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March 17, 1978: Board of Aldermen Approve Downtown Shopping Mall Bills

In the 1970s civic leaders were busy destroying large swaths of downtown in order to retain/attract workers/employers & residents.  In 1977 the Cervantes Convention Center opened with largely blank exterior walls and occupying 4 formerly separate city blocks.

Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D'Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.
Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D’Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.

The following Spring, 36 years ago today, they continued in the same direction advocated by our first planner Harland Bartholomew decades earlier:

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved three bills that would set the stage to develop a proposed downtown shopping mall, with the only further step being the acquisition of federal funding. The headquarters of Stx, Baer, & Fuller, which would become Dillard’s just months before the mall’s completion, and Famous-Barr existed with one block separating them between Washington and Locust at 6th Street. The goal was to create an enclosed, urban shopping mall with these two companies as anchors, and the estimated budget was nearly $150 million. St. Louis Centre opened in 1985 as the largest shopping mall in America. It had over 150 stores and 20 restaurants, and was initially a great success. Challenges appeared in the 1990s however, as the Westroads Shopping Center was redeveloped into the St. Louis Galleria and stores began closing. St. Louis Centre closed in 2006, and since then has been redeveloped into a 750-car parking garage and retail center. (STL250 on Facebook)

Seven years later the internally-focused mall opened. The pedestrian realm in St. Louis was officially dead.

Looking west from 6th Street on May 22, 2010
Looking west from 6th Street on May 22, 2010 as the pedestrian bridge over Washington Ave is being razed.

In the 1970s big indoor shopping malls were all the rage. We know now in an urban setting, like a central business district, turning blank exterior walls to the sidewalk and putting all retail activity indoors out of view to people passing by is a formula for disaster. In hindsight, it’s obvious. At the time few realized the magnitude of the mistake.

When the Cervantes Convention Center was expanded a block to the south in the early 1990s it was given a new more inviting facade, controversial at the time. St. Louis Centre was converted into a large parking garage in this decade, with retail spaces facing outward to the sidewalk. Slowly we’re relearning that a CBD can’t appeal to the suburban motorist. The urban core of any region should distinguish itself from the suburbs.

Suburbia can’t match old urban neighborhoods, usually failing when it tries. Conversely, older urban areas fail when trying to be like new suburbs. Most people chose suburbia, I get that. In the St. Louis region we have plenty of suburbia for those who prefer it, we need to double-down on making the City of St. Louis the pedestrian-froendly urban environment preferred by the rest of us. These can co-exist in the same region. Unfortunately, we’ve gotten to the point of having so little good urban area that those seeking an urban life have had no other choice but to leave the region.

A few urban block here and there won’t support an urban life, we need a city 100% committed to the urban dweller.

— Steve Patterson

 

Raised Crosswalks Should Be Used More Often

Everyone is likely familiar with what a crosswalk looks like, ramps on each side sloping down from the sidewalk level to the street level. Ever stop to wonder why the pedestrian must come down to street level then back up to sidewalk level on the other side of the street? With the raised crosswalk it is reversed:

Raised crosswalks are marked crosswalks that are raised to act simultaneously as a speed hump. Approach markings signal to drivers that the crosswalk is raised. Crosswalk markings or contrasting crosswalk materials (pictured) show this element is also a crosswalk. As both a marked crosswalk and a traffic calming element, raised crosswalks provide a superior safety advantage to pedestrians. Raised crosswalks are most appropriate on streets with only moderate traffic (<10,000 trips/day), such as a minor collector, or a residential street with a significant conflict between pedestrians and vehicles. This type of facility is particularly effective where heavily used trails cross a road. (Streets Wiki)

This is not a crosswalk you’d use across a busy aerial, like Kingshighway. It’s great in lower traffic areas where lower speeds are desired. Several crosswalks around the new Jazz at Walter Circle senior housing in East St. Louis are raised crosswalks:

Raised crosswalk on N. 15th  in East St. Louis, the new Jazz at Walter Circle senior housing building in the background
Raised crosswalk on N. 15th in East St. Louis, the new Jazz at Walter Circle senior housing building in the background
Another raised crosswalk on Walter St.
Another raised crosswalk on Walter St., bike parking is protected from weather and highly visible
A raised crosswalk brings the crosswalk up to the level of the sidewalk
A raised crosswalk brings the crosswalk up to the level of the sidewalk

The raised crosswalk makes the pedestrian network easier to plan & construct. My guess is the construction costs are probably a wash, but with greater benefits of increased pedestrian safety.

Related to the raised crosswalk is the raised intersection, I don’t know of a local example to show you.

— Steve Patterson

 

Private Gate Blocks Public Sidewalk in Midtown, Ties to the Castle Ballroom

Often I encounter annoying things as I make my way around the city, dismissing many as flukes. I took photos of a gate blocking the public sidewalk on November 28, 2012 and again on March 7, 2014.

