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The Former 16th Street For Able-Bodied Pedestrians Only

In 1951 the Plaza Square urban renewal area was defined. More than a decade later, in 1962, six new apartment buildings finally opened on four city blocks that were completely razed, except for two churches, which remained. In addition to removing hundreds of existing buildings, 16th Street was also removed. Both churches and two of the six buildings fronted a new pedestrian-only walkway where 16th Street had been. For over 50 years this has remained mostly unchanged, and, I’ll argue, has been part of the reason behind the decline in the area.

First, some background provided by city staff highlighted in a 1970 report:

In 1951, shortly after the establishment of the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, Plaza Square became a federally-assisted Title I Urban Renewal Project. A bond issue for the project was submitted to voters in 1953 and failed, but was approved later in that year. Execution began in 1954 and rebuilding was done by the Urban Redevelopment Corporation. The Federal Government defrayed two-thirds of the $2,618,000 loss incurred in the write-down and the City bore the remaining third. By developing a park and making street and utility improvements in the area, the City exceeded its required contribution by $114,500. This was applied as credit to the cost of another project at a later date.  

The present 16-acre, $20 million Plaza Square Apartment project completed in 1962, contains 1,090 apartments in six multi-story buildings. In addition, it includes two rehabilitated churches with expanded sites, a small park, shopping facilities, and a $2 million office building for the Blue Cross Group Hospital Service. The Plaza Project also has been a significant link in the concept for an East-West Axial Mall extending from Aloe Plaza eastward to the riverfront arch.   

In the mid-1960’s, occupancy lagged in the project. In 1966, in an attempt to alleviate this problem, the Bethesda Foundation took title to one of the buildings. The Bethesda Townhouse is now a non-profit residence for senior citizens who lease the dwelling units for life. By 1970, the occupancy rate had reached 88% in the Plaza Square Project.

The success of Plaza Square has had far reaching consequences since it was the first of its kind in the City. One of the most important aspects was the fact that Federally assisted renewal program encouraged private investment in the reconstruction of the City. Its success provided the stimulus for later revitalization projects such as the Civic Center redevelopment.(History of Renewal)

The non-profit building for seniors later became the Blu condos, many of which became rentals or were sold at auction. This post is a look at the pedestrian-only path left after 16th Street was removed. This matters to me personally because I live at 16th & Locust and need to reach the bus stop & city offices at 16th & Market (map).

For years there was no pedestrian signal or crosswalk to cross Olive at 16th.
For years there was no pedestrian signal or crosswalk to cross Olive at 16th. The walkway can be seen beyond the car
Sometime after May 2011 pedestrian signals were installed and a single crosswalk was painted on the east side of 16th. In this picture the new owner of the building on the left was cutting down old trees, blocking the narrow walkway.
In 2012 pedestrian signals were installed and a single crosswalk was painted on the east side of 16th. In this 2013 picture the new owner of the building on the left was cutting down old trees, blocking the narrow walkway.
Looking north at 16th from the south side of Olive
Looking north at 16th from the south side of Olive. Pedestrians wanting to cross from the west side of 16th must cross 16th first, or jaywalk.
Same view but further south on the former 16th, now church parking.
Same view but further south on the former 16th, now church parking.
Looking north on the walkway  before renovation of the adjacent building began. This area became a haven for trouble once that building became vacant, the church had the fence installed then.
Looking north on the walkway before renovation of the adjacent building began. This area became a haven for trouble once that building became vacant, Centenary Church had the fence installed then.
The apartment building entry is getting rebuilt, it faces the Centenary parking lot
The apartment building entry is getting rebuilt, it faces the Centenary parking lot
The fence keeps you from reaching the labyrinth and church entry. They're considering a gate once the apartment building is occupied again
The fence keeps you from reaching the labyrinth and church entry. They’re considering a gate once the apartment building is occupied again
Looking north from the labyrinth, with parking beyond. The labyrinth was built in the 80s or 90s.
Looking north from the labyrinth, with parking beyond. The labyrinth was built in the 80s or 90s as a meditative space before or after services.
During the renovations of this building the walkway is closed to the public. This building will be for "active adults", 55+
During the renovations of this building the walkway is closed to the public. This building will be for “active adults”, 55+
When you reach Pine there is no curb ramp to cross, besides you face the private auto  driveway for St. John's
When you reach Pine there is no curb ramp to cross, plus you face the private auto driveway for St. John’s. To cross Pine mid-block I must go to a driveway off to my right and go to the church driveway, then to west to continue.
From here there's no wheelchair access to the plaza in front of St. John
From here there’s no wheelchair access to the plaza in front of St. John. The bus stop and city office building is in the background
Looking the opposite direction we see the apartment entrance on the left
Looking the opposite direction we see the apartment entrance on the left
From the park looking across Chestnut there's no place to cross, not even a driveway.
From the park looking across Chestnut there’s no place to cross, not even a driveway.
From 16th & Market you can see where you want to go. The able-bodied can do it, but few do because it isn't a friendly walk.
From 16th & Market you can see where you want to go. The able-bodied can do it, but few do because it isn’t a friendly walk.
Once at Market you can see the bus stop and city offices.
Once at Market you can see the bus stop and city offices.

