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Readers Want the Impossible: Amtrak Trains at St. Louis Union Station

November 21, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design, Transportation, Travel Comments Off on Readers Want the Impossible: Amtrak Trains at St. Louis Union Station
Grand Hall in St. Louis Union Station

In the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll readers overwhelmingly indicated they’d consider using Amtrak if trains departed/arrived at St. Louis Union Station.

Q: Agree or disagree: I’d consider taking Amtrak if trains arrived/departed at St. Louis Union Station

  • Strongly agree: 22 [53.66%]
  • Agree: 6 [14.63%]
  • Somewhat agree: 2 [4.88%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 5 [12.2%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 0 [0%]
  • Disagree: 3 [7.32%]
  • Strongly disagree: 3 [7.32%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

Well, to the nearly 75% who agreed I have some bad news for you. Amtrak trains will never use Union Station again. Ever.

For more than 28 years I’ve lived in St. Louis I’ve heard people suggesting the return of Amtrak to Union Station and for 28 years I’ve just been struck by a complete lack of understanding about rail service and station design.

The decline of trail [rail] travel began following World War II, as traffic dropped significantly, even while railroads began to update their passenger fleets with new equipment in the 1950s hoping to retain passengers and ward off ever increasing competition from the automobile and airplane (the development of jet propulsion only worsened the situation).  Technically, passenger rail travel peaked in this country during the first two decades of the 20th century and slowly declined thereafter, particularly with the onset of the Great Depression.  However, it also did not help that President Dwight Eisenhower enacted the Interstate Highway System in 1956 (also known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act).  By that time railroads were beginning to see the writing on the wall and cutback their services, with most giving it up altogether by the start of Amtrak in 1971. (American-Rail.com)

By the time the stock market crashed in 1929 St. Louis Union Station had been open for 35 years. This was a poor time to be the largest U.S. railroad station. The last train pulled out from the huge train shed 49 years later.  The main building (from “Headhouse”) hadn’t been used for nearly a decade. With only a few trains per day having such a huge facility made no sense. It would’ve happened sooner if another option existed.

Under the big shed in 2012

You might point out the Kansas City still uses their Union Station for Amtrak service. Yes, yes they do.  It’s a through-station, not an end-station.

Through-stations and end-stations are completely different design and planning problems.  They generate completely different kinds of space and completely different sensations of arrival and departure.  It’s pointless, for example, to compare New York’s dreary Penn Station, a through-station, with magnificent Grand Central, an end-station.  They are apples and radishes. (Human Transit)

In the 19th century when 22 railroads built Union Station they correctly saw St. Louis’ population computing to grow. They wanted a facility they wouldn’t outgrow like the original St. Louis Union Station on 12th (Tucker).  They decided their station would be an end-station, not a through-station.  Half a century later the decline of rail passengers, the failure of passenger rail companies, and the fact Chicago beat St. Louis as the midwest end city meant St. Louis Union Station, a beautiful design, was incredibly obsolete for rail travel.

Kansas City’s Union Station has been able to reutilize most of the building to other uses, with Amtrak using a small part for ticketing and waiting, It’s a short distance out to the platform at the through tracks. From the back of the shed at St. Louis Union Station it’s still a very long distance to the tracks — plus office buildings and the closed movie theater block the path.

In the 70s Amshack was built at the tracks. I recall using this in the 90s. Then a slightly nicer Amshack 2 was built, I used this in the aughts. The station I’ve used the most opened a decade ago…today. Yes, it took until November 21, 2008 to open a proper station. I was there for the ribbon cutting ten years ago, and I’ve been back many times since as a traveling customer.

Comptroller Darlene Green speaking at the opening ten years ago

Over the last decade the maintenance was allowed to get behind, prompting me to label it Amshack 3 in 2017.  Thankfully it was improved on my last train trip, in February 2018.

