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Rethinking Chariton Square

In May of last year I posted about a drive-in theater that replaced a quarry, itself soon replaced by I-55 (see May 26, 1954: South Broadway Drive-In Theater Opened).

The blue lines mark the approximate outline of the 1964 theater site.
The blue lines mark the approximate outline of the 1964 theater site. Click image for map to area.

In that post I indicated I would do a followup on ideas for the tired auto-centric Chariton Square strip shopping center:

In the coming weeks I’ll take a look at the commercial development along this stretch of Broadway and share my concept for an urban redevelopment.

But I got married a week later and never got to it. Recently a friend inquired about my ideas so here they are…finally. Before I get into my solution I want to show you some of the problems I hope to solve.

THE PROBLEM

As you head sSouth on Broadway it is bounded by handsome 2-3 story brick urban buildings, but this changes after passing Gasconade St one block further South 
As you head sSouth on Broadway it is bounded by handsome 2-3 story brick urban buildings, but this changes after passing Gasconade St one block further South. The large 3-story building is owned by Ameren.
South of Gasconade the pattern changes from from the established urban pattern
South of Gasconade the pattern changes from from the established urban pattern
Chariton Square was built on the 1960s when walkability & accessibility weren't considered
Chariton Square was built on the 1960s when walkability & accessibility weren’t considered
Even once inside the site getting from building to building is difficult.
Even once inside the site getting from building to building is difficult.
More disconnect from one building to the next
More disconnect from one building to the next
Lots of hardscape creates water runoff and separates pedestrians from storefronts
Lots of hardscape creates water runoff and separates pedestrians from storefronts
The old street grid was cut off.
The old street grid was cut off.

ONE SOLUTION

Let me preface this by saying this is a rough digital napkin sketch about what I think could physically be built to replace the existing strip shopping center. The intent is to trigger people’s imagination to see this as potentially being redeveloped in a different manner than it has been for the last half century. The only other vision I’ve seen put forward was as a park-n-ride lot for a light rail line, see Northside-Southside Light Rail Wouldn’t Be Good For St. Louis Neighborhoods.

KEY:  Lt Green: existing park space Gray: new buildings  Purple: existing green space to consider developing  BLUE LINE: New public  street, extensions of existing street grid  DK GREN LINE: New common plaza
KEY:
Lt Green: existing park space
Gray: new buildings
Purple: existing green space to consider developing
BLUE LINE: New public street, extensions of existing street grid
DK GREN LINE: New common plaza
Click image to view in Google Maps

NOTES:

  1. The best streets have a similar building type across the street, which is hard to accomplish in this narrow site. The extensions of Chariton & Meramec would help create quality urban faces on opposite sides of s street.
  2. Building on the open areas (purple) would help with changing the feel of Broadway.
  3. Broadway and all newly extended streets would have parking on both sides — angled on Broadway and Piedmont Ave parallel to I-55.
  4. Narrow drive lanes and curb bulbs would allow vehicular traffic to move but also be pedestrian-friendly. Protected bike lanes are possible on Broadway.
  5. The proposed buildings wouldn’t be monolithic masses, these might be several buildings within that newly created block.   They might be separated by  pedestrian-only street parallel to Broadway & I-55, depending upon the depth of the property. They might have structured parking in the middle surrounded by habitable building on all sides.
  6. The natural slope down to the highway would help facilitate a level of parking under some/most of the new buildings.
  7. A streetcar/BRT line could loop around this project. A light rail stop could be in the center of Broadway.
  8. The site has excellent highway visibility. Some taller buildings might have good views of the Mississippi River.
Minnie Wood Park at Meramec & Broadway is a great asset to the future development potential of the area
Minnie Wood Park at Meramec & Broadway is a great asset to the future development potential of the area
This 1920 property on Broadway & Chariton could be a part of the bigger project
This 1920 property on Broadway & Chariton could be a part of the bigger project
Two gas stations where Broadway & Osceola meet might become one urban station with building in front, pumps behind.
Two gas stations where Broadway & Osceola meet might become one urban station with building in front, pumps behind.

