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St. Louis Should Abandon Linear Gateway Mall Concept

A week ago St. Louis’ Director of Planning and Urban Design, Rollin Stanley, unveiled the latest in a long series of plans for the linear park known as Gateway Mall. From a city press release:

Thomas Balsley and Associates and Urban Strategies, Inc. have been selected as the team to develop a plan to rejuvenate the 18-block Gateway Mall. The Gateway Mall extends from the Old Courthouse to 22nd Street and was a part of the grand “Civic Plaza” plan originally conceived by the City’s Civic Plaza Commission, chaired by noted landscape architect Harland Bartholomew in the early 1920s.

Last week I went into a too-long post about the history of the mall in the last few decades, including many of the players and politics. In short, everyone thought the mall was done when two “final” blocks were landscaped in the early 1990s. The only problem? People stayed away from the mall despite a resurgence in downtown activity and thousands of new residents in nearby lofts. The Gateway Mall is one of the biggest and most expensive (unofficial) dog parks ever created.

The team selected for this task appears to be quite talented, but restricted by local politics and process. In this post I plan to explain the latest concept for the mall, illustrate the reasons why I don’t think it will work and finally argue for the abandonment of the linear concept but not all of the open space.

First I should explain that I’ve seen nearly every plan produced since the 1920s as well as having read a good bit about the mall and the repetition of failed assumptions over the decades. I also participated in the organization of the local design charette held in the Fall of 2005 as well as serving on a team during the charette. I’ve also walked every block in question as well as surrounding blocks numerous times. Therefore, I believe I have a good grasp on the area and the issues facing it.

Last weeks presentation is available in PDF format here. The following were listed as objectives, that the mall should:

  • “Play an active role in the life of the city and the region”
  • “Attract and amaze”
  • “Bring the region together to celebrate and remember”
  • “Be innovative and interactive for its entire length”

At this point in the presentation I was all excited to find out just how 18 blocks can accomplish all this. To start off with they are describing the linear fashion as having a “Structuring Framework” of “6 Rooms, 1 Hall.” That is planning talk for this thing is so long we have six different spaces connected by one sidewalk. Sidewalks, trees, lighting and even millions in art can only do so much for a space.

The shotgun style mall is neatly divided by the team into the six rooms, starting from the west: terminus, neighborhood, civic, urban garden, Kiener Plaza and finally the Arch grounds. The hall, they say, will bring people together and create a strong connection between the various districts. The hall is a sidewalk with a double row of trees. Oh sure, it will be a nice sidewalk and the trees will be quite nice and well lit but I’m not convinced that we will all of a sudden begin to walk from the Old Courthouse at Broadway down to Union station along this particular sidewalk. Tourists might be convinced to walk part of it, but doubtful about the full length.

One of the objectives was to “play an active role in the life of the city and the region.” Sorry guys but the park space that has the region’s attention is the massive Forest Park only a few miles West. It gets, and fully deserves, this regional view. Remember too, we just leased a small section of Forest Park to BJC to help fund maintenance of Forest Park to free up limited park funds to help keep up all our other parks. We are a city of 353K, not 850K+ as we were in the 1950s — we must live within our means which translates to not having more park space than we can maintain or use. Neighborhood parks serve their areas, we need an appropriate amount of park space for downtown.

The Arch grounds are more than enough total area for city residents, tourists and the region. Unfortunately, it is also hard to access and frankly pretty boring after the first visit. The US National Park Service keeping a military style Hummer at one of the entrances isn’t exactly welcoming either. A “lid” over I-70 to better connect the ground to downtown have been discussed for decades but nothing has happened. Connecting this massive green space with downtown, in my view, is more critical to the city than a tricked out riverfront, a new Mississippi River bridge or a $20 million gift for an urban sculpture park.

But even once we properly connect downtown to the Arch grounds we still have all these open blocks it fill up. Like previous plans, the latest calls for a series of things to attract and retain people. It may look good on paper and sound well in a presentation but I believe in reality it will be simply things to fill up the space. Will people really play volleyball across from the post office? Will “world-class” sculpture across from the AT&T tower make those blocks come alive 24/7? Maybe for the first couple of years until everyone has had a chance to see it and the newness has worn off.

The team did an “analysis” of the area and concluded the park space is 22.3 acres and the roadway was 28.7 acres. Many of the roads are too wide but to count the area of the adjacent streets outside the park area is misleading. The omit the acreage of the Arch grounds is highly misleading. Besides, a tree-lined street can be wonderful public space.

