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BJC/Forest Park Lease is Simply Par for Course

St. Louis has a serious lack of leadership at the top. Following the lack of a second yesterday on a motion to accept the BJC/Forest Park Lease Mayor Slay indicated he was “disappointed.” Well, Francis, welcome to my world. I am disappointed daily by you and pretty much every other elected official out of city hall.

I am disappointed in fellow members of the Board of Estimate & Apportionment, Jim Shrewsbury and Darlene Green. I’m not disappointed because they wouldn’t go along with the current deal, but because they, like the Mayor, are reactionary. Board President Candidate Lewis Reed and all his followers on the Boad of Aldermen are no better. BJC is not really the bad guy here, nor is Shrewsbury or Green. The culprit is how we do business in this town.

The notion of having to maintain Forest Park cannot possibly have been a new concept in 2006 when BJC floated this idea past the mayor’s office. Forest Park Forever, the non-profit group that raised so much money for the restoration of the park, was started in 1986 — two decades ago! Did nobody stop to think, “hey we are going to need to find a way to maintain all these improvements” along the way?

The lack of leadership from City Hall has brought us to this point today. BJC is now issuing threats to the citizens that they will look elsewhere if they don’t get their way. Maybe BJC is the bad guy too. Don’t threaten me, I don’t care how big you are. Take your ugly buildings, your closed off streets and those aweful parking garages you’ve littered the landscape with and hit the road. Yeah, that’s right. Get lost you big f*cking bully. I’m calling your bluff — something the spinless folks at city hall would never do. Proof? The St. Louis Cardinals got a new stadium downtown.
Sometime in the last 20 years we should have had a discussion about paying for Forest Park, and all our parks frankly. Does anyone recall Mayor Slay making this a priority during his 2005 re-election campaign? What about Ald. Roddy? Nope.

Good leadership would have said, “OK folks, we’ve invested millions in the renovation of Forest Park but now we need to find a good way to keep it up for the long haul.” A panel could have been formed to investigate options, a town hall could have been held. Something, anything. Instead they waited until re-elected and then turned BJC land-grab into a immediate crisis, designed to scare voters into submission. You know, something President Bush might do.

I’ve never come out fully against the idea of BJC getting that land for future expansion — it was the process I disliked, not the basic land concept. Again, good leadership from city hall would have told BJC, “We can’t take this to the people until we figure out how & where to replace the open space lost and ammenities.” You can’t take away over 9 acres of park used by nearby residents without figuring out how to accomodate their needs. Yet, when this came up last year the issue of replacement park land was one of those “oh we’ll figure that out later items.” Uh, no! We’ll figure it all out or we won’t do it at all. The Kiel Opera house was one of those “later” projects that still hasn’t happened.

Our city operates in a vacuum, looking soley at a project at a time. Whether it is paying for park maintenance or a master plan for a blighted section of South Grand we simply don’t plan ahead. We sit back or wait for a sweet-looking deal to arrive and push for it. Ald. Florida was all in favor of a McDonald’s drive-thru without once doing a master plan for a mile-long stretch of Grand blighted some 10 years earlier. What is the true cost to maintain our parks and if we did the BJC lease would that solve everything? Doubtful. We need to have discussions about commercial cooridors and park funding before we have an impending proposal on the table.  Only then can we possiblly hope to have a rational discussion about the future of our city.

Given the way our leaders continue to operate, I don’t give this city much of a future.  The potential is here, but we continually squander what we have and push those with creative thinking to other cities.  This region is not growing, at least not by much.  Sure, we are building stuff on the edge of the region but that is not the same — I’m talking population and jobs, not sprawl.  The city has to fight with the Census annually to show we’ve stabilized our population rather than continue the decades-old downward spiral.  Other regions in the U.S. have their act together while this region sticks its collective head in the sand.  We are so far behind and all the folks we elect can do is point fingers at each other.  Well, I’ve got a finger for them…

 

Cherokee Street: Big Controversy Over Tiny Place

You’ve all heard the story by now, Ald. Craig Schmid has a moritorium on liquor licenses for the 20th Ward. You want to sell beer, then you need to have 50% of your revenues from food. In other words, restaurants are OK, bars are not. Enter Steve Smith, owner of The Royale on Kingshighway near Arsenal. Smith wants to open a bar along Cherokee street and and serve no food in the space located at 3227 Cherokee known as “Radio Cherokee.”

