plan, as far as we know, is more surface parking for the new arena being constructed four blocks to the south.

This is the part where I get confused, how exactly is this area to rebound when it is the repository of cars for big events blocks away? Can Fr. Biondi, Kathleen Brady, Ald. Davis or former Mayor and currently Grand Center’s President Vince Schoemehl please explain this trickle over theory to me? Can they cite examples where large surface parking lots have helped neighborhoods thrive? I’ve visited many cities and studied many more and I personally am at a loss for a single example. Oh wait, the surface parking for Busch Stadium spurred activity in the form of Al Hrabosky’s Ballpark Saloon, a pre-fab metal building. People drink there before, during and after baseball games.


The building SLU is currently razing in the area is an old 19th century livery stable, a rather unassuming building in its coat of white paint (see map). Cleaned up, renovated and adapted for modern use the building could be a showplace. For more on the history of the building see Michael Allen’s Ecology of Absence. The key to this building is not its long history (although that is important) or its very simple detailing (although that too is interesting). No, the key to this building is location. I believe this building, if it were to remain standing, would play an important part of the Locust Business District which is doing an excellent job of connecting downtown to midtown (aka Grand Center). The area is already parking heavy but some good infill buildings could quickly reverse that. Instead of edging toward infill and reconnection, we are moving toward increased parking and further separation. The city, university, and Grand Center are making this area a no-man’s land.


SLU owns the next two buildings in the block to the east. Are these next?


Across Locust to the south of the livery, SLU owns the above building which fronts onto Olive.


Thankfully SLU does not own the 6-story building on the left, in the same block as the livery currently being razed. Signs indicate the possible conversion to condos, an excellent reuse of the building and an ideal location. However, the the city vacating the alley on half this block this building’s alley will be a dead end — not ideal for trash, fire or general use. By cutting off the alley they are ensuring the fate of this building will not be good. The buff brick building on the right is a new motorcycle museum while the old livery can be seen in the middle of the picture.


As I indicated, the 6-story warehouse building with an excellent reuse potential for housing is about to be located on a dead-end alley. The back of the building, at right in the above image, is perfect for indoor parking for resident’s cars (the livery is on the right of the alleyin the background). With the alley terminated by SLU’s parking lot, access and services for this warehouse will be greatly reduced, ditto for a property facing Washington.

The streets and alleys of the city are one of our greatest assets yet we continue to give this land away. Car advocates cite greater mobility as a wonderful thing yet we keep reducing mobility options by closing off public rights of way. We are probably paying SLU to take the alley away the citizens of the city forever. Remember that the arena is a private venture receiving $8 million in public subsidy.

Let’s go for a stroll eastbound on Locust to see what is happening in the area.


The three story building on the left, located at 3327 Locust, is one of 8 parcels owned by SLU on this block (city block 1043). The other seven, such as the two in the middle, are owned by others. This block would have been completely razed for the arena but the parts SLU owns may all get razed due to Biondi’s worship of the places we temporarily store cars. The old firehouse above is a private residence and the buff building, I believe, is used as a recording studio. These two are bookended by SLU owned buildings.


The area’s flavor comes from the interesting variety of buildings, ironically many once used as car dealerships in earlier days of motoring. This grouping, have all been renovated or are in the process of. A sudden influx of generic and lifeless surface parking might kill off what is naturally occuring without the aid of fancy streetscape projects or other similar over-the-top incentives.


This lovely moderne building is getting new windows and new life.


The far right building (above) is a private residence which I saw a few years ago on a Rehabber’s Club tour while it was being created out of an old building. It is exceptionally nice inside with a comfortable courtyard space behind.


One of my favorites on Locust, recently renovated and available for lease.

The fine building above, at 3039 Locust, will open this fall as The Fountain on Locust. The Post-Dispatch indicated a few days ago that, “Tom Brady’s black box theater will be located at 3001 Locust.” Great things are occuring in this area, something we should not mess with.


Building after building is getting renovated for new uses although this former car dealership is a classic car dealership.


The far right building, at the NW corner of Locust & Garrison, is currently undergoing a major renovation. The next block to the east (block 1013) is entirely vacant and ripe for redevelopment to support the efforts underway. However, with the lack of any demolition review and no design standards for the area that block might just end up as more surface parking or even worse, a suburban-style Walgreen’s. The potential exists but I don’t believe for a moment our leadership has the ability to realize that potential. With the right developer, they might luck into a good project(s) for the vacant land.


