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THF Realty sprawls big box development over region

November 17, 2004 Big Box, St. Louis County, Suburban Sprawl, THF Realty Watch Comments Off on THF Realty sprawls big box development over region
From a recent Deb Peterson column in the Post-Distpach:
BUSINESS PER USUAL: THF Realty took the acronym out of its name and put the words back in – To Have Fun – at the company’s annual meeting Thursday night at the St. Louis Zoo’s Living World. About 300 people – including 100 employees and 200 business partners – listened and danced to rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Famer Johnnie Johnson. The revelers were toasting THF for being recognized as the fastest-growing privately held developer in the country. 

The Post-Disptach reported a few days ago that THF is seeking TIF financing for a project in Arnold. In the way is a VFW Hall. Municipalities across the region are doing whatever they can to increase their budgets. Unfortunately, many seek auto-centric big box developments.

 

So who is this THF Realty and is big box so bad? THF Realty is a privately held developer responsible for projects in nearly 20 states. Many of these include either a Wal-Mart, Sam’s or Lowes. Given that Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the US this is hardly a surprise right? But it isn’t really a coincidence. The chairman of privately owned THF Realty is Wal-Mart heir Stanley Kroenke. The THF website bio of Kroenke says he is a member of Wal-Mart’s board but a check of that site does not list him.

Wal-Mart is pro sprawl and therefore anti-urban.

Maplewood has been doing everything it can to take in more tax revenue – at the expense of its once-charming urbanity. The new Shop-N-Save grocery store along Manchester road subtracts from the charming main street buildings across the street. Their latest attempt to destroy their city is a massive suburban center along Hanley. Two of the three boxes are complete – Wal-Mart and Sam’s. The third, a Lowe’s Home Improvement is still being constructed. All three are Wal-Mart owned stores.

The picture below is the view a pedestrian has as they leave the remaining neighborhood and walk toward the development. I think the highline wires will be removed once the project is complete so I am not faulting those. However, those are the only thing that separate a pedestrian from passing cars. While the grass may be green and the shrubs attractive this is not a pedestrian-friendly environment. You’ve got a massive retaining wall to one side and cars flying past you on the other. You have no shade because street trees are not being planted around this project. People walk when they have something engaging to look at but here it is plainness all the way to the entry.

Below is a picture from the side street on the North edge of the development. In the far left you can see the residential houses adjacent to this super-sized project. Facing the pedestrian is the cross walk from the street into the development. The distance to cross this entry is far greater than crossing the actual street! The generous radius of the entrance is designed to keep the cars moving in and out at great speeds – never mind the safety of pedestrians crossing the drive.
Continuing down the same road (see below) we see the sidewalk is pushed up against the curb. Funny how a project with over 30 acres can’t afford a 3ft strip to plan trees. The side of the street adjacent to the development is now marked as ‘No Parking.’ Not that anyone going to Wal-Mart is going to park on the street and walk through the holiday season sized parking lot anyway. But, if I lived in a house across the street it might be nice if guests could park on the street. A row of parked cars would give pedestrians a greater sense of safety.
And finally we get to the point adjacent to the side of the Wal-Mart, the side with the automotive center and greenhouse. Changes in grade mean the home owners next door are not subjected to the sight of all the cars. Unfortunately they are subjected to the massive parking lot lights. This part of the street actually has good separation of the sidewalk from the street but the landscaping is done and street trees are not important. Street parking is prohibited.
I measured the width of the street at this point which is narrower than it is closer to Hanley. The street is 30ft wide – more than sufficient for parking on both sides. Just allowing street parking could have reduced some of the parking lot size. Many other cities have adopted guidelines for streets - click here to view.

But my going on about THF’s development not being pedestrian friendly is really a waste of time. It’s a fucking big box development – it isn’t supposed to be pedestrian friendly. You are supposed to drive there – even if you live a block away. They want you to drive a big SUV so you can buy lots of cheap goods. Like you are going to walk to Sam’s and carry back a 3-gallon tub of mayo?

The THF website says it best:

“When we drive down the street, we do not only see what is in front of us…we see the future.

We see growing communities where none exist. We imagine innovative ways to attract businesses that will invest in building successful operations in new communities. We see economic growth that attracts new residents, and results in new homes, new schools and new playgrounds.

When we drive down the street, we see much more than the potential for a new shopping center. We see – and build – developments that become the economic engine of the community.

Our projects turn out the way they do not just because we dream bigger or brighter. Our developments are successful because we have built a unique organization focused on consistently delivering a signature product. How? By executing better than everyone else.”

Wow, when we drive down the street. What about when we walk to the corner store? When we bike to the library? Nope. When we DRIVE. They see communities where none exist – aka sprawl. They see a world of continued sprawl that puts work, home, school and leisure in an auto-centric world that is the “economic engine of the community.” And when the fuel prices skyrocket these communities will come crashing down first.

Most of the region is so auto based I don’t know if it matters that THF wants to raze a VFW Hall in Arnold. But, the City of St. Louis is still quite urban in design so I ask that Kroenke/THF not try to help us out. Mr. Kroenke, we don’t need what THF has to offer.

Related Sites to visit:
• Sprawl-Busters
• Wal-Mart Watch
• Sprawl Watch
• Natural Resources Defense Council
• Smart Growth
• Congress for the New Urbanism
• New Urban News (free subscription with membership in CNU!)

Steve

 

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