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How Not To Do Retail Storefront Space

By the late 1980s many architects & planners began to realize a desire to include exterior retail spaces to enliven new buildings that would otherwise be lifeless at the sidewalk.  They were right, but their early execution left a lot to be desired. Case in point: AT&T’s data center from 1990.

ABOVE: 801 Chestnut

The building occupies the entire city block bounded by Chestnut on the south, 9th on the west, Pine on the north and 8th on the east (map). The building, built for Southwestern Bell, was designed to accommodate the planned westbound 8th & Pine MetroLink station that opened a few years later in 1993. Good coordination among different parties at least!

Let’s take a walk around so you can see all four sides.

ABOVE: The NW corner at 9th & Pine
ABOVE: The SW corner at 9th & Chestnut
ABOVE: The SE corner at 8th & Chestnut
ABOVE: The NE corner at 8th & Pine, the MetroLink sign is visible

Did you see the three small retail spaces accessible by the general public? You didn’t? Only one is occupied, to my knowledge the other two have never had a tenant. The problem is they don’t face the sidewalks, they are hidden back in the dark recesses.

The occupied retail space is in the corner of the building pictured above, it just isn’t visible from motorists or pedestrians.

ABOVE: The space at the NE corner of the building, near the westbound 8th & Pine MetroLink station, is the only one that’s occupied. The entrance faces west, not the top of the escalators to the south. Even during the day it is dark in the area.
ABOVE: A customers enters the small convenience store while another exits MetroLink

The size of the space is appropriate, we do need more spaces like this adjacent to our light rail stations — but with the windows and door facing the transit users coming & going as well as visibility from adjacent sidewalks.  This is not too bad, if you exit the station here you will see the side window and investigate if you are thirsty.

ABOVE: The vacant space at the NW corner, again not facing 9th or Pine
ABOVE: The third space in the SW corner near the main street entrance on Chestnut. But data center employes use the walkway over the 9th street to come and go.

I can just hear people downtown saying retail doesn’t work, using these as their examples. That these are still vacant more than two decades later would  have been easy to predict.

— Steve Patterson


OK, Kanas City Region To Get An Ikea Before St. Louis

October 4, 2012 Big Box, Featured, Retail 19 Comments
ABOVE: Ikea in Bolingbrook, IL, January 2009

The Kansas City region is getting an Ikea store and we’re not:

The home furnishings company, which has 38 stores in the U.S., is announcing at a press conference this morning that it is putting a store in Merriam, Kan. The store is expected to open in fall 2014.

So what does that mean for the prospects of a much desired store in St. Louis?

Joseph Roth, an Ikea spokesman, said the Kansas City store does not diminish St. Louis’ chances.

“They are completely separate trade areas in our mind,” he said. “We still recognize the customer base that exists for us in St. Louis. We just have not committed to a time frame yet or found the perfect site.” (stltoday.com)

This is pretty logical if you think about it, the nearest Ikea to the St. Louis region is the Bolingbrook, IL location in the Chicago region — that’s 273 miles from St. Louis. The closest Ikea to Kansas City, MO is Bloomington MN at 431 miles (Bolingbrook, IL is 486 miles from KC).

I know numerous people here that have driven to the Bolingbrook Ikea in the morning, shopped, and driven back to St. Louis that night, others have stayed in a nearby hotel overnight. Either way, we have much better access to Ikea than people in the Kansas City region do — for now. And once the Kansas City Ikea opens in Merriam, KS two years from now it’ll be roughly 15 miles closer to St. Louis than the Bolingbrook, IL Ikea. A change of pace for those who usually head north on I-55 for flat-packed furniture.

This summer many thought an Ikea was going to come to Richmond Heights because a developer had proposed it. Based on the 6 Ikea locations I’ve visited over the last+ 22 years I doubt we would see an idea within 15 niles of downtown St. Louis. They are a big box retailer that locates along wide exurban arterials on sites highly visible from the highway.

For my last big order I shopped through one of the two local companies that make regular trips to Bolingbrook — I had them bring back items I’d never be able to transport anyway.

My hope is the Kansas City location will be close enough to civilization that it will be on a bus route so I can visit without having to rent a car — a perfect way to make sure I don’t buy too much.

— Steve Patterson


The Union Station MetroLink Stop Should Be Moved Under The Train Shed

St. Louis’ Union Station reopened as a “festival marketplace” in 1985 and eight years later our light rail system, MetroLink, opened. For the last 18 years the Union Station stop is basically on the other side of 18th Street. Stairs and and elevator do come up on the east edge of the old train shed, but you’d hardly describe the station as well-integrated.