This latest plan is more of the same, toss in the latest things of interest and cross your fingers that this time it will work. One of the most absurd notions put forth by the team is that cars parked on the cross streets like 15th and 9th are part of the reason people don’t use the mall. Similarly, they think we should eliminate on-street parking from market street because that will block the view of the park space presumably from those driving down Market. This thinking is that with the vista open a motorist driving down Market will pull over and park in one of the many parking garages facing the Mall and take a gander on foot. Yeah, right.

Another half-baked idea was a 10ft wide lane along the North side of Market to serve as a 2-way bike system like “they have in Paris.” Uh, sure but this ain’t France. I can just picture head-on bike collisions along Market, never mind how to cyclists get into this system from the opposite side of the street. The assumption is that with cars banned from Market and side streets and a 10ft bike lane people will rush to the area on foot and bike. The main assumption continues to be that people will want to traverse downtown in an east-west direction along Market. This ignores the fact that so many other things are happening both north and south of Market St.

The plan presented last week basically ignores the properties outside the mall boundaries. With only a few exceptions, the buildings forming the urban edge to the mall are horrible urban renewal era structures which are inwardly focused. The presentation showed urban parks in other cities that actually had real architecture around the edges. As long as we have mistakes like blank walled parking garages and lifeless mirrored buildings the urban space is doomed, no matter how much bling you toss inside. What is around a successful urban park is as important, if not more important, than the space inside.

We generally don’t use cities in strict linear fashion unless that is the direction we are headed. Downtown has transit stops, sports venues, lofts, retail, employment and entertainment on both side of Market St — we don’t want people sticking to this strick linear hallway as we might damage what we have going in other areas. I don’t think any risk exists of this hallway hurting the other areas though, people go where they have activities. Going against the emerging areas throughout downtown would be a big waste of money and energy.

As indicated in the headline, I think St. Louis needs to abandon the entire Gateway Mall concept. We should just accept that perhaps a few generations ago the idea of this linear park was a good solution for the time it is not what we need in 21st century St. Louis. I’m not suggesting we build on every open parcel, not by any stretch. Let me explain my thoughts and then I will show you some of the ideas mapped out:

  • Market Street from Jefferson to Broadway should become a grand boulevard, an elegant street that is a joy to walk along on both sides for however long someone is doing so. This would also continue in the current role as a parade route. It is currently, however, way too wide and should be narrowed. On-street parking should be retained while the various pedestrian crossings need to be shortened. All streets downtown should be a joy to walk along — active edges and tree lined and spotted with controversial public art.
  • The 22nd Street Interchange, part of an abandoned highway concept from a few decades ago, needs to be ripped out with the land returned to active tax-paying use. The Missouri Dept of Transportation (MoDOT) should rework the interchange at Jefferson Ave to allow for on/off ramps in both directions and therefore eliminating the need for the current ramps at 22nd. MoDot could sell the land to fund the revisions to the highway ramps.
  • A friend had the idea of attracting Centene Corp from the non-blighted Clayton area to the arguably blighted Gateway Mall area. Centene could take a couple of the blocks created by the space used for the 22nd interchange. The fact the area is already dug out would help make underground parking all the more feasible. We have other blocks to offer them as well if they don’t like that location.
  • Park areas would be left in front of Union Station, around the Soilders Memorial, one block in front of AT&T and the one block west of the Old Courthouse. Five blocks along this linear path would be sold to developers along with form-based codes about how new structures should be built — basically no blank walls. I should note here that in 2005 I spoke one-on-one with St. Louis’ Mayor Slay about selling some of the land for development — he didn’t think that would go over well. A few months later he supported leasing park land to BJC for development. Given a recently passed law, city voters would have to approve the idea of developing some of the parcels.
  • With considerably less park space downtown and more development area I think the balance would be more successful.
  • I have many more ideas about this space, many of which are not original to me I should add. I simply do not have the time to fully elaborate here unless some foundation wants to pay me to assemble a local team to flesh out the concept. I think we could do it for a fraction of the $400K the current team is getting from the Gateway Foundation.

Click here to view a Google map with some of my thoughts mapped out. The blue/purple areas are blocks that should be developed which includes land owned by the city, state, and private interests. As you will see, I’ve done my best to restore the street grid and I’ve created a few streets where they did not exist before (back of Union Station). I didn’t mark all the parking lots and other areas that also need developing but you will get the idea.


Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. Greg says:

    Would it be worthwhile to start some sort of petition that would show support for alternative uses for the sites you have proposed? The project as it has been described thus far by the city seems incredibly misguided and wasteful of a wonderful opportunity.

  2. chouteau says:

    If Centene Corp wanted to move its headquarters ops to the Mall site, you’d see city boosters marching to beat the band. Charlie Brennan suggested the same thing on KMOX.

