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This Is Our Chance To Reconnect Two Neighborhoods Long Separated By Highways

February 17, 2022 Downtown, Featured, North City, Planning & Design, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on This Is Our Chance To Reconnect Two Neighborhoods Long Separated By Highways

Urban highways & interstates allow drivers to get from point A to point B quicker than had they taken surface streets, but they’re also a major divider between the existing neighborhoods they cut through.  In the late 1950s the downtown’s 3rd Street Parkway was being extended north, eventually connecting with the new Mark Twain Expressway (aka I-70/I-44) in July 1961.

I live on the west side of the highway, but I can stand in my kitchen and see Broadway & Cass, on the east side of the highway. I know first hand how the highway divides the historic north riverfront from my neighborhood, Columbus Square.

Looking south from the Cass Ave bridge over I-44, June 2020. The lane center is a southbound express lane, to the right is the express lane exit ramp to southbound Broadway.

Ideally we’d remove urban interstates and weave our neighborhoods back together, but that’s never going to happen. What should happen is when we rebuild crumbling infrastructure we add connections civil engineers in the 1950s never considered at the time the highways were planned.

The same view Monday with southbound Broadway bridge and the exit ramp gone.
The blue oval is the southbound Broadway bridge, the red X is where Csss & 7th were connected until construction began for the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. Post-Dispatch July 9, 1961, p161.

The distance from Broadway & Cass to Broadway & O’Fallon is only 2/10 of a mile, but the distance required for the last 60 years has been double that — 4/10 of a mile.

The Missouri Department of Transportation supports pedestrian facilities:

MoDOT works with planning partners to create transportation facilities that work for all users because we value bicycle and pedestrian travel. Accommodating for bicyclists or pedestrians may be as simple as providing a well-designed road that all road users share or as complex as a separate-grade structure, such as a bridge. Developing appropriate facility design for nonmotorists depends on a variety of geometric and operational factors that are inter-related, such as available right-of-way, projected traffic counts and adjacent roadway design speeds.
 

We strive to integrate nonmotorized travel into the existing system to provide connections where none exist to promote efficiency and to focus on a primary concern—the safety of those who depend on walking or bicycling to reach their destinations. (MoDOT)

Unfortunately MoDOT failed to accommodate the needs of cyclists and pedestrians in the replacement. This is a huge mistake — it’ll be another 60+ years before we get another chance to reconnect these areas.

View from Broadway near Cass looking SW toward Broadway @ O’Fallon (just beyond building), June 2021
The buildings on the right are part of a National Register Historic District.

You might be thinking it would be too difficult to include a pedestrian sidewalk.  The old bridge, removed over the weekend, couldn’t have easily been retrofitted. But when building the new bridge entirely from the ground up it is actually pretty easy.

Here’s the overview:

The blue circle is my location. The blue line represents the route required to walk from Broadway @ Cass to Broadway @ O’Fallon — twice as far as the direct route shown in solid green. The dashed green line is how to connect Cass to 7th & 6th streets. Apple Maps

Now let’s take a look at the old bridge and highway exit ramps.

Broadway is only one lane per direction north of Cass, but it widens to 2 right turn lanes onto westbound Cass and 2 southbound lane to continue across the highway. One lane expands to four! Apple Maps
So 2 lanes of Broadway continued over the highway. The express lane exit is one lane but the Broadway exit is 2 lanes. Four lanes continue toward Cole before getting reduced to 2 further south.

The solution is the one southbound lane of Broadway splits into 3 before Cass — one left, one right, one straight ahead. This means the same width bridge can also accommodate bikes & pedestrians. The traffic exiting the southbound express lane and the highway have plenty of length for drivers to decelerate. Rumble strips (or similar) can be used to communicate to the driver to slow down as they approach Broadway. The 2 highway exit lanes can narrow to one before Broadway. Not sure if signals are necessary or just a flashing red light and notices to yield to pedestrians.

I would like to see Broadway south of Cole to return to two-way traffic in the future, so I’d like the new bridge to accommodate 2-way traffic and pedestrians on one side.

Again, I’m trying to connect two areas that have been separated for over 60 years. Both have enormous potential for redevelopment — new construction & adaptive reuse to the south and mostly captive reuse to the north. I’d love to see football fans have pre-game drinks at Shady Jack’s Saloon and then walk down to the Dome to see the St. Louis Battlehawks when the XFL returns under new ownership.

We must use this moment to correct past mistakes!

— Steve Patterson

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Newish Book — ‘ Recast Your City How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing’ by Ilana Preuss

December 11, 2021 Books, Downtown, Economy, Featured Comments Off on Newish Book — ‘ Recast Your City How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing’ by Ilana Preuss

It’s possibly human nature that causes us to look for a magical silver bullet to fix our cities, towns, and villages. Examples might include a sports team, corporate headquarters, even a monorail.  Lasting success is never that easy, it takes more effort.

