Home » Planning & Design » Recent Articles:

This Is Our Chance To Reconnect Two Neighborhoods Long Separated By Highways

February 17, 2022 Downtown, Featured, North City, Planning & Design, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on This Is Our Chance To Reconnect Two Neighborhoods Long Separated By Highways

Urban highways & interstates allow drivers to get from point A to point B quicker than had they taken surface streets, but they’re also a major divider between the existing neighborhoods they cut through.  In the late 1950s the downtown’s 3rd Street Parkway was being extended north, eventually connecting with the new Mark Twain Expressway (aka I-70/I-44) in July 1961.

I live on the west side of the highway, but I can stand in my kitchen and see Broadway & Cass, on the east side of the highway. I know first hand how the highway divides the historic north riverfront from my neighborhood, Columbus Square.

Looking south from the Cass Ave bridge over I-44, June 2020. The lane center is a southbound express lane, to the right is the express lane exit ramp to southbound Broadway.

Ideally we’d remove urban interstates and weave our neighborhoods back together, but that’s never going to happen. What should happen is when we rebuild crumbling infrastructure we add connections civil engineers in the 1950s never considered at the time the highways were planned.

The same view Monday with southbound Broadway bridge and the exit ramp gone.
The blue oval is the southbound Broadway bridge, the red X is where Csss & 7th were connected until construction began for the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. Post-Dispatch July 9, 1961, p161.

The distance from Broadway & Cass to Broadway & O’Fallon is only 2/10 of a mile, but the distance required for the last 60 years has been double that — 4/10 of a mile.

The Missouri Department of Transportation supports pedestrian facilities:

MoDOT works with planning partners to create transportation facilities that work for all users because we value bicycle and pedestrian travel. Accommodating for bicyclists or pedestrians may be as simple as providing a well-designed road that all road users share or as complex as a separate-grade structure, such as a bridge. Developing appropriate facility design for nonmotorists depends on a variety of geometric and operational factors that are inter-related, such as available right-of-way, projected traffic counts and adjacent roadway design speeds.
 

We strive to integrate nonmotorized travel into the existing system to provide connections where none exist to promote efficiency and to focus on a primary concern—the safety of those who depend on walking or bicycling to reach their destinations. (MoDOT)

Unfortunately MoDOT failed to accommodate the needs of cyclists and pedestrians in the replacement. This is a huge mistake — it’ll be another 60+ years before we get another chance to reconnect these areas.

View from Broadway near Cass looking SW toward Broadway @ O’Fallon (just beyond building), June 2021
The buildings on the right are part of a National Register Historic District.

You might be thinking it would be too difficult to include a pedestrian sidewalk.  The old bridge, removed over the weekend, couldn’t have easily been retrofitted. But when building the new bridge entirely from the ground up it is actually pretty easy.

Here’s the overview:

The blue circle is my location. The blue line represents the route required to walk from Broadway @ Cass to Broadway @ O’Fallon — twice as far as the direct route shown in solid green. The dashed green line is how to connect Cass to 7th & 6th streets. Apple Maps

Now let’s take a look at the old bridge and highway exit ramps.

Broadway is only one lane per direction north of Cass, but it widens to 2 right turn lanes onto westbound Cass and 2 southbound lane to continue across the highway. One lane expands to four! Apple Maps
So 2 lanes of Broadway continued over the highway. The express lane exit is one lane but the Broadway exit is 2 lanes. Four lanes continue toward Cole before getting reduced to 2 further south.

The solution is the one southbound lane of Broadway splits into 3 before Cass — one left, one right, one straight ahead. This means the same width bridge can also accommodate bikes & pedestrians. The traffic exiting the southbound express lane and the highway have plenty of length for drivers to decelerate. Rumble strips (or similar) can be used to communicate to the driver to slow down as they approach Broadway. The 2 highway exit lanes can narrow to one before Broadway. Not sure if signals are necessary or just a flashing red light and notices to yield to pedestrians.

I would like to see Broadway south of Cole to return to two-way traffic in the future, so I’d like the new bridge to accommodate 2-way traffic and pedestrians on one side.

Again, I’m trying to connect two areas that have been separated for over 60 years. Both have enormous potential for redevelopment — new construction & adaptive reuse to the south and mostly captive reuse to the north. I’d love to see football fans have pre-game drinks at Shady Jack’s Saloon and then walk down to the Dome to see the St. Louis Battlehawks when the XFL returns under new ownership.