  3. john says:

    Of course the “mall art idea” is bankrupt like most of the ideas from the Soviet-style of leadership here. But if the central planners decide to go ahead, perhaps they can start with the art work at Hanley & Wydown. That phat horse & man were also loaned by the Gateway Foundation to Clayton. On the other hand it is so appropriate for a community with such an inflated sense of self to retain it where it is. As described by RAC: “Botero’s inflated figures can be understood as both a celebration and a criticism. While some see the obese, infantile forms as a parody of the childish, disgusting behavior of the bourgeois, …” Botero once said: “I don’t want the people in my paintings to look particularly intelligent”…how fitting.

  4. St. Louis CofCC Blogmeister says:

    I see 6th and 7th extended one block southward through the ballpark village that there are illusory promises to build, but will probably never be built. Does this mean that you, too, are probably resigned to the fact that the BP will never come to be?

    I always wondered why The Powers That Be thinks that something needs to go there. In reality, the view of the Old Courthouse and surrounding buildings from Bush is nice enough as it is. I would convert what would be the BP to an urban park or green space.

    [SLP –— I think something needs to go on that site and not more damned green space — we have far more than we can possibly use already.  If you want green go to the arch or Forest Park.]

  5. dude says:

    i usaully don’t participate in these things but here i go… so steve, I guess it is safe to say you’re excited about this? So am I. I think connecting some of the green patches to better form a mall, and revitalizing downtown are two different things. I think removing 17th and 15th is good. The both dead-end into market or one block further south any way. I annually participate in mall events like Patty’s day run, Spirit of StL Half Marathon, Rib America, did the Komen thing saturday, and Strassenfest. The mall currently gets some great use. I’d be happy just to see a grand lawn running all the way out to 18th. A sculpture park would be welcome. Now the recharging of downtown, yes is the more difficult task. Your skeptical and so am I, espically on the western side where there currently is no retail space, minus Union Station, and really no potential for any, much different from over on Wash Av. Comments from others I’ll repeat is the homeless is a real nuisance. Someone had the great idea of getting some fence and corralling them all into the serra sculpture. The Post office wharehouse isn’t going away anytime soon. Gateway One isn’t getting removed anytime soon. The For Sale sign on the building on Olive or Pine north of Union Station is a real eye sore.
    However some of the more novel ideas I think will help like the dog park. I think a weekend or weekly farmers market would be good (even though Soulard is just a mile or two away). There popular around town right now. Steinbergs on the weekend is slammed with ice skaters. I only go on weekday nights and then usually only if the ice is good. Downtown would get ice skaters in the winter timej, espicially on weekends. A replica of turtle park I think would be good. Turtle Park seems to get a lot of patrons. I think a childrens horse carousel would look good. Market is too wide. You are right. I think so is Lindell. I think two east west running street cars would be super cool, like Denver’s free mall busses. May be the Lindell one could run all the way to the Cathedral or Euclid. Our downtown compares better to lower Manhattan (below Canal) and is it La Defence in Paris?, the tall office building commercial districts. Is there that much going on in those parts of town at night and on the weekends? I think it’s understood it’s for commercial use. We have active spots in our city. Euclind&Maryland, the Landing, Dogtown, Soulard, the Hill, Mobat/T.G./South Grand,the Loop,Clayton. You know I haven’t heard any one mention setting asside land for a memorial for veterans of the current Iraq War down by the veteran’s memorial. The Iraq War should be ramping down soon so it’d be great to remember our local folk who served there.
    On July 17th, we’ll see closer to what the planners have in mind. With the cash StL has, a lot of the extreme ideas I don’t think StL can afford.

  6. MattHurst says:

    dear steve,
    i know you’re not usually a fan of my comments, but I still wanted to thank you for the creative inclusion of google maps with edits to illustrate your ideas about the mall. i understood your plans, especally the otherwise invisibible 2nnd unterchnage quite better than the project proposal’s website use of aerial photography. good luck with your proposal, you have an appreciation from many of readers because of the thought you put into it

  7. Jim Zavist says:

    I like it. It’s a good response/antidote to the classic knee-jerk response of “make it a park”. But let me throw out another idea, essentially “robbing Peter to pay Paul” – what if, instead of ripping out the 22nd Street interchange, we complete it? Extend it north and east, to the vicinity of 11th & Cass and relocate I-70 (you could even dead-end the existing part of I-70 at the Jones Dome and the new casino complex). Doing so would more effectively connect the Arch grounds to downtown AND remove some of the congestion driving the “need” for another bridge over the Mississippi. The problem with the Poplar Street Bridge is not so much the bridge itself as with the tight approach ramps and the limited capacity in the “trench”. I know, I know, the last thing we want to do is to rip out more blocks and build new freeways, but we sometimes need to make tough choices. Fixing downtown involves more than creating a new parks. It involves making walkable connections and bringing 24/7 life back to the area, and block after block of “park” isn’t the way to do it.

