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Pyramid’s Sullivan Place Senior Housing An Anti-Urban Monstrosity

Pyramid, the company proposing a highly suburban McDonald’s for South Grand, has dumped an atrocious housing project on the city’s north side (map). Forget the high-profile loft projects downtown, Pyramid is making a name for themselves with suburban rubbish throughout our once urban neighborhoods.

Sullivan Place, named for Sullivan Street closed for this project, will be a 190-unit 55+ affordable housing project when completed. Half the project has been open for a few months yet lots of units remain available. No wonder, these “affordable” apartments run $511/month for a one-bedroom and $631/month for a two-bedroom. The income limit for a single person is $27,660 and $31,620 for a couple. Still, $511/month isn’t too bad depending upon what you get.

Well, the six one-bedroom floor plans range in size from 461 sq. ft. to 515 sq. ft. Both two-bedroom layouts are 634 sq. ft. Laundry facilities are down the hall — two per floor. Units have very basic finishes and do not include a dishwasher. The only luxury are two call for help devices — one in the bedroom and one in the bathroom. Residents are treated to a fortress-like security setup designed either to keep others out or the them inside.

These units range from $0.99 per square foot per month to $1.10 per square foot per month. The only thing making these even remotely affordable is the fact they are so miniscule in size. Not that everyone needs massive places to live but I have to wonder about the total project costs and how much we, as tax payers, underwrote this project.

Aside from the question of affordability is the suitability of the design for the neighborhood. In fact, I question the design for any location, even the most sprawling of suburbs. I will say, however, I have no objections to the material choices. I actually like that they didn’t try to make this some trumped up retro project (like Pyramid’s own King Louis Square at Tucker & Lafayette). No, the material selection and detailing is actually quite nice. It is the overall massing and site planning where this project goes into the unacceptable territory.

The project is massive, occupying a block and a half. Based on dimensions from Google Maps I estimated the site to be roughly 5.4 acres. With 190 units that works out to a low density of less than 36 units per acre. I might be willing to accept a low density if much of the parcel was some sort of monumental park or other community asset. But that didn’t happen here. Instead we have an X-plan with the east & west triangles for parking and the north & south triangles as sort of left over green.

sullivan_place - 09.jpgThe building is not an asset to the neighborhood. With its street setback, high fence, security gates and surveillance cameras it is clear Pyramid’s designers didn’t want to engage the area. Instead, the building retreats from having anything to do with the adjacent residences. Add some barb wire across the top of the fence and one might mistake this for a minimum security prison.

In other parts of the city developers are creating new housing which makes connections with the public sidewalk, thereby contributing to a sense of connectedness. Not here. Clearly, the folks at Pyramid simply don’t understand what a city and urban neighborhood are about. And based on the rents vs. size, they have a warped view of affordability.

The sad part is Pyramid wants to move the McDonald’s at Grand & Chippewa to the old Sears so they can build an 87-unit senior housing project on the current location. Where is the demand for those 55+ that earn less than $28K and want to pay $511 for a tiny place? I fail to see the logic here.

The Sullivan Place project is one of the most horrific projects in recent memory. In my mind, thought not even complete, this project will need to be razed if we hope to rebuild the neighborhood. I can’t imagine someone wanting to build or live adjacent to this generic geriatric penitentiary.

One can only assume that 5th Ward Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin approved of the plan. Perhaps she is having a contest with 15th Ward Alderwoman Jennifer Florida to see who can get away with the most suburban sprawl before getting recalled by voters? If so, Ford-Griffin will get lots of points for this one. Of course, Florida already has a rebuilt White Castle, a new Walgreens with excessive parking and the Gravois Plaza strip center under her belt without the proposed McDonald’s. They better watch out because 11th Ward Alderman Matt Villa’s Loughborough Commons project may trump them both. And they’re off…

But it is not the Aldermen that are designing and building these projects. For Sullivan Place the blame lies solely with John Steffen’s Pyramid Companies. I know many talented people that work at Pyramid but they are not the ones calling the shots. It seems Pyramid has a complete lack of leadership where it counts. I couldn’t sleep at night if I was the decision maker that determined this was what St. Louis needed.