Few people use the former 16th Street walkway, it’s dark, narrow, uneven, and uninviting. I’m forced to take 17th, 15th or 14th instead. Like I said at the opening, I think this dead walkway has been a contributor to problems in the Plaza Square area.When the general public avoids an area and when a church erects a fence to keep out unsavory activity then you know a problem exists — a problem created by the poor design. It performs the opposite of how it was intended, a safe & pleasant car-free zone.

Cars are activity generators. The drivers are eyes on the street, police can drive down streets.

I’d like to see the community look at all options for 16th, including:

  1. Revising the walkway so it is ADA-compliant.
  2. Remaking the walkway so it is wider, more inviting and ADA-compliant.
  3. Reopening 16th Street to traffic, on the same scale as north 14th in Old North. Both were a 60 foot public right-of-way.
  4. Making Chestnut and Pine two-way streets again

I met with clergy from both churches, neither likes the idea of losing parking or the space in front of each respective entrance. Meanwhile, the owner of four of the six Plaza Square buildings wants to build a parking garage between two of the buildings, without losing the historic designation needed for tax credits (via NextSTL).

— Steve Patterson

Arch Topping 50th Anniversary Just Two Years Away

ABOVE: This should be the view three years from today.
This planned view three years from today

Two years from today marks the 50th anniversary of the topping of the Gateway Arch. October 28th wasn’t the original date, but delays happen:

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes decided on a date for the topping out ceremony, but the arch had not been completed by then. The ceremony date was reset to October 17, 1965, and workers strained to meet the deadline, taking double shifts, but by October 17, the arch was still not complete. The chairman of the ceremony anticipated the ceremony to be held on October 30, a Saturday, to allow 1,500 schoolchildren, whose signatures were to be placed in a time capsule, to attend. Ultimately, the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel(Warren, Pa) set the ceremony date to October 28.

The time capsule, containing the signatures of 762,000 students and others, was welded into the keystone before the final piece was set in place. On October 28, the arch was topped out as then Vice President Hubert Humphrey observed from a helicopter. A Catholic priest and a rabbi prayed over the keystone, a 10 short tons (9.1 t), 8 feet (2.4 m)-long triangular section. It was slated to be inserted at 10:00 a.m. local time but was done 30 minutes early because thermal expansion had constricted the 8.5-foot gap at the top by 5 inches (13 cm). To mitigate this, workers used fire hoses to spray water on the surface of the south leg to cool it down and make it contract. The keystone was inserted in 13 minutes,[30] only 6 inches (15 cm) remained. For the next section, a hydraulic jack had to pry apart the legs six feet. The last section was left only 2.5 feet (0.76 m). By 12:00 p.m., the keystone was secured. Some filmmakers, in hope that the two legs would not meet, had chronicled every phase of construction. (Wikipedia)

So 48 years ago delays were common. In fact, it was years later before the Arch opened to visitors. Landscaping came later as well.