Too many U.S. cities and towns have been focused on a model of economic development that relies on recruiting one big company (such as Amazon), a single industry (usually in technology), or pursuing other narrow or short-term fixes that are inequitable and unsustainable. Some cities and towns were changing, even before the historic retail collapse brought on by COVID-19. They started to shift to a new economic model that works with the community to invest in place in an inclusive and thoughtful way, with short-term wins that build momentum for long-term growth. A secret ingredient to this successful model is small-scale manufacturing.

In Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing, community development expert Ilana Preuss explains how local leaders can revitalize their downtowns or neighborhood main streets by bringing in and supporting small-scale manufacturing. Small-scale manufacturing businesses help create thriving places, with local business ownership opportunities and well-paying jobs that other business types can’t fulfill.

Preuss draws from her experience working with local governments, large and small and illuminates her recommendations with real-world examples. She details her five-step method for recasting your city using small-scale manufacturing: (1) light the spark (assess what you can build on and establish goals); (2) find and connect (get out of your comfort zone and find connectors outside of your usual circles); (3) interview (talk to people and build trust); (4) analyze (look for patterns and gaps as well as what has not been said); and (5) act (identify short-term actions to help build long-term change). This work is difficult and sometimes uncomfortable, but necessary and critical for success. Preuss supports and inspires change by drawing from her work in cities from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Columbia, Missouri, to Fremont, California.

In Recast Your City, Preuss shows how communities across the country can build strong local businesses through small-scale manufacturing, reinvest in their downtowns, and create inclusive economic opportunity. Preuss provides tools that local leaders in government, business, and real estate as well as entrepreneurs and advocates in every community can use. (Island Press)

St. Louis still has manufacturing downtown, TUMS is the example that comes to my mind. We certainly could use more downtown and throughout the region.

This newish book has a video trailer featuring the author!

As usual, I like to use the contents to show how the author makes her case:

Chapter 1: What it Means to Recast Your City
Chapter 2: Why We Need a New Economic Development Model
Chapter 3: A Stronger Economic Development Model with Small-Scale Manufacturing
Chapter 4: Five Steps to Recast Your City
Chapter 5: Step 1: Light the Spark
Chapter 6: Step 2: Find and Connect with New People
Chapter 7: Step 3: Start the Conversation and Get Great Information from Your Interviews
Chapter 8: Step 4: Analyze the Input and Understand What it All Means
Chapter 9: Step 5: Be Impatient and Act Now

As Preuss said in the video, this book is for local leaders that want to change the economic outlook where they live.  Any of you might be the local leader to make it happen here.

You can get a link to download the first chapter emailed to you here.

Steve Patterson

 

If We Want Conventions We Need To Start Over

December 9, 2021 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Walkability Comments Off on If We Want Conventions We Need To Start Over

My previous post on the convention center was back in July, see: The St. Louis Region Needs to Consider No Longer Chasing Big Conventions. Basically I said leave just a little and tear down the rest. This would allow new private development and reconnect the neighborhood north of the complex to the downtown central business district (CBD) — 6th, 7th, and 8th streets have been closed for years and 9th will close if the current plan moves forward.  In September the CEO of Clayco Construction, Bob Clark, proposed another alternative to the current plan.

The current plan adds more lipstick to our nearly 45 year-old pig, fixing problems created by prior applications of quick fix solutions: ballroom next to the kitchen, improved loading docks, more space, adjacent outdoor space, etc. The goal is to go after conventions that have eluded us due to inadequacies in our facilities.

My solution was to simply stop chasing after them and reconnect a neighborhood that was intentionally cut off.  It is also the neighborhood where I live. So in September I was happy to see an influential CEO weigh in on the topic, but go the opposite direction.

St. Louis should scrap its $210 million convention center addition in favor of a larger, $800 million plan that would see the current downtown facility and Dome demolished, Clayco CEO Bob Clark said.

Clark said he’s pitched the larger plan to area officials for two and a half years, but is going public now because federal infrastructure money could be coming to St. Louis and a potential settlement with the National Football League looms over the Rams’ 2016 exit to Los Angeles. And Clark thinks the state of Missouri could contribute to the more ambitious proposal, solving a funding problem that limited the current plan’s scope. (St. Louis Business Journal via KSDK)

Late last month St. Louis (city of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority) settled with Kroenke/NFL, with the former receiving $790 million dollars (before attorney’s fees).

The current main entrance at 8th & Washington Ave. was part of a major 1993 expansion to the 1977 original.

