The large law firm Thompson Coburn, who was being lured to Clayton, is staying downtown in floors of the US Bank tower on 7th. That is the good news. The bad news is the deal will cost about $700K in tax incentives to keep from losing a huge number of jobs. Furthermore, the Missouri Development Finance Board will build yet another parking garage downtown (garages are more prolific than Walgreen’s with sometimes more than one per corner).
The site of the new garage is the NW corner of 7th & Locust. Over a decade ago the Ambassador Theater was razed on that corner by then Mercantile Bank (now US Bank). I recall going downtown and seeing the once magnificent building being demolished. Mercantile Bank wanted a proper entry for its mid-1970s tower.
For twenty years the two had managed to co-exist next to each other.
At the same time the owner of the Arcade-Wright buildings a few blocks away wanted to raze those structures for surface parking. The Post-Dispatch editorialized at the time against razing the Arcade/Wright for surface parking but in favor of razing the Ambassador for Mercantile’s “urban plaza:”
January 30, 1995, Monday, FIVE STAR Edition
A PLAZA FOR DOWNTOWN
SECTION: EDITORIAL; Pg. 6B
Downtown St. Louis will lose another of its landmark buildings later this year when Mercantile Bank knocks down the 17-story Ambassador Theater Building at Seventh and Locust streets. That’s too bad, but the reality is that not every older building can or should be saved.
After the building is demolished, the site will be turned into a landscaped plaza with a fountain and trees. The plaza will be an enhancement to downtown besides setting off the bank’s modern office tower and its bank building at Eighth and Locust.
Built in the 1920s, the Ambassador Theater Building housed an elegant movie palace, which was also used for stage productions, but its lights went dim in the 1970s. The theater portion of the building was stripped bare before Mercantile acquired the structure in 1989. It has been vacant, or nearly so, since then. The city’s Heritage and Design Commission assented to the historic building’s demolition, influenced, no doubt, by the bank’s plan to create an attractive plaza there.
Meanwhile, the owners of the historic Arcade and Wright buildings on Olive Street, at Eighth, also seek permission to demolish. They want to replace the buildings – one 18 stories tall, the other 16 and both more than 75 years old – with a parking lot. That is hardly the kind of open space that will add to the quality of downtown life or promote its economic growth.
So presumably the paper’s editors in 1995 felt an “attractive plaza” with a “fountain and trees” would add to the “quality of downtown life.” So where are they now decrying the loss of this “enhancement?” It didn’t take long for everyone to realize this new plaza was just an elaborate circle drive – a seldom used one at that.
The public was fooled by the idea of a great public space in place of the fabulous but vacant Ambassador. The plaza does indeed have grass, a fountain and trees. I’ve also never seen anyone use the space. I think I biked through the circle drive once but it is truly a forgetful space.
In addition to losing the Ambassador and with threats against the Arcade/Wright the owner of the nearby Syndicate & Century buildings notified the city in May 1995 they were revising their plan for the block bounded by 9th, Olive, 8th & Locust to be surface parking.
The Ambassador didn’t come down until 1996, and it didn’t go willingly:
AMBASSADOR IS GIVING ITS WRECKERS A WORKOUT
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – September 3, 1996
Author: By Elizabeth Holland ; Of The Post-Dispatch Staff
After considerable struggle, Spirtas Wrecking Co. employees finally cut and removed a chunk of a truss of the Ambassador Theater late last week. Workers had been waging a battle with the building’s massive, concrete-filled trusses and expect to continue doing so until all of the trusses are removed, said Gail Partain, an executive with Mercantile Bank.
But back to the dreadful plaza that replaced the well-built 17-story Ambassador.
Butt look, grass and a fountain!
Again I don’t recall seeing anyone in the space – ever. I take that back, I have seen security guards make sure nobody dare use the space. When I was taking these pictures a guard came outside. Perhaps he thought I was a disabled terrorist in a bright orange wheelchair?
Perhaps a parking garage is a better use of this space? It couldn’t get any worse…unless they copied the other garage on this city block:
Does it get any worse than this?Â We lost a spectacular building on another corner of this block so the bank could have a ‘nice’ entrance.Â They should have started here.
Since I started writing this post I’ve made a couple more visits.Â Yesterday afternoon I spotted a few smokers at the base of the tower — not in the plaza itself.Â Again no seating is provided and sitting on the grass would probably upset the guards. The Plaza was designed by Gene Mackey who was just honored by the AIA St Louis.
Demolition of the Ambassador cost over $2 million.Â Spiratas & Mercantile Bank ended up in court over the extra costs due to the concrete filled trusses.Â When built the Ambassador was meant to stay around longer than it was.
While we have too many garages already I think we have too many vacant corners as well.Â At least a garage will bring some urban form back to this corner.
- The Ambassador on Built St Louis (w/photos)
- St Louis Doesn’t Need More Parking by Matt Mourning on The Beacon
- Thompson Coburn and the Economics of Parking Downtown by Michael Allen on The Ecology of Absence
- Thompson Coburn to stay in Downtown St Louis in the 9/9/08 St Louis Business Journal
- Slay Says Centene “taking advantage of state incentives”, Aug 29th on this site