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Some Highlights of 2021 in Saint Louis

December 31, 2021 Featured Comments Off on Some Highlights of 2021 in Saint Louis

It’s the last day of twenty twenty-one, so here’s a look back at the year in St. Louis. This isn’t a complete list, just some highlights — not in chronological order.

Many things from 2020 continued into 2021. The most obvious is the COVID-19 pandemic.  Hospitals were often operating beyond official capacity throughout the year. Last year’s debates about mask mandates were joined by debates about vaccines. In case you missed any of these debates don’t worry…they’re going to continue in 2022. Possibly 2023.

Some downtown St. Louis nightclubs were forcibly closed after repeatedly violating Covid health orders, another after frequent violence in and around it.

Nature Playscape opened in Forest Park, for kids of all ages.
The Missouri Botanical Garden began razing their visitors center, a new one is being constructed. The old (1980s?) visitors center (above) required a change of level to actually visit the gardens, the new one won’t require a staircase or elevator. Yay!
The new MLS stadium, started in 2020, continued throughout this year.  The stadium (left) will be finished in 2022, the St Louis City SC will begin playing in 2023.
New this year was a few old buildings east of the stadium coming down. This land has been combined with a couple of huge surface parking lots — a new multi-level parking garage will fully occupy the block bounded by 20th, Olive, 19th, and Pine. Street-level uses will hopefully keep it active every day, even when there’s no soccer match or other event at the unnamed stadium.
Largely because of Major League Soccer coming to the downtown west neighborhood, a developer bought the massive & vacant Butler Brothers warehouse a few blocks to the east. Will be very nice to see this renovated and occupied.
Activist Cori Bush, elected to congress in November 2020, was sworn into office as Missouri’s representative in the first district. Cori Bush (left) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (right) in 2018.
The St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners is on the first floor at 300 N. Tucker (@ Olive)

St. Louis held its first nonpartisan preference election in March of 2021, with the top two primary candidates in each local race going to the general election. Treasurer Tishaura Jones and alderwoman Care Spencer, both progressives, came out on top in the 4-way primary. Jones was elected mayor. Mayor Jones vetoed development legislation that included too many tax incentives. In the 5th ward aldermanic race newcomer James Page defeated incumbent Tammika Hubbard.

Loop Trolley 001, November 2018

In the Delmar Loop shopping & entertainment district the Loop Trolley was dormant the entire year, ceasing at the end of December 2020. An effort to get funding failed and the feds want a refund if the vintage trolley cars aren’t rolling by the summer of 2022. Also in the Loop, the Tivoli Theater sold to a church.

Saint Louis University announced plans to sell a parking lot on Grand at Lafayette to QuikTrip. The city had foolishly granted SLU development rights for the area.

Three Illinois metro-east cities merged: Alorton, Cahokia, and Centerville became Cahokia Heights. The region still has far too many separate units of government.

Tower Grove Park announced plans to daylight a stream that have been in a culvert for decades.

Missouri’s gas tax increased — a first in many years. Missouri still has low fuel taxes.

Larry Giles, founder of the National Building Arts Center, died.

Afghan refugees arrived in St. Louis, hoping to restart their lives here.

This year was the 40th anniversary of the movie Escape from New York — filmed in St. Louis. The film, starring Kurt Russel, used the St. Louis streets around vacant warehouses, a vacant Union Station, and a closed Chain of Rocks Bridge as the setting for post-apocalyptic New York in 1997.

City Foundry St. Louis officially opened with a food hall, grocery store. A theater is coming as are new buildings on the west end of the 15 acre site. Inside the 1930s Century Electric foundry, now a food hall.
City-level data from the 2020 census was released later than usual due to the pandemic. The city population was officially 301,578. A previous citizen vote approved cutting the number of aldermen from 28 to 14 based on this census. After a few drafts a revised ward map was approved with 7 predominately white wards, 7 predominantly black wards. Following the spring 2023 elections St. Louis will only have 14 aldermen.