MoDOT recently closed Washington @ I-70 to rework the intersection before Memorial Drive is closed for construction of the lid/park
MoDOT recently closed Washington @ I-70 to rework the intersection before Memorial Drive is closed for construction of the lid/park

What will be completed in two years, what won’t be? Word is still that Kiener Plaza will be done as this is key to directing visitors to the newly planned museum entrance from various downtown parking garages.  That must happen so the existing garage on the north end can be razed.

— Steve Patterson

Gravel on Sidewalk Next to MetroBus Stop

For a couple of years I’ve  come across a problem that I hadn’t addressed, until now.

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Gravel from an adjacent lot spilled out onto the public sidewalk on Washington Ave just west of 21st St, click image for location.

The few times I’ve been through here I’ve gotten through without getting struck, it seems the sidewalk underneath the gravel is just fine. Still it’s annoying to me and I’m sure it is to any pedestrian trying to catch the bus, or visit the Downtown Children’s Center in the background.

I checked Google’s street view where this doesn’t appear but the lot has bare dirt. My guess is the gravel was placed on the dirt to prevent erosion. Well, the dirt isn’t washing away…

I’m going to send this to the Streets Dept and to Metro, hopefully between the two the gravel will get removed. If an adjacent property owner is at fault, I hope they get billed for the cleanup costs.

— Steve Patterson

14th & Washington Ave: 2007-2013

A bank is now located at 14th & Washington Ave. Well, not exactly, a Commerce Bank ATM & surface parking lot now occupy this corner. In February 2007 the vision was much grander:

Metropolitan Development Enterprises is planning to build a $67 million, 22-story condo tower in the heart of the Washington Avenue loft district. The tower is the largest new-construction residential building proposed for downtown.

Chicago-based Metropolitan was expected to present plans to build the mixed-use building at 1400 Washington, on the site of Erlich’s Dry Cleaners, at a Tax Increment Finance Commission meeting Feb. 22. Metropolitan has requested $12 million of TIF for the project. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Rendering of the condo tower proposed in 2007
Rendering of the condo tower proposed in 2007
The corner had old buildings when the project was announced.
The corner had old buildings when the project was announced.
On October 10, 2007 a big deal was made about razing  the old buildings. Click image for video of the first wall coming down.
On October 10, 2007 a big deal was made about razing the old buildings. Click image for video of the first wall coming down.
By May 2012 an attempt to do a 2-story office/retail building had also failed
By May 2012 an attempt to do a 2-story office/retail building had also failed. Click image for 2008 article on the end of the Skyhouse project
1400 Washington has had numerous development plans, it is now becoming a parking lot, same owner as the previous lot across the alley.
May of this year work began on the parking lot
Yesterday a sign company was adding another sign.
Yesterday a sign company was adding another sign.

Surface parking is a good short-term land banking strategy. Now the land can bring in revenue until funding is fully in place for the next phase at this corner. I just hope that next phase begins within the next 5 years.

— Steve Patterson

ADA Ramp Behind Stop Line

Over the years I’ve been asked how I find things to write about, the answer is always easy: I go places like the grocery store, to dinner, or, yesterday, to buy a gallon of paint.

Able-bodied pedestrians follow the green line but those of us in wheelchairs must follow the red
Able-bodied pedestrians follow the green line but those of us in wheelchairs must follow the red

When cars are stopped at the stop line they still block the curb ramp. This is similar to a situation on Magnolia at Grand, I posted about it in 2007 (St. Louis Crosswalk Ignores ADA Ramps). That got fixed quickly by moving the stop line back, but this seems a bit more complex. The sewer inlet and light post (just out of frame) make a ramp a tight fit. Curb bulbs like a few blocks north on Grand would provide the space needed.

— Steve Patterson

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