We must use this moment to correct past mistakes!

— Steve Patterson

n

 

Decisions Applicable To Bus Rapid Transit And Local Bus Service

January 27, 2022 Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Decisions Applicable To Bus Rapid Transit And Local Bus Service

Monday’s post Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Not Right For St. Louis certainly ruffled a few feathers — at least among non-transit riding civic boosters. Lots of good discussion on the Facebook post.  What we need next is to go through specifics one by one to see if there is any consensus. BRT has been implemented worldwide with great success. In general, BRT projects in the United States have been less robust than in other countries. That’s ok.

The Healthline in Cleveland, 2015. Click image to see my 4th post on Cleveland’s Healthline from November 2015.

My previous post was simply saying we can’t have a gold-level bus rapid transit system, per the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) Scorecard. To date no BRT system in the USA has achieved a top gold rating. The ITDP has ranked 10 BRT lines in the US with the following results:

  • Three (3) Basic
  • Five (5) Bronze
  • Two (2) Silver (Cleveland’s Healthline = 76, Hartford’s CTFasktrak Busway = 79.2)
  • Zero (0) Gold

Countless others being marketed as BRT don’t even qualify for a “basic” designation. Ouch. I guess as long as the users are pleased with the line compared to a conventional local bus then it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. Interestingly none of the 10 in the US have BRT as part of their name.  Our light rail system has two lines: Red & Blue.

Two battery electric 60 foot articulated buses recharging in November 2021. The right bus just arrived, the left bus is about to leave. Note that these buses have a unique color scheme to separate them from regular local buses.

Perhaps we come up with some criteria to use for calling a very high frequency bus route by a color name rather than the legacy bus number. For example, our busiest bus route (#70 Grand) could be the Green Line. Maybe if we made big changes to the #95 Kingshighway bus route it becomes the Orange Line?  And so on. Then we wouldn’t need to quibble over the BRT term.

Where I think we can agree is our next big transit investment in the city will have rubber-tired transit vehicles, not rails. How St. Louis County invests their transit dollars is a separate issue, they might opt for light rail in a street and/or an extension south from the Shrewsbury station. Today’s post is focused on the city, though applicable if the county considers a BRT-esque bus project.

Beyond the marketing name & tires there are many other items to be considered:

  1. Type of propulsion (diesel, hybrid, compressed natural gas (CNG), fuel cell electric, battery electric, overhead cable electric (commonly known as a trolleybus)
  2. Fare collection (on-board, off-board, honor, no fares)
  3. Boarding (curb height or raised platforms for level boarding; front door only or all doors)
  4. Stop intervals (2 blocks, 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, more; if more than 2 block local will a local bus also run the route less frequently to serve those unwilling/unable to walk to the farther stops)
  5. Stop locations: center of street, right lane, or a mix of both)

Let’s go through each, discussing pros and cons to consider when making decisions.

#1 Type of Propulsion

In 2022 I  think we should invest only in transit vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions. That would eliminate diesel, hybrid and CNG. The three electric options each have their own pros & cons, infrastructure needs. Battery electric buses, like the 60 foot articulated buses on the 70 are presumably heavier than an electric trolleybus. Overhead wires vs increased wear & tear on streets and sourcing of rare earth metals. Battery electric buses (BEB) need to be quick charged during service, whereas the trolleybus doesn’t need to — but not everyone likes overhead wires.  Some trolleybuses have small batteries to allow them to operate any from overhead wires. Hydrogen fuel cells are another option, not sure if one can go all day without refueling during the day. If so, is that feasible. Fuel cell buses are heavier than trolleybuses but presumably lighter than BEBs.

Metro has historically purchased buses from Gillig, but the new articulated battery electric buses used on Grand came from New Flyer. The latter offers more sizes and propulsion choices.

#2 Fare Collection

This is an important area because it determines how the stops are designed.  First is getting our transit agency caught up on fare technology — assuming we’re going to continue collecting fares from users.

In August 2006 a Metro engineer explained the then-concept of smart fare cards to me.

That was in August 2006, at the opening of the most recent extension of the high-floor light rail. Metro’s Gateway Card finally appeared in spring 2018 — twelve years later. It has been almost four years now and nobody uses it. When I ride the bus or light rail I don’t see others tapping their cards. These cards are available for full fare & senior customers only — I think I’m still the only non-senior reduced-fare user with a Gateway Card.