BJC slowly dismantled Queeny Tower to make room for a new hospital building. The building couldn’t be imploded due to proximity to other hospital buildings. Construction on a new Siteman Cancer Center building began on another part of the Washington University in St  Louis medical campus.

Optimists International’s 1961 headquarters at 4494 Lindell. Preservation Board denied demolition of the Optimist International building on Lindell for a high rise apartment building. In the end the developer submitted a proposal that keeps the original mid-century modern structure.
Ameren began changing electric meters to allow time of use billing — higher rates at peak times.
Groundbreaking for a tiny homes project to help unhoused veterans happened just off North Grand.
Paul McKee upsets many by calling his 3-bed emergency facility Homer G. Phillips Hospital.
View of Bob Clark’s new convention center proposal.

Stalemate over funding of convention center expansion. The old parking garage at 9th & Cole has been razed in preparation for the planned expansion. Bob Clark, Clayco CEO, advocated tearing most of the existing dome & convention center to start over from scratch.

Metro introduced WiFi on transit vehicles. Metro also reduced service due to the pandemic. The CWE MetroLink station reopened, it was rebuilt  — moving the elevator and creating a staircase twice as wide as before. New electric articulated buses began service on the busy #70 Grand route.

Target announced another city location, to be part of a new apartment building on Grand near the MetroLink station. Three new apartment buildings have taken shape around the Forest Park MetroLink station — one replaces the old park & ride lot in place since light rail began in 1993.

In the Fall of 2021 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story about how it could access the social security numbers of educators on a state website. Experts determined the database had been misconfigured, but Governor Parson doubled down on his baseless claim a reporter hacked the Department of Education website. Technology experts and us lay people got a good laugh at his foolish statements, while shaking our heads in disbelief.

St. Louis & the NFL reached a settlement on the departure of the Rams. City, county, and sports commission have yet to divide up the net proceeds.

Legal Missouri 2022 kicked off its campaign to collect signatures to get a question on Missouri’s 2022 ballot. If approved it would legalize the recreational use of cannabis, automatically expunge low-level possession records, and establish license only available to Missouri residents in disadvantaged areas — allowing others to get in on the ground floor of the lucrative cannabis market. Signatures are being collected now through mid-May 2022.

Very recently a tornado hit an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville IL, killing roughly 6 workers. The same storm later hit Kentucky and other states.

A campaign to distribute $500 to city residents still impacted by the pandemic began earlier this month.

Blogger Steve Patterson on the Gateway Mall hallway, Citygarden. Photo credit: Humans of St. Louis

On a personal note, I’m just thrilled to still be here. In the fall of 2019 I was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer so I didn’t know if I’d live to see the end of 2020, much less the end of 2021. In June I was featured on four posts on the Humans of St. Louis.

Looking forward to summarizing 2022 a year from now, seeing a MLS soccer match in 2023. Have a safe evening and happy new year!

— Steve Patterson

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A Tour of City Foundry St. Louis, the Food Hall, and Fresh Thyme Market

December 21, 2021 Featured, History/Preservation, Midtown, Planning & Design, Real Estate, Retail Comments Off on A Tour of City Foundry St. Louis, the Food Hall, and Fresh Thyme Market
One of my favorite views is seeing the remains of the elevated railroad line.

Today’s post is a look at City Foundry St. Louis, a new retail & office development in an old foundry along Forest Park Ave., between Spring and Vandeveter.

Almost 100 years ago, the Century Electric company purchased the Midtown St. Louis property now known as City Foundry STL. At the time, Midtown was a manufacturing hub for the city, thanks to its proximity to the Wabash Railroad line, which cuts across the City Foundry STL Property.

Century Electric was one of the top 3 manufacturers in the city, manufacturing motors and generators that were sold internationally. In fact, Century’s motors helped spark the development of small household appliances.

