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Board of Alderman “Perfects” Controversial BJC Lease

Today two board bills were passed perfected by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen related to a section of Forest Park. The area located between Kingshighway and Euclid has been under lease by BJC since the 1970s for use as an underground parking garage. Above the garage is a green park with mature trees, racquetball courts, a playground and tennis courts. If the new proposal is approved by the city’s Board of Estimate & Apportionment BJC will be granted the rights to develop what is now a park.

Citizens opposed to the plan have obtained the signatures required to require a citizen vote whenever leasing or selling park land. Today’s vote is an attempt to get this deal done prior to the citizen vote in April to consider such a requirement.

The usual 29 members (28 Aldermen + President of the Board of Aldermen) is only 28 these days since 19th Ward Alderman Mike McMillan resigned to assume his new role as the city’s License Collector. Only two voted against the deal — Board President Jim Shrewbury and Jeffrey Boyd (D-22).

Four Aldermen were either absent from the meeting or abstained from voting on the bills related to this lease: Charles Quincy Troupe (D-1), Jennifer Florida (D-15), Terry Kennedy (D-18) and Frank Williamson (D-26).  Update #2 1/26/07 5pm — Troupe & Florida were not present for the meeting today.  Kennedy & Williamson, although present for the meeting, were not present for this particular vote.

The following aldermen voted in favor of the bill(s):

  • Dionne Flowers, (D-2)
  • Freeman Bosley, (D-3)
  • O.L. Shelton, (D-4)
  • April Ford Griffin, (D-5)
  • Lewis Reed, (D-6)
  • Phyllis Young, (D-7)
  • Stephen Conway, (D-8)
  • Kenneth Ortmann, (D-9)
  • Joseph Vollmer, (D-10)
  • Matt Villa, (D-11)
  • Fred Heitert, (R-12)
  • Alfred Wessels, (D-13)
  • Stephen Gregali, (D-14)
  • Donna Baringer, (D-16)
  • Joseph Roddy, (D-17)
  • Craig Schmid, (D-20)
  • Bennice Jones-King, (D-21)
  • Kathleen Hanrahan, (D-23)
  • William Waterhouse, (D-24)
  • Dorothy Kirner, (D-25)
  • Gregory Carter, (D-27)
  • Lyda Krewson, (D-28)

Update: [The bills will come up again next week for final approval. If approved,] the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (E&A) will determine if this deal goes through. The three members are Mayor Francis Slay, President Jim Shrewsbury and Comptroller Darlene Green. Slay has announced he will support the deal while Shrewsbury has indicated he will not (and judging by his no vote today I think it would be odd to flip flop). So, this puts the decision of the park in the hands of one person — Darlene Green. Right now she holds all the cards so I’m guessing there are some backroom conversations and deals being hatched right now. The old what will it take to get your vote?

If Green supports the plan she will be upsetting voters who have worked to place the issue on the ballot. If she votes against the plan she risks getting shut out of the political establishment backing the deal. From my perspective, Green can’t help but play politics somewhat but I think she tends to come down on the side of good fiscal policy. The question becomes, is this deal now good enough in her mind?

Last week her office sent out the following statement:

The comptroller believes people on both sides of this issue have strong points. On one side are the citizens and taxpayers who want to protect their parks and have a say in plans to develop park land. On the other side is the city’s largest medical facility that serves thousands of disadvantaged residents each year and is an economic engine for the community.

The comptroller intends to move forward in an effort to bridge the gap on these two very valid viewpoints and hopefully reach a compromise solution. She is working now to hold meetings beginning next week with both sides that focus on common ground and building consensus instead of rehashing differences. This issue is too important to our community on a number of levels for us to settle for anything less than a mutual agreement.

“The comptroller is reserving comment on the new lease plan revealed today until after these meetings and, hopefully, a compromise is reached.

I just asked the Comproller’s office if they have a new statement in light of today’s vote — I’ll let you know when they respond.

The next debate is if this will, or will not, affect the upcoming race between incumbent Jim Shrewsbury and challenger Lewis Reed. Shrewsbury is opposing the current lease while Reed supported it.