Please understand Union Station is a magnificent asset to St. Louis — but it was last useful as a train station about 75 years ago.  Embrace the current station, or use the new Alton Station if you’re headed North on Amtrak. The rail improvements started during the Obama administration have greatly improved the St. Louis to Chicago experience.  Stop waiting for trains at Union Station — use the station we’ve had for the last decade.

— Steve Patterson

 

Goodbye City Block 1404

November 19, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, North City Comments Off on Goodbye City Block 1404

When I decided to move to St. Louis in August 1990 the street grid was a big factor in that decision. In fact, it’s better to say street grids — plural. Rather than a monotonous grid for miles we get many grids at odd angles to each other. The resulting odd-shaped parcels means we have some very unique building shapes — built to fill the lot up to the sidewalk.

One such group made the top of my April 2015 Buildings I’d Like To See Rehabbed post.

Collection of buildings on North Florissant at Ferry/Gore/Carter. Click image to view in Google Maps.

Every time I’d pass by on the #74 MetroBus, or drive past, I’d admire the fine proportions. I’d usually take a pic or two.

August 2017
September 2018
September 2018

And then a couple of weeks ago…

November 11, 2018

This has been unbelievably depressing. I’m not shocked, I’ve watched it deteriorate and in September I could see one building had a fire. Others hadn’t had a decent roof in years.

Aerial from Google Maps shows poor roof conditions

These all appear on the October 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps:

Sheet 088, volume three

These buildings were all built in 1900-01, with the last in 1908:

  • 4301 Grove Street: 1901
  • 4303 Grove Street/4305-09 N. Florissant Ave: 1900
  • 4311-13 N. Florissant Ave: 1908
  • 4315-17 N. Florissant Ave: 1901

In 2015 I thought there were owned by the City’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), but that was incorrect. The owner is Citibrook II, L.L.C., formed in January 1998.   It’s not clear how long this limited liability corporation has owned these buildings. I still fail to see how tearing down buildings improves neighborhoods.

Hopefully the former Eliot School, across Grove St, will get rehabbed.

Eliot School, built in 1898, at 4242 Grove St

At least this property is for sale:

One of W.B. Ittner’s original designs, this building is listed on the National Register and would be ideal for housing, assisted living or a medical facility. The school was named for William Greenleaf Eliot, founder of Washington University. (Saint Louis Public Schools)

Asking price is $256,000. Maybe with the nearby group gone a developer will be interested? For more on Eliot School see St. Louis Patina.

— Steve Patterson

 

Three New Books on St. Louis: Brewing, Timeline, & Quirks

October 29, 2018 Books, Featured, History/Preservation Comments Off on Three New Books on St. Louis: Brewing, Timeline, & Quirks

When I receive new books I post it to Facebook & Twitter that day, but often it takes me a while to writing a blog post about them. Today’s post is about three books from local publisher, Reedy Press. How local? Their offices are on Chippewa near Ted Drewes’ frozen custard.

All three books are 2nd or 3rd editions of earlier books.

St. Louis Brews: The History of Brewing in the Gateway City 3rd edition
By Henry Herbst, Don Roussin, Kevin Kious, and Cameron Collins

Few cities can tell the story of beer in America like St. Louis can. In this third edition of St. Louis Brews: The History of Brewing in the Gateway City, St. Louis’s brewing history is brought to life. Accompanied by hundreds of historical images and canvassing more than 200 years of brewing history, St. Louis Brews journeys through lagering caves, malt houses, and beer gardens alongside legendary brewers named Lemp, Anheuser, Busch, Griesedieck, and many others. The book details how St. Louis has shaped the brewing industry and how brewing shaped the city in return. Finally, as America embraces a new craft beer movement, St. Louis Brews introduces readers to the brewers that will take brewing into the future. Updated with maps, additional images, and plenty of new St. Louis breweries, the third edition of St. Louis Brews provides an in-depth look into the story of beer in St. Louis. (Reedy Press)

This is a beautiful hardcover book, with an enormous number of photos and interesting history.

