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Ballpark Village was a village in 1908

December 21, 2009 Downtown, Planning & Design 19 Comments

A week ago I suggested the vacant Ballpark Village site be divided (platted) and sold as building lots to begin to develop the total site.  One person questioned me when I said the area once contained hundreds of buildings.  He said it was probably more like dozens and dozens.  I admit I didn’t count before I made my claim.  I’ve gone back to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for the site as of December 1908 to see.  While not hundreds it is more than a few dozen.  Either way the point is the same — smaller structures made for more diversity and interest.  The area was built by many over a long period of time rather than sitting idle for a single project.

The area is bounded by Broadway on the East, Clark on the South, 8th on the West and Walnut on the North.  In 1908 Elm ran parallel to and between Walnut & Clark until 7th Street.  This divided the land into five blocks – Elm was removed during 1960s urban renewal.

BPV site in 2006, East garage in background
BPV site in 2006, East garage in background

The following are the 1908 maps for the BPV site along with the East & West parking garages that bookend the site.

4th West to Broadway (5th) – currently stadium East garage:

Broadway West to 6th:

6th West to 7th:

7th West to 8th:

8th West to 9th – currently stadium West garage:

Too many buildings to count.  They vary in size and no doubt in age.  Most are brick (pink) but some are wood frame (yellow) and a few are stone (blue).  Not all the land was filled in 1908 (8th & Walnut).

For more than a half century development has followed the Urban Renewal model — clear large swaths of land and assemble manageable size parcels of land into huge blocks. Financing for these increasingly out of scale projects has grown unmanageable.

Here is the video I took when the project details were announced in October 2006:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-MS5l-S8yc

As originally outlined, the project was to have nearly 800,000 total square feet and a total cost of $387 million.  The site between the garages was once again going to have Elm, thus being divided into six blocks.  That works out to $64.5 million per block – a substantial sum to raise.  The Cardinals and developer Cordish should abandon the mega project methodology by 1) creating the through street grid to form the six blocks 2) subdivide each of the six blocks into 3-10 parcels of land to be developed by them and/or sold to qualified buyers for them to build on the land.  Deed restrictions would not allow surface parking and would require minimum building heights (3-15 floors depending upon parcel).  Each block should have a minimum of two buildings.  Blank walls should be forbidden while numerous doors and windows required/encouraged.

As part of the site’s infrastructure, internal parking structures may be required to meet the total future need.  Streets, sidewalks and parking are built first and future buildings would surround the parking structures eventually.  With six blocks it would probably have 3-6 garages, ideally partially underground.  These garages could be built out in phases as lots are sold.

Other developers and investors could build within the site.  Say one group can finance $30 million for a single building, that is one more toward the goal.  Piece by piece the area would fill in.

– Steve Patterson

 

Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    And in 1808, it was a forest . . . Cities aren't static, they continue to evolve. Tastes change, what were once “good” decisions come to be viewed as mistakes. What makes 1908 the “right” answer today, and not 1858, 1958 or 1983?!

    Second point – if your goal is to create walkable, dense, urban blocks, the idea of having a half dozen structures on each block, each with their own parking structures, is a real step backwards. The last thing we need (to create urbanity) are the multiple curb cuts that would be needed to access multiple parking structures! Plus, designing a small garage is much more difficult and inefficient than designing one larger, shared facility.

     
    • It is not about picking a certain year, it is about the right combination. 1908 had numerous buildings and 2008 did not. I'm thinking one structure, at most, in the center of each of the six blocks. Curb cuts would be no greater than current alleys on other downtown blocks.

       
    • gmichaud says:

      I think the problem here is that current planning is dominated by a few players whose mega projects have taken over the environment. The “market” has not made decisions, but instead it is insiders with pull in government.
      Does St. Louis need high rises in this part of the city or at all? Does future growth in St. Louis require such monumental buildings? Actually the site plans Steve has illustrated above would work fine today. Four to six story buildings would provide as much density and if ownership was spread out rather than handed to a mega developer, more cultural and economic diversity also. Ballpark Village is no more a village than Mars is a village. The mega owners fill commercial structures with their buddies in mega chains. It is a hypocritical, one sided planning process that gives prime real estate to the chosen few.
      If the solutions were good and were working, it would be built or underway now. It is easy to blame the economy, but the truth his the current Ballpark Village solutions and the process to attain them are one reason the economy is failing.

      As far as curb cuts are concerned, two curb cuts per block at an alley entrance, pushing parking to the core would solve that problem, I'm sure there are other solutions too. Nor am I convinced a large garage is more efficient, especially if the lives of human beings are a priority over dollars.

       
      • JZ71 says:

        To clarify, I think we all agree that mid-rise, mixed use, relatively dense urban infill is most appropriate for this site. Where we disagree is the best way to make all this happen. Putting one, shared, parking structure in the middle of each block, and wrapping it with occupied screening structures, would be an ideal solution for balancing a walkable streetscape with an appropriate amount (for today's world) of off-street parking. The trick is making it reality – “shared” as a concept is great, but much more difficult to execute under multiple ownerships. That's why it usually only happens when either there's a single owner/developer (think shopping mall) or if the city/private developer builds the parking structure before trying to sell off the mixed-use parcels to the individual, smaller owners/developers. That's also why I assumed that going to smaller parcels would result in multiple parking solutions (and curb cuts).

         
        • gmichaud says:

          Designers would have fun with this site, curb cuts and all. Lets open it up, (never in the lexicon of the established power structure) (even if they have more at stake than anyone). The big problem in my mind is the acceptance that major changes need to occur. The status quo is a not working.
          The real question is what elements are needed to create a city that abandons the automobile?
          It would be terrible to give beautiful courtyards over to the automobile.
          The bottom line is the system that does not answer the needs of its citizens. A deadly proposition.