Matt O’Leary, whom I’ve know for a number of years, is a Senior VP for Development but his territory is confined to downtown’s loft projects. Desiree Knapp, presumably another VP, is the person in charge of Pyramid’s neighborhood projects such as the nearly abandoned Keystone Place, the ugly King Louis Square, the proposed Grand McDonald’s and now Sullivan Place. In May of 2004 I met with O’Leary to see about working for Pyramid (taking Knapp’s place) but I don’t think he wanted to get involved in that side of the company so I never got a meeting with John Steffen. From the look of the resulting projects, O’Leary has kept a hands off approach. Too bad because I would have enjoyed doing some nice urban neighborhood projects with Pyramid. If by chance this post should make its way in front of Pyramid’s President, John Steffen: I’m available as an hourly consultant to help your staff evaluate future projects. Trust me, you need my help!

Pyramid enjoys a favored position with the Mayor and others. But their track record leaves much to be desired. Now is the time to unite and fight Pyramid’s anti-urban sprawl projects. Additional photos of Sullivan Place can be seen on Flickr.

– Steve


Proposed McDonald’s Siteplan Now Available Online

siteplan_thumb.jpgThanks to Missouri’s Sunshine Law I have obtained the site plan for the proposed McDonald’s on South Grand. To view a PDF version please click on the thumbnail to the right.

In reviewing the site plan we can see just how suburban this McDonald’s really is. Asphalt is the primary material on the 40,000 sq. ft. site as the building occupies only a small percentage of the total area. Forty-five regular and 2 handicap parking spaces cover much of the area. Judging by this much parking they must expect to far more popular than they are now.

Pedestrians are not given any consideration as they must walk in one of the three auto drives to get to the restaurant door. Heaven forbid someone in a wheelchair actually want to visit this McDonald’s as they must wheel all the way from the public sidewalk to the ramp on the south side of the building in the same path as cars going toward the drive-thur.

The site plan reveals two “monument” signs — one at Grand and one at Winnebego. No street trees are indicated along Winnebego and we are losing several tree spaces along Grand. No bike racks are indicated. This could not possibly be any more inappropriate for the City of St. Louis.

Ald. Jennifer Florida, in supporting this project, wrote:

“McDonald’s has been sensitive to including an urban architectural design, pedestrian friendly to the neighborhood.”

I’m not sure how Ms. Florida even remotely comes to this conclusion. What makes this, in her mind, as being urban in design or pedestrian-friendly? I’d hate to see her idea of something that is not urban and anti-pedestrian. I can come to only a few conclusions: either she is really stupid or she thinks we are. Well, I’m not stupid. I’m not buying your lines Jennifer.

Everyone involved in this project should be embarrassed for even suggesting such a thing in a fairly pedestrian area. Jennifer Florida should be laughed out of office. Mayor Slay should question why his staff hasn’t pulled the rug out from under this project. John Steffen of Pyramid should question the values of his own company if this is what they want to dump upon our neighborhoods.

– Steve


Urban McDonald’s in Chicago Could Serve as Model for St. Louis

mcd_chicago3.jpgFast food restaurants, with drive-thru lanes, can fit into an urban streetscape. But, the typical fast food establishment — surrounded by parking — just won’t due anyplace except out in suburbia.

A couple of years ago a McDonald’s on the NE corner of Chicago & State (map) in Chicago was completely replaced by the example shown at right. Architecturally it is no gem. The site planning, however, is a major departure from typical McDonald’s or other fast-food establishments.

This McDonald’s is on a corner site and includes a curb cut onto each street. It does not include any off-street parking, however, it does have a dual drive-thru lane. Cars enter the drive-thru from Chicago. The dual lanes keep traffic from backing up across the public sidewalk and into the street. Cars then make a left behind the building to pick up their orders, exiting onto State.

The corner of the site is an outdoor park/seating area. Customers can eat indoors, outside or take their order to go.

The franchise owner of the McDonald’s on south Grand in St. Louis has made it clear his business relies heavily on drive-thru service and they are seeking to increase that business by relocating. So why have 47 parking spaces? I can’t imagine they will need that many spaces. If the McDonald’s is going to relocate why not move the building to the corner of the site and reduce or eliminate off-street parking?

The McDonald’s in Chicago occupies roughly a third of the land area as the proposed McDonald’s on south Grand. The Chicago example will most likely will do a higher volume of business while occupying less space. That is what urban is all about — getting more from less land. I view the Chicago example as the very least that we should accept in St. Louis.