While the foundry changed owners over the years, and the products produced there changed, one thing did not: nearly 24-hour-a-day work continued on the site until 2007.

Today, this 15-acre site is being reimagined as City Foundry STL, with first-to-the-area makers and merchants moving to the complex. We can’t wait to for you to be a part of the next chapter of this storied creative complex. (City Foundry St. Louis)

First, a definition:

A foundry is a factory that produces metal castings. Metals are cast into shapes by melting them into a liquid, pouring the metal into a mold, and removing the mold material after the metal has solidified as it cools. The most common metals processed are aluminum and cast iron. However, other metals, such as bronze, brass, steel, magnesium, and zinc, are also used to produce castings in foundries. In this process, parts of desired shapes and sizes can be formed. (Wikipedia)    [An aside: a segment from a 1997 Simpsons episode comes to mind]

I’ve lived in St. Louis for over 31 years now, but don’t recall the name Century Electric. My memory of the foundry was the smell making automotive brake parts for Federal-Mogul. My post from last month: A Look at City Foundry St. Louis…in August 2013.

The 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show a few scattered wood frame buildings in this area, not a foundry. City records list four buildings on the site:

  • Manufacturing 1932: 146,015 square feet
  • Warehouse 1937: 66,197sf
  • Warehouse 1953: 38,640sf
  • Manufacturing 1982: 5,760

Let’s take a look, getting into some history along the way.

This 2015 photo looking east shows a new intersection on Vandeveter with a driveway for the then-new IKEA.
Leaving IKEA we see the low building along Vandeventer no longer exists. My assumption is this was the 1982 building.
Looking left we see the intersection of Vandeveter & IKEA Way now includes Foundry Way to the east.
Foundry Way would be named Clark Ave if they continued the name from east of Spring Ave. The open land on either side here is for future phases. Sidewalk only on the south side, for now.
One of my favorite views is seeing the remains of the elevated railroad line.
My 2nd favorite view is toward the left, looking NE. The repetition of old piers the held the railroad tracks is just lovely to my eyes. The bright red wall on the left, not so much.

I wanted to know more about Century Electric so I began scouring the Post-Dispatch archives online via the St. Louis Public Library. Here’s a bit of what I found in a Post-Dispatch article from December 25, 1949, P61:

  • Century Electric organized 1900, incorporated 1901
  • first workshop an old church at 1011 Locust
  • first working motor tested on thanksgiving day 1903 — sold to Rosenthal-Sloan Millinary Co.
  • products shipped to 90 foreign countries
  • first to offer repulsion type motor in small sizes
  • a century motor was in the first successful home refrigerator
  • manufactures everything except the wire
  • foundry address is/was 3711 Market Street — before I-64/Hwy 40 went though.

Let’s resume the tour.

Again, I love the concrete railroad piers. Using them as an element is better & cheaper than removal and dumping in a landfill.
Here it begins to open up. The silver metal building is one of two new buildings designed to hide the new multi-level parking garage that was cut into the land between Forest Park Ave and the historic foundry.  These new buildings are considered “liner buildings”, shallow structures designed to screen and offer a nicer street view. We’ll visit that upper area later.
Now we’re facing east, with the old foundry on the right, new liner buildings hiding the parking on the left.
The food hall is the main public attraction in the old foundry building. More on this food destination below.
Continuing further east, toward Spring Ave. Old foundry still on the right, liner still on the left.
Almost to Spring Ave we get to the 1937 building that houses Fresh Thyme grocery store. You can see the east end of the parking garage.
Looking north/uphill along Spring Ave from near I-64 we can see foundry offices that used to front onto Market Street, the foundry, and the SE corner of the building that’s now Fresh Thyme.

Let’s go out to Forest Park Ave and approach from the west.