Across Locust from the vacant city block is one of the most interesting collection of facades in the entire city. Although the storefronts have been unfortunately altered over the years, the future potential is great — assuming they are not razed, surrounded by surface parking lots or suburban type development.


Again, great old bones in need of some new storefronts. As the market naturally progresses, these two can be renovated if they are not razed first.


The YWCA renovated this old and long vacant YWCA at their local headquarters.


This building was just renovated and is used for offices.

We are nearly to Jefferson now on our tour where many more warehouses have or are being renovated and reopend for new uses. Washington Avenue, just a block north of Locust, also has interesting things happening between Jefferson and Grand. Sadly, as you head west toward Grand (and thus the Grand Center area) you encounter massive areas of surface parking which kill the options of creating a good connection between the emerging Locust district with some of the cultural amenities in Grand Center. Massive surface parking lots, no matter how neatly stripped or beautifully landscaped, are barriers not connectors.


One such massive dividing parking lot, at Theresa and Olive, remained vacant yesterday while the streets were occupied with people attending Circus Flora. This is adjacent to the block where SLU is razing the livery building for more parking.


More parking, recently repaved, was vacant although a popular circus is happening right behind me. The livery building is in the background. You see, each group or entity with enough money and clout is creating their own parking area. Grand Center has been for some time, and is increasingly, a small island of fine cultural institutions surrounded by ever larger acres of surface parking. SLU, it seems, cannot risk sharing parking because what if they have a basketball game on the same night as the Symphony or a theatrical performance at the Fox. Rather than coordinated schedules and wise parking management we simply raze structures at will and create more surface parking. Grand Center’s slogan should not be The Center of Art and Life but instead the Center of Asphalt and Demolition.

Former Mayor Schoemehl, you will recall, was a co-conspirator in the razing of numerous historic structures to create the failed Gateway Mall. He, along with Grand Center’s Board which includes SLU’s Fr. Biondi, are working hard at clearing mid-town of buildings and life. But, don’t forget that the arena is going to benefit Grand Center somehow. I find it rather odd that Grand Center’s website fails to mention this new exciting addition to the area (the arena or more surface parking). If the arena will do so much for Grand Center, why not shout it out on the organization’s website? Well, they really know the truth so they are keeping quiet. After all, what would cultured patrons of the arts think about Grand Center if they read about a new arena in the area — it would ruin the idea of an arts district. Emily Pulitzer, another board member, is probably not convinced basketball fans 6-8 blocks from her museum will somehow take an interest in modern art.
The city’s lack of planning for contiguous neighborhoods & districts is never more evident than in this area. The big boys are allowed to do as they please while individual residents and business owners, creating a very interesting area despite the city, are left on the sidelines hoping what they do will not be destroyed. This is the exact opposite of how you build a city.


Currently there are "29 comments" on this Article:

  1. Kara says:

    Thanks Steve for this insightful post into a couple of the most troubled areas of the city. I view Grand Center as very troubled because with all of the efforts, development, and money thrown at this area and the adjacent SLU area it seems to be barely more active than it was 25 years ago.
    It causes me to question if those in power are just simply completely inept and ignorant on how to do their jobs, or are they actually in the know and just consider the city of St. Louis something to use and abuse for their own personal gain? In nearly every case they seem to be doing the opposite of what it takes to create an active and thriving city. Still, St. Louis seems to be surviving and doing better in spite of all the bad planning from the leaders. Think of what St. Louis could be if these leaders of ours would just step back a little and let the city grow and evolve a little more naturally.

  2. john says:

    In St. Louis parking lots are GRAND! Perfectly consistent… too bad. I bike Locust frequently (instead of on Olive) as the buildings are great and my grandfather use to have his auto accessories shop there over 80 years ago. Yes Locust has a long and interesting history with automobiles. According to one of GM’s websites, the first car stolen was in 1906 and in St. Louis. Particularly in areas close to state lines, state law enforcement authorities were seriously hampered by car thieves’ ability to transport stolen vehicles beyond the jurisdiction in which the theft occurred which led to the Dyer Act in 1919. And now we will have a monument of history being stolen to please the auto-dependent. Will this lead to the Patterson Act of 2020?

  3. The intersection of Art and Death is what I call Grand Center. It is a huge disappointment and I simply do not understand why those in power peruse theories which obviously have not brought any pedestrian life. It seems they believe if they keep trying suddenly they will get it right. What would work is not autocentric development, but a street car connecting Grand South Grand to Grand Center. Along with the new Grand viaduct bridge, and a better designed Metrolink, this would be a huge boom for this area and the rest of South Grand. I would like to see it stretch all the way to the Watertower as some sections of North Grand do still have viable storefronts which could be reopened. Why is this such a crazy idea in St. Louis? Why do we keep demolishing buildings for parking? People, both regionally and internationally, will not move here for parking lots!

