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Grand and Chippewa a few years later

My first post about the McDonald’s at Grand & Chippewa was on February 1, 2005, nearly 5 years ago.    I was alerting everyone about the plan to build a new McDonald’s drive-thru across Grand at Winnebego (map link).

Former McDonald's in 2005

In 2006 the battle began.  The vacant site on Grand where the McDonald’s was proposed had been a Sears site decades ago. It stood vacant.  Neighbors of new nearby homes (and many others) objected to the drive-thru which did not conform to the original blighting plan for the redevelopment.

protest at site of proposed McDonalds on April 15, 2006
protest at site of proposed McDonald's on April 15, 2006

Many meetings were attended, protests were made.  The Summer of 2006 was a busy time fighting for an urban South Grand.

By September 2006 McDonald’s had won the approvals they needed to build their new location.  In November 2006 I declared the drive-thru project dead, delays took their toll and the local franchise owner closed the old McDonald’s rather than rebuilding on the new or old site.

Not long afterward the now defunct Pyramid Construction began building senior apartments once planned for the old McDonald’s site on the former Sears site.

On January 30, 2008 I posted about a title loan operation wanting to open up shop in the long boarded up McDonalds’s building.  I attended the hearing on the title loan outfit on Thursday January 31, 2008.  I didn’t get a chance to blog about the meeting, the following afternoon I had a stroke.  It was 3 months before I returned home.

During the Spring 2009 campaigns I heard a comment from someone the only thing I contributed to the 25th Ward (just South) was the boarded McDonald’s.  Thanks, I appreciated that.  Since then someone bought the unfinished senior building and finished the project.   And just recently the boarded McDonald’s got a fresh start:

Pho Mama (Mama Pho) Vietnamese Restaurant, a new restaurant in the Dutchtown West Neighborhood Association (DWNA) area is set to open on Monday, November 2, 2009! Pho Mamma is located at the corner of S. Grand and Chippewa. Their phone is 314-802-8348 and they will be open 7 days a week from 9am to 10pm.  (Source)

The old building is not the most urban but it also isn’t new.  Often small local start-up businesses cannot afford the rents on new construction. The site may eventually become more urban.  I stopped by the area yesterday to photograph both places.

Pho Mama, 3737 S. Grand
Pho Mama, 3737 S. Grand

Far more tasteful in appearance than the McDonald’s.

Senior housing instead of a new McDonalds drive-thru
Senior housing instead of a new McDonald's drive-thru

Today the former vacant site contains senior housing with street-level retail spaces facing Grand.   I’d say S. Grand is better off without a new McDonald’s drive-thru.  It would have been a tiny building on a large site with too much parking and a duel drive-thru lane.  If only we can get the traffic calmed in this part of Grand as well as a zoning overlay to require new construction to conform to the established urban standard.

Many people were involved in putting a stop to the auto-centric McDonald’s.  We should all be proud of the outcome, I know I am.  We should also go patronize Pho Mama.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "12 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jimmy Z says:

    “Far more tasteful in appearance than the McDonald’s.” Huh? The only thing’s that’s changed are the paint colors and the two-step mansard roofline. It’s still a box in a parking lot. Is it an improvement? Yes, but so are the new McDonald’s, in appearance, that are being built or updated around town. Tastes change, and red, white and yellow are so 1980’s, on any building! The good thing is that there is a tenant here. The real challenge is when these, or any, structures remain vacant for years on end, like the Burger King a block south or the McDonald’s on Watson in Marlborough. (And no, form-based zoning won’t solve the problem of vacant, demand will.) Finally, I agree, if the end result is what the neighborhood wants, then you all “should all be proud of the outcome,” and most importantly, “We should also go patronize Pho Mama.” Supporting new, local businesses is critical to stabilizing and ultimately making urban corridors like S. Grand better . . .

  2. Living close by, I long anticipated the opening of Mama Pho. Driving by and looking for lunch the other day I noticed they were open. Dropped in to give it a try and was very pleased. The food was great and the staff was incredibly friendly. I didn’t realize it was the first day of business but you never would have known. It was great. Glad to see a little lemonade made out of this lemon. Sure, I would have preferred it be torn down and the entire corner redeveloped in a more urban form but for now I am glad there is another great restaurant in the area.