This approach is the worst, blank wall, no street trees, gravel instead of landscaping.
Looking back west, toward Vandeventer Ave.
This is the primary pedestrian access from Forest Park Ave., the new garage on the left. Dreary, but at least it’s wide. This brings you in at the upper level, mentioned previously.
Looking west, toward IKEA. Again, the vacant land will be for a future phase.
Looking southeast we get a good look at the old foundry.

One last exterior area to show you, the building on the SW corner of Forest Park & Spring avenues. It began as the new offices of a local grocery chain, so using it for a new grocery store is very fitting. From the Post-Dispatch July 18, 1937:

This 1937 article announces the construction of a new building to be built for the Tom Boy Stores grocery chain. A few years later I saw it written Tom-Boy and then Tomboy before disappearing in the archives.
Looking SW from the opposite corner at Spring & Forest Park avenues. Spring continues down the hill, where we were earlier.
Looking south across Forest Park Ave
In front, the door isn’t the main entry. I love that a building built for the offices of a grocery chain with late 19th century roots is now used as a grocery store.
The main entry is in the west facade, facing the top level of the parking garage. This photo was taken on opening day, 11/10/2021.
Looking back north toward Forest Park we see a protected pedestrian route to the right of the yellow bollards. Unfortunately they’ve been filing it with extra shopping carts lately, defeating the purpose.
Looking back out toward the parking. New hotel with rooftop bar across the street, in the background.

Let’s go inside Fresh Thyme, later we’ll go into the Food Hall.

When you enter the main doors, you head to the left.
They’re known for having nice produce that’s nicely displayed.
I love the old industrial skylight.
Inside looking north toward the meat & deli areas.
In the NE corner is a seating area, I can imagine Saint Louis University students/staff/faculty walking over here, meeting friends.
The compact store is well-stocked, though they don’t yet have sweetened condensed milk.
Even checkout is self serve, though there are a lot of employees to help you. Some are for smaller purchases while others are for larger with more area for scanned items.

Fresh Thyme Market has other locations in the region, on both sides of the river. The grocery chain in based in suburban Chicago (Downers Grove, IL). The large chain Meijer is an investor, their nearest location is Springfield IL. So you’ll see some Meijer products on shelves.

On opening day I planned to get a package of Meijer frozen tuna steaks that I priced on the Fresh Thyme’s website (Kirkwood location). At this new location the very same item was 50% more than in Kirkwood. WTF!?! I ask the manager why the price is so much more. The answer was unexpected. The Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL isn’t part of Fresh Thyme’s system, including pricing. Fresh Thyme investor Meijer is a partner on this location, so the pricing is based on that.  The manager told me they’d match the significantly better price at checkout. To this day if you do a search on the actual Fresh Thyme website for the nearest location it won’t find the City Foundry location. It’s not on the Meijer website either. Very weird.

Other than the frozen tuna steaks the prices I’ve checked have all been reasonable, their milk price is the best I’ve seen anywhere in the region. We’ve been back numerous times, a welcome new addition. Now if they’ll just stop filling the ADSA-compliant accessible route with extra shopping carts.

Moving on, let’s visit the Food Hall.  First, a food hall is not the same as a food court:

Here are 4 things about food halls and what makes people love them:

  • Food halls are usually a collection of small, locally-developed restaurant concepts or outright new creations that come from the minds of local chefs or start-up entrepreneurs and restauranteurs. They offer an assortment of unique food and beverage items that are usually cooked from scratch (prepared from raw ingredients vs. shipped in partially or wholly made) or nearby in a commissary (but still from scratch). On the other hand, food courts are usually filled with national chain restaurants that offer little scratch cooking and little-to-no brand cache.

  • Food courts will typically feature a cast of usual players like one or two Asian concepts (with one or both of them serving a version of Bourbon chicken), an ice cream place, a pizza place, a burger chain or two, a Latin concept, a hot dog concept, a cheesesteak concept, and maybe a cookie place. The dining options in a food hall are more in line with a collection of food trucksat a food truck park than the food found in a food court, with ethnic favorites like Vietnamese bao buns, Cuban street sandwiches, wine and cheese, Italian sandwich or pasta shop, local ice cream or gelato, chocolatiers, or Napolitano style pizza (vs. Sbarro’s par-cook-n-reheat slices), southern fried chicken sandwiches, and just about anything you can imagine.