  4. toby says:

    “The city, university, and Grand Center are making this area a no-man’s land.”

    Exactly, and especially SLU.

    We once saw a photo exhibit on their campus showing the evolution of the campus through the decades. They have been candid and methodical about relieving the area of its original fiber and creating a new oasis.

    If I remember correctly, one of the cutlines on one of the photos even alluded to sparing the students the sight of dirty and dangerous neighborhoods surrounding them.

    If SLU can make a court of law declare them non-religious for the sake of tax credits, then SLU can do whatever it wants. Always has, probably always will. Jesus will ride down the middle of Locust on a donkey before SLU ever gives a crap about preservation and the fiber of the area they inhabit.

    Personally, I treat the entire area the way they do: The Biondi in the Plastic Bubble. Most of us are germs to be kept out, which is fine since life in a bubble is undesirable on every level.

  5. StL_Stadtroller says:

    The classic car dealership (The Charles Motor Company) you photographed belongs to a VW Type2 enthusiast friend of mine and his father. They’ve done a lot of hard work to preserve and restore their building and support those around them. They’ve had space in the 2nd floor of the dealership available for quite some time now. Every few weeks VW friends of mine hang out here, admire and work on our cars and I have noted the progress in the area, and vast destruction in the name of progress as well.
    CMC’s building has a long and very interesting history, and the owner really knows a lot about the local “Auto row” history of Locust. A lot of St. Louis-built cars were sold along here.
    Next time we get together you should cruise by for a visit and we’ll give you the nickel tour!

  6. A.Torch says:

    Intersection of Art and Death…I like that label, but it doesn’t need to be that dismal. The sad truth is, even when it is gallery walk night, most folks drive down to the area around 6 to 7pm and are gone by 8pm, I can’t think of anyone I know who eats dinner in the district because there isn’t much of a choice. The younger crowd may stay out later but again leave the district for the Tap Room, Wash Ave or the Grove for dinner and drinks. The only way to rebuild a business district there is to *stop* SLU from destroying all the viable buildings and establish business’ on key corners such as the old Woolworth spot and the mostly vacant Carter Caruretor building at Grandel.

  7. Dole says:

    Let me start by saying that I don’t like the destruction of historic buildings, but…………………..we need to come up ideas of what businesses could thrive in these locations. It’s not enough to sit back and bemoan the destruction; let’s come up with some real ideas.

    I would like to see more restaurants and housing in the area. First, something needs to be done to make the area seem cleaner and safer.

  8. suburbia says:

    There are restaurants downtown which extend their hours during Cardinal games. Their businesses depend on the sports crowds visiting downtown. This week, there are thousands of visitors downtown for the National Baptist convention. Restaurants are seeing a big increase in receipts. It’s a good thing for the City that we have sports and conventions downtown.

  9. Great post. I agree. It will be very interesting to see how the proposals roll in for the recent RFP for the corner of Grand & Lindell. The RFP originally rolled out a couple years ago with the Metropolitian Building as a part of it. Since then, it is becoming the condos…er…hotel, and Father recently got hold of the old Missouri State -owned building just east of Grand on Lindell. It is now part of the new RFP with the corner parcel.

  10. the wayward wanderer says:

    everyone email biondi at slu.edu ASAFP

  11. the wayward wanderer says:

    also email
    VP Kathleen B Brady:
    BRADYK at slu.edu
    and VP Kent Porterfield:

    SLU is destroying Saint Louis. It might have been better for them to have fled to the suburbs during Reinert’s reign. God almighty.

  12. There is little bemoaning the destruction for its own sake. People are upset because the building had obvious reuse potential and definite developer interest. Who knows exactly what it could have been, or should have been, but anything involving residential use probably would have worked. Or office space. Or retail. The beauty of Locust Street is that it is truly a mixed-use district.

  13. Patrick says:

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say SLU is destroying St. Louis. As a former SLU Grad, I know many people who know call the city home, because living on SLUs campus introduced them to it.

    I think SLU creates many future city residents if nothing else. 5 of my closest SLU friends (plus me) have all bought houses/condos/lofts in the city in the last year. I doubt all of us would have done this if SLU had been in the county.

  14. jj says:

    When do you graduate? I wouldn’t be surprised if Biondi kicks you out for being too critical. You heard it here first. Crazier things have happened and we all know he’s a fascist prick.

