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Emerson Park MetroLink Station East St. Louis, Illinois

Yesterday I posted about the challenge of bringing back the area around the 5th & Missouri Station in downtown East St. Louis.Today I’m focusing on the next station to the east on the light rail line: Emerson Park.

Construction on the St. Clair County MetroLink extension from the 5th & Missouri station to the College station in Belleville began in 1998 and opened in May 2001. The extension added eight new stations and seven park-ride lots. The total project cost was $339.2 million, with the FTA and St. Clair County Transit District sharing the burden at 72% ($243.9 million) and 28% ($95.2 million), respectively. Local funding was provided by the St. Clair County Transit District as a result of a 1/2 cent sales tax passed in November 1993.

May 5th marks the 11th anniversary of the Emerson Park station and the area has seen considerable positive change, but planning mistakes were made.

The Good:

New housing, lots of it, has been built and more is under construction now. From last year:

Today marked the groundbreaking of a $17 million development in East St. Louis adjacent to the Emerson Park MetroLink Station, Jazz @ Walter Circle. The $17 million development is a public-private partnership between the East St. Louis Housing Authority (ESLHA), Hampton Roads Ventures and Dudley Ventures, and is the first in the nation to combine public housing development funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with New Market Tax Credits. (NextStopSTL)

This station has seen a steady flow of new construction over the last 11 years.

ABOVE: NW corner of Bowman Ave & N 15th St on April 27, 2007, click image for aerial in Google Maps
ABOVE: The same corner 5 years later on April 19, 2012 with Jazz @ Walter Circle under construction. Click image for more information on this project
ABOVE: Central City Apartments across Bowman Ave from the Emerson Park Station in April 2007
ABOVE': A typical street in the Parsons Place development just notheast of the Emerson Park Station, April 2007
ABOVE: Park in the center of the Parsons Place development

I’m thrilled with how much has been built in the last decade around the Emerson Park Station. The new senior housing over storefronts will be outstanding for this neighborhood.

The Bad:

As you might expect, mistakes have been made in the past and that continues. Where to begin? Parking is a good place, this station has three parking lots with a total of 816 parking spaces! This is the 2nd highest number of spaces at Illinois MetroLink stations, Fairview Heights has the highest with 853 spaces. The parking is divided among three lots — the main lot and two overflow lots.

ABOVE: 816 parking spaces divided among three parking lots, click image to view aerial in Google Maps

The lot to the far right should go away immediately or at least be significantly reduced in size, it serves as a barrier between the new housing to the east of the station. I first noticed the disconnect when I drove there and walked around in April 2007 before I was disabled.

ABOVE: At the end of Parsons Ave looking across the parking lot at the Emerson Park station. Why doesn't the sidewalk continue? April 2007
ABOVE: Same location as viewed from the opposite side, not friendly to pedestrians, difficult pushing a stroller and impossible in a wheelchair. April 2007
ABOVE: Looking toward Parsons Place after leaving the Emerson Park Station. Not exactly inviting. April 2007
ABOVE: The walkway leaving the station is nice and wide but a newly built crosswalk across N 15th is off to the left rather than a direct line. April 2012
ABOVE: In April 2007 the connection was more direct, but the crosswalk and curb ramp was still indirect
ABOVE: Now the amount of concrete is greater and a new pedestrian bridge takes pedestrians over the interstate. Bleak! Shade trees and seating would have been nice here.

In 2007 this east overflow parking lot had a few cars but on my recent visit it had none. Even if it’s 100% full on days the Cardinals play at home it shouldn’t be allowed to separate the nice newer housing from transit. Huge fail. Who’s fault? No clue, but nobody figured out that a continuous sidewalk would figuratively and literally connect housing to the station.

… Continue Reading

 

5th & Missouri MetroLink Station East St. Louis, Illinois

I like East Louis, Illinois. Yes, it has been hit hard by abandonment but, oddly enough, that’s part of it’s appeal. There’s so much to be done!

East St. Louis is a city in St. Clair County, Illinois, United States, directly across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri in the Metro-East region of Southern Illinois. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 27,006, less than one-third of its peak of 82,366 in 1950. Like many larger industrial cities, it has been severely affected by loss of jobs in the restructuring of the railroad industry and de-industrialization of the Rust Belt in the second half of the 20th century. In 1950 East St. Louis was the 4th largest city in Illinois. (Wikipedia)

Last week I visited the 5th & Missouri MetroLink Station twice (Monday & Thursday). Thursday was for the grand opening of Legends Restaurant & Sports Bar just a half block from the station. I’d met Mayor Alvin Parks before but I was a bit starstruck by Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

So now they’ve got a nice restaurant in downtown East st. Louis, there might be others but not that I’ve seen. Still, the most common elements around the light rail station are parking, vacant buildings and vacant land. Tomorrow I’ll post about the amazing development that’s taken place around the next station east, Emerson Park, but today is about the 5th &  Missouri Station area.