The controversy has escalated to the point that Schmid, a 12-year veteran at city hall, is being challenged by resident and business owner Galen Gondolfi in the election for alderman to be held on the 6th of March. This issue has some fun little twists and turns that I have not seen in the media.

First, opponents cite a number of concerns. One is parking, another is food sales. Of course, I fail to see how Smith getting 50% of receipts from food sales lessons the parking issue any — it might in fact make it worse? Parking too seems like a red herring, the city has literally thousands of corner storefront places but we cannot expect them to each have a dedicated parking lot without destroying the character of our neighborhoods.

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Above is the location in question, located on the NE corner of Virginia (street on left) and Cherokee. The very tiny storefront can only hold so many people and quite a bit of on-street parking is available along the side of the building above (on Virginia). Similarly, more cars could easily be parked on the west side of Virginia.

The neighborhood is not ready,” was one comment I heard. Well, what defines ready? What is the plan to get the area ready?  Granted, this property is much closer to Gravois and is therefore not part of the main commercial area we think of as Cherokee.  This is outside the Cherokee community improvement district.  Still, every block between here and the main section of Cherokee contains at least a single storefront, in many cases several.

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On the same block as “Radio Cherokee” is the former Cherokee Auto Parts with a greenhouse/nursery business on the end of the block.  In the background of the picture you can see a corner storefront on the next block.  Back to the site in question.

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The small place is actually part of a 4-unit building, with one residential unit above and two attached but set back from the street.  The building lot is only 24ft 8 inches wide.  So as you can imagine, both the residential units and the bar space are narrow.

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Peaking inside through the front door glass we can see a place basically ready to go.  No major build out or extensive rehab required.  Currently the space is simply sitting empty, not being productive for the neighborhood or city.  Now, I’ve never been in the food services business (well, except those 4 days at Arby’s when I was 16) but logic tells me you need a certain volume of business to operate a restuarant.  With such a small place and lacking a kitchen space it seems unrealistic to expect this space to be anything but a bar.

Sure, I suppose it could be gutted and turned into a retail space of sorts but that seems even more likely to fail.  Retail operations would do better in the main commercial district.

Currently, to my knowledge, Cherokee street has no master plan — no vision has been established.  In looking at the blocks on this end with a mix of storefronts of varying sizes, flats and single family homes I see a small bar fitting in nicely, nothing too big.  A block or two east is the old Black Forest restaurant which has been closed for sometime.  That is a very large space with a large kitchen (I’ve shown the building to prospective buyers so I’ve been through the whole thing).  It is even complete with a parking lot.  But the pro-forma to buy and renovate that place relative to this is night and day.  In reality, both spaces need to be open and active.  We just can’t fault Steve Smith for not having the cash/credit of a say Joe Edwards.   The old Black Forest space will make an excellent restaurant once again.  As a bar only, it would be way too big.

So my solution to this issue is this — for Cherokee Street only:  Set up a sliding scale, the very tiny Radio Cherokee space that Steve Smith is interested in should have a zero percent food requirement.  On the other end, spaces like the large Black Forest should be required to have 50% food.  Other storefronts, such as the old Auto Parts place, might fall somewhere in the middle.  What this does is set up a guideline along Cherokee only where small bars can be introduced and have a chance to succeed while the larger spaces cannot be bars only.  This should be implimented along the length of Cherokee from at least Jefferson to Gravois while the area works on a master plan for Cherokee.
In the interest of disclosure, I have not spoken with either candidate about this concept but I did happen to run into Steve Smith yesterday and he seemed to think it might be a good compromise.  In researching this post I discovered that Galen Gondolfi owns the property in question along with another person.  He also owns the old auto parts place on the same block.  He owns larger buildings in the next block east where he lives, has a gallery space and leases out a storefront to a cafe.  He clearly has a vested interest in seeing this section of Cherokee street succeed and prosper.

