We Saved Money On Our Electric Bill By Switching Rate Plans

 

 For years there was no financial incentive to reduce electricity use during peak periods. Running the dryer &  air conditioning while cooking dinner at 5pm weekdays cost the same as doing them at other times.  With Ameren Missouri’s new smart meters and Tine of Use (TOU) rate plans reducing electric …

Mid-70s Downtown Office Tower Getting Needed 21st Century Update

 

 Office vacancy rates are high now, especially in downtown St. Louis. Office vacancy is up across the metro area, averaging 16.9% in the second quarter of 2021 compared with 11.8% in 2020. Rents for offices outside of downtown declined nearly 4% from the end of 2020 through the second quarter …

Jamestown Mall Site Part 2: Laying Groundwork For New Development Over The Coming 10+ Years

 

 Last week I outlined the problems with the vacant Jamestown Mall, its massive 144.51 acre site, and the surroundings. See Jamestown Mall Site Part 1: Analyzing the Site, Problems, and Options. When you look at the problems the solution becomes obvious. Problems > solutions include: Vacant 422,533 square feet enclosed …

Jamestown Mall Site Part 1: Analyzing the Site, Problems, and Options

 

 My blog posts about Jamestown Mall are few. In 2011 a poll followed by the poll results with a few thoughts. In 2016 I posted that it had been two years sine the mall permanently closed. My 2011 visit was done while the mall was open, I arrived via MetroBus …

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Smart Meter Installed, On A Time Of Use (TOU) Electric Plan

June 30, 2021 Environment, Featured Comments Off on Smart Meter Installed, On A Time Of Use (TOU) Electric Plan
 

In late April I posted about new electric meters, see Smart Electric Meters & Time Of Use (TOU) Rate Plans Coming To Ameren Missouri Customers. To summarize the new meters show energy use in 15 minute increments, allowing for different rates depending upon the time of the day, summer or winter.

Our new smart electric meter

At the start of this month, while I was traveling, our electric meter was changed.  I login to our Ameren account upon return and can see detailed reports on our use — hour by hour, and one every 15 minutes. I’m a data geek so I was loving it.

Our hour by hour report for Monday June 28, 2021. Looks like I forgot to adjust the a/c and turn off our dehumidifier before starting the dryer in the morning. Click image to see larger version.

I also saw I could change my rate plan, but only one other plan was available — so I picked it. The Evening/Morning Savers plan is only a slight variation from the Anytime plan, but half the day (9am-9pm) is considered peak. This plan began at the start of our current billing cycle, June 23rd.

I’ve been making sure I get our laundry into the dryer in time so it’ll be finished before 9am. I also reduced from 4 loads per week to 3, as the old 2 loads on Friday wasn’t going to happen before 9am.

We run our dishwasher without the heat dry feature because that’s a huge user of energy, we run it after 9pm. Also after 9pm we turn on our dehumidifier to run overnight.

Five days into our new rate plan I see we’re now eligible to sign up for any of the three “advanced” plans, including the one I wanted all along — Ultimate Savers. On July 26th we move to this plan.

The trick with this plan is the demand charge, the highest amount of energy used 6am-10pm daily is multiplied by a number. The demand charge is higher during the four summer months. So the peak period is only 3pm-7pm M-F (summer) but I can’t do two things at once or the demand charge will be higher.

If the demand charge gets too high our bill could be higher than if we had no savings plan at all. But I like a challenge.

Before the new plan begins late next month I’m going to take notes on when we use 1 and 2 burners on the stove, our countertop oven, dishwasher, etc. I want to see now much those consume versus air conditioning, clothes dryer, etc.  I think when I’m cooking or drying clothes I can have Siri set our smart thermostat to “away” mode so the air won’t come on. Regardless, I think I’ll end up with a number between 3-4 each month, just based on reports I’ve seen during our Saturday breakfasts (2 burners + countertop oven). I’d love a more energy efficient induction range, but that’s not going to happen.

Ameren is right, the advanced plans require more effort…at least more planning, scheduling. We may not save any money, but we’re certainly thinking about reducing our energy consumption during high-demand times.

— Steve Patterson

New Nature Playscape In Forest Park Is Great For Unstructured Play, Nature Lovers

June 24, 2021 Environment, Featured, Parks Comments Off on New Nature Playscape In Forest Park Is Great For Unstructured Play, Nature Lovers
 

One hundred forty-five years ago (6/24/1876) Forest Park opened to the public, a very large natural area at the time. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition (aka World’s Fair) opened a little less than 28 years later on April 30, 1904.

As a result, Forest Park was no longer natural, with a few exceptions like Kennedy Forest. Still when it was announced a few years ago that a “nature playscape” was to be built in a park I kinda laughed. Uh, a park outdoors is in nature. Like I said, the park no longer resembled nature.

This free new attraction opened June 2, 2021

This isn’t a playground as we know them, with swings, slides, etc. Instead it is a natural landscape designed for unstructured play.