 

St. Louis: An Illustrated Timeline, Second Edition
Author: Carol Ferring Shepley

With vignettes and vintage photographs, St. Louis: An Illustrated Timeline takes a wide-angle look at the story of a fur-trading outpost that grew into a major American city. The second edition delves deeper into the mix of politics, personality and culture that make up the Gateway City. Building on the award-winning first edition, new research reveals how the entire city came together for the best World’s Fair of all time, as well as why forces of racism aligned in Ferguson. New tales of visionaries such as Gyo Obata, who escaped Japanese internment camps by studying here and created the country’s largest architectural firm, and Dwight Davis, who fashioned Forest Park to embody his belief that athletics develop character, enliven these pages. Guided by historian Carol Shepley, we meet legends of sports, entertainment and crime, including the Gashouse Gang, Egan’s Rats, Branch Rickey, Stan Musial, Scott Joplin, Miles Davis and Nelly. Heroes and villains, saints and rapscallions, innovators and obstructionists, all have shaped this city. (Reedy Press)

Another hardcover book packs with photos & information. It’s easy to sit with and just flip through the pages to learn about St. Louis chronologically.

What’s With St. Louis?, Second Edition
By Valerie Battle Kienzle

Why are turtles incorporated into the wrought iron fence at The Old Court House? Can beaver be eaten during Lent? Why are pieces of metal track imbedded in some local streets? Who is Sweet Meat, and should he be avoided? These and other questions about St. Louis routinely perplex both natives and newcomers to the area. In this updated version of her 2016 book, author Valerie Battle Kienzle continues her quest to find answers to some of The Gateway City’s most puzzling questions, digging through countless archives and talking to local experts. Part cultural study of The River City and part history lesson, the book reveals the backstories of more local places, events, and beloved traditions. Want to know why St. Louisans are so obsessed with soccer or why the acclaimed Missouri Botanical Garden contains a Japanese garden? Look no further. Dig into this informative and entertaining update for answers to those and dozens of other questions. (Reedy Press)

This is a less expensive book than the previous two, so images are black & white in a smaller softcover format. It does have a few color images in the center. Like the others, the information is well-organized and fascinating.

I still have a couple more books on my desk, just wanted to get the St. Louis books caught up first.

— Steve Patterson

 

Columbus Sculpture Should Remain in Tower Grove Park, Namesake Holiday Renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Day

October 8, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, Parks Comments Off on Columbus Sculpture Should Remain in Tower Grove Park, Namesake Holiday Renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The late Henry Shaw (1800-1889) was an important part of St. Louis’ history, the Missouri Botanical Garden & Tower Grove Park are two of his creations.  He’s celebrated locally, but he was also a slave owner for nearly 30 years.

Maybe one thing people may not realize is for a time between 1828 and 1855, Shaw was a slave owner. When he came to St. Louis, he wrote back to family that he was against that practice, it had been outlawed in England. He was disgusted with the practice. We don’t really know what changed his mind … was it a manner of business? His ownership of slaves ends prior to his establishment of the Missouri Botanical Garden. (St. Louis Public Radio)

This labor likely helped him amass his fortune. Once retired he began to donate his fortune, founding the Missouri Botanical Garden at his country estate in 1859 and donating land for Tower Grove Park less than a decade later:

In 1866, a 66-year-old retired St. Louis merchant—Henry Shaw—approached St. Louis mayor James S. Thomas with a proposition. Shaw, who had already established the Missouri Botanical Garden on part of the estate surrounding his country villa, wanted to donate a still larger tract to the city of St. Louis as a pleasure ground for the citizenry. According to a contemporary, Shaw believed that parks were important “not only as ornaments to a great city, but as conducive to the health and happiness of its inhabitants and to the advancement of refinement and culture.”