Looking north, November 28, 2012
Looking north, November 28, 2012 @11:10am
Looking south, November 28, 1012
Looking south, November 28, 1012
Looking north, March 7,  2014
Looking north, March 7, 2014 @ 1:50pm
Looking south, March 7,  2014
Looking south, March 7, 2014

This is the side gate for 2840 Locust St., owned by Barry Adelstein & Scott Gundolf. Years ago the renter of the property was Michael McMillan, former alderman, license collector, and cureently head of the Urban League of St. Louis. To my knowledge he still lives here. This property is directly north of the neglected Castle Ballroom.

The owner of the Castle Ballroom is SAG PROPERTIES LLC, with tax bills sent to 2840 Locust St.  Documents show Scott Gundolf is the President of SAG Properties LLC.   He’s also a licensed real estate broker with One West Associates, Barry Adelstein is also a licensed broker.

Just what is the relationship between Michael McMillan, Barry Adelstein, and Scott Gundolf? McMillan’s close associate, Marlene Davis, became the 19th ward alderman when he was elected to the office of license collector. Adelstein was a partner with Marlene Davis in a failed midtown bar, Gene Lynn’s, which closed in 2008.  Davis was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2010.

Did these associations help get officials to look the other way regarding maintenance of the Castle Ballroom building? And to a lessor degree, feel like it’s ok to block the public sidewalk with a private gate? But wait, there’s more!

The real estate deal in question involves the old Castle Ballroom at 2839 Olive, which Rainford says Reed bought and sold for a large profit, before helping the developer who bought it get a taxbreak. Reed’s campaign says sale was profitable, because it happened during the 2004 market peak; and the tax break was sought by the alderman in that ward, passed unanimously by the board, then signed by Mayor Slay. (KMOX)

A tax break? There’s much more to this, I suspect! Plus I don’t want the gate left open blocking the public sidewalk.

— Steve Patterson

 

Chippewa Road Diet, Bike Lanes, Pedestrian Lane

Late last year Chippewa got a road diet using paint, not concrete. Four traffic lanes were reduced to two with a center turn lane, and a bike lane was added in each direction.  Under the railroad bridge between Gravois & Meramec was the part that confused me, with a wide lane to the right of the new bike lane. The other day I was finally in a place where I could get some photos.

Looking east you see the westbound  bike lane to the right of the orange cones.
Looking east you see the westbound bike lane to the right of the orange cones.
Looking west toward Morgan Ford
Looking west toward Meramec

Because of the railroad tracks pedestrians haven’t been able to  walk in an east-west direction along Chippewa. Up top the tracks are a barrier and the underpass was designed decades ago only for vehicles.  Online I found Chippewa Bike Lanes: A Review:

The pedestrian lane under the viaduct seems like a creative and appropriate solution to the problem of pedestrian connectivity along aging infrastructure. It is important that the pedestrian lane be separated from automobile traffic, and the traffic cones are obviously a temporary fix. We look forward to seeing the permanent configuration, and will update this post as the project evolves. 

Hopefully the traffic cones are just temporary, but replaced with what? The excellent images on the post Chippewa Bike Lanes: A Review show how lanes shift, with the risk of motorists ending up driving in the bike/pedestrian lanes.

— Steve Patterson.

 

Sidewalks In Chicago

Last weekend my fiancé and I went to Chicago for a 3-day weekend. I’ve been numerous times since my stroke 6+ years ago, including last August, but each of those visits was by car with me as passenger or driver. This trip we took Amtrak so I could use my wheelchair since our primary reason for going was to see the Chicago Auto Show. I know here in St. Louis my chair can easily get stuck in just a tiny amount of snow so I was nervous about going to Chicago where they had lots more snow. As soon as we exited Chicago’s Union Station I realized how much Chicago values all modes of travel: auto, bike, bus, foot, chair.

Sidewalks, roads, ADA ramps connecting sidewalks and crosswalks were all cleared.
Sidewalks, roads, ADA ramps connecting sidewalks and crosswalks were all cleared. This photo taken at Harrison & Wabash, click for map.
A protected bike lane on S. Dearborn was cleared of snow.
A protected bike lane on S. Dearborn was cleared of snow.
All the bus stops/shelters had been cleared as well allowing us the use various CTA bus lines
All the bus stops/shelters had been cleared as well allowing us the use various CTA bus lines

You might be thinking “Sure, in the Loop. What about in the neighborhoods?” Friends picked us up for dinner Saturday night, driving us for Lebanese at Semiramis, located miles away from downtown at 4639 N Kedzie Ave.  The sidewalks, ramps & crosswalks were also cleared there.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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