Metro was working on a website login and app to go with the card, but it seems they’ve abandoned it in favor of a smartphone app to use for fare payment. Millions were spent changing bus fare boxes to allow cards to be tapped, and readers were placed at the entrances to the 38 MetroLink stations so security could see the green light as each person taps their card to enter.  Huge investment of time & money for nothing. People do use the Transit app to buy digital tickets & passes.

I prefer having a reloadable card that calculates if my second tap qualifies as a transfer or new ride. I’ve seen systems that use both smart cards and apps. The goal for all is to not have fare payment holding up boarding, When I visit Chicago locals and the vast majority of visitors use their smart card — boarding is so much faster.

A faster bus route isn’t going to have the driver give those who paid more a daily transfer. Yes, currently every Metro bus in the region gets little pads of transfers to use for that date only. Massive waste of time & money that Metro continues. You’ll often see these as litter around bus stops, especially since most bus stops lack basics like a trash can.

Moving on…

Lets assume everyone has a smart card. By tapping it on a reader at MetroLink station entrances (off-board) or on the bus farebox (on-board) the appropriate fee is deducted from the card balance. If funds are insufficient it gives you a red light & buzzer instead of green.

Since opening in 1993 our light rail has had off-board honor system fare collection. In response to calls for turnstiles it’s going from an open platform to a closed system. If we’re going to build nice new bus stops for a rapid line we need to decide where the user taps their card. Currently bus riders using the smartphone app show the driver their valid ticket upon entering, but that wouldn’t work if boarding is allowed at all 3 doors (60 foot articulated).

Would bus stops for a new rapid bus route have the honor system for accessing the platform & bus? I can’t imagine that would go over well. If we want fare verification performed off-board that means turnstiles.   The current smartphone app isn’t designed for use with turnstiles in mind.

#3 Boarding

Two questions here, both related to #2 above. Platforms level with the bus floor speeds up the boarding process for everyone, whereas curb-level boarding requires passengers to step up into the bus.

In the case of us disabled users (wheelchair, walker, etc) typically a ramp is unfolded to come down to curb level. The BRT scoring is better for smaller horizontal gaps between the platform and the bus floor:

Even corridors that have been designed to accommodate platform-level boarding could have gaps if the buses do not dock properly. A significant gap between the platform and the bus floor undermines the time-savings benefits of platform-level boarding and introduces a significant safety risk for passengers. Such gaps could occur for a variety of reasons, from poor basic design to poor driver training and technical opinion varies on the best way to minimize the gap.  (ITDP)

Some buses designed for BRT use have a bridge that can pop out to close the gap, others the driver has to come set a lightweight bridge in place.

The other aspect of boarding is if everyone enters through the front door only, or all doors. If the decision is made to eliminate fares, have turnstiles to access the platform, or the honor system, then boarding can happen at all doors.

#4 Stop intervals

This is a big one. With my power wheelchair I can go miles without any issues — assuming curb cuts are in place, snow & ice are cleared, etc. But many are used to frequent bus stops, people who use walkers or a cane might struggle if their local bus stop no longer exists. They might already walk a good distance to reach the bus route.  The solution in some cities is to have the BRT bus stop roughly every half mile while also operating a less frequent local bus. By having fewer stops you increase the possibility of having new development occur at these points, assuming zoning is sympathetic to requiring increased density at these spots. Fewer stops requires public & political buy-in to make it successful.

#5 Stop locations

Where the stop is located depends on where the bus operates. If it’s in the center of the right-of-way then obviously you’re going to have center platforms. Keep in mind some systems have a mix — some center, some right. Like our light rail vehicles, BRT vehicles usually have doors on both sides to accommodate different platform locations based on particular conditions. Having center dedicated lanes with center stations, even part of the length of the route, improves performance. If so you’ve got to make sure pedestrians crossing to/from the center are safe from motorists. The nice thing about center platforms is if you want to go the opposite direction from where you are, you only need to cross half the street to get to the stop.

Closing Thoughts

Even if the ITDP doesn’t consider a big transit investment BRT the only two groups that matter are the public and the feds — the ones determining if a project qualifies for matching funds. Other regions are ok with their BRT line not meeting ITDP’s minimum criteria to be considered. It’s up to all of us to participate, listen to others.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population

January 20, 2022 Environment, Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population
Graphic from November 2020 post showing area predicted to have population loss.