Again, this is a rough sketch of an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head. I wouldn’t expect anything to get built exactly as I’ve indicated. I would like to see residers of the 9th & 20th Wards to work on planning for the future of this area — coming up with a form-based overlay to guide what they’d like to see this become over the next 20-50 years.

— Steve Patterson

 

‘Bridge Bash’ To Start Removal Of St. Louis Centre Bridge Was 5 Years Ago Today

Five years ago today work began on reversing a mistake that had been in place for 25 years. The “Bridge Bash” event started with comments from numerous white men, followed by Mayor Slay operation the wrecking ball, pyrotechnics made breaking glass a little more exciting.  Here’s the video I uploaded from the scene — the action starts at 8:45.

St. Louis Centre was part of the ‘bring the suburbs to the city’ movement. The inwardly focused mall was a killer to the sidewalks downtown — especially under the Washington & Locust wide bridges connecting to Dillard’s & Famous-Barr, respectively.

Looking west from 6th Street on May 22, 2010
Looking west from 6th Street May 2010
Looking east along Washington Ave from 7th, February 2006
Looking east along Washington Ave from 7th, February 2006
Same view yesterday
Same view after the bridge was removed

Removal of this oppressive bridge and facing the ground level retail of the MX (formerly St. Louis Centre) has done wonders for this part of downtown. If only we hadn’t wasted decades trying to be like the burbs.

— Steve Patterson

 

What To Do With 1.2 Million Square Feet In The Railway Exchange Building (UPDATED)

Downtown’s Railway Exchange Building, completed in 1913, occupies an entire city block. From the 2009 National Register nomination:

The Railway Exchange Building was recognized as an architectural and engineering wonder even before it was constructed. But the building’s rich history was built more on the shoulders of the companies it was designed to house than the structural supports and ornamental flare it boasted in its design. The building has been a commercial asset to the St. Louis downtown since its construction, housing what became the city’s largest department store. In addition, many local businesses operated on the upper floors of the building, and the building’s official moniker derived from the abundance of railroad company tenants occupying the building when it opened.

The Railway Exchange Building was designed in 1912 by Mauran, Russell and Crowell as a home for the newly merged Famous-Barr Company. By the time Famous and Barr were merged, each had established themselves as a prominent department store in St. Louis. William Barr & Company opened as a drygoods store in 1850. Located on Fourth Street between St. Charles and Vine, the drygoods company grew rapidly, and by 1876 boasted over 300 employees and 32 departments with a separate manager for each division. In 1880 William Barr moved into the Julia Building, a four-story construction that occupied half the block at 6th an Olive Streets. As the city’s first department store, Barr’s took advantage of the mail-order trade as well as the in-house sales. The company remained in this building until it was replaced in 1913 by the Railway Exchange Building.

May Department Stores was bought out by Federated Department Stores in August 2005, a year later Famous-Barr became a Macy’s (Wikipedia). In 2011 Macy’s consolidated into the lower 3 floors, from 8, but still couldn’t make it. Macy’s closed in 2013 (Post-Dispatch).

Railway Exchange building in 2011, before the consolidated Macy's closed.
Railway Exchange building in 2011, before the consolidated Macy’s closed.

