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McDonald’s Proposal the Result of Engineers

Today I decided to look into the firm behind the McDonald’s “design” for South Grand. No surprise the firm, Core States Engineering, specializes in fast-food restaurants, big box stores and large-scale gas stations. They are engineers, not architects or planners.

From Core States Engineering’s website:

We are extremely proud of our close working relationships with Fortune 500 corporations on national development programs. Clients such as Amerada Hess, Circle K, Sam’s Club, Kmart, Phillips 66, Kroger, Tosco/Circle K, 7-Eleven Corp., Tesoro Petroleum, and Wal-Mart Realty all turn to Core States for their retail development needs.

Wow, what a client list. We all know how sensitive these businesses are when it comes to building in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods…

Reading through their site I found nothing about making projects fit into the context or trying to be pedestrian-friendly. I did find their engineering approach enlightening:

Our site engineering design team incorporates the clients’ marketing goals into the existing site geometry and topography while working with the municipal authorities to obtain site plan approval as fast and efficiently as possible. Each site has its own set of challenges to overcome… challenges derived from zoning ordinances, site topography, soils conditions, environmental issues, and availability of utilities. Identifying these challenges and presenting options early in the site development saves time and money for the client.

Our professional engineers and design staff have the technical expertise and professional experience to design cost-effective developments and obtain municipal approvals quickly. We have testified before hundreds of zoning boards and planning boards, and know how to plan for questions and concerns that arise at these public hearings. Our success in obtaining board approvals comes from extensive preparations for these meetings, including preparation of in-depth site investigation reports and meetings with civic groups and municipal authorities to identify issues and concerns prior to public hearing.

Interesting, I don’t recall seeing any of these “in-depth site investigation reports” or any discussion with them prior to the public hearings? I’m guessing Ald. Florida assured everyone involved that she could handle the residents.

This firm is headquartered in Atlanta with seven additional branch offices in North America (list), including one in our suburb of Crestwood. If they are such a big and great engineering company why is it they cannot figure out a way to build a new McDonald’s on the current site? They brag about working with existing site geometry and topography yet I hear claims that it can’t be done. I think we need to ask them why it is impossible to rebuild a McDonald’s at the current location at 3737 S. Grand.

You can contact the St. Louis branch office by phone at (314) 843-4320 or email at pbennett@core-eng.com and the main office toll-free at 866-865-1785 or via email at info@core-eng.com


Tell McDonald’s We Don’t Want Their Suburban Store on Grand

Many of you have heeded the call to put a stop to a new suburban-style McDonald’s on South Grand. You’ve emailed Alderwoman Jennifer Florida and Mayor Slay. You’ve also called Pyramid at 314-773-7333 to express your views. Keep up the pressure, it is being noticed.

But we also need to let McDonald’s know we have higher standards than our elected officials and local developers. Please fill out McDonald’s online comment form to tell them we don’t want a standard store in St. Louis.

You’ll need this information:

Location: 3737 South Grand
Landmark: Grand & Chippewa
Visit Type: Drive-Thru (what else right?)

Points to make:

  • Proposed design does not comply with development ordinance for area which prohibits drive-thru establishments.
  • Neighborhood is in opposition to existing franchise moving across the street from 3737 to 3708 S. Grand.
  • Neighborhood should not be subjected to being drive-thru adjacent.
  • McDonald’s can rebuild at their current site if they want to stay in the area.
  • McDonald’s & Franchise owner can afford retaining wall, if necessary, to rebuild on current site.
  • You might also want to fill out a non-location specific form on Social Responsibility.

    Looking at McDonald’s Real Estate information I found the following:

    The ideal site today might include the following characteristics:

  • 35,000+ sq. ft.
  • In the past we have developed on smaller parcels and significantly larger parcels.
  • Give us the opportunity to look over your site characteristics.
  • Corner or corner wrap w/signage on two major streets.
  • Signalized intersection.
  • Ability to build up to 5,500 sq. ft. of building at any time.
  • Parking to meet all applicable codes.
  • Ability to build to a minimum height of 22 ft.
  • Who makes the decisions on developing a site?
    McDonald’s Corporation is a de-centralized company with the Regions, versus the franchisees, making the decisions on development. McDonald’s (with the best possible credit rating in the world) is the contracting party and we guarantee all leases.

    Interesting, it is the region that makes decisions on development? Well, in that case I say we start contacting the “Heartland Regional Office” Real Estate Contact: Perry Pelton (see list of points above). Mr. Pelton is aware of this issue as he testified at the variance hearing in February. Click here to listen to Mr. Pelton’s testimony.