The 2020 Census results results for St. Louis showed what I had predicted, the bulk of our population loss came from northside wards.  This was also true in 2010 and in 2020. No reason to think 2030 won’t be more of the same. We can sit back and do nothing, or we can help manage the situation — possibly reducing some losses in future.

By mange I mean see where population is dropping more than in other areas. We can’t just write of a third of our geographic area. I propose a group comprised of experts, residents, business owners, etc to examine data and evaluate possible solutions.

Here is some of the data I’d like to see on a big map(s):

  • Population by age & race
  • Parcels of land being used (water connection) vs unused.
  • Parcels of land with new or substantially renovated structures vs severally deteriorated, condemned, or vacant.
  • Parcels of land owned by the city, out of state owners, owner-occupied, LLC, .
  • Historic properties, sites.
  • Schools, current & former.
  • Employers and numbers of employees
  • Crime
  • Topography
  • Probably other criteria as well…

Since north city is not declining uniformly we need to see which parts that are doing better than others. Is this because 0f newer housing?  Access to transit?  All we know at this point is some blocks are stable and occupied while others are rapidly declining. Mapped data can tell us a lot, people on the ground familiar with their area can confirm or dispute what the data tells us. Get everyone on the same page, then reassess every few years and make adjustments as circumstances change for better or worse.

What we all need to accept is that it’s very unlikely these neighborhoods will see a major population growth. Ever. Thus some land can be returned to nature, used for agriculture, etc. The maps will show us the least populated areas with the worst housing stock — contrasted with pockets of denser areas with housing unlikely to be abandoned this decade. I’m not talking about large areas the size of Pruitt-Igoe, NGA-West, or Fairgrounds Park. It might be possible that smaller nature areas could be linked together by a trail system. A few great vacant school buildings not reused for residential might get filled with hydroponics to grow produce.

The major corridors like MLK, Page, Natural Bridge, Kingshighway, Grand, etc should remain. Many connecting streets would also remain. However, it’s possible in some areas we might be able to justify removing unoccupied streets and alleys. As St. Louis begins to look at replacing lead water supply lines those areas that’ll benefit most from the infrastructure investment should get priority over areas that can be back to nature by 2030. Old water & sewer lines might get abandoned completely in isolated areas.

The goal isn’t to cut off services to existing residents, but to use resources to strengthen and grow the existing strong pockets. On a block with say only one resident we can wait until that person moves or dies of old age. The children of longtime residents aren’t really interested in moving into the house their relative refused to leave. Conversely, a nice block with one newly-abandoned house needs help to make sure that one house gets maintenance and reoccupied as soon as possible. Quickly reoccupying a vacant building helps prevent others on the block from also being abandoned.

An example of a strong pocket would be MLK & Burd Ave. You’ve the Friendly Temple church and Arlington Grove housing (new housing around a renovated school that’s also housing). Substantial investment has been made, and this is home to many. We can reinforce the positives and look to expand upon that a block at a time.

Former Arlington School has been residential since 2013
Aerial after construction completed. Image: Google Maps

Just north of this pocket is a largely vacant area, part of the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood that has gotten attention for mass demolitions. Other bright spots throughout north St. Louis include numerous tree-lined streets with well-maintained houses — it’s just hard for everyone to see & appreciate the them with so much decay. Whenever I see people wanting to raze vacant “problem” buildings I do get upset, because tearing down buildings in a random manner doesn’t improve neighborhoods for the long-term. It simply removes the current problem while likely speeding up others being abandoned as neighboring  owners/residents die or move.  By designating different areas for bright spot village and others as moving back toward nature we can reduce fights over razing vs preservation. I can even imagine a decent house in an area set to become nature/agriculture –it might be kept as basically a farmhouse. It wouldn’t necessarily be razed, just reimagined.

Along the way we can reevaluate I-70, an old interstate that winds its way through north city. Can we minimize this as a separating barrier in spots? Can we create areas for interstate drivers to pull off and get a bite to eat while their battery electric vehicle (BEV) charges?

One spot I see as the center of a future village is the intersection of Grand & North Florissant. That’s in part of 2 current neighborhoods, with a 3rd very close. It should be the very center of a thriving area.Why here? The intersection of two corridors should be treated as special. Both Grand and North Florissant are angled toward each other, so a person living or working here can pick either corridor to travel south — southeast on North Florissant or Southwest on Grand. Thanks to the odd street grid they have easy direct access to different parts of the city. Going northwest on North Florissant will eventually get them into St. Louis County.

