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New Phases of North Sarah Apartments, Buildings on Vandeventer

July 21, 2014 Featured, North City, Planning & Design 11 Comments

In June 2012 I posted about Excellent Urban Infill: North Sarah Apartments By McCormack Baron Salazar. Since then the project has expanded, across Sarah to the west, and at Vandeventer, to the east. The ribbon cutting on the new phase was Friday afternoon, but I visited Wednesday.

New construction on the west side of Sarah (right) gives an urban feel missing in the original only on the east side of Sarah.
New construction on the west side of Sarah (right) gives an urban feel missing in the original only on the east side of Sarah. The #42 (Sarah) MetroBus line is popular.
Some of the original live/work units have businesses in them. Not a busy retail street, but a start. The new building on the west side of Sarah also features live/work units.
Some of the original live/work units have businesses in them. Not a busy retail street, but a start. The new building on the west side of Sarah also features live/work units. In time I hope we’ll see more than closed blinds…
When I was here in 2012 the landscaping wasn't complete. These rain gardens will be problematic with grass instead of perennials
When I was here in 2012 the landscaping wasn’t complete. These rain gardens will be problematic with grass instead of perennials.

In 2012 I noted the rough surface of the impervious concrete sidewalks. They’ve not held up well, they’re even rougher, broken, etc. Pervious concrete works well for parking areas, but not for public sidewalks. I mentioned this to city officials after I experienced it in 2012, it wasn’t used again for recent sidewalks at this project. I returned to the area because I’d been seeing construction on North Vandeventer as I crossed on the #97 Delmar bus. I waited until I thought the work was complete.

Heading north on Vandeventer from Delmar, the new buildings are visible in the background,
Heading north on Vandeventer from Delmar, the new buildings are visible in the background, an Urban League building on the left looks out of place now.
Here 3-story buildings were used at Vandeventer & CD Banks Ave
Here 3-story buildings were used at Vandeventer & CD Banks Ave, click image for map

Two blocks of urban buildings on one side of Vandeventer is a start, but the corridor needs more of this. Unfortunately, due to a lack of coordinated planning, it seems unlikely even in the next 15-20 years. The church across the street was built in 2000, the car wash in 1981, the Urban League in 1990. In the block to the north is a single-story building set back behind parking built in 2009.

The Urban League at 965 N. Vandeventer was built in 1990
The Urban League at 965 N. Vandeventer was built in 1990
The car wash at 1036 N. Vandeventer was built in 1981
The car wash at 1036 N. Vandeventer was built in 1981

Without a corridor plan to guide development, North Vandeventer will remain a hodgepodge. In time more phases will fill in the area between Vandeventer and Sarah. They’ll likely remain a nice island unless groups come together to plan how Sarah & Vandeventer should look & feel in the coming decades.

— Steve Patterson

  • JZ71

    I respect the investment that you made in your education, along with your passion for good planning, but we don’t need “a corridor plan to guide development [for] North Vandeventer”, we need a lot more people willing to invest in the area! You and I have a fundamental different take on how cities grow and function. I believe that cities are always changing, sometimes growing, sometimes stagnant, sometimes failing, but from a planning standpoint, they will always be messy. People can’t agree on a common vision and individual property owners have their own agendas, many centered on protecting their investments and their uses, and the city really only has leverage when there are competing interests, when areas are experiencing growth. While we both seem to have the same goal – greater density – we see two very different ways of getting there. You seem to think that just because you tell property owners and developers that they must build something (mixed use, multi-story structures built to the property lines), they will “get it”, follow some arbitrary “plan”, concede that their original concepts were flawed, even though they’ve worked for them elsewhere, many times already. I believe that the only way that we’ll see density is because / when LAND values rise.

    We get sprawl and surface parking because our land is cheap (and staying cheap). NYC, Hong Kong, Vancouver and San Francisco all get density because their land area is limited and land values are high (and getting higher). We don’t get urban car washes and single-story office buildings with convenient, fenced, surface parking because we have bad or no planning, we get them because our land is so cheap! We’re starting the see this change along the central corridor, where BJC and Cortex are both bringing more jobs and new construction, much of it REPLACING less-dense construction. But to be truly successful, we need to move beyond the town you see in every movie western, where impressive storefronts hide modest structures behind them. We can’t just have a few vibrant corridors (FPP, Washington, Grand) if there aren’t strong residential neighborhoods behind them. North Vandeventer will never get back to its previous peak until the neighborhoods that surround it actually support it!