    I also recently spoke to someone who works for the owners of the new senior building. He told me the vacant storefronts in that building are not due to lack of demand. He said they have plenty of inquiries for the spaces but they are being discerning (surprising in this market) and did not want to saturate the area with check cashing stores and the like. I would like to see these spaces filled but sometimes an empty space is better than the only alternative. Luckily, the economics of the building work without leasing those spaces.

  3. Fluffer says:

    Went to Pho Mama yesterday and was very pleased as well. The spring roll with shrimp cake is delicious, not overfilled with noodles like a lot of places. I also had the pho mama bowl and I think it is probably better quality than any of the other Vietnamese restaurants on Grand, honestly. Maybe the fact that I was surrounded by 97% Vietnamese patrons is a testament to their authenticity and quality.

    [slp — just as we’ve seen the Delmar Loop expand Eastward because of new venues, improved streetscapes and urban buildings I think we can do the same with South Grand. The fun/walkable district of shops and restaurants should be Arsenal to Chippewa. Places such as Pho Mama can help extend the boundaries of the district.]

  4. Matthew says:

    Umm…the Buttery is amazing if not urban in form.

    As a bonus, it will be en route to smoke free when I return to St. Louis (I do not expect my clothes to smell good after leaving the place, though. Don’t worry, I have no illusions.)

    The stumbling blocks of an Arsenal to Chippewa situation are 1) SCHNUCKS and 2) the glut of fast food and gas stations near the intersection of Grand and Gravois.

    You’re correct that an overlay zone for urban design is highly in need. When that Schnucks seeks to rebuild, let’s have them look at their own Culinaria model. That would definitely help push South Grand farther south.

    [slp — No need to wait for the replacement of the Schnuck’s. There is room to line the sidewalk with urban buildings to connect the dots.]

  5. Chris says:

    Awesome post Steve! Hopefully the abandoned Burger King and neighboring abandoned warehouse just South of this new restaurant will see a little life in it next.

  6. aaron.levi says:

    glad to see the building is not longer vacant, but not sure if i’m too excited about ANOTHER vietnamese restaraunt. is mama pho doing anything different than the other twenty-some existing pho restaraunts?

    I think we should all be applauding the senior housing owners for not allowing another check cashing/rent to own/discount cellphone business to open in the area. it’s great to see responsible property owners who see beyond money and actually care about sustaining their neighborhood.

    [slp — I’d say serving breakfast is different from all the others!]

  7. The recall against Jennifer Florida played a huge impact in this outcome. Individuals in Gravois Park, myself, and others went house by house — and worked polling places — collecting signatures. Citizens stood up and this was a huge success for everyone. Though the new Pho restaurant would look better in a new building, as mentioned they probably couldn’t afford the rent with higher construction. Either way residents of Keystone Place are happy with the mixed use project they were promised while glad that trash isn’t collecting at the intersection of Grand and Winnebago. The next step must be the single lane conversion of South Grand from Arsenal to Chippewa, rendering the street more pedestrian friendly at the benefit of all business owners and residents. We also need zoning changes ensuring these disagreements remain outside the political realm, understood as being the standard under which we operate in St. Louis City.

  8. Brian S. says:

    I’m surprised no one ever criticizes the International Institute for their hideous, fortress-like building one block to the north. How about some freaking windows?

  9. samizdat says:

    I curse what the II has done to that once-lovely building every time I pass by. Since I live near Grand and Meramec, that is all too frequently. Glad to something in the old McHeartDisease at least. But since we live only a walkable long block from Bahn Miso, we may never get around to this joint. Not to mention, my wife and I have become addicted to Pit Stop BBQ’s (Chippewa and Louisiana Avenue) grilled pizza. With no meat, of course. Damn, s***’s like crack on a crust.

  10. badmansard says:

    Glad Pho Mama is there. Still a bad mansard though.

  11. dustinbopp says:

    While I kinda like it, where did people get the idea that it's called Pho Mama when the sign clearly says Mama Pho?


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