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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
img_2112
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

 

Eastport Plaza Neither Walkable Nor Accessible

eastportplazaaerial
ABOVE: Aerial view of Eastport Plaza in Collinsville IL. Click image to view in Google Maps.

Sure, you can walk at Collinsville’s Eastport Plaza, but it isn’t easy.  I navigated the area in my wheelchair, but it wasn’t pleasant or even ADA-compliant.  Planned as a Metro East version of Westport Plaza in St. Louis County.

Based on my research, Eastport Plaza was platted in the early 1980s.  This is a decade before the ADA but walkable environments have been built for centuries.  This was an auto-centric development with token sidewalks.  The post is a follow up to my post from a week ago.

img_1530
ABOVE: The main road in/out is Eastport Plaza Dr with sidewalk on one side only

The width of the roads are excessive for two lanes.  This, along with a lack of street trees, diminish the pedestrian experience.

Gateway Center, in the middle of Eastport Plaza, talks about the area:

“The only hospitality district in Collinsville accommodates events at Gateway Center with more than 900 hotel rooms in a variety of hotel properties, and 60 restaurants ranging from casual family dining to fine dining. Another 2,100 hotel rooms are conveniently located within a 20-minute driving radius of the convention center for overflow accommodations.
Most of Collinsville’s lodging is within walking distance of the convention center.”

Walking distance, but not walkable.

img_1505img_1503img_1506

img_1584 img_1523

What I don’t yet know is: the developer, the engineer responsible, or the level of involvement from Collinsville.  I do know the area has boomed since Illinois changed it’s TIF law, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Monday, March 28, 1988:

“East St. Louis, Belleville and Collinsville are among cities whose tax increment finance (TIF) districts are criticized in a recent report by the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois. [The ] report shows illustrations of TIF districts under headings of ”The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

Collinsville’s TIF district is listed under ”The Ugly. ” The report says a 500-acre tract of mostly undeveloped land at the city’s northwest edge was hooked to its central business district by a strip one block wide and several miles long.

Mayor Brombolich said the federation’s labeling his city’s TIF district ugly because of its shape illustrates what happens when someone tries to generalize without adequate knowledge.  The city’s rapidly developing Eastport Plaza area was linked to its comparatively stagnant downtown area to obtain money to help revive the central business district, Brombolich said.

Collinsville’s TIF ordinance does not allow sale of bonds, but requires a pay-as-you-go policy, he added. ”We have not spent a penny of TIF money up to this date.”
About $100,000 has been accumulated through growth in sales and real estate taxes at Eastport, and three downtown projects are planned, he said.
They are new curbs and sidewalks around a block where Home Federal Savings & Loan Co. plans a new building, a sprinkling system and other improvements to allow the old Miners Theater to reopen its upper level, and re-paving of part of Clay and Church streets
.”

img_1591
ABOVE: An earth berm stands between the public sidewalk and a hotel sidewalk

By February 2007 the area was booming; from the Post-Dispatch:

“City leaders are overseeing development on more than half a million square feet of office and warehouse space on the city’s west side that is expected to create at least 1,000 jobs.
Fourteen businesses are opening in the area known as Eastport Plaza, which is mostly east of Interstate 255 and north of Interstate 55-70. The businesses include Floors Inc., a commercial and residential floor company, and Tetra Tech, an engineering firm. Officials expect more businesses to move there by the end of the year.”

img_1531The vast majority of those who come to Eastport Plaza do so in a private vehicle.  But the area is served by a Madison County bus (#15 Collinsville Shuttle), which was how I arrived on a recent visit.  No matter how someone arrives in the area I have an expectation that within the relatively small area that walking would be encouraged as an alternative to driving short distances.

ABOVE: Main sidewalk leads you east to highway 157
ABOVE: Main sidewalk leads you east to highway 157
ABOVE: Sidewalk ends before crossing Hwy 157
ABOVE: Sidewalk ends before crossing Hwy 157

These 300 acres were flat farm land before being developed.  The developer had a complete blank slate to work with but clearly making a walkable environment wasn’t a priority.  The sidewalk is just there to create a passing appearance of walkability.  Say what you will about New Urbanism but those principles would have created a far more satisfying environment.

– Steve Patterson

– Steve Patterson

 

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