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MX Rises From Former St. Louis Centre, Pi Now Open

Two years ago the long process of demolishing the massive pedestrian bridge over Washington Ave was underway. The much-anticipated work began with the “Bridge Bash” on May 21, 2010. At the time it seemed like demolition was taking forever, but it took just over a month to remove the bridge and reopen the street to vehicles and pedestrians.

ABOVE: Looking west from 6th Street on May 22, 2010
ABOVE: Looking east on May 27, 2010
ABOVE: Looking east on June 21, 2010
ABOVE: The Laurel (left) and MX (right) on Saturday May 19, 2012

Work to reskin St. Louis Centre, patch the damage to the Dillard’s facade, convert the Dillard’s into the Laurel Apts and Embassy Suites did take much much longer. That was then.

Finally yesterday, something I’d long anticipated, Pi Pizzeria opened a downtown location. A week ago I stopped by and got a tour from owner Chris Sommers while managers were training new employees. Their other locations are all in 100+ year old buildings, this is their first in basically a new unfinished box.

ABOVE: Pi employees memorizing the menu on May 17, 2012
ABOVE: First new from scratch kitchen for Pi, all other locations had existing kitchens
ABOVE: Pi's soft opening on May 19, 2012
ABOVE: Outdoor seating adds much needed color and vibrancy to the area

Ok, so a pizza place opened? Big deal? Well yes, Pi Pizzeria is the the first business to open in the MX. Soon a movie theater and an upscale Asian restaurant will open in the same building. Across Washington Ave will be a wine bar and the National Blues Museum. This will be another spot of activity along Washington Ave.

Those downtown that think this is too far to walk can take the #99 (Downtown Trolley) to get here from various points, well, except on Sunday because the trolley doesn’t operate at all unfortunately.  The Convention Center MetroLink is at this corner as well so that’s another option. The building has tons of parking and hopefully short-term on-street parking will be aded along this part of Washington Ave soon. In another two years we”ll have forgotten all about that horrible  bridge that blocked vistas.

– Steve Patterson


Former City Hospital Power Plant to Include Rock Climbing Gym, Banquet Hall, Rooftop Dining

An interesting new concept will open for business next month:

Is St. Louis ready for one of the tallest bouldering walls in the nation? Or a banquet facility where attendees can watch rock climbers scale a 55-foot wall? Or a corporate party that includes rock climbing? Ready or not, Climb So iLL will be opening in the historic City Hospital Power Plant in mid-March. (St. Louis Business Journal)

You’ll be able to grab lunch at a restaurant while viewing the climbing space.

ABOVE: Former City Hospital power house, September 2011

This is a creative  use of a difficult building:

Listed on the city’s historical registry, the Power Plant supplied power to the St. Louis City Hospital for nearly 50 years. The City Hospital complex is made up of several buildings including the Laundry Building, the Administrative Complex, the City Hospital itself, and the Power Plant.

 The once abandoned City Hospital has been renovated into the Georgian Condominiums, and the Laundry Building is now home to the Palladium Banquet Center. Several other construction projects are underway on the site. Phase two of construction hopes to bring with it a bakery, a micro-brewery, a locally-grown food processing distribution center, and a hotel. (climbsoill.com)

It has been nice seeing the City Hospital site develop over time. The streets and sidewalks have been in place and one by one the development is filling in between.

ABOVE: The interior didn't look like anything last September during a pre-construction tour

This is an example of what I was talking about the other day regarding The Bottle District — the planning was done and the infrastructure (streets & sidewalks) to connect development parcels within the site and to the adjacent neighborhoods. As demand and financing becomes available vacant buildings are renovated and occupied and new construction is built to fill in other areas.

We need more of this — plan the site, put the infrastructure in place and build/renovate over time. The developer of the site isn’t responsible for financing all the future renovations and new construction at the beginning. For more info and artist renderings of the rock climbing gym see climbsoill.com.

– Steve Patterson


Mmm, Cupcakes From A Truck

ABOVE: Ladies who lunch buy cupcakes afterwards on Washington Ave

Last fall I spotted these ladies lining up to buy cupcakes from Sarah’s Cake Shop.  Purely for research purposes I got a carrot cupcake, just to test out the experience.  I love street & truck vendors as well as those who operate brick-n-morter locations.  To me, increased activity on the sidewalk means more business for everyone.