NOTE: I updated this post roughly 30 minutes after originally posting. I had indicated the bills had passed when in fact they had only been “perfected.” They will be brought up again next week for final passage. I adjusted a bit of the above language to reflect this as well as adjusting the headline.

 

Third Establishment Gets Valet Zone, Others Remain Out of Control

Last night I drove around for a bit over an hour looking for all the valet parking areas I could find. Starting at 9pm, I figure I hit pretty much all of them. In the past I’ve pretty much focused on the 1100 & 1200 blocks of Washington Avenue with Copia and Lucas Park Grille, respectively. Just over a week aga the Department of Streets set up new valet guidelines which includes the establishment of designated valet zones, they started with Copia & Lucas Park Grille. These keep the valets within a certain boundary but also alert motorists where they cannot park after a certain time.
Keep in mind the intent of the valet zones is to provide an on-street space for customers to drop off or pick up their cars — it is not intended to provide any sort of “VIP” parking for really nice cars. Here were my findings last night.

Restaurants w/valet zones:

  • Lucas Park Grille, 12?? Washington, a Range Rover was parked within the no-parking valet zone. Keep in mind they have an 88ft long zone which by many accounts is too long. If they can keep a Range Rover parked there then they don’t need the space.
  • Copia, 1122 Washington, a Maserati and Mercedes were parked within the no-parking valet zone. The Mercedes was parked in a designated no-parking area blocking fire access to stand pipe for an adjacent building — the fire marshall needs to keep a closer eye on them. Copia’s zone is an amazingly long 129ft so it is no wonder they feel they can park two cars within that
  • The Loft, Olive east of Compton, no problems to report. Zone is a very reasonable three spaces long, all were empty around 9:45pm.

Restaurants w/o valet zones:

  • Eleven-Eleven Mississippi, 1111 Mississippi, large amount of space, cones in street reserving spaces.
  • Pepper Lounge, 2005 Locust, cones reserving large number of spaces on both sides of street.
  • Kyo, 14xx Washington Ave, cones in front of business,
  • Dolce, Broadway @ Olive, massive quantity of spaces reserved on both sides of Broadway, charging $5. Midwest Valet.
  • Tony’s, Market St, block-long no-parking zone in front of restaurant was full of cars presumably parked by valets. Should be designated as parking with time slot for valet service like all other establishments or cars should be ticketed or towed from no-parking zone. Tony’s should not receive any special treatment simply because they are Tony’s.
  • Ten14, 1014 Locust, cones on both sides of street.
  • Harry’s, cones on both sides of street creating lanes with cones and signs.
  • Dante’s, Olive west of Compton, cones reserving spaces on both sides of club, Midwest Valet sign placed within marked bike lane.
  • Mandrin, Maryland Plaza, a few cones out but using limited space not yet marked as valet zone.
  • Bar-Italia, Maryland, cones reserving quite a few spaces.
  • Sub-Zero, Euclid, four spaces taken.
  • Restaurants on Laclede @ Euclid. Valet sign out, two cars parked on Laclede at narrow area.

I have no idea how many of the above actually posses a valid permit. If they do they will, at some point soon, be forced to comply with the new valet regulations and be limited to a still genereous valet zone. Those operating on the streets without permits will become more and more obvious to everyone as the will be the places lacking a designated zone.

In the past I’ve seen on-street valet service at a few other restaurants but none were observed last night. If you can think of additional locations where valets routinely operate let me know using the comments below. I will keep an eye on them and make sure they are all known to the Department of Streets – I’m just thinking they don’t have the staff to drive around at 9pm on a Saturday night.

Dante’s on Olive just west of Compton:

IMG_0572.jpg

The actual club is up where the cars are parked. These three spaces plus about that many on the other side of their club are being reserved for those willing to shell out $5 to park at public parking spot after you are no longer required to feed the meter. Note the bike lane to the left of the image above.
IMG_0573.jpg

Midwest Valet has placed their sign within the bike lane, a complete disregard for the safety of others. In more urban minded cities this sort of abuse of bike lanes would not be tolerated.