    Their site criteria section includes three PDF files of standard layouts. The first one, called 34-86/98–Far Corner Site fits on a site smaller than the old Sears site but is very typical, a small box surrounded by a sea of parking.

    Hopefully we can convince them this move will be bad for their PR.

    – Steve


    Three Blind Mice: Pyramid, Florida & McDonald’s

    One of the more disturbing aspects of the whole McDonald’s fiasco is the idea that, as Ald. Jennifer Florida says, “They are just moving across the street.” Well, it is not that simple.

    The current McDonald’s was built in 1974. I don’t know if it was built as we see it today or if they acquired more land over time and later did the lower-level drive-thru. Hard to say.

    What can be said is that in the last 32 years we’ve become accustomed to seeing it there. The neighbors down Philips Place and Chippewa have all likely bought there since the McDonald’s was in place. Same for those buying new homes to the East of Grand in Pyramid’s Keystone Place development, they knew the McDonald’s existed on the other side of the street.

    Everyone knows the old saying we have in real estate: Location, Location, Location.

    Herein is the problem. Moving the location of the McDonald’s will lesson the impact of the fast food chain to those that knew it existed when they bought their homes and increase the impact of those that had no reason to expect they’d live drive-thru adjacent.

    The Gravois Park residents are not being Nimby’s about this issue. A drive-thru fast food chain of any franchise has associated trash, noise, pollution, and bright parking lot lights regardless as to whether the building is in the middle of the site as in the suburbs or following a more urban model like Chicago or Toronto.

    In fact, the only difference between the suburban & urban models is how the building relates to the public sidewalk. This is a critical difference and is highly important in an urban area. However, it does absolutely nothing to diminish the negative aspects of living drive-thru adjacent. We should all fully support the Gravois Park residents East of Grand in not allowing the McDonald’s to relocate to a site that has never held a drive-thru establishment. Period.

    This leaves several options.

    A non drive-thru McDonald’s at the location as part of a mixed-use project. This is not likely as their business model relies heavily on drive-thru traffic whereas places like Subway in the next block North can survive without a drive-thru window.

    Close up and going away. I think the area would actually do better if we got rid of, not fast food, but auto-centric buildings such as drive-thru restaurants, the blockbuster building, etc.. But, I am realistic enough to know this franchise owner is not going to just walk away.

    Construct a new quasi-urban McDonald’s on the current site. Ding, ding, ding; I think we have a winner!

    But Jennifer Florida, with no architectural training, says it can’t be done. Dan Hogan of Pyramid Companies testified last week, and I am paraphrasing, they ‘cannot find a way to build a new McDonald’s on the existing site.’ If they attempted to design a new McDonald’s on the site and couldn’t figure out how to it demonstrates not that it is impossible but that Pyramid simply isn’t very bright. But, one look at their Sullivan Place senior housing project and we can see Pyramid isn’t too astute when it comes to site planning.

    I’ll be the first to admit the existing McDonald’s, built in 1974, is awkward. While I really don’t want auto-centric projects in the middle of my city I will entertain, for purposes of discussion, a new facility at this same location. I think it could, if properly designed, serve to enhance the pedestrian experience as well as serve the needs of the franchise owner, employees and customers. I do not hold out any hopes of Pyramid’s development staff being able to make that happen.

    The problem is that Pyramid’s folks can’t see beyond either what exists or how things are done in the ‘burbs. The Sullivan Place project is not much different than housing projects that were built 40+ years ago and are now being razed since they don’t fit into the city. The McDonald’s they proposed was the standard off the shelf suburban McDonald’s. So when they look at the current location with a drive-thru out of a lower level at the rear of the building they just can’t see beyond that. Most people have a hard time visualizing things when something is existing.

    The existing McDonald’s site is a far better location for their restaurant than the site across Grand. First, the traffic signal at Grand & Chippewa helps facilitate traffic much better than what we’d face on the proposed site. Try for a moment to pretend the existing building does not exist. We bring out the curb to narrow the width of Grand at Chippewa which will actually give them more room to build (the street is wider than it needs to be at this point).

    By placing a new McDonald’s abutting the sidewalks at Grand & Chippewa this leaves the balance of the site for parking and drive-thru. Ald. Florida and representatives of Pyramid have been going on about the 87 units of senior housing and 10,000sf of retail space on the current McDonald’s site. We are supposed to believe it is possible to get all of that on this site yet not a small 2,000+ McDonald’s, some parking and a drive-thru lane?

