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Forget A Football Stadium, North Riverfront Neighborhood Needs A Plan For Redevelopment

The Rams are retuning to Los Angeles. I think many forgot how we got them here in the first place. Without an NFL team since 1988 we attempted to get an expansion team, but that effort ended in December 1993 when Jacksonville FL got the 2nd expansion team. With a new dome underway political leaders had to find a way to pay for what was going to be a career-ending white elephant.

In January 1995 the Los Angeles Rams were negotiating a relocation to St. Louis, but NFL owners rejected the relocation in March ’95. Following legal threats against the NFL, the owners approved the relocation the following month:

St. Louis has has been without an NFL team since 1988, when Cardinal owner Bill Bidwill, tired of being a secondary tenant to the baseball Cardinals in outdated Busch Stadium, moved his team to Phoenix.

St. Louis was considered a lock for an NFL expansion team in 1993, but conflicting ownership groups and financial problems doomed that bid, and Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., were awarded franchises.

Fans thought New England Patriots owner James Orthwein, a St. Louis native, would move his team to St. Louis in early 1994, but New England businessman Robert Kraft purchased the team at the last minute and kept it in the Boston area.

And St. Louis city and county officials nearly blew their chance at luring the Rams last summer because, until September, they couldn’t wrest control of the new stadium lease from a stubborn beer distributor who had the desire, but not the money, to buy an NFL team.

But the city finally cleaned up its act when, after Shaw broke off talks with St. Louis in August, former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton stepped in and convinced aspiring owner Jerry Clinton to turn over his 30% share of the stadium lease for $8 million and the use of a luxury suite for 20 years.

The new stadium, under construction downtown, is scheduled to be completed in late October, meaning Ram home games for the first half of their first season in St. Louis might be played in Busch Stadium.

The Rams weren’t here permanently —  they were just on loan. Our desperation to fill the Dome we were building resulted in a too good to pass up deal for the Rams. We borrowed them for 21 seasons and one Super Bowl. Hell, they would’ve left a decade earlier if Georgia Frontiere wouldn’t have waived the right to go year to year after the Dome failed to be in the top tier after the first check in 2005.

Despite his claims otherwise, Kroenke likely planned to move the Rams when he purchased a majority stake. To think otherwise is foolish, he owned sports teams all over the country — it’s no big deal to fly to Los Angeles in your private jet. The writing on the wall was obvious to everyone but football nuts and elected officials worried about getting reelected if they didn’t show an effort to keep the Rams from doing the inevitable.

So $16+ million public dollars were spent so elected officials could say “see, we tried.” In doing so, a large swath of the Near North Riverfront was targeted for demolition. This left property owners uncertain about the future. The William A. Kerr Foundation posted the following on Facebook:

Perhaps enough dust has settled that we can breathe a sigh of relief that our little green building no longer faces immanent demolition. During this past year’s great folly to build an NFL worthy stadium in this area, we received many words of support and admiration for what the WAKF has accomplished here and hopes that it would continue to exist. We are very touched and grateful for this outpouring of support and are pleased that many people and organizations will continue to be able to use and enjoy this space. Now we hope that you and the powers that be will put some focused energy and money into revitalizing this whole north riverfront area. Thank you for all your good wishes and support!!

Agreed — we should keep focusing on the North Riverfront — revitalizing — not razing the area.  Unlike in the early 90s, it doesn’t appear targeted properties were bought out. Nothing was razed.  But owners are likely leery about investing out of fear of being targeted again.

The Laclede Power building, just North of the Ashley Street Power House, is a contributing building in a small historic district.
The Laclede Power building, just North of the Ashley Street Power House, is a contributing building in a small historic district.
Warehouses in the along Ashley between 2nd and Lewis.
Warehouses in the along Ashley between 2nd and Lewis.
After a $10 million dollar investment, the Stamping Lofts opened in April 2013. Also part of a historic district.
After a $10 million dollar investment, the Stamping Lofts opened in April 2013. Also part of a historic district.

As a region we need to:

  1. Accept we will not have another NFL team.
  2. Be content with existing sports: MLB, NHL, MASL, USL, NCAA.
  3. Consider attracting other sports, but not with a publicly-owned facility.
  4. Build on the investment in planning a stadium by planning how to be life, investment, jobs, etc to the North Riverfront.

Schlafly Beer is looking for a location for a third brewery, perhaps the North Riverfront? Let’s put together a plan for the area, find a way to begin updating streets, sidewalks, lighting, etc. Market the hell out of the area to tun vacant properties into occupied buildings.

In the non-scientific Sunday Poll just over 20% said we should continue with the stadium plan — really folks!?!  Thankfully more than 3/4 don’t think we should.