 

State Rep. Mike Daus Begins Blogging

Missouri State Representative Mike Daus (D-67th) has started a new blog, 67thdistrict.blogspot.com covering issues in his state house district. Daus has two years left on his term in Jefferson City so expect to see speculation about him seeking another office. But why wait for the speculation, I’ll get it started.

Daus lives in the 4th State Senate District where Jeff Smith was just elected in 2006 so that leaves out a run for another job in Jefferson City unless he were to attempt a state-wide office. Daus ran for 15th Ward alderman in 2001 against Jennifer Florida, who narrowly defeated him by something like 20 votes. Will Daus return to the aldermanic arena after having served eight years in Jefferson City? Interestingly, campaign finance reports for both Florida & Daus show them each having roughly $19,000 in their respective campaign accounts.

To learn more about blogging see my FAQ About Blogging.

 

Advertising Blocks Public Sidewalk

Over the weekend I drove across the newly rebuilt and just reopened Chouteau bridge. At the end I pulled into the parking lot for Bellon’s Market Deli & Pizzeria, owned by the family which razes much of St. Louis’ history. I could not believe my eyes, a big cheap sign ugly blocking the public sidewalk.

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I will be contacting Bellon’s as well as Ald. Joe Roddy, asking them to immediately remove the sign. If you spot other situations where the public space is being abused let me know.

UPDATE 1/22/07 – 2:45pm:

I received the following email response back from owner Carrie Bellon:

“I am very sorry about the sign. MODOT workers have been moving it around for several months, while all the road construction was going on. We will move the sign asap. Sorry I did not notice that it had been moved to the sidewalk.”

I’m glad they are on top of the situation now but I guess I am a bit confused why MoDot workers would be moving a sign that should be contained on private property, not in the public right of way where they have been working.

UPDATE 1/24/07 – 2pm:

The Potato, not to be confused with The Onion, did a really funny posting today mocking this post:  Newspaper Blocks Public Sidewalk

 

Valet Zones Established on Washington Avenue

Finally! My first mention of valet parking was on December 6, 2005. Today, just over a year later, the problem was basically solved — the city’s Street Department installed signs marking valets zones in the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Washington Ave.

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The West end of Lucas Park Grille’s valet zone (in the 1200 block) is basically at the end of their restaurant, as it should be.  [Update 1/12/07 10:45am – I measured their space from sign to sign this morning and it is a reasonable 88ft.]

The real confusing thing here has nothing to do with valet parking — from the signs to my back is no parking as this is both a bus stop and the intersection with 13th Street (although part does not have through traffic) yet a parking meter is attached to the post (mostly hidden in this view). So the signs say no parking from the sign back yet a parking meter exists as though it would be OK.  [Update 1/12/07 10:45am – I missed this last night but saw it this morning and a commenter also pointed it out — some of the meters in this area are located at the back of the spaces rather than the front.  That is the case here — the meter is for the space where the BMW is parked above.]

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This sign is the opposite end of the Lucas Park Grille valet zone. Again, they’ve got the full space in front of their restaurant for people to drop off and pick up their cars. The remainder of the spaces they had been taking, roughly 7-10 are now available for the general public.

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Moving to the East we get to the 1100 block of Washington Ave where Copia has been taking the entire block for a year. I took this picture during the no-parking on street time of 4pm-6pm, another subject I will get to later in this post. I returned later after 6pm and the valet company had covered this meter with one of their no-parking covers and saying the space where I am standing to take this picture was also for valet. As you can see, the restaurant is up ahead and they have the zone up to the white car in the background. The sign is clearly pointing that direction but I didn’t bother arguing with him. There will be an education and adjustment period and I have faith in the new acting Director of Streets to do what it takes keep the streets in order.