By 2050 I see north St. Louis as being dotted with nice little villages, with nature in between. Primary corridors will be a line of density with restaurants, retail, offices, and multi-family housing. Rail &/or rubber tire public transit will connect these villages to each other and the larger city & region. I see walking & biking within and between villages.  I see jobs growing produce outside and indoors, more jobs along the corridors.  I see trees — thousands of them providing some relief from increased temperatures. The major corridors will be tree-lined, many new nature areas will become forests. I see all races, proportional to the mix in the population. Some villages, like The Ville, are predominantly black (75%, not 100%) with strong black-owned businesses. Again I’m talking 30 years, not 3.

What I don’t see are big surface parking lots for big box chain stores. I also don’t see blocks and blocks of obvious vacant residential buildings/lots.

St. Louis should use some of the money from the NFL to kick start the planning process to examine north St. Louis as I’ve described — taking stock and what we have (and don’t have) and then collectively finding solutions to change the trajectory. In the process others could come up with better ideas.

— Steve Patterson

 

Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags

January 6, 2022 Featured, Local Business, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Retail, Taxes, Transportation Comments Off on Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags
The green car over the service pit is a Melbourne car from Seattle

Joey Pennywise sold widgets and wanted to increase sales. To do this Pennywise thought to buy 5 smart outfits to standout from generic & common widget salespersons. But Pennywise didn’t have the funds to buy the desired outfits.  Pennywise likes all things vintage and knows used outfits can be purchased much cheaper than those fancy new European outfits. Even after good cleaning and a tailor having to rework each outfit it’ll be cheaper ($3,700 vs $10,000).

This is where frequently generous uncle Samuel Moneybags enters the picture. Pennywise asks Uncle Sam for the money to buy five really nice game-changing used outfits. Uncle Sam grants Pennywise the requested $3,700.

All of Pennywise’s friends thought it would be better to get brand new outfits, even though they cost substantially more initially. They warned the continued cost to repair seams, replace buttons, fix zippers, etc would be easier to live with. Plus, they thought their friend should get something that’s fashionable now, not something worn many generations ago. Something better suited to the needs of the 21st century widget salesperson, not one from a century ago. The widget game just is different than it was more than a century ago.

After purchasing the used outfits Pennywise had them cleaned and altered to fit. Looked just like a widget salesperson from 1915. Additionally Pennywise got a new closet organizer to keep the outfits neat and ready.

Initially everyone was supportive, but Pennywise was often late to meetings because of wardrobe malfunctions. Plus walking in century-old shoes wasn’t nearly as fast as new sneakers. Still, sales the first few days were great, but then they dropped off considerably. Pennywise couldn’t afford to keep up with the expensive dry cleaning and fixing fragile threads. After failed attempts to get additional funds from uncle Sam, Pennywise reduced how often the vintage outfits were worn.  Until it was zero times per week.

Friends suggested Pennywise invest in the cleaning & repair costs, but there was no money left. So the expensive outfits hung in the beautiful new closet not getting used. Pennywise was still proud of the fact these outfits cost a fraction of what new outfits would have. The irony was lost on Pennywise.

Friends, miraculously all fans of Marie Kondo, said to wear them or give them up. “Sunk cost” proclaimed some friends advocating for getting rid of them. “They money has already been spent, spending even more isn’t going to change that,” they’d say. Over and over.

Meanwhile, Pennywise inherited a bunch of money from another relative, the family blacksheep Stanley K. Pennywise wasn’t sure if any of the new money should be invested in the vintage outfits taking up space in the closet. Pennywise surveyed friends and a majority said to use the funds for other needs, like sourcing better widgets. “Sunk cost!” Blah..blah…blah…

Then uncle Sam said if Pennywise doesn’t begin wearing the outfits soon they initial outlay would need to be returned. If not, small claims court to recover, no new requests will be considered. None. Pennywise depends on the generosity of uncle Sam,  but isn’t sure how to decide what to do.  The now-angry mob of friends begin chanting “SUNK COSTS!”, but this doesn’t help Pennywise reach a conclusive decision that will make everyone happy — especially rich uncle Sam.