Q: Agree or disagree? We should continue the North Riverfront stadium plan

  • Strongly agree 3 [5.08%]
  • Agree 5 [8.47%]
  • Somewhat agree 4 [6.78%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 1 [1.69%]
  • Somewhat disagree 1 [1.69%]
  • Disagree 6 [10.17%]
  • Strongly disagree 38 [64.41%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [1.69%]

The first step is to remove the target from the North Riverfront.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "24 comments" on this Article:

  1. Stan Kroenke says:

    Can you even write in a way doesn’t disparage or patronize anyone who disagrees with you?

  2. RyleyinSTL says:

    Should we get a new team and build a new stadium – in 25 years the new stadium and it’s surrounding infrastructure will be labeled outdated and the team will bugger off again or attempt to hold us hostage.

    If we try (like really try, like try as hard as we did to get a new stadium built) and purposefully redevelop the north riverfront, keeping our historic buildings, we could have something which would last much longer than 25 years. Plus if people lived, worked and played you’d have an actually shot at creating a community.

    STL has so little river front area that isn’t packed with industrial use, it’d be nice to carve out a little slice for something that wouldn’t just be used on weekends.

    • John R says:

      Spot on. We have very limited non-industrial/non-Arch grounds space along the riverfront suitable for mixed-uses and City officials were willing to hand over the majority of that over to a monster stadium and associated parking.

  3. John R says:

    I was thinking the same thing about a brewery fitting in nicely in the area. It would be a great accompaniment to Bissinger’s and could help anchor a bit of a foodie district. It could also take up some of the goals of the apparently stalled out FarmWorks program.

  4. KevinB says:

    I’m done with “planned” entertainment or industry districts, as it’s primarily succeeded in shuffling businesses and diluting the local tax pool. If — and that’s a big “if” — the North Riverfront is successfully reactivated (be that as entertainment, light manufacturing, tech, marketing, nightlife, beer!, etc), let the businesses/people that move there bear the load and mold it organically.

    Perhaps the city should only be involved in planning to the extent of its role with services and the public way – pave the streets, bring all sidewalks up to standards, update the lighting, add trees, review the waste, water and electrical systems, identify public transit routes.

    • Exactly, a community planning process involves everyone getting a say in the outcome. Setting a vision. Utilities, sidewalks need to be thought about. There’s room for new infill buildings — where & what form should they take? A form-based code overlay is the best way to codify such issues.

      With multiple owners the best way is for it to develop organically — that produces more authentic neighborhoods.

      • JZ71 says:

        Yes, there was a LOT of no’s being said about the stadium (for good reason), but there are few legal obstacles for anyone wanting to do smaller-scale projects, of any sort, in that area. Form-based codes (or Euclidian codes, for that matter) are neither the answer nor the problem, limited demand IS! Stuff ain’t happening, good or bad, because people are choosing to invest elsewhere. And reality check, if you don’t have skin in the game, your money on the table, your “opinions” count far less than those willing to actually make things happen!

    • JZ71 says:

      And making it SAFE! That was one big argument for Harry’s shutting down this week, after 20 years . . .
      Yes, downtown being “scary unsafe” is party media hype, partly irrational suburban fear-mongering and partially reality. But it takes people WANTING to be someplace, anyplace, for anywhere to be successful. Infrastructure, alone, won’t do it. The intangibles, the good vibes, the opportunities for success are what’s really critical!

      • Greg says:

        Harry’s shutdown because they are an old school restaurant which has not changed in years. People are far more excited to go to the Kitchen Sink or Porano than to Harry’s.

        • John R says:

          Yup. I suspect more people dining and drinking downtown than just a few years ago… just where they are going has shifted in response to changing trends, etc.. One unfortunate thing though is the stagnant, if not declining, number of white collar jobs downtown has made it tougher to support your higher end fine dining places…. more casual places like Kitchen Sink and Porano have broad appeal including to the younger start-up set, etc, but the expensive steak joint not so much and is more difficult terrain.

    • gmichaud says:

      While I understand your frustration, misguided leadership for St. Louis is why the region is in the position it is to lose the Rams, corporations and population.
      The stadium plan along with many other plans in St. Louis are presented to the public from behind closed doors. (reference also Steve and several posts about the “civic room” at the beginning of January as another example) They represent nothing other than the views of a few insiders who likely will prosper from decisions made.

      (In the case of the “civic room” on the mall, Steve pointed out he was appointed to an advisory committee and was never really called or consulted in a meaningful way, if at all. Our rulers don’t really want the public involved, they pretend instead)

      There are many examples around the world of better ways to run cities. Let’s contrast this with Helsinki, Finland. Right now around the same size metro area as St. Louis, they are gaining 10,000 in population a year and have presented plans for a projected 250,000 gain by 2050.
      The difference is in policy and design concerns. The Helsinki 2050 plan calls for more density in the core city, there are presented approaches on how transit would work, these and other overall policy approaches are available for public comment. The public has time to look the plan over and is involved.

