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Sullivan Place Still Horribly Suburban/Disconnected

June 10, 2009 North City, NorthSide Project, Suburban Sprawl 12 Comments

With details of Paul McKee’s NorthSide emerging there is concern he will bring suburban design to the city.  But developers have been doing that for years — often encouraged by elected officials that don’t get urbanity.  Three years ago I reported on one such suburban project — Sullivan Place.  I started the piece:

Pyramid, the company proposing a highly suburban McDonald’s for South Grand, has dumped an atrocious housing project on the city’s north side. Forget the high-profile loft projects downtown, Pyramid is making a name for themselves with suburban rubbish throughout our once urban neighborhoods.

Full post from March 18, 2006: Pyramid’s Sullivan Place Senior Housing An Anti-Urban Monstrosity.

Nothing much has changed except the fact that Pyramid collapsed in April 2008.   Oh yeah, the project can now be seen in satellite views via Google Maps:

[From Google Maps]

Gee, can you figure out which structure is Sullivan Place?

March 2006

Makes me cringe.   It borders 3 streets but doesn’t relate to any of them.  I’d love to see McKee’s project take this heep and restore the street grid.  The project gets its name from the street that was closed — Sullivan.  We are likely stuck with this place until it falls apart.  See my 20+ photos of Sullivan Place from March 2006 here.

Update 6/10/09 @ 9:10am — Headline alaborated.


Currently there are "12 comments" on this Article:

  1. Chris says:

    Luckily that will probably only be ten years from now. I heard it’s half empty–this is what happens when north side aldermen are left to their own devices.

  2. Mark Groth says:

    Brutal. This makes the Boulevard Heights development look like a success.

  3. john says:

    And in 2004 you said: “Wow… What about when we walk to the corner store? When we bike to the library? Nope. When we DRIVE. They see communities where none exist – aka sprawl. They see a world of continued sprawl that puts work, home, school and leisure in an auto-centric world that is the ‘economic engine of the community.’ And when the fuel prices skyrocket these communities will come crashing down first.”
    – –
    What’s changed? Not local attitudes but the “economic boom” created by cheap oil, excess debt, excess consumption, valuable dollar, etc. has. The dependence on auto-centrism, large parking lots, large malls, has buried GGP, one of the largest mall operators in the USA. We have painted ourselves into a corner by becoming “cheap fuel” dependent. The “perfect storm” is coming and even auto-centric MoDOT recognizes that.

  4. James R says:

    Reading my mind, john. But I certainly haven’t seen anything that says that MoDOT gets it…

  5. samizdat says:

    “We are likely stuck with this place until it falls apart.” Lol funny…and, tragically, probably too true. Although, the population is aging. So, who knows? I just hope I don’t find myself in one of these dumping grounds for our nations’ elderly. This country is pathologically unwell.

  6. ceepee deecee says:

    McKee would rather take operating job-creating businesses, tear them down, and maybe replace the jobs if he can ever find tenants. He’s not an urban crusader. Sullivan Place was built when John Steffen and McKee were collaborating, and Steffen was going to be the residential developer for “NorthSide.” Arcturis was the planner. Sullivan Place gives you an idea of what the original plan was like — dreadful. Maybe Mark Johnson can prevent similar tragedies, but don’t hold your breathe.

  7. john says:

    FYI, MoDOT’s “perfect storm” scenario and what “they do get” (not much , I agree): http://www.urbanreviewstl.com/?p=3241
    – –
    As Steve excellently explains: “Rahn argues that over the next 20 years and based on the current funding formula, they’ll have a funding gap of roughly $18 billion “without future inflation factored into the calculation.” MoDot is estimating a need for $37 billion and that we’ll have ‘only 19 billion.’ Only?”

    “Our roads are no longer for our convenience. They are now controlling and abusing us but we are the victims in the relationship. That which we thought would be good for us turned out to be far more demanding and costly than we ever imagined when we first entered the relationship. Anytime we threaten to leave the abuser hits us with a big traffic jam or a tragic bridge collapse.”

  8. Jimmy Z says:

    The basic cruciform plan works well for senior housing, especially for people with serious mobility issues. So, if it were rotated 45 degrees (to parallel the existing street grid), would it “fit” the neighborhood better? Like the old hospital next to Soulard? Or is it just too big?

    Times change. We don’t have nearly as many multi-generational households, where our elders can grow old with dignity, anymore, so these warehouses are the de facto solution. I’m guessing that having seniors in urban areas are a slightly-better solution than isolating them in suburbia, but the building type is problematic for many established, primarily-residential neighborhoods . . .

  9. James R says:

    john, I think I just tried to read too much into your statement. Yes, MoDOT gets it like Congress gets the looming entitlement obligations. ‘Wow, there’s this huge problem just ahead of us, but we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing and stick our heads sand like into an ostrich and let someone else take care of it.’ They only understand the problems with funding the continued expansion and improvement of infrastructure and maintenance of level of service.