Tower Grove Park was thus founded on October 20, 1868, as a gift from Shaw to the city of St. Louis. At that time, there were only 11 parks in the city. The only conditions Shaw imposed on his gift were 1) that it “shall be used as a park forever,” and 2) that an “annual appropriation” be made by the city “for its maintenance.” Today, as per Shaw’s estate, Tower Grove Park is the only public city park in the City of St. Louis to be managed by an independent Board of Commissioners and staff.  Shaw’s particular interest in the classics and European travel are reflected today in the Victorian architecture of the Park’s historical treasures. (Tower Grove Park)

Shaw was instrumental in how the land became the park we know today.

Looking West into Tower Grove Park from Grand

Near the end of his life he hired German-born artist Ferdinand von Miller II for three works:

His statue [of] Christopher Columbus was the last of three figures that Henry Shaw commissioned from von Miller for Tower Grove Park, and it was the first Columbus statue to be erected in the United States. The benefactor and the sculptor were both detail-oriented men and argued over whether Columbus would have worn a beard. Shaw insisted that the statue have one, even though the sculptor’s research indicated that Genoese sailors of that time were beardless. In the end both men got their way. Columbus is depicted with a full beard, but near his foot is an inscription added by the artist (in German): “It is not my fault that the head of Columbus is not true, but the wish of the client.” (Regional Arts Commission)

This may be the first Columbus statue, but there were obelisks/monuments around the country prior to 1884.

State of Christopher Columbus near East entrance to Tower Grove Park

We now know Columbus wasn’t someone to celebrate:

On his first day in the New World, he ordered six of the natives to be seized, writing in his journal that he believed they would be good servants. Throughout his years in the New World, Columbus enacted policies of forced labor in which natives were put to work for the sake of profits. Later, Columbus sent thousands of peaceful Taino “Indians” from the island of Hispaniola to Spain to be sold. Many died en route.

Those left behind were forced to search for gold in mines and work on plantations. Within 60 years after Columbus landed, only a few hundred of what may have been 250,000 Taino were left on their island.

As governor and viceroy of the Indies, Columbus imposed iron discipline on what is now the Caribbean country of Dominican Republic, according to documents discovered by Spanish historians in 2005. In response to native unrest and revolt, Columbus ordered a brutal crackdown in which many natives were killed; in an attempt to deter further rebellion, Columbus ordered their dismembered bodies to be paraded through the streets.

In addition to the controversy over enslavement and violent rule, the “Age of Exploration” that Columbus helped lead had the additional consequence of bringing new diseases to the New World which would, over time, devastate the native populations of many New World islands and communities. (history.com)

His exploration led to the colonization of many countries, and the brutal treatment of many native inhabitants.

In May 2017 I argued, unsuccessfully, the Confederate memorial in Forest Park should remain — accompanied with information on slavery, Jim Crow laws, and racial segregation in St. Louis.  See: Confederate Memorial in Forest Park Built During A period of High Racial Tensions in St. Louis.

Tower Grove Park is studying the controversy surrounding having a statue to such a brutal figure.

The park is taking a very deliberate effort to study what to do next:

No decisions have been made about the statue other than to assure its protection while the Columbus Statue Commission’s work is underway. They will work during the fall to consider the proper role and future of the statue in the Park. They will consider all issues and points of view related to the statue, its history, what it represents to various communities, its place in the Park’s historic design and national landmark status, and how the various perspectives within the neighborhood and larger St. Louis community can best be represented.

The Statue Commission will actively seek and consider all points of view from citizens, community groups, Park constituents, public officials, experts and others about the statue. In the tradition of the Park’s welcoming role in the community, we intend that there be opportunities for all with views or information about the statue to have their voices heard.

The Statue Commission will make long-term recommendations to the Tower Grove Park Board of Commissioners. (Tower Grove Park)

You can submit feedback here.

Like the now-removed Confederate memorial, I think this statue should remain. Unlike the Confederate memorial, this is one of three statues commissioned by the park’s visionary founder, not added later by a group trying to rewrite history. It has a prominent location, has for over a century. I don’t think we should remove it. I also don’t think it should remain without something telling of the atrocities he committed, and how those were largely unknown/ignored in Shaw’s time.