      Compare this to Paul McKee in North St. Louis, handed millions of public money and like Stan Kroenke he’s too good to communicate with the public about any plans. So after, what is it now? 5 years and how much? 40 million of public money, not so much as a peep from Mr. McKee or the city.
      The city should step in and represent the people, it doesn’t, Instead, like McKee, a few insiders get the nod. Limiting the city powers to only sidewalks and such will only make matters worse. It is why the conditions of St. Louis are like they are, a closed process handled by a few insiders is almost always going to end up as junk urban planning. (voila St. Louis!).

      By the way Paul Holmann over at vanishing stl has offered an excellent alternative to the stadium plan offered by the powers to be. It actually saves the historic nature of the area and capitalizes on existing transit.


      Policy choices and different urban and architectural designs can make a difference as vanishing stl indicates. Instead it is the conduct of City government that is the problem. It is not geared to serving the interests of greater St. Louis. They faint if a developer waves money at them, either real or imaginary (as in the case of Paul McKee)

      Ultimately the key is in electing leaders who will act in the public interest. Assigning government to only taking care of sidewalks and such is the complete abandonment of a government by and for the people. The only reason that the plans are so bad is they are done to protect the interests of a few insiders. That’s what has to change.

      • John R says:

        I agree with this…. we need to have a strong understanding of what makes core areas work and commit to that. I think a few leaders here get it but as a whole the city and BoA are rather dysfunctional on urban redevelopment.

        With regard to the near north riverfront, I do think we should take a look at executing some of the options on key parcels and then issue an rfp for developing the area in a way that helps build a sustainable, inclusive neighborhood. This would be a companion to the GRG effort already underway.

        • gmichaud says:

          An RFP for developers could be interesting. Still though there is huge gap on the part of city government actions that would make selling a project at this location more difficult.
          There isn’t a broad based understanding of how the city interacts. Surely McKee’s North Side Project is related to the stadium project site or should be. It is the job of government to help supply that link between parts of the city, whether it be with commercial, transit and pedestrian environments, bicycles or auto. Surely the investments in North St. Louis are related to any investments in a replacement stadium project or vice versa.
          How various parts of the city reinforce one another are not part of the public discussion. An RFP might help specific discussion about one project, but the role of government, or the people, has to be to coordinate and help shape the resulting finished projects, connecting with each other and to other parts of the city for the benefit the citizens.
          One other thing, I don’t know about large scale developers, I’ve sort of had my fill of them. A development strategy to encourage small scale enterprises and developers may be preferable. So the size of a RFP might be an issue, not sure. The only thing I know for sure is that what is happening right now isn’t working.
          I like architectural competitions, if structured right, with some nice prize money, you can attract some of the best urban thinkers in the world to come up with solutions.

          • John R says:

            Perhaps Forum, which worked with GRG to craft the broad vision, can help the City and GRG open things up and develop a more specific plan though a solid RFP issuance. I’m following the process going on in Detroit with a similar goal of redeveloping the near downtown riverfront…. the acreage in the Detroit riverfront initiative is larger and there has been greater current momentum there than here (perhaps ironically, STL-based McCormack Baron is presently building a mixed-use, project with 250+ apartments in the area), but there are many similarities between the two as well.

            Anyway, more on the Detroit riverfront competition/public process is here if you’re interested in taking a look:

          • gmichaud says:

            Thanks for links, first of all you can see Detroit is asking for a number of solutions by seven different architectural firms. I went to the GRG site too, and it is apparent that Forum and the process that is being used is the same failed process that has brought St Louis to this point in the first place.
            Even though they cite many stakeholders in the St. Louis plan, including citizen participation, it is a defective process because it turns out, the “insider stakeholders” push their agenda at public meetings, and organize materials and meetings thusly.
            In contrast the Detroit process offers 7 different solutions to choose from, it’s that simple.
            Detroit seems to be similar to St. Louis in that it offers little in the way of connectivity (transit, extension of neighborhoods into adjoining districts and similar discussions) but I don’t know Detroit that well, I’ve only been there a few times.
            The fact is St. Louis maintains a largely incestuous process for making these large scale decisions. (or in the case of McKee and the Northside not at all)
            I definitely think Detroit has a better process.
            To quote their planning director from the article

            “We think it’s important for the public to have a very strong voice in planning any part of the city. We don’t want to select a team that’s just going to go back into their offices and start drawing. We expect their first step to be a robust community discussion around priorities for the district.”