Finally one friend (named Bla Gher) came forward, disclosing initial preference for more expensive modern outfits and opposition to vintage outfits, offered some additional accounting terms nobody had yet considered.

“Relevant costs” and Incremental analysis” Bla Gher said enthusiastically.  One friend in the group quickly stood and said “Sunk Costs!”  as others nodded in agreement without fully understanding any off the terms. Bla Gher explained that sunk costs are funds already spent that can’t be recovered, incremental analysis is a process of looking at all options and comparing the relevant costs — since sunk costs are, sunk, they’re not relative to the current discussion about figuring out what to do next.

Bla Gher repeated: the initial $3,700 cost of the outfits is no longer relevant to discussing future options.

Gher then outlined Pennywise’s possible options, all to be priced and evaluated:

  1. Do nothing: Leave the outfits in the closet to collect dust. Don’t take any angry calls from uncle Sam, accept that previous generosity has just ended. Set aside $3,700 plus fees in case you lose in court.
  2. Reduce sunk amount: Auction the vintage outfits, use that recovered money to remake the closet so it looks like it did before. Also sell all sewing machines, steam irons, bolts of fabric, buttons, etc.  And, like above, don’t take any angry calls from uncle Sam, accept that previous generosity has just ended. Set aside $3,700 plus fees in case you lose in court.
  3. Double down: Rather than the small amount to cover cleaning and repairs for a short while, put $3,700 from uncle Stanley into adding more vintage outfits so Pennywise can be seen only in a vintage outfit. Seven days a week, morning to evening. For analysis purposes, estimate if this would impress widget buyers enough to justify the additional expense.
  4. Mix & match: determine if anything, such as the closet, platform shoes, etc could still be used with those sexy modern European outfits. If so, Pennywise could expand the sales territory — serving the needs of more widget buyers and users. Funds to do this can come from $3,700+ of the money from uncle Stanley, and possibly more from uncle Sam! However, Joey Pennywise should no longer be involved in outfit decisions.

Bla Gher doesn’t know which of the above is the best option as the pricing and analysis hasn’t been done.

The End.

— Steve “Bla Gher” Patterson

Bla Gher concluded by saying until the above options (and any others) are impartiality analyzed there is no good way to know which option is best.

 

A Tour of City Foundry St. Louis, the Food Hall, and Fresh Thyme Market

December 21, 2021 Featured, History/Preservation, Midtown, Planning & Design, Real Estate, Retail Comments Off on A Tour of City Foundry St. Louis, the Food Hall, and Fresh Thyme Market
One of my favorite views is seeing the remains of the elevated railroad line.

Today’s post is a look at City Foundry St. Louis, a new retail & office development in an old foundry along Forest Park Ave., between Spring and Vandeveter.

Almost 100 years ago, the Century Electric company purchased the Midtown St. Louis property now known as City Foundry STL. At the time, Midtown was a manufacturing hub for the city, thanks to its proximity to the Wabash Railroad line, which cuts across the City Foundry STL Property.

Century Electric was one of the top 3 manufacturers in the city, manufacturing motors and generators that were sold internationally. In fact, Century’s motors helped spark the development of small household appliances.

While the foundry changed owners over the years, and the products produced there changed, one thing did not: nearly 24-hour-a-day work continued on the site until 2007.

Today, this 15-acre site is being reimagined as City Foundry STL, with first-to-the-area makers and merchants moving to the complex. We can’t wait to for you to be a part of the next chapter of this storied creative complex. (City Foundry St. Louis)

First, a definition:

A foundry is a factory that produces metal castings. Metals are cast into shapes by melting them into a liquid, pouring the metal into a mold, and removing the mold material after the metal has solidified as it cools. The most common metals processed are aluminum and cast iron. However, other metals, such as bronze, brass, steel, magnesium, and zinc, are also used to produce castings in foundries. In this process, parts of desired shapes and sizes can be formed. (Wikipedia)    [An aside: a segment from a 1997 Simpsons episode comes to mind]

I’ve lived in St. Louis for over 31 years now, but don’t recall the name Century Electric. My memory of the foundry was the smell making automotive brake parts for Federal-Mogul. My post from last month: A Look at City Foundry St. Louis…in August 2013.

The 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show a few scattered wood frame buildings in this area, not a foundry. City records list four buildings on the site:

  • Manufacturing 1932: 146,015 square feet
  • Warehouse 1937: 66,197sf
  • Warehouse 1953: 38,640sf
  • Manufacturing 1982: 5,760

Let’s take a look, getting into some history along the way.