ABOVE:Aerial view of station, the arrow marks the entrance. Click to view in Google Maps

The station opened as part of the original MetroLink line on July 31, 1993, it was the east end of the line. “The station features 322 Park-Ride spaces, including 25 long term spaces.” (Wikipedia). Numerous bus routes serving St. Clair & Madison counties stop at the station.

Access to the platform is via a single point. 5th & Missouri is the intersection at the top of the above map so I’m not exactly sure how that intersection was picked as the name for the station. The railroad right-of-way that was used is equal distance between 5th & 6th, with the entry point facing 6th. The entry to the station is also halfway between Route 15 (Broadway) on the bottom left and Missouri Ave, upper right.

ABOVE: Looking east from the platform
ABOVE: Looking west from the station across the park-and-ride lot
ABOVE: Looking west from the MetroLink platform past N 5th St. to buildings along Collinsville Ave.
ABOVE: Rotating at bit to the right the tall building you see is the Spivey Building at the literal 5th & Missouri.
ABOVE: Looking north on N 5th St toward Missouri Ave
ABOVE: Looking east on Missouri Ave just north of the station. Legends restaurant has the striped awnings on the left

East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks and City Manager Deletra Hudson mentioned a downtown plan but I haven’t received a copy after making personal and email requests. Who knows if it’s any good or realistic?  The problems are serious, some beyond their control.

In August 2007, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced its conclusion that the levees protecting a large area in Southwestern Illinois from flooding no longer meet the agency’s requirements. The result of FEMA’s conclusion is to change Southwestern Illinois’ flood insurance designation as part of its national Flood Map modernization process. FEMA’s actions would classify much of St. Louis’ Metro East as subject to flooding as if the levee system did not exist at all. This conclusion was based on a finding by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that the agency had “reduced confidence” that the 74-mile levee system could protect against a flood that has a 1% chance of being equaled or exceeded in any single year (commonly referred to as a 100-year flood or a base flood) without the need for flood fighting. As a result, the American Bottom, an area of 174 square miles in Southwestern Illinois that is home to 156,000 people, 4,000 businesses and 56,000 jobs in 25 communities in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties, would be declared a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), with dire consequences for our region’s economy. While we continue to dispute FEMA’s conclusion, we must take immediate steps to demonstrate that we can meet FEMA’s standards for flood protection. (The Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council)

I’m rooting for a comeback in East St. Louis, but the odds are good. Tomorrow I’ll show you a reason to bet on East St. Louis’ success.

– Steve Patterson

 

 

Guest Post: Old Man of Armour: A Last Look at The Armour Plant

September 8, 2011 Economy, Featured, Metro East 22 Comments

by Chris Andoe

I’ve spent a great deal of time documenting the collection of ruins that make up much of the East St. Louis area. It’s fascinating to see what happens to large masonry structures after fifty years of abandonment. The first couple of times the decay seems static but after a few seasons your eye begins to measure the steady progression.

ABOVE: Armour Packing plant, National City, IL, January 2010 by Chris Andoe

The site urban explorers find the most intriguing is the Armour Meat Packing Plant, which was the first of East St. Louis‘ big three plants to shutter, closing in 1959. Visiting this behemoth is a religious experience for many with its smokestacks, towering ornate machinery – some circa 1902 – incredible views, and endless areas to discover.

With a few flashlights you can descend into the labyrinth basement complete with deep watery pits, climb multiple levels taking in the glazed brickwork, and one explorer even documented his journey to the top of the smokestack where bricks came loose in his hands and he nearly fell to his death.

ABOVE: Satellite image of the abandoned Armour plant and the planned route of I-70, click to view in Google Maps.

The mystique around this place is accentuated because it’s long been difficult to find. You head north through East St. Louis, past the prostitutes strolling Route 3, make a right at nowhere, park along the isolated potholed road. Once on the property you trek the long convoluted pathways through thick vegetation before you reach it.

Nature has taken back the site, inside and out. Trees are firmly rooted on the roof, vines climb through windows, and a giant white owl waits in the rafters.

ABOVE: Armour Packing plant, National City, IL, June 2009 by Chris Andoe

In recent years the natural decay has been accelerated by the metal scrappers who have removed much of the flooring and disassembled some of the ornate equipment. On an intellectual level I’ve wondered why the thefts bother me so much. After all the building has been steadily falling for decades and is well past the point of being converted into a new use. The condition is terminal, and after half a century development is encroaching with the new I-70 slated to skirt the site. This hidden, mysterious treasure- long a beacon for explorers and thieves will be laid bare as a dangerously accessible, intolerable eyesore on newly visible, valuable property. Its days are numbered but the dismantling bothered me nonetheless.

After being away for seven months I was eager to see the ruins. I visited the neighboring Hunter Plant, slated for demolition, several sites in Downtown East St. Louis, and I saved the best for last. Sure enough the scrappers had stripped away even more of the personality but in light of recent severe weather I was surprised that the structure hadn’t fared too poorly.