Harry’s on 22nd at Market Street:

IMG_0567.jpg

Here they are using public parking spaces across the street from their restaurant to establish a valet lane. This place creates an interesting delima in that most customers will arrive off Market Street (behind me) and their parking lot used to park valeted cars off-street is up ahead. So here a valet zone directly in front of their location might present functional problems for both customers and the valet operator. That said, a reasonable solution needs to be worked out as they are taking up way too many public parking spaces but unless someone is visiting the FBI at night (behind fence at right) they literally are the only users of this street.

Dolce at Olive & Broadway (SE corner):

IMG_0562.jpg

Once again Midwest Valet is up to old tricks. Here their sign is actually out of the way along Olive but that is only because Olive is two lanes between Broadway and 4th street to the east. My observations on several occassions has been they use Olive for customers to drop off or pick up their cars. It appears they take the cars to a parking garage and do not use the spaces coned off on Broadway.

IMG_0559.jpg

Dolce is located at the far corner of the building on the right. They’ve coned off 10 spaces on the east side of Broadway and another 3 on the west side (visible at left above). The balance of the west side is no parking in front of the Metropolitan Square building.

IMG_0557.jpg

This shot gives you a good overview of how empty the area looks, a false impression. Again, I think they park cars in a garage and simply cone off all these spaces so customers will be forced to use the valet service. If customers self-parked, how would they make any money? Again, these are public spaces and someone visiting a friend at a nearby hotel might wish to park there or perhaps going to see friends in the newly opened loft building seen in the background.

It is pretty clear these valet companies, especially Midwest Valet, will continue to abusively take spaces away from the general public until they are forced not to. I’m just glad the Department of Streets if finally taking charge of the problem.

 

Valet Parking, An Update From Ald. Krewson

As a follow up to my post from earlier today, I received a phone call from Ald. Lyda Krewson (D-28th Ward).  Krewson, as I’ve noted in prior posts, has been dealing with valet parking issues in her ward primarily around the intersection of Euclid & Maryland.  I actually received an email from Krewson last night, before the post, asking me to call her (which I did this morning but she was already in sesssion at the Board of Alderman).  The point here is she was calling me to update me, not just reacting.  Much appreciated Ald. Krewson!!!

So what is the update?  Krewson and new Director of Streets Todd Waeltermann have talked, emailed and met in person to discuss the issue of valet parking.  They have been discussing the various issues such as length of valet area, cones or no cones, signage and such.  The goal, she says, is to develop a written policy within the Streets Department that will eventually be adopted as the city’s ordinance on valet parking.

While nothing is yet finalized it sounds to me like both Krewson and Waeltermann are in agreement as to the issues and solutions.  Here are a few of the areas discussed, but again no final language has been drafted at this point so don’t hold it as the gospel:

  • Valet company & business owner must sign an application form.
  • Valet zone to be created with signs indicating end points for the valet service.
  • Valet zone shall be no wider than the business seeking the application unless an immediately adjacent business also indicates their approval by signing the application.
  • Cones may be allowed “at the curb” to help identify the valet zone.

There were a number of other points but I don’t have all the details in writing, plus it is all a draft at this point.  I suggested that after the policy is enacted we actually live with it for 6-9 months before adopting it in ordinance form.  This would give us time to see if loopholes have been found or if other tweaks are required.
Ald. Krewson’s attention to detail and follow up on this issue have been impressive.  It helps that her constituents in the Central West End have been contacting her about their compliants of aggressive valets.  All in all I was very pleased with the solutions Ald. Krewson and Mr. Waeltermann have developed.  Once they have something ready for public commentary I will pass it along for everyone’s feedback.

 

Ald. Roddy on the Euclid Streetscape Plan

Last Monday I attended a long public meeting on the Euclid Streetscape and wrote up my thoughts. Although I had a number of positive things to say it was mostly a critical take, offering criticism others may not know to suggest or be too afraid of offending someone. I, inevitably, offend people with my direct views. One such person was simply known as “CWE1”. This person suggested I was spreading misinformation.