  15. Becker says:

    jj that is simply uncalled for.

    Steve your comments section are quickly slipping beyond the realm of civil discussion.

  16. TM says:

    Is the new parking lot mean to serve the Locust Business District as well? If so, then I can see some justification for it as it will see use even on non-game days. As for an example of a parking lot helping a neighborhood thrive, look no further than the large western lot in the Loop, I doubt most people would take the trouble to go there if convenient parking weren’t available.

    [SLP — I don’t see any indications the parking will serve other uses, but might.  But the LBD could use the large lot in the next block west — opposite Theresa.  Other currently vacant parcels exist where you could use temporarily for off-street parking once the on-street fills up.]

  17. Jim Zavist says:

    Dole pretty much nails it . . . we’re a city full of old buildings – we need to find ways to put them to use or they will continue to fade away. Do I like the conversion to parking lots here? No! But the landowners need to be able to use their investments productively. Unfortunately, the current “highest and best use” for many parcels probably is for parking. Yes, the area can, and probably will, support (at most) a couple dozen more sports bars / restaurants. And yes, taking out another old structure will damage the historic fabric of the street. But there will also be an increased demand for parking, especially in conjunction with adding more entertainment venues. Bottom line, it’s a business decision, and unless some entity is willing to subsidize unproductive uses or the mothballing of old / “historic” structures for some unknown future use, structures like this are very much at risk. It’s old, it probably has been neglected for years, and it probably will need a LOT of work before it’s “truly renovated and adapted for modern use [and] a showplace.” And the answer is not to make everything “historic”. Every old building has a “history”, even if it’s only ten years old, but it doesn’t make it significant. But I will concede, the one thing I don’t get here is the argument that the new parking is needed or will be end up being used for the arena “four blocks to the south” – there simply are too many other, closer options.

    [SLP — The thing we have to think about it is if the parking demend is created because people like to hang out in bars in cool old warehouses, we can’t tear down all the old warehouses to satisfy the parking demand.  There is a thing known as a tipping point where you can manage to destroy the natural demand for an area by taking away too much.  If the highest and best use for land is parking that cannot help but impact adjacent land values negatively  so that pretty soon an area is only value is as parking.]

  18. Thor Randelson says:


    For the record, I believe that Grand Center is not trumpeting the new arena because Grand Center did not get its way. SLU was alway somewhat reluctant to put the arena in the heart of Grand Center.

    Grand Center was upset when SLU finally decided to locate the new arena outside of Grand Center (although the SLU campus is within the Grand Center TIF district). Beyond this disagreement, Grand Center has been (and continues to be) very teritorial about its parking. Consider the constant squabbles over the parking behind the FOX Theater between the FOX owners and Grand Center.

    When it comes right down too it, Grand Center believes that it has three great assets: SLU, its collection of arts institutions, and ample parking. SLU didn’t play ball on locating the new gym, so Grand Center must preserve the later two at all costs.

    [SLP — Interesting, can you cite anything to back this up?  Grand Center seems in step with SLU on this.  Grand Center’s TIF district was extended to include the arena site south of Laclede.]

  19. Tyson says:

    Re: your response to JZ, true, at some point you’re destroying what people are coming down there for. It reminds me a bit of the Century building debacle (i.e. compromising a historic district to provide parking…for the historic district). My problem with letting the “best and highest use” prevail at any one moment in time is that once a parking lot is created it cannot simply be switched back to historic structure once the district improves, so we/SLU/city have to be very careful about just letting the market decide what goes there. I enjoy JZ’s common sense perspective on things, but even he allows that in this case there are a multitude of other parking options nearby.
    Another thought…If we’re going to stop complaining about the proliferation of parking lots in the area, and if this is supposed to become a regional arts destination, the city is going to have to make some commitment to mass transit in/around Grand Center – (streetcar/trolley Metrolink/BRT etc.)

  20. I am baffled by Jim Zavist’s comment:

    “Bottom line, it’s a business decision, and unless some entity is willing to subsidize unproductive uses or the mothballing of old / ‘historic’ structures for some unknown future use, structures like this are very much at risk.”

    We are discussing not hypothetical “structures like this” but this very structure, right?

    We know that Jassen Johnson wanted to develop the building for a productive use; read this weeks’ Riverfront Times for details. That was his “business decision” until SLU sniped the building.

    As far as I know, he did not propose mothballing or subsidized unproductive uses at the livery stable.

    Do you really think that the “highest and best use” for this land is parking?