  • Food halls are aesthetically pleasing, often in turn-of-the-century warehouses, train stations, or old mills with high ceilings where the building’s history is partially or mostly preserved. Ponce City Market was originally a Sears & Roebuck distribution warehouse. Chelsea Market in New York was a Nabisco factory where the Oreo was invented. Quincy Market in Boston is one of the oldest food halls in America (it was a food hall before folks started calling them food halls) and sits next to historic Faneuil Hall…it was designed from the beginning (1824-1826) to be a marketplace. In a food hall, the charm of historic significance combines with the unique food offerings and the novelty of reclaimed industrial space to form a city’s social nucleus, while food courts are really little more than uninspired feeding pit stops for mall shoppers.

  • Food halls are destinations. Retail stores are few and are injected to add interest and shopping-as-entertainment to the food experience, but they must convey a consistent lifestyle “voice” to their visitors. Anthropologie, Lululemon, or Madewell are common national retail supplements. Food courts are designed to keep shoppers shopping so they don’t leave the mall when they get hungry… the food supports the shopping, not the other way around like in a food hall.

Ready?

Entry before you get into the main space.
The main space is in the heart of the old foundry, very industrial.
Tables & chairs are throughout the large space. Vendors have small storefronts.
Most vendors are walk up.
But a few also offer bar seating. This might not be ADA-compliant because a person in a wheelchair couldn’t eat here, will need to see if they have a provision for that.

Concluding thoughts on City Foundry St. Louis

I was very happy & curious when I first heard the developers planned to keep the old industrial buildings rather than scrape the site clean. Overall I’m pleasantly surprised by how they’ve turned an old dirty industrial site into a retail & office destination. If you haven’t been I recommend visiting.

Transit users can take MetroLink to either Grand or Cortex, the nearest bus lines are the 42 & 70.

— Steve Patterson

 

YouTube Channels To Learn About Urbanism, Transit, Climate, Etc.

December 13, 2021 Featured, Site Info Comments Off on YouTube Channels To Learn About Urbanism, Transit, Climate, Etc.
Screenshot of my first upload to YouTube, June 26, 2006

These days urbanists wanting to communicate with the masses are more likely to use video, compared to written text and static images. Video is a great medium. Of course today YouTube is the video streaming service that pops into your head first.

YouTube is an American online video sharing and social media platform owned by Google. It was launched on February 14, 2005 by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim. It is the second most visited website, right after Google itself. YouTube has more than one billion monthly users who collectively watch more than one billion hours of videos each day. As of May 2019, videos were being uploaded at a rate of more than 500 hours of content per minute. (Wikipedia)

When I began blogging on 10/31/2004 YouTube didn’t exist. Seriously. YouTube first began three and a half months after I started this blog.

My first video posted to YouTube was June 20, 2006 — five months before Google bought YouTube. If not for my February 2008 stroke I might have shifted to video as my primary medium. Can’t go back and change history, it is what it is.

Thankfully there are lots of channels of interest to this urbanist.

Today’s post is a list of YouTube channels I watch regularly, with two sample videos from each. These are in random order, not ranked. The style of each YouTuber is unique, some contain a few words that might offend.

Not Just Bikes:

Alan Fisher — The ArmChair Urbanist:

CityNerd:

City Beautiful:

Climate Town:

RM Transit:

Practical Engineering:

It’s History:

TED: (varied topics, not just urban-related)

UrbanReviewSTLdotcom: My first YouTube video, below, was posted on June 20,2006 — before Google announced it was buying the platform!

As I find more great channels I might add them to this post, if you know of any include in a comment under the post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

— Steve Patterson

 

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

 

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