My personal preference is not to rely on my notes for project details, opting instead to link to a website or perhaps a PDF document containing all the facts relevant to a project. That frees me up to talk about the design theory, the thought process (or often lack of), missing details and finally offering suggestings for improvement. Unfortunately, in the case of the proposed Euclid Streetscape no such basis exists — the public was not given any sort of fact sheet on the project nor is anything provided on the web for me to link to so that you, as the reader, can verify details for yourself. One such area where CWE1 says I am incorrect is how the study is funded, I wrote in my original piece:

These funds, as I understand it, came from an increase in the taxes on the property where we have the new Park East Tower high-rise. A diverse group of stakeholders were involved at the start of the project on November 9th.

To which CWE1 replied:

The funds being used for the Euclid project do not come from an increase in taxes on the Park East Tower property.

I then responded with:

You misunderstood the taxes comment relative to the Park East. The money for the design fees and some other projects, roughly $500K, are from an incremental increase in the taxes in the area due to the Park East. The land was vacant and city-owned before so the taxes are all new — an increment higher than before. As I mentioned, the actual work would be done via a grant from East-West Gateway using Federal funds.

CWE1 once again insisted he/she was correct with:

I repeat that the money for the design fees and other projects does not come from an incremental increase in the taxes. The Park East Tower has set up a CID and is receiving tax abatement. The $500K was a lump-sum contribution based on a percentage of the subsidy. If you have questions about the financing, I suggest a call to the development agency.

Again, I try to be very accurate with details such as the source of funding. If I am uncertain, I either don’t bring it up or try to verify. After sitting through a long meeting and taking extensive notes I thought I had the various nuances down. CWE1 disagrees, the source of the funds being just one example. So where did I get my information and can I back it up? Well, from Ald. Joe Roddy and yes I can.

Here is a short video (less than 5 minutes) of Ald. Joe Roddy starting off the meeting on the Euclid Streetscape, he discusses the “increment” at 2:50:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7pKsGcjT8c[/youtube]

So, CWE1, if any misinformation is being spread about this project it is either from Ald. Roddy or from you. I’m not sure which.  I regret that I did not record the full meeting to be able to good definitive answers to other areas of contention.

If the CWE-Midtown Development Corporation, or their communications consultant Vector Communications, wants to send me a fact sheet to set the record straight on this project I will be more than happy to publish anything and everything they send me. Given neither the development corp nor Ald. Roddy have a website of their own, it is the least I can do to help them communicate with the tax paying public.

 

Remaking Urban Streetscapes – A Look At St. Louis’ Euclid Ave

Planning work is well underway to remake three blocks of Euclid Ave, from Lindell Blvd on the north to Forest Park Parkway on the South. Monday evening the design team made another of several public presentations on the issues and proposed options. Interestingly, one of the stated goals was to make the street accessible to all yet the meeting was held in a meeting room at the hotel on Lindell that is reached by stairs, no elevator. Luckily, an advocate for the disabled was present to give feedback on behalf of those that couldn’t reach the meeting.

The group behind this makeover is the Central West End-Midtown Development Corporation. Sorry, no link as they don’t yet have a website. I know, almost 2007 and no website to communicate their plans for redeveloping an area…

They are spending a whopping $400,000 on the planning and engineering for three city blocks of a single street. These funds, as I understand it, came from an increase in the taxes on the property where we have the new Park East Tower high-rise. A diverse group of stakeholders were involved at the start of the project on November 9th.

The development team, headed by Denver-based Civitas, is huge. The list of consultants is close to 10, I think. Too many cooks in the kitchen, in my view. I guess the local development group wants to make sure all $400K gets spent.

This stretch of Euclid was redone probably 30 years ago or so. That is when Euclid, and cross streets Laclede & West Pine, gained the now-dated “lollipop” light fixtures (their description, not mine). The sidewalks and such were redone in the latest style for the time, it was up to date and hip. And that my friends, was the problem. The focus was on the horizontal surfaces of the sidewalk or things like street lamps.