ABOVE: This is the view when you come up to grade from the MetroLink platform. An open-air parking garage!
ABOVE: MetroLink trains travel through the old baggage tunnel under the historic Union Station train shed.
ABOVE: The MetroLink platform is located on the east side of 18th Street, totally exposed to the elements.

My thought is build a new platform in the tunnel with steps and elevator coming up in the middle of the train shed. Currently some riders catch buses on 18th but once the Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center is rebuilt and expanded I expect we’ll see those lines move to 14th.  Yes, the interior of the tunnel will need to be finished so it is not so creepy looking.

ABOVE: A walkway exists at the center point of the shed, coming up to grade at this point would put you very close to Hard Rock Cafe and equal distance between 18th and 20th Streets.
ABOVE: Looking east toward the current MetroLink exit
ABOVE: Looking south you’d be in line to walk to the office buildings along the south edge of the property next to I-64.
ABOVE: A decent connection that probably doesn’t get much use.

A new platform and direct access under the shed with improved pedestrian connections to main building, office buildings, 18th and 20th along with a revised parking lot could dramatically change impressions of Union Station.  A few more free-standing structures like the Hard Rock Cafe could add to the activities.  It’s been 27 years since Union Station reopened — it’s time for a major rethink of transit, train shed, and pedestrian circulation.

Please don’t suggest that Amtrak service be resumed at Union Station, I’m tired of hearing that every time I mention Union Station, train service at  the new facility works fine.

— Steve Patterson


Walking To The “Flagship” Dierbergs & Schnucks Locations In Des Peres, MO

On September 15, 2009 Schnucks, the largest grocer in our region, opened a new “flagship” location:

DES PERES, Mo. – After 46 years of serving customers in its present location, Schnucks Des Peres will close at 9 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 14, and reopen at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at its new location, 12332 Manchester Road (next to West County Mall). The relocation of this landmark facility marks the beginning of a new era for the family-owned grocery company.

At 74,000 square feet, this combination food and pharmacy store is like no other Schnucks store. Schnucks Chairman and CEO Scott Schnuck explained, “We promised our Des Peres community something special and that’s just what we will deliver. Des Peres will be a flagship store in our company because of the atypical offerings it will include.” (Source: Schnucks)

Not to be outdone, the region’s 2nd biggest grocer, Dierbergs, opened a new flagship store nearby on July 31st of this year:

The supermarket, located on the south side of Manchester Road, one mile east of I-270, is a free-standing 75,000-square-foot store. It sits on approximately 6.5 acres, occupying a full city block of Des Peres. HBD Construction is the general contractor for the project.

Dierbergs submitted its proposed site plans to the city in fall 2009. With plans for three levels, including a mezzanine dining area, it was evident from the beginning that this would be a different Dierbergs. (Source: Dierbergs

Two huge locally owned flagship grocery stores a short distance apart? This foodie had to see what each had to offer! On Saturday August 18th I caught the #30 MetroBus just two blocks from my downtown loft. At the Maplewood MetroLink station I transferred to the #57 MetroBus that goes all the way out to Wildwood. I got off at Manchester & Bopp Rd since the Dierbergs was the first location I came to arriving from the east.

Using public transit meant I was arriving as a pedestrian, not a motorist. Of course, no downtown resident is going to go all the way out to Des Peres to shop for groceries. But people living near these new stores may decide to walk, rather than drive, to shop on a nice day. This is a look at how Des Peres residents would walk to these two stores.


Located on the south side of Manchester, where Bopp Rd ends, this large building is highly visible to passing motorists.

ABOVE: View of the new Dierbergs as seen from southbound Bopp Rd at Manchester Rd. ADA ramps, crosswalks, and pedestrian signals were all replaced as a part of this project.
ABOVE: Like the Target in south city, the Dierbergs has parking under the building. Pedestrians have the option to enter at this point.
ABOVE: Unfortunately for a first-time visitor it’s unclear where the entrance is located and no protected pedestrian path is provided.
ABOVE: Back outside, those approaching from the east will cross an auto entrance, but walk signals are provided.
ABOVE: For those who don’t wish to enter via the lower level parking they can continue west to the main entrance. Curvy sidewalks are annoying but I’m glad it wasn’t up next to Manchester Rd.
ABOVE: A walk takes you from the Manchester Rd sidewalk to the main entrance, which faces the parking lot to the west.
ABOVE: The western boundary of the site is Lindeman Rd. Those persons living directly to the south also have a sidewalk to get them to the store.
ABOVE: Unfortunately the crossing distance near the entry is wide and a ramp wasn’t provided right away. This is the biggest pedestrian access error they made.
ABOVE: View of the produce section from the upper level mezzanine.

This Dierbergs is a big box geared toward the driving public but they recognized the need to provide access for pedestrians from all possible directions.  A neighbor might send their 8 year old for a loaf of bread or an 80 year old neighbor might want to do their shopping and stay fit.