Photo from A Daily Dose of Architecture. Additional photos on Flickr.


Gravois Park Neighborhood Files Appeal in McDonald’s Drive-Thru

Gravois Park, the neighborhood to be impacted by a relocated McDonald’s on south Grand, has filed an appeal with the City of St. Louis over zoning approval of the drive-thru. Residents indicate this is against the wishes of the neighborhood and does not conform to the development plan for the area. At this point a hearing date has not been set.

The Gravois Park Neighborhood Association is meeting tonight at 6pm at St. Matthew United Church of Christ, 2613 Potomac St. at Jefferson Avenue. The McDonald’s will be discussed but it is only a part of the agenda.

Meanwhile residents in Florida’s backyard of Tower Grove Heights are talking about organizing to support Gravois Park in opposing the McDonald”s relocation. Sounds to me like the only one out of step is Ald. Florida herself. Makes you wonder what she has to gain by supporting something nobody wants?

– Steve


Urbanists Need to Stand Up To Ald. Florida on Future of Grand

It seems 15th Ward Alderwoman Jennifer Florida is upset a committee of the Dutchtown South Community Corporation opposed her new pet project, the relocation of a McDonald’s fast food restaurant. Her letter to the DSCC President Brian Bast and copied to the board:

I think it inappropriate for a subcommittee to oppose or support commercial development no South Grand, an area outside of your neighborhood association.

Appropriate process would prescribe a subcommittee making a recommendation to the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors would vote to make comment of support or opposition regarding development projects in your area. I assume you did not have the support of your Board. I question your process.

I disagree with your reasoning for opposing the overall development of South Grand. I am enclosing my testimony from the conditional use hearing regarding McDonald’s, February 16, 2006.

Oh, Bravo Ms. Florida. This all sounds good except you are in no position to question anyone’s process. As I reported earlier, Ald. Florida shows up at the committee meeting two days before the hearing on the subject without a site plan on the project. She instead attempts to divert attention to the glorious Southside National Bank project already underway. All the while she actually has a copy of the site plan with her but she doesn’t want to show it because she realizes nobody would be happy. And yet she questions the process of this committee?

The fact is the project was submitted to the city more than a month earlier and she had possession of the drawings. She had sufficient time to present full information to the Dutchtown board, but didn’t. The Board was aware the information would be presented to the committee just two days prior to the public hearing.

As far as being outside the neighborhood association that is technically true — by one city block. Dutchtown’s northern boundary is Chippewa, directly across the street from the current McDonald’s and just one block from the proposed site. The DSCC also serves part of the neighborhood known as Gravois Park — the neighborhood where the new McDonald’s is to be located. This is highly appropriate for Dutchtown to speak up.

What is questionable is the Grand-Oak Hill’s support of the relocated McDonald’s. You see, they’ll end up losing the current problem McDonald’s from their area. Also, one has to wonder how influenced they were in their support since they are heavily reliant on Ald. Florida for their operating funds. We also have to question the testimony of 25th Ward Committeewoman Maggie Lampe. She testified at the hearing about questioning Dutchtown’s process but failed to mention her job is funded by Ald. Florida.

Supporting Documents (PDF) for your review:

  • Dutchtown’s Letter
  • Ald. Florida’s Letter to Dutchtown
  • Ald. Florida’s Testimony at Hearing
  • For a counterpoint to Florida’s testimony please read Ald. Craig Schmid’s testimony from the same hearing.

    The residents in the area oppose a drive-thru restaurant on the site of the old Sears. They are part of the 15th Ward (Florida) and 20th Ward (Schmid). Remember that Schmid’s ward is a mere two blocks from the site and only a block from Dutchtown. Ald. Florida is pushing hard for this project over the objections of her constituents. The fact most of her constituents are near Tower Grove Park and probably are not that involved with this far edge of the ward is often overlooked.

    I ask that everyone reading this site email Jennifer Florida and tell her what you think of a low-density fast-food drive-thru in an urban area. If Florida is not your alderman I suggest you contact your alderman as well and tell them you don’t want them deferring to her on this subject. I also ask that everyone email Aldermanic President James Shrewsbury and Mayor Francis Slay. Until these officials hear from us they will continue with business as usual. Feel free to post the text of your emails in the comments section below for all to read.

    – Steve