Sure, it probably worked for a while. Anytime you infuse some new cash into an area it will attract some attention which brings new business and customers. Sustaining this influx of investment and users, however, is the trick. Height of fashion streetscapes become dated at some point and keeping up the interest level becomes harder and harder when that happens. I know of no such street that has a long-term sustainable record.

“Washington Avenue,” you proclaim. Well, we are only into the streetscape a few years. It is showing some signs of wear and it will be interesting to see if the city is going to keep up with maintenance or simply move on to areas like Ballpark Village. The outrageously expensive light fixtures do a poor job of lighting the street — you get blinding hot spots and and dark areas otherwise. However, as more businesses open and have lit signage this has become less of an issue. Still, the two blocks from Tucker to 14th are all tricked out like a cheap whore screaming for attention. This is what happens when you let good designers go crazy.

The design team will be back next week presenting to the stakeholders and then to the public on the 16th of January.

You see the design community has the nagging problem, the portfolio. The portfolio or gallery is where they show off their projects to their peers and prospective clients. It takes the really flashy stuff to show up well in photographs. A well-designed streetscape (or building) that is reasonable conventional but part of a dynamic urban context will look far too boring in a designer’s portfolio. Often they want projects that look exciting when empty, hard to accomplish unless you go all out.

You can put the most interesting of brick paving in front of a Wal-Mart and it is still a Wal-Mart. You will not want to spend anymore time out front simply because of the pattern created or some token sculpture. Sure, it might make your passing through a bit more interesting but you will not return because of it. And eventually the novelty of that paving pattern will wear off. The world’s great streets are not about the paving. Nor are they entirely about the architecture. Before going any further with this rant I want to break for some reality of the actual proposals for Euclid. The rant will continue post-proposals.

Civitas was kind enough to share with me the two proposals presented at the meeting. Basically, the two plans involve some of the same items: removal of all existing sidewalks, curbs, trees, and paving. Both involve starting over from scratch.

The first concept, shown below, is what is being described as a “polish” project — clean up what they have. Major changes from today involve the bump-outs at the intersections — those extended curbs that make it shorter to cross a street. They are also suggesting using pervious paving under the on-street parking so that some rain water can be absorbed into the soil rather than adding to the load on the sewer system. The other major difference is raised intersections at Laclede & West Pine. These are used as traffic-calming devices — basically the crosswalks and the center of the intersection are at the same level as the sidewalks. As you drive you’ll go up a slope at you get to the crosswalk and back down the other side as you cross.

Euclid Streetscapes Enhancement Option A

Option A — click image above to view in Flickr and to see larger size in detail.

This first option calls for two 7ft parking lanes as well as 22ft in the center for two travel lanes. In the 60ft right-of-way this leaves 12ft for sidewalk on each side of the street. I think they could narrow the curb-to-curb width a bit to 34ft for the two travel and parking lanes, giving more room to pedestrians.

On-street parking would remain at the same number of spaces, roughly 48 per their estimates. These spaces would be redistributed a bit as current all are in the two blocks between Laclade and Lindell. In both revised plans some on-street parking is included in the block between Forest Park Parkway and Laclede. Some at the meeting argued in favor of eliminating on-street parking completely, suggesting the cars are eyesores. Eliminating on-street parking on these three blocks would pretty much kill this street. Yes, quite a bit of parking is available on side streets and in parking structures nearby but that is not the point. On-street parking does a number of things beneficial to the pedestrian — namely helping to slow traffic in the travel lanes as well as providing a big buffer between sidewalk and moving vehicles. Using the curb bump outs and other techniques it is possible to acheive a good balance in this mix.

“But how would eliminating parking kill the street,” you ask? Simple, we do not have the density required to keep the sidewalks busy at all times. Sure, we have a number of pedestrians now that make the street look lively but take away the cars and those same number of pedestrians now looks pathetic. We’d need considerably more pedestrians on the sidewalks to make up for the loss of perceived activity contributed by the parked cars. You might argue that removing parked cars from the street would increase pedestrian traffic but such a cause-effect is only wishful thinking. Density is what increases pedestrian traffic, not the absense of parked cars. Without parked cars the street would look vacant and as it looked vacant you’d have less and less pedestrians because they would not feel as safe on the street. Eventually we’d see less stores as a result. The street would die a slow death. On-street parking can only be eliminated in very special circumstances and none of those exist, or are likely to ever exist, in the St. Louis region. We all need to accept on-street parking as part of the activity of the street.