Let’s head west on Manchester now to check out the Schnucks flagship store.


Part of a new shopping center called Des Peres Corners on the southeast corner of Manchester & Ballas Rd (map).

ABOVE: Getting close to Ballas Rd so it must be close. Here’s a MetroBus stop, great for low-income service workers that can’t afford private transportation. Sidewalks are new and friendly considering they’re next to busy Manchester Rd.
ABOVE: At the eastern edge is a one-way auto driveway but no pedestrian access.
ABOVE: A little further west is the main entrance to the Des Peres Corners shopping center that contains the new flagship Schnucks.
ABOVE: The Des Peres Corners main entry but no access for pedestrians. I’ll keep looking.
ABOVE: Des Peres Corners contains a couple of buildings besides the Schnucks, each with multiple tenants. So close but I’m not seeing a way to the businesses from the public sidewalk.
ABOVE: Without any luck off Manchester I turned south along Ballas Rd to try that side.
ABOVE: Just past the first building I can see the second building, but no pedestrian access.
ABOVE: So I continued south along Ballas to what I assumed was the last opportunity for pedestrian access.
ABOVE: At the intersection I can see the public sidewalk continue to the south, providing a way for all those residents to walk to the store, if there’s a way to do so.
ABOVE: Oh good, I knew there had to be at least one way to enter this large site as a pedestrian!
ABOVE: But this is as far as I was able to get. An able-bodied person could find their way to the Schnucks but I couldn’t go any further.
ABOVE: By now I was ready for lunch but I couldn’t even do that at any of the places at Des Peres Commons. I crossed Ballas and had a nice lunch at West County Mall.

Final Thoughts:

These new “flagship” grocery stores are world’s apart when it comes to pedestrian access. Dierbergs is still largely auto-centric but it goes beyond the minimums required by the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990. Those who planned the Dierbergs clearly made a decision in their process to provide a way for pedestrians to reach their store. These pedestrians include employees arriving for work on MetroBus, neighbors walking from nearby homes as well as residents of nearby suburbs also arriving on MetroBus. I’d give it a B+/A-

The Schnucks at Des Peres Corners is a total failure from a pedestrian perspective, a big F. Schnucks/Des Peres Corners makes no attempt to provide access to those from outside the development or even internally from one building to the next. The civil engineers responsible need to have their licensees taken away. They may know parking lot drainage and requirements for retaining walls but that are incompetent when it comes to pedestrians and the ADA. I hope someone with legal standing takes Schnucks and the developer to court to force them to come back and correct their mistakes — also known as a violation of my civil  rights as a disabled person.

Only after I got back home did I see that my friend Herbie Markwort pointed out the flaws at Des Peres Commons in July 2009, prior to Schnucks opening:

A quick look around the site, however, reveals that no thought was given to accommodating pedestrians. (Gateway Streets)

It’s appalling that such a bad development can get municipal approval and bank financing. Loughborough Commons doesn’t look quite so bad now.

If you live in Des Peres please don’t patronize Des Peres Corners until they’ve retrofitted the site with internal pedestrian connections as well as access from both Manchester & Ballas.

— Steve Pattersin



Storefront Still Vacant A Decade Later, Tax Dollars Wasted?

September 7, 2012 Downtown, Featured, Retail 17 Comments

The Renaissance Hotel, Ballrooms and parking garage were built in 2002, a decade ago. Like most deals, it was complicated and players took fees off the top.  But tax money was also involved.

ABOVE: This storefront facing 9th Street has been vacant for years, no leasing information has been posted in the window.

The Missouri Development Finance Board was involved in the financing of the hotel and building the garage, from their 2003 annual report:

The decrease in operating income from 2002 to 2003 is primarily related to the decrease in loan and note receivable interest income from 2002 due to the pay off of the St. Louis Convention Center Hotel loan receivable. The St. Louis Convention Center Hotel loan’s outstanding balance as of June 30, 2002, was $13,455,000 with an interest rate of 9.5% with interest income of $1,753,225 and $759,329 earned in FY2002 and FY2003, respectively. Other considerations for the decrease in operating income are a decline in participation fee income of $179,540 and an increase in professional fees of $139,862 for FY2003.

I just find it curious when I go down 10th Street I see a thriving Stefano’s and an Edible Arrangements location on the west side of this building but on the east side, facing the hotel, a retail space remains empty — for a decade! Shouldn’t someone be trying to get this space leased? What must visitors think when they see this?

A restaurant with sidewalk dining would be nice, the building would provide shade for dinner. The city has the parking lane marked off as no parking, that’d need to change to lease this space. But how does it happen that no visible effort is made to lease a space for a decade?

— Steve Patterson




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