I’ve been a fan of James Howard Kunstler for years.Â I heard him speak in St. Louis when The Geography of Nowhere first came out – he autographed my copy.Â I frequently check out his “Eyesore of the Month.”Â This month the eyesore is St. Louis’ Gateway Station.
The above was followed by:
Check out this monstrosity: the new St. Louis Amtrak station, an utterly bewildering piece-of-shit shoehorned under a bunch of freeway ramps behind a UPS depot parking lot. Where’s the Prozac dispenser?
Salutes to reader Laura Louzader out in Missouri who says of this monument: “It is a nasty pocket in the city’s neglected back yard, and the first things you see when you exit the station are the dark parking lot under the overpasses, weed-choked vacant lots, and abandoned, shacky little buildings.”
“What a wonderful introduction to St. Louis! There are only two platforms and four pockets for trains, which tells you how committed Amtrak and St. Louis are to passenger rail.”
Kunstler concludes with a picture of our magnificent Union Station from a similar perspective as this one I took last year:
So because Union Station is no longer used for rail transit our new station is a “piece-of-shit.”Â Â The problem I have is not the criticism of the new station – a few are correct.Â The problem is relying on an account/pictures from a visitor from Chicago.Â I’m often critical of projects and places but I always visit in person to see for myself rather than be potentially misled by a reader.
Had Kunstler done his homework he would have known it has been more than thirty years since the last train backed out of Union Station.Â From 1978-2008 St. Louis’ Amtrak station was in two different portable buildings (#1 1978-2004, #2 2004-2008).Â It is not like we stopped using Union Station one day and the new station the next.
Our Gateway Station combines Amtrak andÂ Greyhound with our MetroLink light rail and MetroBus.Â I’d say that is a good combination.Â UtilizingÂ the space under the highway makes sense and bringing these services together in one spot can help visitors.
I spoke with Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari by phone to discuss the station.Â His district covers 22 stations.
- Last five years in Union Station were “pretty awful.”Â A pod under the shed served a couple of tracks. Trains had to back out.
- St. Louis is now the envy of many cities because of this combination of rail, bus and local transit.
- Original 1980s re-developer of Union Station wanted train nostalgia, not actual trains
- St. Louis is working on developing new structures around the station.
- Platform capacity at this new station is double what we’ve had for the past 30 years.
- Number of platforms can be increased as rail traffic increases.
The area where the station is located is not in the heart of our loft district (where I live) but is next to the highway and train tracks.Â Locating a train station sorta requires it to be next to the tracks.
Between the Civic Center Station (14th) and the Union Station Station (18th) is development nirvana. At the immediate corner of 14th & Clark we’ve got a nice grove of trees leading to the station platforms. I could see a new building design just to the west, facing Clark, that leaves this corner plaza intact. However, I’d get out the chainsaw for the right building(s) on the corner at 14th. The problem here is the big curve is closer to street grade than I’d like and lowering it might be too costly. But, from what was once 15th to 16th you’ve got a clean shot over the tracks. Same for 16th to 18th.
Concentrating more residences near 18th and Clark would create more daily users for Union Station (so it is not entirely dependent upon tourist traffic). Offering downtown residential units without included garage space might also offer affordability to those that want a car-free lifestyle but cannot currently afford to live near a MetroLink station. Of course, garage space could be built on the main and a few upper levels with retail along the street-face and office & residential over the parking. A mix of housing in numerous price ranges might be the best solution.
While I’d have no opposition to a mid or high-rise tower I don’t think it is necessary either, at least not from a design perspective. Clark and the adjacent numbered streets would have had 3-6 story buildings originally. This creates a nice friendly scale along the sidewalk for pedestrians. Even is part of the structures did get taller a shorter height at the sidewalk would still be best.
The cost-effectiveness of construction over a functioning transit line is the big problem with this plan. The cost of the required concrete tunnel may necessitate more floors just to help break even. The concept is certainly worth detailed analysis.
No question the buildings immediately across 15th look a bit shabby as does the numerous fenced parking lots.
– Steve Patterson