If it is removed, a new sculpture should take its place. Can’t think of an appropriate person.  Regardless of this statue, Columbus shouldn’t be celebrated with a national holiday.

— Steve Patterson

 

Before It Was Officially Named NorthSide Regeneration, We Knew It As ‘Blairmont’

June 18, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, NorthSide Project, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Before It Was Officially Named NorthSide Regeneration, We Knew It As ‘Blairmont’

With the news last week that the City of St. Louis now considers developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project in default and Missouri suing him for tax fraud, I got to thinking about how we got here.

To my knowledge the first blog post about Blairmont was Michael Allen’s July 21, 2005 entry titled Seeking Blairmont, here’s a snippet:

Blairmont owns many properties on the Near North Side of St. Louis and is notoriously hard to reach. No one can find out anything about Blairmont except that a man named Harry Noble supposedly owns the company — but even that isn’t verified. A search through the Missouri Secretary of State’s corporation registry reveals that the “CT Corporation System” registered the name “Blairmont Associates LC” on behalf of an anonymous party or parties.

Many of Blairmont’s properties seem to be vacant lots in Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and other neighborhoods, although the company recently purchased a vacant St. Louis Public Schools property at 2333 Benton.

Other people report needing to make agreements with Blairmont to repair shared utilities or utilities that run through Blairmonnt properties, and having difficulty finding a phone number. 

If you know anything about Blairmont, please post a comment here and maybe we’ll be able to help Lyra and others who are interested in contacting the company.

Many wrote about Blairmont, but Michael Allen was most prolific. For example, in December 2005 he wrote:

The July 15 Quarterly Report of the Jordan W. Chambers 19th Ward Regular Democratic Organization reveals some interesting information about its contributors. Namely, that the following contributors, all real estate holding companies, share the same address:

N & G Ventures LC
Noble Development Company
VHS Partners LLC
McEagle Properties LLC
West Alton Holding Company LLC
Oakland Properties, Inc.
Blairmont Associates Limited Company

That address is 1001 Boardwalk Springs Place in O’Fallon, Missouri .  1001 Boardwalk Springs Place is the address of the largest office building in the sprawling WingHaven development. This also happens to be the mailing address for Paric Corporation and McEagle Development, the well-known companies founded by wealthy developer Paul McKee, Jr. (Paric is now led by McKee‘s son Joe.)

In the above post Allen lists how many properties were owned by each entity. At the time I was in real estate so I could look up all the properties owned by name. Using Allen’s list of names we were quickly able to create a list of hundreds of properties involved. The data was exported in XLS format so he could create a master spreadsheet.

In the meantime, BJC Healthcare was wanting development rights to Hudlin Park — a former piece of Forest Park with their underground parking garage. The local neighborhood group, for which the park was a part of, was to hold a meeting on BJC’s plans.

In April 2006 I wrote:

I just love how all this works:

1) Hatch evil plan around self interests but tied concerns about higher taxes if not accepted.
2) Get politicos on board with plan. After all, that is why we give them contributions!
3) Get local group on board now that they are used to our annual grants.
4) Oh yeah, almost forgot, hold some sort of public meeting now that all the decisions are made. Solicit “input” without laughing.
5) Wrap up song & dance and return to doing whatever we feel like secure in the knowledge the alderman and neighborhood are eating out of our hands.

What a system we’ve got.

Keep the above sarcastic playbook in the back of your head. Blairmont moved from blogs to print on January 10, 2007 when the Riverfront Times wrote about it, here’s a quote on Allen:

Michael Allen has tracked the company’s comings and goings on his Web site, www .www.eco-absence.org. He says that the Blairmont group of companies (which operate under names such as VHS Partners, N&G Ventures and Noble Development Company) has accumulated nearly 400 properties — more than 1,000 acres — in the Fifth and Nineteenth wards. 