Moving on to Option B, seen here:

Euclid Streetscapes Enhancement Option B
What to say about Option B? WTF!?! Let me explain. Someone on the design team, or from the client, got this bright idea to make a “statement” with the street, specifically water runoff. Never ever advocate making a statement with paving and especially not how that paving is designed to channel storm water. I’m as “green” as the next guy but a 3ft wide covered drainage channel down the middle of the street ending a “planters” at the intersections. Again, WTF? Streets for centuries have been crowned — raised in the center causing water to run to either side, along the gutter/curb and into a drain (ok, the drains have not been around for centuries but you get the idea). We don’t need to re-invent the wheel here. We are talking about three blocks of a narrow right of way. Giving more space to the roadway takes away space from the sidewalks, counter intuitive if you are seeking a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Ald. Joe Roddy spoke last night and was there for all but the last bit of the meeting. He spoke very upbeat about this being the most vibrant street in St. Louis in the future. Again, pretty pavement patterns does not equal vibrant. Issues that can have a sustainable impact on the vibrancy of this street now and in the future are land use, zoning and new construction. The Park East Tower is going to add many new residents but its oppressive street-level design doesn’t help matters. They parking structure that creates the bad situation will have 160 public spaces. I personally would have preferred they do without the public spaces and given us a better street treatment. I hear a bank may be going in the retail space, that will really pack the sidewalks on a Saturday evening.

Roddy and the development group should have taken a big chuck of this $400K they are spending and invested that in some good design guidlines for the area. Along the way look at taxing the hell out of surface parking lots like the one at the corner of Euclid and Lindell to the point where the owner is forced to sell or develop it.

Here are some miscellanous issues that came up at the meeting and my thoughts on them:

  • Old trolley tracks may still exist under the street. Here is a crazy idea, do a trolley up and down Euclid to connect the MetroLink stop in the medical complex with the urbanized neighborhoods to the north? Run up to Delmar or Fountain Park?
  • A “pedestrian refuge” is planned at Forest Park Parkway. This is very much needed. They team also plans to bump out curbs at the ends of the parking lanes to reduce the width of the crossings. They had some nice before and “after” images.
  • It was suggested new structures be required to have public parking. I say that is unnecssary, more than enough parking exists now. Eliminate parking requirements completely and let the developer determine how much parking they need to provide to meet the market demand.
  • The team showed a kitchen garden in the presentation. I love kitchen gardens with herbs and such — but not in my public streets. I do not want to eat at a local restaurant and worry that my basil was fertilized by the neighbor’s poodle.
  • Some feel some monuments need to be placed at each end to mark the entrance to the area. Again, it is only three blocks long. The area needs to become an extension of Euclid to the North of Lindell. They would do well to copy the same feel so that people naturally flow back and forth across Lindell.
  • The development group will be applying for a federal grant from East-West Gateway. Their early estimates are somewhere between $1.8 and $3.0 million dollars. For three blocks!

City streetscapes do not need to be fancy. They need good paving, concrete is a perfectly fine material. They need to be lined with good-sized street trees (spend a bit more on bigger trees). Streets need attractive and quality lighting, nothing too fancy or garish. In short, streets need to just be streets. Zoning, signing and things like opening windows to restaurants are the factors that make for an exciting street. People need places to sit or lock up their bikes. Public clocks are a nice touch. Markers in the pavement to indicate the cross street name helps with way-finding as does the address in the paving. Subtle details are far more important than the hit you over the head so cool and trendy things designers want to experiment with. They need to work on the basics first and branch out from there, not the other way around.

Update 12/12/06 at 8:30pm — I forgot to pass along a link to a December 6 article on this subject from the West End Word.

 

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