Tuesday morning I attended the public presentation by ULI St. Louis’ Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) on their recommendations to the developer that owns the structure. Unfortunately, their presentation isn’t yet online. Here are some highlights from memory:

  • With 1,000 parking spaces in the block to the South they didn’t recommend including any parking within the building.
  • Reskin/update the parking garage, remove the ramp off 7th
  • Consider a plaza for the surface lot at 6th & Olive.
  • The building would get sectioned into various zones for development into many functions. Different developers could then work on their portion, without any single developer having to take on the entire project at once.
  • The total square footage would be reduced some by opening up floors at various spots — such as creating 2-story volumes in some residential units.
  • Remove the roof and create an outdoor walk around the perimeter of the 21st (top) floor.
  • Residential units on the floors just below. Various sizes could be offered.
  • Two hotels on floors below the residential, one a boutique hotel like 21C and one an extended stay.  With new startups downtown they indicate there is demand for such hotels. Each hotel could have large volume spaces.
  • Recreational space, like a gym or basketball court.
  • Street-level retail like Urban Target, CVS/Walgreens, a fresh produce market, etc.

The building would still likely be over a million square feet after the reductions in floor area. With four primary facades you could have separate entrances for each function.

I still don’t like the existing garage, it’s old & ugly. The flow inside is awful. The garage needs to be replaced with a new garage if parking is excluded from the building. I’d love an Urban Target, a 24/7 CVS or Walgreens, and a Trader Joe’s. The developer already has interest in a couple of the pieces, but not enough to move forward just yet. The TAP felt if broken up into pieces it could be marketed nationally to interest developers from outside our region.

UPDATE: 5/14/15 # 7:40PM — the ULI presentation wasn’t available online yesterday as I finished the post, but thanks to a reader this morning who posted the link.

— Steve Patterson

 

Reviving A Dead Mall By Rebranding With An Ethnic Focus

In 2009 I paid a visit to my childhood mall that opened in 1974 — eight days before my seventh birthday. By 2009 it was dead — all four anchors were closed as were most of the smaller stores. The next year National Public Radio did a story on how the Federal Reserve of New York came to own one of Oklahoma’s largest indoor malls:

It also owned a loan to Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City. Then, when the owners of the mall couldn’t make the payments, the Fed foreclosed. So now it owns the mall, which includes a Chick-fil-A and an AMC theater. (NPR)

The AMC Theater is in a separate building on an outlet — built years later.

A Crossroads Mall  entrance, August 2009
Crossroads Mall entrance, August 2009 was used (by permission) in the 2010 NPR story.

In March I returned with my husband. Why visit a dead mall again? New owners have rebranded the mall, attracting new customers and stores.  From two years ago:

The south Oklahoma City mall fell into the hands of the federal government in 2008, limped through the recession years with a handful of tenants while somehow managing to keep its doors open.

But Legaspi, who owns The Legaspi Co., a California firm known for turning ailing shopping malls into thriving, Hispanic centers, has a plan.

On Wednesday afternoon, he announced details of the project, including the mall’s new name: Plaza Mayor at the Crossroads, a name that translates to “the main square” at the crossroads. It includes space for a grocery store, nightclub and a rodeo arena seating 3,500 spectators.

Already, Legaspi has worked on a dozen ailing malls across the country. (NewsOK)

From the new owner’s About Me page:

The Legaspi Company is a full-service development/brokerage company for commercial/ investment real estate, particularly for retail projects.  We are recognized as an aggressive commercial real estate company, noted particularly for our ability to successfully identify and capitalize on untapped opportunities created by demographic changes and trends in the marketplace.  This reputation has led many investors, developers and retailers (please see accompanying client list) to seek our assistance in their expansion/development planning, site selection, and leasing/sales negotiation activities.  Municipalities and government entities have also recognized our ability to position, in many cases re-position, shopping districts in order to increase services to the community.

The foundation of our strength in various market areas is our niche marketing orientation: our recognition of the unique needs and marketing characteristics of each site on its own merits, and our willingness, as a matter of choice, to educate and work aggressively with investors, developers, retailers, and tenants in these areas, which in many cases were, till quite recently, considered marginal at best. (Legaspi Co)

We visited early on a Sunday morning, just as stores were starting to open.