Here is Clark’s post on his personal blog:

Over the years, St. Louis has missed a lot of great opportunities to revitalize its downtown neighborhoods. From losing out on railroads to Chicago to failing to merge the city with St. Louis County, so many things have happened throughout the city’s history that still prevent it from being as good as it can be. With renewed attention on reimagining the downtown convention center, I’m calling for a larger, more ambitious plan to be considered that would completely transform the city for the better.

With additional funding opportunities coming from federal infrastructure spending, a potential settlement with the NFL, and additional state funds, we have a real chance to think bigger and put forth even better ideas for America’s Center, like my proposal to build a convention center that would boost business and better connect north city neighborhoods to downtown.

Modeled after the convention center in Nashville, Tennessee, our plan envisions a modern convention center for the future that would occupy a three-block footprint near the Bottle District stretching from Carr Street south to Convention Plaza. It would provide more exhibit and meeting space and also connect to the NoW Innovation District that is already generating positive results for job growth and the local economy. And it would also play a part in keeping the city safer, since it would provide better access between the city’s northern neighborhoods and southern neighborhoods going right through downtown.

This is a project that gives us a great opportunity to build a better city for St. Louisans and share what we have to offer with visitors from all over the world. It would help solve some of the most pressing issues we face as a city, and I’m urging our local elected officials to consider it further.

Clark is correct that just adding on more space to be able to check boxes isn’t the right approach if we actually want to be seriously considered for some convention business. Yes, I’ve posted about how cities keep wasting big bucks chasing conventions, see  Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities by Heywood T. Sanders from 2014. It seems to me it’d a bigger waste of money to keep attempting to make a half-ass facility into a competatibvr .

The current configuration occupies 12 city blocks (11 plus a privately owned garage surrounded on 3 sides).  If the current plan goes ahead it’ll add a 13th city block. While it may then be able to check off boxes on convention event planner’s must have lists the reality is it’ll still be a spread out mess that separates the city with a huge monolithic mass with Broadway (5th Street) on the east and 10th Street on the west.

Our original 4-block Cervantes Convention Center, which opened in 1977, is still in the center of our current facility.

Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D’Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.

To the north of this mass only 8th street is closed, occupied by apartments. Sixth, 7th, and 9th all still exist in the neighborhood. The most recent plan for a north-south light rail plan includes a little bit of 9th, so the planned route would have to change.

So I’m agreeing with Bob Clark, if we want convention business we should start over with a clean slate. I haven’t been to Nashville since the Music City Center was constructed, but I looked at the website, photos, interior 360º views, aerial, and Google Streetview. Nashville’s convention center is 3 blocks long, 2 blocks wide. One city street continues through/under the building — I walked through via streetview. From the outside you cannot see the loading docks, one side is highly approachable with outdoor seating and businesses that can serve convention attendees as well as locals.

The main takeaway of Nashville’s center relative to Clark’s proposal is the street that continues rather than being vacated. In. St. Louis that allows a 3-block long convention center to orient north-south, next to the dead space known as the elevated I-44 interstate. Another is building up, not out. We’re a city, downtown buildings shouldn’t largely be single story.

View of Bob Clark’s proposal, click image to see larger view.

I’m not advocating we build Clark’s idea, I’m suggesting we start over from scratch. We’ve added on and altered the convention center built 45 years ago to the point it’s a sprawling mess. The Nashville center can’t compete with Chicago’s McCormack Place in terms of size, but it has the same light-filled open airy feeling. Our current facility will never have that. Never.

Here’s what I like about Clark’s proposal:

  • Fresh start, better for 21st century needs.
  • North-south orientation along Broadway (5th).
  • Better connection  to Laclede’s Landing.
  • Cole Street (east-west) continues uninterrupted.
  • Sidewalk-level opportunities for storefronts around entire building, including along Cole.
  • A big massive building doesn’t separate the downtown CBD from the neighborhood north of Cole.
  • The long-vacant land north of Cole Street is utilized.
  • Vacant land to the west can be filled with new buildings, users, opportunities, tax revenue.

Here’s what I don’t like about Clark’s proposal:

  • The outdoor event space (Baer  Plaza) between Broadway and I-44 is horrible. Conventioneers attempting to cross Broadway would get hit by the speeding one-way traffic. Broadway should be 2-way and this land should have hotel, apartments, condos, etc. Some of any new residential should be workforce housing and low-income housing.
  • 7th, 9th, and 10th streets all need to be rebuilt/continue uninterrupted between Washington Ave and Cole — for pedestrians and vehicles.
  • Not sure keeping the existing curved entrance is a good idea.
  • No green roof or solar panels like they have in Nashville.
  • Convention Plaza needs to return to its previous name: Delmar.