As I was looking around my eyes locked with an old black man in an official looking uniform.

“Who told you you could be in here?” he demanded. I’ve always had ready-made replies in the event this would happen but in that moment I felt like one of the twelve year old kids in the movie Stand By Me. I simply replied “Nobody. I was just taking photos”. He instructed me to “get my crew and get out of here”.

I realized he thought I was a scrapper. He followed us closely as we walked the long overgrown road to the main street. I shared that I knew about the scrappers and also thought it was a shame. He then opened up. “They’re who I was hoping to catch!” he began. “They’re tearing this place apart”.

I had found a kindred spirit. This man loved this crumbling monstrosity even more that I did. After inquiring further I was astonished to learn that he had been one of the employees of Armour during its heyday, and when the plant shuttered he was the lone employee kept on as the caretaker for the site. Since 1959 he’s watched his coworkers leave for the last time, watched as sections of the roof crashed in, walls crumbled, supports failed, and people like myself climbed the building with abandon.

I had so many questions for him and asked if he’d speak with me for this piece. “I can’t really say nothin’, I’ve gotten in trouble in the past” he said. He did point to a few areas and told us how many people worked in each. He spoke of all the jobs that were there.

The overgrown lot littered with brush, bricks and debris gave way to the blinding white pavement of the brand new road. We were off the property. The old man with gray stubble, one blind eye and a sharp, pressed uniform had done his job.

ABOVE: Armour Packing plant, National City, IL, January 2010 by Chris Andoe

A few years back I had a dream that after a storm I went to check on the plant. As I approached I heard a snap, like a lone firecracker, then watched as the whole structure collapsed in slow motion before me- a spectacular sight- so vivid with the smokestacks splitting and the fire escape landing just feet from my body. That would have been a demise worthy of such a structure. Nestled in quiet vegetation and in the company of someone who loved it.

Just before we got in the car the caretaker pointed to a nearby dirt pile and said “That’s where the new highway’s comin’”.

All of us understood what that meant.

– Chris Andoe

Chris Andoe is a writer and community organizer who has divided his time between St. Louis and San Francisco for the past decade. He earned the moniker “The Emperor of St. Louis” as the crown wearing Master of Ceremonies for the zany Metrolink Prom, where hundreds of transit supporters pack the train for the city’s biggest mobile party. Andoe writes for St. Louis’ Vital Voice.

 

Reducing The Number Of Aldermen

ABOVE: City Hall, Granite City IL
ABOVE: City Hall, Granite City IL

Many have long thought 28 members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen is excessive for a population of 350,000.  Across the river in Granite City IL they will have the size of their city council go from 14 members to 10 in April.  The numbers of wards will go from 7 to 5, each ward has two representatives.

In the 2011 election, all 10 seats will be up for election for either two- or four-year terms.(source)

The two & four year terms will allow for staggered 4-year terms going forward.  Their thinking was fewer residents so you need fewer elected representatives. If only we’d get wind of such logic on this side of the river!

Here is a list of past decades with the number of residents per St. Louis alderman in parenthesis.

  • 2000 (12,435)
  • 1990 (14,167)
  • 1980 (16,171)
  • 1970 (22,223)
  • 1960 (26,787)
  • 1950 (30,600)
  • 1940 (29,145)
  • 1930 (29,356)

Were the aldermen of decades past so much more competent that they could represent more than twice as many residents as our current aldermen? Granted, they didn’t need to respond to constituent emails.  Maybe, just maybe, the bureaucracy was such that citizens went there first rather than ring their aldermen? As our population declined the aldermen changed the system so they were thought to be indispensable?

Ald Fred Heitert was first sworn into office in 1979.  After the 1980 census each alderman represented just over 16,000 persons.  If we were to use this number, from the first year of a current alderman, we could go from 28 to 22 (based on 350,000 residents).  1970 was in my lifetime, if we use the 22,223 per alderman figure we would be at 16. Based on the 1950 peak we’d have only 11.

I have no clue what the magic number should be.  Perhaps we should have two aldermen per ward such as Granite City does?  It is time to reexamine how our city government is structured.  If little Granite City IL can do it, why can’t we?

– Steve Patterson

 

Salazar & LaHood Show Support For City+Arch+River Project

December 18, 2010 Downtown, Metro East, Parks, Planning & Design Comments Off on Salazar & LaHood Show Support For City+Arch+River Project
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ABOVE: View of the St. Louis skyline as seen from the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis IL., with the lookout tower in the foreground.

Last week I attended a press event held at the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis IL.

The event featured some big names showing support for the City+Arch+River project.  Representing the Obama administration was Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior; and Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation.  Missouri’s Senator Claire McCaskill was also there , the one that got two cabinet members here at the same time. Additional speakers included East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

This video is long — 24 minutes.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0ZJ48du9jQ

I look forward to being able to reach this park without being a pedestrian in the road.

– Steve Patterson

 

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