            In the case of St Louis there is already a team chosen and they are already drawing.
            I’m guessing the results for Detroit will be more successful due to the process.

          • John R says:

            My 2c. is that Detroit has changed immensely both in its prospects and in it’s thinking in the past few years…. I think leadership understands urbanism better there than we do. But much of that has been the result of a rather dominant billionaire, Dan Gilbert. which has pros and cons in itself. But he seems to have a solid grasp of what makes cities tick and things like bringing Project for Public Spaces in to do some good work is smart. The big question there is how they can bring significant progress into the vast number of challenged numbers outside the Greater Downtown area, much in the same way for us and North City.

          • gmichaud says:

            I think you are right that Detroit has many similar problems to St. Louis, and also how they are met is the question.
            The little snippet in the link for Detroit you attached indicates to me that Detroit appears to be taking a better approach in inviting 7 firms to submit solutions, as is the case with their Riverfront Project

            Instead of judging the design concept as in Detroit, citizens of St. Louis get an already determined design, “Plan B”, with comments perhaps modifying some internal approaches to the overall urban design.
            What you end up with are uninspired, linear and rigid solutions, no matter how many public hearings you hold, and they are few.
            In the case of Paul McKee and the City of St Louis, inspired or not, they are without solutions for nearby Northside. Why aren’t these two projects connected?
            In fact why isn’t the NGA project part of the thinking? Certainly it would encourage NGA to locate in St. Louis if there appeared to be visionary urban planning occurring somehow in their immediate surroundings.
            St. Louis has a hidebound process which rewards insiders and leaves basic city planning to random chance that harms the quality of life.

          • John R says:

            It’s possible things might be aligning a bit in Near North City,,, if NGA is awarded and McCormack Baron wins the coveted HUD Choice Neighborhoods award grant it is pursuing for O’Fallon Place/Carr Square, the area just north of downtown between Jefferson and Tucker will be substantially reshaped and at least presents the opportunity for visionary urban planning connecting with the near north riverfront planning, at least if we’re up for it. And if the GRG planning here with Forum is just initial visioning that can help craft more public involvement and possible competition moving forward then maybe we can get something more successful than our typical mediocre results.

          • gmichaud says:

            I wish I had your optimism. There is something in psychology called functional fixedness, basically it is when an individual or individuals have trouble innovating and thinking beyond their established mental boundaries.
            In this case the boundary is the presented Riverfront Plan B. Even though there are a slew of comments at the end of the Riverfront Plan on the GRG site it is difficult to incorporate the comments into the existing plan without completely new approaches.
            In fact when I went through the comments I sort of thought it was more along the lines of programmatic information designers should have prior to starting a design.
            It is hard to substitute for the fresh eyes that your Detroit example provides in the form of seven design firms competing with ideas on their riverfront.
            The trouble is St. Louis continues to fumble opportunities, Ikea for instance is a suburban solution in an urban environment that should be walkable.
            This is all part of city government doing a horrible job connecting parts of the city into a coherent whole, unable to leverage development in a way to encourage further activity.
            To me the first thing is the City has to stop planning for the auto and start planning for the human being first and foremost.
            And when the Riverfront Plan calls for a creative district and an innovative district it is clear that there isn’t an understanding that the whole city is the creative and innovative environment as old St. Louis was in the past.
            Most of this discussion has roots in classical city planning whose principles apparently are not understood very well in St Louis as you point out.
            I just don’t see the necessary thinking anywhere on the horizon that will change the status quo and mindsets that have strangled St Louis for so long.

          • gmichaud says:

            Climate change means we need to make changes in our lives to limit carbon emissions. I don’t see that urgency expressed in the North Riverfront Plan. Walking, bicycles and transit should to be a major concern.The Plan touches upon these issues, but not to any extent to make a difference
            This is why asking from proposals from separate architectural/planning firms would be beneficial. It is an entirely different plan to consider. Good transit in this location influences the design of public, commercial and residential spaces to accommodate the approach.
            There are a fair number of comments in the North Riverfront Plan saying they would like to see no or minimal parking. That will never be achieved without better transit and movement systems.
            Downtown Helsinki, (a metro area the size of St. Louis) has almost zero surface parking lots and few garages. Transit, bikes and pedestrians are predominant proving and illustrating that resources can be organized for better transit and movement systems when coupled with public space, density and other urban tools. It depends on priorities and design.
            To me it is almost unbelievable that improvement of movement systems to help eliminate the heavy use of the auto is not important enough to be included in alternate planning proposals.
            This is an example of functional fixedness, or having the blinders on.

            When do they figure to start making changes, in about 30 years when the life of this project is over?
            St. Louis accepts mediocrity because nothing else is ever proposed. Climate change means this path is no longer acceptable.


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