    [SLP – OK, you’ve got a lot going on in your comment.  First, the last sentence if dead on! 

    The whole highway thing is way off, however.  Once the 22nd Parkway was dropped the buildings in the path got renovated.  I think Paul McKee is the only one that might like your idea but starting with the Tap Room you’d have to wipe out a bunch of business and homes.  The solution is to do the fix of the ramps at the Poplar Street Bridge that MoDot has discussed — instead they wait on discussion of a new bridge.  They have a better solution to improve access to the existing bridge — get busy with that.

    The state selling the land consumed by the interchange could likely fund a new interchange at Jefferson.  With the new Single Point Urban interchange designs out there they would not need any additional right of way.  With the land to the west of Union Station now available for development hopefully we can get some new residential and office buidlings.  With more residential immediately around Union Station it could help their retail operations.  Several levels of underground parking could be located under these new buildings as the area is already excavated for the interchange.  Build the parking & buildings and then backfill with dirt between buildings.]

  8. Craig says:

    Dude made a great and often overlooked point. We shouldn’t feel a need to draw people into certain parts of the city at all hours. The largest, most successful cities, without exception, all have large commercial districts that are largely desolate at night and on the weekends. They are simply districts for office buildings. There is no pressure to make every block an entertainment draw.

  9. mike says:

    What about putting residential and ground floor retail just west of kiener plaza (or instead of), just east of the new courthouse (or even better where the new courthouse is), and between 16th and 17th. That creates “rooms” between tucker and 7th, tucker and 16th and 17th and 20th. The rooms could be parks along with the art. With people living there, they might actually get used and it would be a great draw for families to live downtown (although perhaps too pricey).

  10. john says:

    “the most successful cities, w/o exception…are commercial districts that are largely desolate at night”? Please name those cities and define prosperous because every “prosperous” city I know are just the opposite. Prosperous cities have demonstrated their successs over decades by integrating variety and not relying on single-purpose areas. Business districts, residential areas, and entertainment venues are interwoven into a community’s fabric and thus creating a well diversified portfolio of choices. Prosperous cities which display these characteristics are NY, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Chicago, SanFran, etc.
    But more importantly are cities with heart! The world’s greatest drawing rooms are the ones that attract 1000s of people everynight. Great squares are in cities like Venice, Krakow, Prague, Rome, etc. A great resource can be found at: http://www.pps.org/

    Why aren’t these outdoor drawing rooms more common in the US? The US expanded in the automobile age as single-use subdivisions supplanted integrated city centers-separating home, work, and play. Cars became essential and the driving force in an environment that stretched beyond human scale. Solutions begin with transportation design and zoning ordinances.

    Single-use areas are exactly what we don’t need if we want to be a prosperous city that attracts others. The New 64 is exactly the opposite of integration as is the failure to spend funds and resources towards integration and not separation. A few pieces of art as a remedy demonstrates the bankruptcy of our leadership in their bank of ideas.

  11. ^Thank you John, I could not agree with yo more.

    Steve, I love this vision you have given us. I wonder what you would have in mind for those “urban renewal era” office buildings along the mall. I think it is imperative that they be reconfigured to accommodate retail on the ground floor, some could even be completely re-skinned. I would not propose demolition in most cases. With all the new buildings that would go up in your plan the existing buildings would not make up quite as big an eyesore as they currently do.

    [SLP – Exactly, these buildings will still be bad but not stick out as much with a bunch of better designed new buildings around.  These urban renewal era buildings, over time, can transform themselves.  As you suggest, the existing frames can be reskinned.  Many are set back too far from the street but this might allow for a 2-3 story street face to be constructed in now wasted space (I’m thinking Bank of America, AT&T, etc…).  Shallow retail spaces or kiosks can provide affordable spaces to allow someone to start a business — incubator space that helps to re-urbanize downtown.  

    On my map I suggested the portion of the Bank of America that extends over 9th be removed completely — it is worse than the bridges of St. Louis Centre over Washington & Locust. I have no idea what is in there but frankly I don’t care.  That block between 9th and 10th could get several new buildings and would face the one block I suggest leaving green in that area.  We can call it the Gateway Foundation Square.]