“They show no signs of slowing down,” says Allen. 

Among Blairmont Associates’ properties are the historic James Clemens Jr. House at 1849 Cass Avenue, which is a stately-but-crumbling mansion, and the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings at 1201-17 North Cass Avenue, which were gutted by fire last October. 

Residents first identified Blairmont as a neighborhood force about three years ago, says Sean Thomas, executive director of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. The nonprofit group, which was established in 1981 to help revitalize the area, grew uneasy because Blairmont didn’t seem concerned with upkeep.

That same day, on January 10, 2007, I saved a PDF of Paul McKee’s bio on the McEagle website. Two issues, BJC/Hudlin Park and hundreds of vacant/derelict properties had one connection: Paul McKee. Ten days later the RFT had part 2 of their Blairmont story:

Before the 2007 legislative session, the developer met with Republican state senator John Griesheimer of Washington. Griesheimer, who chairs the Economic Development, Tourism & Local Government Committee, says a mutual friend suggested the confab to smooth things over with McKee, who had lobbied last year against a tax increment financing (TIF) reform bill the senator favored. 

Griesheimer says McKee seized the opportunity to float the idea of a tax credit to encourage development in distressed areas. The senator ultimately inserted the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act into an omnibus economic-development bill that now awaits the signature of Governor Matt Blunt. A spokeswoman for Blunt says that because there are so many provisions to consider, the governor will take his time signing. His deadline is July 14.

Although I’d read about Blairmont, and worked behind the scenes with Michael Allen on identifying properties, I hadn’t written about it…yet.

My post from February 9, 2007 was my first to use the word ‘Blairmont’, here’s how I opened the post  “Blairmont Scheme” Is Fulfillment of Official City Plans:

Much has been written lately about the sinister plot, known to many as “Blairmont”, to bulldoze North St. Louis (specifically the St. Louis Place neighborhood). The focus has been on various straw companies such as Blairmont Associates, LLC and part owner Paul McKee. McKee is a founder of well known commercial contractor Paric, an officer in McEagle Development and current Chairman of BJC Healthcare. In other words, a prominent citizen for all that’s worth.

The major issue has been these companies are buying hundreds of properties, including some very historic structures, and letting them sit empty and decaying. A few have had some devistating fires. Nobody has been able to track down any more information on the motives & intention behind these purchases. Interestingly, the answer was under our noses the whole time.

This is all part of a public plan, one of many actually. 

The following was an example I cited:

In 2002 the city’s Planning Commission adopted the 5th Ward Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan. It should be noted the boundaries are the old 5th Ward, not the boundaries as changed around the same time as the plan was being adopted. Anyway, in the plan a large swath of land just north of the long vacant Pruitt-Igoe site is shown hatched out with the designation “Proposed Large Land Use (for further study).” In other words, level anything remaining and start fresh. There it is, fully adopted after numerous public meetings and everything.

Fast forward to Monday May 11, 2009 when McKee was to finally attend a North side resident meeting and talk about his plans. So how did the meeting & presentation go? I’ll let Alex Ihnen explain:

Well today the plan was offered to select attendees at meeting on the North Side. The press wasn’t allowed and even Steve Patterson of Urban Review STL was asked to leave as a member of the press. Well, well, bloggers have come a long way huh?

So what’s on the table? 

  • $400M TIF
  • Mixed infill residential with commercial centers
  • 22,000 permanet jobs and up to 43,000 temporary jobs mostly in construction 
  • Commercial centers located near 22nd street & I-64, Jefferson & Cass, Jefferson & Natural Bridge, and the new I-70 bridge terminus. 
  • Light rail and the requisite bike lanes
  • Preservation of existing historic buildings

So what’s missing? Just developers and financing, that’s all. It appears as though McKee will be asking for concessions from just about everyone and I’m not sure that people are clamoring for development on the north side enough to give him carte blanche. This is just the first word, but it appears that the potential $400M TIF will be up for a vote as early as this coming Friday.