This 2015 photo looking east shows a new intersection on Vandeveter with a driveway for the then-new IKEA.
Leaving IKEA we see the low building along Vandeventer no longer exists. My assumption is this was the 1982 building.
Looking left we see the intersection of Vandeveter & IKEA Way now includes Foundry Way to the east.
Foundry Way would be named Clark Ave if they continued the name from east of Spring Ave. The open land on either side here is for future phases. Sidewalk only on the south side, for now.
One of my favorite views is seeing the remains of the elevated railroad line.
My 2nd favorite view is toward the left, looking NE. The repetition of old piers the held the railroad tracks is just lovely to my eyes. The bright red wall on the left, not so much.

I wanted to know more about Century Electric so I began scouring the Post-Dispatch archives online via the St. Louis Public Library. Here’s a bit of what I found in a Post-Dispatch article from December 25, 1949, P61:

  • Century Electric organized 1900, incorporated 1901
  • first workshop an old church at 1011 Locust
  • first working motor tested on thanksgiving day 1903 — sold to Rosenthal-Sloan Millinary Co.
  • products shipped to 90 foreign countries
  • first to offer repulsion type motor in small sizes
  • a century motor was in the first successful home refrigerator
  • manufactures everything except the wire
  • foundry address is/was 3711 Market Street — before I-64/Hwy 40 went though.

Let’s resume the tour.

Again, I love the concrete railroad piers. Using them as an element is better & cheaper than removal and dumping in a landfill.
Here it begins to open up. The silver metal building is one of two new buildings designed to hide the new multi-level parking garage that was cut into the land between Forest Park Ave and the historic foundry.  These new buildings are considered “liner buildings”, shallow structures designed to screen and offer a nicer street view. We’ll visit that upper area later.
Now we’re facing east, with the old foundry on the right, new liner buildings hiding the parking on the left.
The food hall is the main public attraction in the old foundry building. More on this food destination below.
Continuing further east, toward Spring Ave. Old foundry still on the right, liner still on the left.
Almost to Spring Ave we get to the 1937 building that houses Fresh Thyme grocery store. You can see the east end of the parking garage.
Looking north/uphill along Spring Ave from near I-64 we can see foundry offices that used to front onto Market Street, the foundry, and the SE corner of the building that’s now Fresh Thyme.

Let’s go out to Forest Park Ave and approach from the west.

This approach is the worst, blank wall, no street trees, gravel instead of landscaping.
Looking back west, toward Vandeventer Ave.
This is the primary pedestrian access from Forest Park Ave., the new garage on the left. Dreary, but at least it’s wide. This brings you in at the upper level, mentioned previously.
Looking west, toward IKEA. Again, the vacant land will be for a future phase.
Looking southeast we get a good look at the old foundry.

One last exterior area to show you, the building on the SW corner of Forest Park & Spring avenues. It began as the new offices of a local grocery chain, so using it for a new grocery store is very fitting. From the Post-Dispatch July 18, 1937:

This 1937 article announces the construction of a new building to be built for the Tom Boy Stores grocery chain. A few years later I saw it written Tom-Boy and then Tomboy before disappearing in the archives.
Looking SW from the opposite corner at Spring & Forest Park avenues. Spring continues down the hill, where we were earlier.
Looking south across Forest Park Ave
In front, the door isn’t the main entry. I love that a building built for the offices of a grocery chain with late 19th century roots is now used as a grocery store.
The main entry is in the west facade, facing the top level of the parking garage. This photo was taken on opening day, 11/10/2021.
Looking back north toward Forest Park we see a protected pedestrian route to the right of the yellow bollards. Unfortunately they’ve been filing it with extra shopping carts lately, defeating the purpose.
Looking back out toward the parking. New hotel with rooftop bar across the street, in the background.

Let’s go inside Fresh Thyme, later we’ll go into the Food Hall.

When you enter the main doors, you head to the left.
They’re known for having nice produce that’s nicely displayed.
I love the old industrial skylight.
Inside looking north toward the meat & deli areas.
In the NE corner is a seating area, I can imagine Saint Louis University students/staff/faculty walking over here, meeting friends.
The compact store is well-stocked, though they don’t yet have sweetened condensed milk.
Even checkout is self serve, though there are a lot of employees to help you. Some are for smaller purchases while others are for larger with more area for scanned items.