  12. dude says:

    John, I noticed you conveniently left out the “have commercial districts” in your quote to my point. Now I could be speaking more from my imagination than real fact but speaking of the island of Manhattan in specifically, I think the region below Canal street is even referred to as the “commercial district” on the tourists maps in the back of some of their taxi cabs. I could be wrong but I didn’t think it contained a lot of retail/residential/museum activities. Those are largely up town from there. The village has a lot of 24/7 activity but it isn’t part of the commercial district. Midtown area does have tall commercial buildings but has still a different feel than the Wall Street area like a lot more retail/residential/museums. NY City Hall is even located down in their commercial district like ours. I don’t know my way around Paris as well but the part of town around the futuristic looking arch (grande arch?) has a lot of tall office buildings (is it La Defence?). I don’t know for sure but suspect it isn’t a real busy area at night or weekends. The one time I went to Paris, I’ll the stuff I wanted to see wasn’t anywhere near that area. I would label these “commercial districts”, translation, “places people go to work but not so much to recreate.” Ours just happens to have our baseball, hockey, and football stadiums crammed into it as well.
    I’m not happy about the current status quoi. Partically StL’s dependence upon automobile traffic and single use zoning. On the other hand, I like my chances of enjoying a high standard of living and accumulating wealth better here than in places like Venice, Krakow, Prague, Rome. I’d like visit each of those places some day though. Then again they’ve been around at least a 1000 years longer than StL.
    Damn it, now I’m addicted to this thing.
    My name is Mike. Dude will conjure up images of joblessness, bowling, and pot smoking.

  13. Dawn says:

    As long as we are dreaming,


    The Tivoli Gardens is in the center of Copenhagen and is complete with amusement rides, an open air stage, a theater and a Concert Hall. “Tivoli is unique, old, traditional as well as new and innovative.”

    I know, I know, This ain’t Copenhagen.

  14. RG says:

    ^ This ain’t Copenhagen 😉
    First of all, those who are making the point about most cities having CBDs that aren’t 24/7 funhouses are correct. One of the most unfortunate and wrongheaded notions to emerge in planning discussions in recent years is this line of thougt that every square inch of the city should have “street life” at all hours of the day (I blame the new urbanists), along with the one-size-fits-all prescription of Street Front Retail as the cure for what ails ‘ya. I want to make clear that I’m not against retail in this area (indeed I think the master plan should stipulate buildings be updated with this use when they’re renovated/rebuilt); but this is the CBD, and such places often have landscaped parks/plazas because businesses and developers like locating close to them. Like it or not, one of the main functions of city planning is to increase real estate values (not street life) in the surrounding areas, and the mall blocks east of Tucker can actually be quite successful as planned, whether or not they are teeming with people at all hours or not. My only prescription for these blocks would be to remove Gateway One and eliminate some of the cross streets to create a more contiguous space.
    I like your plan for the blocks west of Tucker very much, especially the blocks between 15th-18th, which are the worst of the bunch. You may even want to look at one of the blocks between Tucker and 13th for new construction.

  15. GMichaud says:

    One of the main functions of city planning is not to increase real estate values. That is pure nonsense. Increasing real estate values occur because a project that means something to the society it was built for. Developers have a system down, so they think, but poor choices in determining social functions will doom a project (say Marketplace Square on Manchester, is that the name?) No one can control real estate prices any more than any one controls the stock market. A person who makes it a main goal will fail to serve the people. Ultimately, to say increasing market value is more important than street life is the kind of thinking that has caused St. Louis to struggle.
    Nor does Street front retail cure all ills. Green space won’t either. The goal is about creating a balanced city. Tivoli Park may work in Copenhagen, but so does Forest Park in St. Louis. It isn’t about the Green Space or the retail, it is how it is executed, how it works in its surroundings. What makes a park or retail space successful depends on the city around it. This misunderstanding of urban planning issues is why the mall has failed.

    I will say this, St. Louis has ample dead space, poorly thought out green space that might as well be 1000 miles away when it comes to use by street life. The property along the Gateway Mall has depressed values because of the lack of street life, it has little value to the people of the city, or even the people working nearby.
    Nor does having street life require around the clock activity. Street life requires building a city people enjoy, including green space, retail, plazas, fountains, housing and much more.

    Downtown should be the economic engine of the region
    Cities were built as places to do business and for protection, green space was introduced to humanize the environment.

    I will mention again that the ancient form of the public square would transform the mall.

  16. Tim says:

    Wait a minute, leave my “secret” 22nd St on ramp alone. And quit talking about it. It’s one of the best escape routes from downtown.

  17. What we need is more parking garages. I hear those will revitalize the Mall.

  18. Herb says:

    Funny that Centene is mentioned in this post…

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