  21. Jim Zavist says:

    Because of where SLU chose to locate their new arena, and unlike the Scottrade Center, Metrolink does not seem to be a viable option for anyone other than the most-dedicated transit user. The nearest stop appears to be the Grand station, and the intervening 5-6 blocks are NOT pedestrian friendly, consisting mostly of viaducts and crossing freeways, so driving and parking will be how the vast majority of the patrons will arrive and leave. The big challenge with large event facilities like this one is that everyone wants to arrive and leave at the same time/within a one-hour window. It’s really hard to make mass transit work for, say, basketball games when you need 50 buses to move 3000 patrons in and out. It takes 50 vehicles out of other service (if you have them) and you have to pay 50 operators for ±6 hours of “work” each, yet you can only charge for one roundtrip. Laidlaw might be able to pull it off using their school bus fleet, but I doubt they’d find many takers.

  22. Jim Zavist says:

    Long term, parking is not the highest and best use. Short term, it could very well be. Typically, and in very rough terms, it costs ±$10,000 per space to do surface parking (or $33/sq. ft.) You can charge, what, $5 per space per day for special events. Assume 8 days per month x 12 months = ±100 days x $5 = $5,000 – you get your investment paid back in two years. In contrast, renovating would probably run $80-$100/sq. ft., and you might be able to get $20/sq. ft. in rent, making your payback take 4-5 years. Obviously, you have to add in carrying costs, development costs and subtract the lost intrinsic value of an old and interesting structure. It all depends on one’s investment perspective (long term vs. short term) and your risk threshold – pay parking lots are no brainers with a quick cash flow that exceeds the initial, relatively-small investment. And if the area does become hot in 5, 10 or 20 years, you still own the land and you can put up a new structure to house whatever will make more money. Alternately, you can bet another exposed-brick-and-wood-beamed sports bar will be a better investment, but it’s going to take twice as long to turn a profit, but if it does, it could easily genereate more cash flow . . . ahh, the wonderful world of business and investing!

  23. Jeff says:

    Why not pave the massive vacant lot on Locust for parking?

    Obviously Biondi has never bothered to read “Death and Life of Great American Cities” or else he would understand the significance of smaller, pedestrian-scaled “filler” buildings. In a district like this, maintaining the continuity and density of the streetscape is crucial.

    I’m to pissed to get into all I want to say right now…

  24. Jim Zavist says:

    If you really want to fix the problem, rework the property tax system to reduce taxes on “underused” and overvalued older structures and increase them substantially on revenue-producing surface parking lots – money talks and it’s a big part of any investment decision!

  25. Maurice says:

    We can argue till we are blue in the face on the pros and cons. And I’m sure that each side has some very valid points.

    I know from my own experiences that the area in question is so-so at night. By that I mean that there is crime, the streets are dirty and not very well lit, etc. I also know that when we go to the Fox or Powell, parking is easy, but there are few eateries that are walking distance. I’m not a big fan of loud music or bar food if I want a bite before a show. I would love to see more restaurants, more condos, more life….but the balance between autos and pedestrians is a fine line.

  26. TPE says:

    SLU’s and Grand Center are placing their money on parking can go back to their locations being next to two interstates (SLU, Grand Center and the interstates aren’t going to change locations any time soon). but I also put some blame on the area’s blunder (in my mind) of building the inital metrolink infrastructure on the cheap. The county, city, and locust business district missed out by snaking metrolink around SLU and Grand Center instead of connecting it directly with a major institutional area that could support a lot more mixed re-use/urban/loft development. Especially with the fact your midtown between major employment areas.

    A Streetcar along a rebuilt Grand Ave bridge/rebuilt metro stop might get people out of their cars into this area. However, I think their is other neighborhoods that are farther along in re-developement and density that would see a much greater use of the streetcar and thus make better use of funds it would require to build a street car line at the moment.

  27. Jim Zavist says:

    http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_6199212 Yesterday, across from Coors Field in Denver, the Rockies were playing the Yankees. One surface lot was $50, several were $40. This is in an area like the Washington loft district meets Busch Stadium here, and what the area around SLU’s new arena will be like. Do I like it? No! But if you build it, they will come and they will want a place to park and they will pay for the privilege of doing so. It ain’t about aesthetics, it’s about making money, in an area that generated little positive revenue for the property owners for many years . . .

  28. Lynn says:

    You’ll wait a long time for eateries to open in the neighborhood if SLU continues to demolish the buildings that, if occupied, would provide the density needed to support eateries.

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