    Rebuilding at the existing site can possibly be done with the slope if the required ADA parking is on-street with the balance of spaces on the slope. The alternative is to construct a retaining wall to create a more level, although not necessarily flat, site. The now closed Burger King location has a much taller retaining wall than would be necessary at the existing McDonald’s site. The Aldi’s store just North of the existing McDonald’s also required a retaining wall. Just because McDonald’s and/or the franchise owner is too cheap to construct a retaining wall does not mean we should now subject an entire neighborhood to decades of being drive-thru adjacent.

    Add that to the fact that we, as taxpayers, paid nearly a million dollars to acquire and clear the Sears site for the Keystone Place development. To now place a McDonald’s on a portion of that land is clearly a form of subsidy. Ald. Florida says no other tax incentives will be used to help the McDonald’s. She also claims the redevelopment plan’s exclusion of drive-thrus is only applicable to projects seeking incentives such as tax abatement. Okay, Ms. Florida, if this is true why are you working to remove the drive-thru prohibition for this particular parcel? The answer is obvious, because you fully intend to give the McDonald’s some sort of financial incentives such as a TIF or tax abatement. Ald. Florida is getting quite the reputation for saying one thing but then taking action in the complete opposite direction. I do not personally think anything she says can be trusted. Her actions speak volumes.

    This is bad politics and bad planning. Gravois Park residents are being set up to deal with the consequences while McDonald’s, the franchise owner and Pyramid all make a mint. Ald. Florida, presumably, will continue to receive maximum campaign contributions along the way.

    Two things need to be stopped: the McDonald’s from relocating and Jennifer Florida from being a member of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

    Ald. Florida was first elected in Spring of 2001. In the March primary she narrowly defeated Mike Daus (now State Rep.) by 21 votes (1530 vs. 1509). Typical of St. Louis, she was not challenged in the general election. In Spring of 2005 she was re-elected not by popular vote but by default — nobody ran against her. It is rare that an incumbent will be challenged in this town. I’ve yet to find a constituent of hers that is happy with her. Most, in fact, go into some story about how she did them wrong or just her rude attitude.

    I ask that 15th Ward residents do the entire city a favor and recall Jennifer Florida.

    [UPDATE 4/27/06 @ 1:45pm – I’ve been told that Dan Hogan works for McDonald’s and not Pyramid, my apologies for the error. I don’t think this changes much with respect to the inability of Pyramid to do any good site planning.]

    – Steve


    Tower Grove Heights & Gravois Park Residents Share Common Ground

    Tonight’s Tower Grove Heights meeting included a few people from outside the neighborhood, three Gravois Park residents and myself. We came to the TGH meeting to discuss the proposed relocation of the McDonald’s on Grand. Jennifer Florida was not present but we did have a chance to speak with President of the Board of Aldermen, Jim Shrewsbury, before the meeting.

    It seems that nearly everyone was already aware of the controversy. Most seemed willing to help the cause by contacting Jennifer Florida and Mayor Slay. News to them was that Grand from Utah to Meramec was blighted back in 1996. Concerned about the prospect of a future relocation of say the Taco Bell or KFC closer to Utah they understood the concerns of the Gravois Park residents.

    Following the meeting it was discussed how it would be good for the various neighborhoods adjacent to Grand to begin discussing the future of the street, what everyone would like to see happen and, just as important, what they’d like to keep from happening. Look for future discussions among all those that have an interest in the future of Grand. It would be great if The Lawrence Group, architect/developer of the South Side National Bank property at Grand & Gravois, could assist in this community planning process.

    Getting Dutchtown and Benton Park West to join Gravois Park and Tower Grove South in the dialog will go a long way to setting a vision for Grand.

    – Steve


    Appeal on Variance for Drive-Thru… Tabled.

    After sitting through a four hour long meeting we are not any closer to an answer on residents’ appeal of the variance for a McDonald’s Drive-Thru.

    The Board of Adjustment, based on their questions, was not impressed with the Florida/Pyramid/McDonald’s proposal. It seems this group is also caving from pressure for more urban design in the area.

    Between testimony Jennifer Florida approached me indicating they were willing to build the building up to the street rather than set back as designed. While it helps it does not mitigate all the other valid concerns about noise, trash and traffic.

    The Board of Adjustment will likely reopen the hearing after Pyramid/McDonald’s has submitted a new site plan showing the layout with a building up to the street. I think Florida indicated they’d build to the street in the hopes the Board of Adjustment would deny the appeal. This would leave room for them to say the plans that were approved were not up to the street.

    If the city is going to continue to ignore sound planning by allowing a drive-thru at this location I’d rather it be built up to the street. But I want this to be perfectly clear, I believe the various fast food establishments in the area are undermining the true potential of the area. If the McDonald’s closed in October as Florida suggests would happen, I think that in the long term we’d be better off.

    – Steve