Fresh Thyme Market has other locations in the region, on both sides of the river. The grocery chain in based in suburban Chicago (Downers Grove, IL). The large chain Meijer is an investor, their nearest location is Springfield IL. So you’ll see some Meijer products on shelves.

On opening day I planned to get a package of Meijer frozen tuna steaks that I priced on the Fresh Thyme’s website (Kirkwood location). At this new location the very same item was 50% more than in Kirkwood. WTF!?! I ask the manager why the price is so much more. The answer was unexpected. The Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL isn’t part of Fresh Thyme’s system, including pricing. Fresh Thyme investor Meijer is a partner on this location, so the pricing is based on that.  The manager told me they’d match the significantly better price at checkout. To this day if you do a search on the actual Fresh Thyme website for the nearest location it won’t find the City Foundry location. It’s not on the Meijer website either. Very weird.

Other than the frozen tuna steaks the prices I’ve checked have all been reasonable, their milk price is the best I’ve seen anywhere in the region. We’ve been back numerous times, a welcome new addition. Now if they’ll just stop filling the ADSA-compliant accessible route with extra shopping carts.

Moving on, let’s visit the Food Hall.  First, a food hall is not the same as a food court:

Here are 4 things about food halls and what makes people love them:

  • Food halls are usually a collection of small, locally-developed restaurant concepts or outright new creations that come from the minds of local chefs or start-up entrepreneurs and restauranteurs. They offer an assortment of unique food and beverage items that are usually cooked from scratch (prepared from raw ingredients vs. shipped in partially or wholly made) or nearby in a commissary (but still from scratch). On the other hand, food courts are usually filled with national chain restaurants that offer little scratch cooking and little-to-no brand cache.

  • Food courts will typically feature a cast of usual players like one or two Asian concepts (with one or both of them serving a version of Bourbon chicken), an ice cream place, a pizza place, a burger chain or two, a Latin concept, a hot dog concept, a cheesesteak concept, and maybe a cookie place. The dining options in a food hall are more in line with a collection of food trucksat a food truck park than the food found in a food court, with ethnic favorites like Vietnamese bao buns, Cuban street sandwiches, wine and cheese, Italian sandwich or pasta shop, local ice cream or gelato, chocolatiers, or Napolitano style pizza (vs. Sbarro’s par-cook-n-reheat slices), southern fried chicken sandwiches, and just about anything you can imagine.

  • Food halls are aesthetically pleasing, often in turn-of-the-century warehouses, train stations, or old mills with high ceilings where the building’s history is partially or mostly preserved. Ponce City Market was originally a Sears & Roebuck distribution warehouse. Chelsea Market in New York was a Nabisco factory where the Oreo was invented. Quincy Market in Boston is one of the oldest food halls in America (it was a food hall before folks started calling them food halls) and sits next to historic Faneuil Hall…it was designed from the beginning (1824-1826) to be a marketplace. In a food hall, the charm of historic significance combines with the unique food offerings and the novelty of reclaimed industrial space to form a city’s social nucleus, while food courts are really little more than uninspired feeding pit stops for mall shoppers.

  • Food halls are destinations. Retail stores are few and are injected to add interest and shopping-as-entertainment to the food experience, but they must convey a consistent lifestyle “voice” to their visitors. Anthropologie, Lululemon, or Madewell are common national retail supplements. Food courts are designed to keep shoppers shopping so they don’t leave the mall when they get hungry… the food supports the shopping, not the other way around like in a food hall.

Ready?

Entry before you get into the main space.
The main space is in the heart of the old foundry, very industrial.
Tables & chairs are throughout the large space. Vendors have small storefronts.
Most vendors are walk up.
But a few also offer bar seating. This might not be ADA-compliant because a person in a wheelchair couldn’t eat here, will need to see if they have a provision for that.

Concluding thoughts on City Foundry St. Louis

I was very happy & curious when I first heard the developers planned to keep the old industrial buildings rather than scrape the site clean. Overall I’m pleasantly surprised by how they’ve turned an old dirty industrial site into a retail & office destination. If you haven’t been I recommend visiting.

Transit users can take MetroLink to either Grand or Cortex, the nearest bus lines are the 42 & 70.

— Steve Patterson

 

Advertisement



[custom-facebook-feed]

Archives

Categories

Advertisement


Subscribe