Color was added to the entrances
Color was added to the entrances, a vinyl banner covers the outdated metal graphics
The former Dillard's, where I worked briefly in college, now has some color
The former Dillard’s at right, where I worked briefly in college, now has some color. Click image to see this lot filled with people during a 2014 festival.
The former Dillard's store was being
The former Dillard’s store would soon be ‘El Parian’

During our visit we didn’t know what El Parian would be, I’ve since learned:

El Parian will feature about 60, 12-foot by 12-foot incubator booths that will be ringed around an atrium.

Additional phases of construction will include salon and restaurant space, with the hope of eventually having booth space for as many as 300 small start-up businesses, he said. The second and third floors of the Dillard’s wing will be converted to office space, Ruiz said.

Tenants at the mall said they were hopeful that El Parian would draw more shoppers to Plaza Mayor and give existing businesses a boost. A trickle of new shops has continued to reopen in the mall since redevelopment plans with Hispanic mall developer The Legaspi Co. were unveiled in spring 2013. (NewsOK)

The El Parian is now open, so I have a reason to return. Another would be to visit later when places are open — especially restaurants.

One of several restaurants in the mall, this one was just about to open. Soccer was playing on the TV.
One of several restaurants in the mall, this one was just about to open for the day. Soccer was playing on the TV.
The center court once again hosts packed events
The center court once again hosts packed events, click the image above to see a photo from a 2014 event on their Facebook page

This video aired not long after the change to Plaza Mayor — it is wrong about the mall’s opening though — it opened in 1974 — not 1979.

Such a focus makes sense in Oklahoma City, in 2010 the population of Oklahoma City was 579,999 — with 17.2% being Hispanic or Latino (of any race) — up from 5% in 1990 (Wikipedia). By contrast, the City of St. Louis was only 3.5% Hispanic/Latino in 2010 (Wikipedia). The St. Louis region likely has a much lower percentage than the city.

Though this focus wouldn’t work for our dead/dying malls I bring this up because it shows how one developer has found a way to match vacant real estate with an often marginalized market. National brands are beginning to recognize the Hispanic/Latino market:

The 50 largest spending companies put $3.4 billion into Latino advertising in 2013, according to the most recent figures available from industry publication Advertising Age, which measured spending on Spanish-language ads on broadcast and cable networks and in Spanish language publications. Procter & Gamble Co. was the top spender with $334.8 million, followed by AT&T with $124.7 million. Target came in 28th, with $51.5 million. (LA Times)

Most real estate brokers & developers, blinded by their conventional wisdom, couldn’t see any use for this mall.

One of the new monument signs around the exterior
One of the new monument signs around the exterior

This is a good lesson on how the status quo establishment may not offer creative solutions — such reminders are a very good thing. I look forward to returning over the coming years to see Plaza Mayor continue to evolve.

— Steve Patterson

 

IKEA Will Be Posting Jobs Soon

April 14, 2015 Big Box, Featured, Retail 6 Comments

It has been a little over four months since IKEA officially announced they were opening a location in the St. Louis region — specifically in the City of St. Louis. The big blue & yellow box is now fully formed.

IKEA as seen on WB I-64
IKEA as seen on WB I-64, not really visible EB
As seen from Vandeventer Ave
As seen from Vandeventer Ave

The St. Louis IKEA is supposed to open this Fall. In August we’re planning one last visit to the IKEA in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook on our drive back from a weekend in Chicago. When the store opens here we’re planning to get a new king-sized mattress & platform bed.

If you’ve never shopped at an IKEA before I recommend at least four hours to see it in full. Since I first walked into an IKEA in August 1990 I’ve wondered what it would be like to live close to a store. The visits to the seven locations I’ve been to involved either filling my vehicle or getting just a little something to fir in my carryon bag. For the first time I’ll be able to take public transit to an IKEA, maybe just for lunch and to browse their creative displays.

IKEA St. Louis is already hiring some managerial positions, they’ll be hiring for additional positions soon. If you’re interested, you can sign up to be notified.

Is it just me or have existing furniture stores increased their TV advertising?

— Steve Patterson

 

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