    I was inferring that they had some understanding that collapse of debt and end of cheap finance was only a part of it and they understood that we were also approaching the end of cheap/available energy and in extension the end of universal private automobile ownership. They clearly don’t get that.

    To paraphrase Jim Kunstler, we’ll soon figure out that the work by DOT’s are a critical part of the largest mis-allocation of resources in the history of mankind.

  10. UrbanPioneer says:


    I don’t think rotating the plan would help with the street relationship much, if at all. You would still have very little facade surface area butting up to the street, and the portion of the building that would be facing the street would (likely) be fire stairs. Unless of course, you meant rearranging/reorganizing the plan (in which case I think it would surely improve the relationship to the street; but then we may not be talking about a cruciform plan.

    Seems to me the best solution would be a U-shaped plan that has a relationship to all three bordering streets, with maybe a courtyard or (ugh) parking inside the U in back.

    Also, not meaning to be argumentative but I think the building type (when done right) is perfect for an urban context. Enter into evidence: Allen Market in Soulard (the former Mexican Hat Building), seems to be an extremely successful example of the senior living building type in a walkable, urban context; in an established residential neighborhood no less. It can be done right, although usually isn’t.

  11. Jimmy Z says:

    UP – I don’t mind a good discussion, at all! My point was that adding a mid-rise structure to an existing low-rise residential neighborhood will usually bring out the NIMBY’s. The conversion of the Allen Market involved a structure that’s been there for decades – there’d be a lot more objection to its demolition than to its conversion to low-impact residential uses. I agree, it’s a great urban design solution; I’m just not sure it could be replicated elsewhere with a new structure of the same scale.

    The big reason a cruciform plan works, for mid-rise senior housing or for mega Vegas hotels, is that it centralizes the elevators at the intersection and puts the exit stairs where they belong, at the extermities. With a U or a [] plan, the long halls get even longer, IF the elevators remain centralized, and you end up with a lot of rooms looking directly into other rooms. Plus there are the alternatives of T and Y plans, where longer wings or a few more stories can substitute for the wing lost from an X plan. The other part of the equation is that the ground level typically needs to be much bigger, for support facilities like kitchens, dining, offices, and in the case of Vegas, casinos. This can be used to pull the building edge to the sidewalk in urban areas, without having to deal with the triangular rooms and parking lots that are a direct result of the X plan here.

    Bigger picture, we need a regional discussion on how best to accomodate densification (if that, as it should be, is our long-term goal). Existing, stable, neighborhoods rightfully resist significant change, including the insertion of mid-rise buildings. Denver’s solution was to define, in their comprehensive plan, areas of stability and areas of change. Areas of change are primarily along major arterials and in declining industrial areas, where infrastructure, including transit, is already in place that can support higher densities. Our dynamic here is somewhat different, since what should be areas of stability, in many parts of town, are actually areas of decline. The end result is that land cost (being relatively low) becomes less of a driver than simple politics, and the typical solution is to just demolish multiple blocks to create a suburban-style site that requires less density to “break even”.

    Getting back to the topic du jour, the best solution here likely would’ve been a single, linear, six-story structure with the elevators in the center of the building – basically you take two wings off the X and stack them on the other two. Doing that, aligning with the street on the south side and putting the parking behind it would’ve been a much more “urban” solution, even using the detailing that they’re using now. Plus, you’d probably have enough land left over to put single-family or duplex housing on the half block that makes up the northern third of the current site!

  12. We Knew says:

    As someone who actually worked on the project, I can perhaps shed a little light on the process. The “X” plan was a part of the original program given to Pyramid’s architecture department – architectural employees were not privy to discussions before that.

    Of course, there were several alternate site planning options immediately drawn up that were rejected:

    “Minimal Intervention” to construct the senior housing on the southern portion without closing Sullivan Place, and redeveloping the northern half-block with single-family homes. Like you said, JZ, this would have been the most appropriate planning solution (ignoring for a moment the fact that this building shouldn’t have been put on this site at all). This plan was drawn up and presented to the decision-makers.

    “H” shape, that would have dealt with JZ’s elevator and common space efficiency issues (very important in a senior housing building). This would also have preserved the street wall on two sides, with open courtyards facing the other two sides.

    “Double Ell” with two “L” shaped buildings placed to create a courtyard in the center.

    “U” shaped with the open end to the north, which would have preserved the street edge.

    The process was extremely frustrating to people who knew from the beginning that the project was not appropriate for the site and was not well planned. It is extremely unfortunate because the underlying idea was a sound one – affordable senior independent living is an excellent tool for neighborhood stabilization. However, it must happen in a walkable location with services, transportation, and retail nearby. Note that the nearest drugstore is 12 blocks away from Sullivan Place, the nearest grocery is 8. In fact, there is very little retail at all within walking distance. I’m not a fan of the planning for Pyramid’s South Grand project, but that is a perfect location for this type of building use.


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