Yes, I was asked to leave a meeting. Never mind that where I lived then is where I live — which became part of the 5th ward after the last redistricting. I got into my wheelchair , left the meeting, and joined the press outside.

Sign outside meeting where I was asked to leave

The next week another meeting was scheduled for May 21, 2009  — the press was welcome to attend.  That morning I wrote:

Today “shrinking cities” are studied and various techniques are debated.  In the 70s in St. Louis the Team Four plan was seen as a racist plot to deny services to a minority population.  We know more today about how to adjust to shrinking populations.

Tonight we will see another, a huge heavily subsidized redevelopment plan.  Many are opposed simply based on the history of the project to date.  I for one plan to go with an open mind. I have reservations about both the developer and the political leadership.  Griffin’s view on the role of zoning doesn’t give me a lot of hope for what may be presented in pretty artist renderings actually being completed as promised.  A good framework of a zoning code can help ensure the promised vision develops into reality.

Source: McEagle

Six days later I shared my thoughts, the following is part of what I wrote:

For five years now Paul McKee of McEagle Properties has been acquiring properties in a large swath of land in the near North side of St. Louis.  These were purchased through a long list of holding companies such as Blairmont Associates LLC.  The first few years this was under the radar. But people, notably Michael Allen, began to notice the properties and their common ownership.

Many are upset about how events transpired.  Quietly buying property, little to no maintenance, and so on.  These issues have been hashed out here, on other sites and in the meeting on the 21st when a guy stood and called McKee a f-ing liar.  I’m not going to rehash it all again.  Instead I’m going to jump into the proposal.

I think because of this academic background I’m able to step aside from my anger at the loss of the warehouse at Cass & Tucker and the many other reasons so many are angry.  Three years ago my reaction would have been quite different.   So what do I think of the plan now that I’ve had a chance to see the proposal?

I like it.  I don’t like how we got to this point (Urban Renewal trashing North St. Louis, city dropping the ball, McKee coming in).  Typically we expect government to do what the private market fails to do.  Here we turn this around, the private market is stepping in where the public sector has failed:  planning. I like what it has the long-term potential of doing for the city.

McKee’s plan calls for four job centers — large sites suitable for one or more companies to have a new campus setting.  No surprise here, this is what McEagle does in suburban areas.  This is a chance to get these jobs (and taxes) in the city.

I am excited about the potential this project brings to the city & region. A chance to get some large new employers — or to retain the ones we’ve got.  A chance to change perceptions about North St. Louis.  A chance to fill in the many gaps in our building stock.  A chance to add needed population.  A chance to get a modern streetcar/trolley line connecting the project area to downtown.  A chance to get thousands of parcels of land out of city ownership.

Before someone suggests I was bought off I can assure you I’m still a struggling grad student.  I’ve met Paul McKee twice — the 1st time 3-4 years ago at a meeting of the Dardenne Prairie Board of Aldermen.  The 2nd time was at McKee’s presentation last Thursday.  This 2nd time he knew who I was and he offered his card.  After a couple of emails I got the above images out of him, nothing else.

But while I like the big picture planning involved I have reservations about the follow through on the project.  Paul McKee promised New Urbanism at WingHaven but delivered a half-assed cartoon version.  The St. Louis Board of Aldermen, as a general rule with a few exceptions, do not get what compromises walkable urbanism.  How will they know what to require of McKee? To be sure our old 1947 zoning needs to be tossed aside for this area.  A new form-based code needs to be laid over the project area to guide future development to ensure we get what we are promised.

I want this project to succeed — financially & urbanisticly.  I want to live along the trolley line.  I want St. Louis to be a city of 500,000 people again in 20-25 years.

I’m going to stop here for now, I’ll continue on Wednesday and share my thoughts on what St. Louis should do next.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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