           
  2. Kara7 says:

    I agree with you. Subdividing the land would allow this project to get off the ground and grow gradually. It would create a more diverse and interesting environment and would have greater chance of long-term success. I do like the idea of having a small park or courtyard – some type of open public space – being a part of this area. Though it should be owned and maintained by the city, a true public space, not owned and programmed by a private developer.

     
  3. Dave Reid says:

    I couldn't agree more. Here in Milwaukee we have similar problem in our Park East corridor, which is where they removed a freeway spur. But since development has been slow, some progress but slow, anyhow I've long believed if they sold the lots in smaller parcels, then smaller developers could get involved and actually get development going for just the very same reason you point to here with Ballpark Village. Good call.

     
  4. drb says:

    “I agree with you. Subdividing the land would allow this project to get off the ground and grow gradually.”

    Where is the evidence that this will happen? I know that when discussing urban projects on these urban blogs it is common to be against large developments like BPV, but I for one as a property owner and resident in downtown favor the BPV proposal. Granted it is delayed, but that is life. WE NEED OFFICE SPACE and we need an attractive neighborhood if we are going to attract companies to locate their offices here. Or we could wait around for all of the single developers to build a new building one at a time… That does not seem to be working…. We have plenty of open spaces (parking lots) that local developers could build on but they are not and have not in decades. So I am still pulling for Cordish and the Cards to build it and to create some energy in this part of downtown. I have been to Power and Light in KC and I have been impressed with how it turned out..

     
    • We have plenty of evidence it will sit vacant as long as it waits on a single development package. Cordish could still control how the area develops even if they don't build 100% of the buildings. Buildings aren't being built now because attractive sites don't exist. Make land available next to Busch and you will see folks come forward.

       
      • JZ71 says:

        “Make land available next to Busch and you will see folks come forward.” Just look to the south – the freer market is at work there, and you have sports bars and surface parking lots . . .

        “subdivide each of the six blocks into 3-10 parcels of land to be developed by them and/or sold to qualified buyers for them to build on the land” Do that with a farm and you're creating suburbia!

        “Buildings aren't being built now because attractive sites don't exist.” No, buildings aren't being built now because people can't get financing, especially for smaller and speculative projects.

         
    • Need office space? Downtown has an over 20 percent vacancy rate in office space right now.

       
  5. Paul_Hohmann says:

    This is ultimately the best solution for these blocks. I question whether Cordish's Ballpark Village would have been sustainable in the long run if the residential and office components were left out and it simply became a 2 story pod of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, like most of the Power and Light District in KC was built (H&R Block did build a headquarters that does not really feel like a part of the whole, and planned residential towers remain 2-story stubs waiting for future development). This are should be a dense mix of office and residential buildings all with ground floor commercial spaces that would include a mix of retail, restaurants, service (dry cleaners, small bank branch, etc.), a small grocery, and other uses that would support a real neighborhood, not just a place where people come to drink after the ball game. Parking as you mention should be shared in single central garages in the center of each block with minimal single point entry/exit that would also serve as the portal for delivery access and recycling/trash removal.

     
  6. G-Man says:

    Whenever I see maps or photos of how the city used to look with all its tightly clustered brick and stone buildings, I never fail to lament their replacement by today's surface parking, brownfield, or 1960s-1970s concrete and steel hideousness.

     
  7. john w. says:

    Where is that big model now?

     
  8. Dave says:

    Couldn't agree more, and I and others have thought this for some time. The problem is that the Cardinals know they are sitting on a goldmine land parcel and they don't want to sell any of the land so they can maximize their pocketbooks. Don't believe us? Centene was ready to build a corporate HQ here, but Cordish and the Cards pushed them out b/c it was their way or the highway.

    Ideally, public money would be used to provide the infrastructure (sidewalks, streets, sewer, utilities) and then each block be divided into parcels and these parcels sold as the market demands by the Cardinals. If they had done this from the start, we would have a Centene HQ tower under construction right now.

    Building an “entertainment” district in this market is just dumb – retail is currently WAY overbuilt.

     
  9. In 1908 we had Chinese here and now they're in suburban POS St. Louis County — where a neighborhood or commercial district doesn't exist due to autocentric urban planning.

    It was called Hop Alley, because the denizens were considered “hopped up” on drugs. This neighborhood was demolished due to institutionalized racism: rumors circulated by the media of opium dens and dog eating.

    In reality there were minority owned laundry services, tea houses, restaurants, and many other businesses.

    Things that define a WORLD CITY.

    With Busch III we not only lost Sportsman's Park, Hop Alley, and Edward Durell Stone's modernist Busch II, but we really only got a faux-historic ballpark which won't last another 30 years — and blocks of vacant downtown real estate. All of which was paid for by our tax dollars billions over.

    Instead of we kept our demolition dollars out of Hop Alley and invested it in Sportsman's Park, and surrounding North St. Louis Neighborhoods, we wouldn't need Paul McKee nor would we have a hole in Downtown.

    But I must be smoking Opium to think we could have ever done that. Hopefully we see more of Hop Alley, McRee Town, BPV, and McKee's styles in our future. They've produced the long-term sustainable results that defines St. Louis City.

     
  10. A Torch says:

    I agree with Doug. Also, isn't the time-line drawing to a close, if the partners do not develop the land they lose some tax money or it reverts back to the city? Or is a parking lot considered 'developing the land' (?) I hope to see this poor excuse for a ballpark destroyed within 20 years and put it back NW of downtown.

     
    • The current Busch stadium won't be paid for in 20 years. I'm in no hurry to get rid of it the way I want to get remove the Edward Jones Dome from downtown. We've been “renewing” the ballpark section of downtown for 45 years now and yet we have six vacant blocks and to vast empty garages. Not a good record.

       

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