[Update 1/12/07 @ 10:45am — I went down there this morning and did some measuring.  From the sign shown below at the east end of their zone to the sign shown above it is a huge 129ft — too long.  Plus they were thinking they got the space that the sign is attached to — that total length is 151ft.  In reality they should have one less space for a total of 106ft, still a reasonable length in my view. ] 

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This image is the eastern end of the Copia valet zone. Again, they have a reasonable amount of space to conduct their business while everyone else has public parking to be shared. This small change will have a significant impact on the visual appearance of the street, including the perception of how happening the street is. No longer will we see big dead zones due to valets co-opting all the available spaces. Good common sense has prevailed.

I want to thank Ald. Lyda Krewson (D-28th Ward) for her many hours of working on this issue. I know it has been hours because she and I have literally spent hours talking and emailing over this subject for a good six months or more. Plus I gather she has had numerous conversations with valet company owners, other aldermen and so on. In the past I’ve said 8 years was plenty for an alderman, that after that many years they nothing else to give and it was time to move on. Well, I think I was wrong — despite the 9 years Ald. Krewson has been on the Board of Aldermen it is clear to me now Ald. Krewson has plenty of drive to tackle issues and can be open to suggestions and alternate views. Click here to send an email to Ald. Krewson thanking her for taking the time to pursue this issue.
Also deserving attention is the new acting Director of Streets, Todd Waeltermann. Having just started the job in December he has rolled up his sleeves and got down to work with Ald. Krewson on this issue. Like Krewson, he has gotten very involved and applied some very sensible common sense to the issue. I also hear the folks in the Slay administration were very supportive so thank you Room 200!

The other people that deserve credit are the many of you that sent emails and made phone calls regarding this issue. I have a big mouth but I think it took the efforts of more voices to get things rolling. Citizens standing up on an issue can be heard, persistence will eventually pay off. Of course the work is not complete. The city apparently had about 16 valet permits/areas so it will take some time for the zones to be established throughout the city to the other 14. The good thing is once that is done the companies that supposedly operate reguarly without a permit will become far more obvious. Short-term permits (1 or 2 days) will still be issued without any signs being installed.

So despite being quite pleased with the action taken today I want to point out a few issues that need to be looked at in the near future. The main one is the obnoxious 4pm-6pm no parking rule on Washington Ave from Tucker East. It really only applies to two blocks (1000 & 1100) because the remainder of the blocks to the river are no-parking 24/7. As I said a year ago, I think we should allow parking along Washington all the way to the river — with the possible exception of the spaces immediately in front of American’s Center. Those spaces, in front of the convention center, should be reserved for cabs.

The concern, of course, is how do we allow for workers to quickly flee the city at 5pm. By allowing parking on-street in the morning & evening rush it will take them a bit longer. Well, I say time the lights better along Washington so some is not having to stop at every signal. Also, encourage East-West traffic to use the much wider Cole Ave to the North of the convention center. We’ve literally invested millions of dollars in Washington Ave and visitors coming and going between the convention center and the hotel across the street currently get the impression the street is dead. All they can see from 8th street is an empty street with little to no activity. The only real activity they see are four lanes of traffic going by but not stopping.

Back in the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Washington Ave I am concerned the lack of on-street parking between 5pm and 6pm is negatively affecting the happy hour business at Kitchen K, Dubliner and even Copia. I’d like to see the city do a test of allowing on-street parking from at least 9th street to Tucker throughout the day at it is to the West. At the same time push back the start time for Copia’s valet to 5pm or 5:30pm from 6pm so they can capture that after work crowd. To make this work it would be good to perhaps put up some signs on Tucker and other places where traffic is originating to direct them to alternate routes such as Cole along with reworking the timing on the traffic lights. Tonight I go to bed feeling better about St. Louis. I leave you with a well known quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

 

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