– Steve Patterson


Crepes in the City reopening under new ownership

November 7, 2009 Downtown, Local Business 17 Comments

Crepes in the City, a popular downtown eatery, closed last month month after only a year in business.  New owners are taking over the space and plan to reopen with the same menu and name.  Changes will be minor.  For example, more comfortable seating, I’m told.

Each weekend the line was always out the door but Tuesday-Friday business wasn’t enough to make it work.  The new owners hope to do things differently enough so the place turns a profit.  No date yet on when the business will reopen.

Downtown businesses have it tough.  Some in the middle of the central business district tend to cater to the weekday lunch crowd but are closed evenings and weekends.  Get West of Tucker (12th) and you lose the business lunch crowd but the weekend loft dweller crowd becomes important.  Either way they must figure out how to pay the rent.  Staying open longer hours to attract more customers sometimes costs them more in employee salaries and utilities.

I’d heard the Pasta House Pronto at the Old Post Office closed as well but it is still listed on the Pasta House website.  Espresso Mod on 9th Street closed last week.  They blamed the heavily subsidized Culinaria grocery store for their drop in business.

Restaurants or retail, some places endure and some go away replaced with something new.  One thing is certain, I’ll take my changing restaurant options over a series of chain places along the interstate any day of the week.

– Steve Patterson


Grand and Chippewa a few years later

My first post about the McDonald’s at Grand & Chippewa was on February 1, 2005, nearly 5 years ago.    I was alerting everyone about the plan to build a new McDonald’s drive-thru across Grand at Winnebego (map link).

Former McDonald's in 2005

In 2006 the battle began.  The vacant site on Grand where the McDonald’s was proposed had been a Sears site decades ago. It stood vacant.  Neighbors of new nearby homes (and many others) objected to the drive-thru which did not conform to the original blighting plan for the redevelopment.

protest at site of proposed McDonalds on April 15, 2006
protest at site of proposed McDonald's on April 15, 2006

Many meetings were attended, protests were made.  The Summer of 2006 was a busy time fighting for an urban South Grand.

By September 2006 McDonald’s had won the approvals they needed to build their new location.  In November 2006 I declared the drive-thru project dead, delays took their toll and the local franchise owner closed the old McDonald’s rather than rebuilding on the new or old site.

Not long afterward the now defunct Pyramid Construction began building senior apartments once planned for the old McDonald’s site on the former Sears site.

On January 30, 2008 I posted about a title loan operation wanting to open up shop in the long boarded up McDonalds’s building.  I attended the hearing on the title loan outfit on Thursday January 31, 2008.  I didn’t get a chance to blog about the meeting, the following afternoon I had a stroke.  It was 3 months before I returned home.

During the Spring 2009 campaigns I heard a comment from someone the only thing I contributed to the 25th Ward (just South) was the boarded McDonald’s.  Thanks, I appreciated that.  Since then someone bought the unfinished senior building and finished the project.   And just recently the boarded McDonald’s got a fresh start:

Pho Mama (Mama Pho) Vietnamese Restaurant, a new restaurant in the Dutchtown West Neighborhood Association (DWNA) area is set to open on Monday, November 2, 2009! Pho Mamma is located at the corner of S. Grand and Chippewa. Their phone is 314-802-8348 and they will be open 7 days a week from 9am to 10pm.  (Source)

The old building is not the most urban but it also isn’t new.  Often small local start-up businesses cannot afford the rents on new construction. The site may eventually become more urban.  I stopped by the area yesterday to photograph both places.

Pho Mama, 3737 S. Grand
Pho Mama, 3737 S. Grand

Far more tasteful in appearance than the McDonald’s.

Senior housing instead of a new McDonalds drive-thru
Senior housing instead of a new McDonald's drive-thru

Today the former vacant site contains senior housing with street-level retail spaces facing Grand.   I’d say S. Grand is better off without a new McDonald’s drive-thru.  It would have been a tiny building on a large site with too much parking and a duel drive-thru lane.  If only we can get the traffic calmed in this part of Grand as well as a zoning overlay to require new construction to conform to the established urban standard.

Many people were involved in putting a stop to the auto-centric McDonald’s.  We should all be proud of the outcome, I know I am.  We should also go patronize Pho Mama.

– Steve Patterson