The important thing is to put the brakes on the current expansion plan and take a fresh look at what it means to offer a convention center — not just how can we make a nearly half century old place less objectionable to convention planners. If we move forward with the current expansion plan we’ll be stuck with a bloated pig for at least another 20-30 years.

— Steve Patterson

 

Mid-70s Downtown Office Tower Getting Needed 21st Century Update

August 12, 2021 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Real Estate, Walkability Comments Off on Mid-70s Downtown Office Tower Getting Needed 21st Century Update

Office vacancy rates are high now, especially in downtown St. Louis.

Office vacancy is up across the metro area, averaging 16.9% in the second quarter of 2021 compared with 11.8% in 2020. Rents for offices outside of downtown declined nearly 4% from the end of 2020 through the second quarter of 2021, according to commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

Vacancy downtown has risen more than 1 percentage point in the past year, to 20.8% from 19.3% in the second quarter of 2020. And rents have fallen by more than 1% to $19.48 per square foot. (Post-Dispatch)

One downtown office tower, recently acquired by a local fund, is taking steps to reverse years of increased vacancy.

The 4th & Chestnut corner of 100 North Broadway. The former bank pavilion is getting a long-needed update.

Readers might recall my December 2015 blog post on this building. In that post I suggested connecting the low pavilion portion to the adjacent sidewalks, orienting the interior space to take advantage of the location and views.

To refresh your memory, here’s a view of what the exterior looked like for the first 45 years. Awful, right? Zero connection to the sidewalks. The east & west plazas weren’t inviting.  December 2015

I sent the then building owner, a San Diego-based capital firm, my post at the end of 2015. They responded the next month, I met a local property manager on site. They sent me a nice fruit basket from Harry & David.  They didn’t do anything.

Looking at the building from the NW corner of the Luther Ely Smith Square. December 2015. This is the same corner as the first corner, above.

According to KSDK more tenants left, the California owner defaulted, and by February 2019 the lender had taken over the property.  A new local owner purchased the tower and apparently recognized the need for major updates to the prominent pavilion, inside & out.

The SW corner of the property, at Broadway & Chestnut. This is diagonally across from Kiener Plaza, which reopened in 2017 after a major redesign.

The new owners logically hired one of the remaining tenants to update the interior & exterior:

Larson Capital Management has engaged Trivers to make both interior and exterior building improvements to the 2-story atrium structure and surrounding plazas and streetscape to comprehensively update and reposition the Broadway Tower as a premier office building destination in downtown Saint Louis.

Exterior improvements include removing the “greenhouses” and reimagining the Atrium façade materiality and line of enclosure, updated entrances and entry canopies, surrounding site improvements and landscaping, and public art and placemaking components creating public outdoor destinations.

Interior improvements are geared toward creating an abundance of tenant amenities including a best-in-class conferencing center, co-working lounges with hospitality support, a walking track, and access to outdoor work spaces. The Atrium will also include a new café with indoor/outdoor seating connected to the west plaza along Broadway, a new monumental stair, a large greenwall, building management offices, new security desk and updated elevator lobbies, restrooms to support the proposed uses, and comprehensive lighting, casework, and finishes upgrades. (Trivers Architects)

In 2015 I imagined a few restaurants to fill the space, but tenant amenity space will be critical to filling vacancies. There will be one cafe, on the corner shown above.

This is a crop of the previous photo, you can see how the ground floor is set back so the upper level provides shade, room for cafe tables.
The artist rendering shows this corner. The exterior cladding on the pavilion will offer more texture than the tower portion.

I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product, experiencing the revised plazas, eating at the cafe. The upper level features a covered outdoor space on the opposite corner, facing the Arch. Not sure if that will be public or tenant-only. Either way, to pedestrians at 4th & Chestnut it’ll be perceived as inviting.

— Steve Patterson

 

Long-Vacant Retail Space Now A Police Substation

June 14, 2021 Crime, Downtown, Featured, Retail Comments Off on Long-Vacant Retail Space Now A Police Substation

In October 2012 I posted about a state-owned retail space used rent-free for hotel storage (see Hotel Has Used State-Owned Retail Storefront Rent-Free For A Decade). In August 2013 it was finally ready to lease — the space was emptied and a “for lease” sign in the window. It wasn’t long before the sign was gone, I guess everyone just gave up.

It has been vacant until recently. The space isn’t numbered, but it’s on N 9th between Locust St and Washington Ave.

The long-vacant storefront is now marked as a police substation.
The vacant space in August 2012, the paper hid hotel furniture being stored here.
In December 18th the furniture stored inside for years was being moved out.
In August 2013 the space was listed with a commercial broker.

The downtown police unit has a space two blocks south, at 215 N 9th St.

I have yet to see police enter or exit the new substation.

— Steve Patterson

 

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