    Your map link shows that half the lots in the surrounding area are vacant, with the previous residences demolished – where do you think the customers will come form who will patronize and support the ground-floor retail in the new construction? These may be “live-work units”, but the reason you’re seeing closed blinds is that they work as artist studios and offices, they don’t work as retail outlets. People only have so much money to spend – you have your income and your budget, I have mine – adding more retail space does NOT mean more successful retail, absent more residents! It just means that retailers have more options on where to locate. We shop where we currently shop, and we won’t be headed over here unless something truly unique decides that this is the location for them. We’re not going to patronize the new coffee shop or the new corner grocery, the people that currently live nearby and the few people who move into the new apartments will be the core customer base. Unfortunately, money talks, and a lot more needs to be flowing, here and elsewhere in the city, before we see any significant bump in density . . . .

    • guest

      Generally agree with JZ on this, with one added proviso – the N. Sarah project is a huge increase in density from what was there before. It gets tiresome to listen to urbanists and other city enthusiasts always finding something to complain about. Steve writes a post about N. Sarah, a celebrated city project, then takes exception to the surrounding areas.

      C’mon Steve, what’s the point? And frankly, harping on stuff like this in a blog, when there are real people and organizations dealing with the realities of these areas on a daily basis, why not engage those people and groups in serious discussions rather than sending some missive post out into the ether?

      Frankly, a post on the internet, criticizing the city for a lack of planning, in an area that is making great strides, just won’t be taken seriously.

      • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

        The point is we need a common vision to keep this from still being an island of good development in 20 years, only through a plan crafted through consensus will the areas outside the project boundaries expand the great project McCormack Baron has built.

        • guest

          Same could be said for MLK around Arlington Grove; Manchester west of Kingshighhway; Skinker north of Delmar; Delmar east of the Wabash Station, hell for that matter, Delmar east of Wabash all the way to downtown….; Jefferson north of Olive; and on and on. Why pick on N. Sarah when there are so many places dying for a “common vision”?

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      We agree that we need “more people wiling to invest in the area.” How do we move the needle? McCormack Baron has assembled enough of an area they can create their vision for the land they control. Neighboring property owners have what I view as incompatible visions. All up and down Sarah & Vandeventer this is displayed.

      Other cities successfully use a corridor plan to set out a common vision which attracts new investment because the vision is clear. The consensus-building exercise gets everyone on the same page so that you get a mile or two, not just a block or two.

      I want the city to be able to capitalize on the investment that had been made here, that can only happen if others expand on the vision.

      • JZ71

        Perhaps the other owners view McCormack Baron as the outlier, with the longtime owners having the “right” vision! Just because you and McCormack Baron agree does not make it the only or the only “right” answer!

        • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

          Perhaps, until the community is brought together in a planned process we’ll never know. That’s my point, each player builds there vision on their land but the overall result isn’t great, one doesn’t build upon the other. Maybe everyone is ok with that, but I don’t think so.

          Only after we bring everyone together will we know what is desired and what should be supported going forward.

          • guest

            Tim Bryant of the Post Dispatch on Nine Network’s show last week said the opposite. He thinks the lesser planned, more organic approach to growth is better.

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      The hands-off laissez-faire approach has consistently failed the city for the last 30-40 years, our areas of renewed investment are those where a vision was planned and executed.

      • dempster holland

        During the last forty years, north st louis was not ready for redevelopment. Now it is
        beginning to be ready as more vacant land becomes available. I view the north Sarah
        project as part of the northward expansion of the central corridor. It has it counterparts
        in the west end north of delmar and west of union, and other parts east of the pruitt-igoe area.
        Sp far, it is “organic” and the best thing the city can do is simply help developers and not
        put a lot of obstacles in their way

  • John R

    Phase III, which will include lots east of Vandeventer, should begin before too long. It would be nice to see more quality infill radiating from Grand Center to help sew up some of the gaps even more quickly.

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