Unstructured play is a category of play (as opposed to a type of play) in which children engage in open-ended play that has no specific learning objective. Unlike structured play, unstructured play is not instructor-led, so parents, teachers, and other adults do not give directions. It also does not have a particular strategy behind it.

Unstructured play is often informally referred to as simply “letting kids be kids” or “just play.” At times, you may also hear it called “free play” or self-play.”

As a kid I spent hours playing outdoors with my friends, but that was the 1970s when parents didn’t hover. Today’s kids are kept on a very short leash.

This new space, one of only a few nationally, is worth a visit.

The Anne O’C. Albrecht Nature Playscape is a 17-acre experiential play space with natural landscapes that include native and diverse species. Featuring nine distinct activity distinct activity areas, the free destination includes sand play areas, willow tunnels, stump steppers, boulders and rocks, hand water pumps and much more. The goal: Encourage visitors — especially kids — to connect with nature as they engage their senses as they explore, discover and learn. (Forest Park Forever)

Before I begin to explain why it’s worth a visit, let’s talk about where it is and now to get there. This new space is just southeast of the World’s Fair Pavilion, see PDF map. Photo of the site with the activity areas labeled here.

Ideally you’d take the #90 (Hampton) MetroBus like I did. There are bus stops for both northbound and southbound #90 buses very close on Concourse Drive (the street on the east side of the Zoo). Biking, walking, jogging, etc are also excellent ways to enter the park.
If you drive there is a variety of parking around the three entrances. Some is parallel on the road, others are diagonal on pervious surfaces. There is accessible parking at each entrance.

It’s 17 acres so it’s huge, but don’t expect to see big fancy entrance gates. There are no fences or gates, it’s just a free part of the park open for everyone during park hours.

The biggest of the 3 entrances is near the traffic circle near the Zoo & World’s Fair Pavilion. All 3 entrances have the wood post with a map of the layout.
Another entrance is close to the east side of the World’s Fair Pavilion.
The 3rd entrance is down the hillside on Carr Lane Drive.

All entrances have nearby car parking, bike racks, a map on the post, etc. Don’t look for any printed maps because they didn’t want the waste/trash. Year-round restrooms are in the World’s Fair Comfort Station, just south of the World’s Fair Pavilion — close to the first two entrances. Seasonal restrooms are also inside the 17 acre space, near the 3rd entrance. There is potable water for refilling water bottles as well as non-drinkable water near some activity zones to help clean the kids up, to wash off all the nature.

Ok, let’s go inside.

The main path, more than a mile long, is crushed stone. It was a good solid surface for my power wheelchair. Side paths are wood bark, which my chair also handled fine.
All the plants are native perennials, those new to the paths from containers (40k). Further away areas were seeded. The little sign asks that you not step onto the tender plants. Plants aren’t identified, this isn’t a botanical garden. However, my guide showed me a free app that will identify plants, animals, insects, fungi, etc. — click image for app info.
For the most part the topography of the 17-acre site wasn’t changed, so your view changes with every turn of the path.
At the top of a hill is a spring. OK, it’s not natural — a mechanical pump keeps the water flowing.
The water, naturally, flows downhill.
The wetlands area is apparently very popular.
The spring/wetlands becomes a dry stream at the bottom of the hill.
Play spaces vary in size. Seating on stones or logs for parents is around the perimeter. One pic I have with two kids playing had the dad right in there with them. I know it’s hard, but parents need to let their kids figure stuff out on their own. Just sit back and watch.

As a huge fan of native perennials I love the space, so much more rewarding than a formal space. Reminded me of hiking at Shaw Nature Reserve years ago, except accessible by public transit and wheelchair friendly. Seating is frequent and varied, with space for strollers and/or wheelchairs out of the path.

I want to return with my husband, and meet friends and their kids here. On my one recent visit those using the space didn’t appear to represent the wide ethnic diversity 0f the region, hopefully that’ll change.

I saw couples without kids using this for their walk/exercise, so don’t think you need kids to show up. If you’ve got young kids, nieces/nephews, cousins, etc please bring them here for a visit. Happy 145th birthday to Forest Park!

— Steve Patterson

Mid-Century Modern vs. 21st Century Density

June 17, 2021 Central West End, Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design, Real Estate Comments Off on Mid-Century Modern vs. 21st Century Density
 

A developer has proposed a new apartment building that was require the demolition of a mid-century modern (MCM) building. I’ve been watching the debate of preservation of MCM verses increased density on Twitter & Facebook. I want to weight in, but first some background.

The non-profit service group Optimist International was founded elsewhere more than a century ago. In 1924 St. Louis was selected as the location for its worldwide headquarters. Decades later their 2-story building at 4494 Lindell (@ Taylor) was designed by local architects Schwartz & Van Hoefen.

Optimists International’s headquarters at 4494 Lindell was dedicated at 3pm on Sunday June 17, 1962 — 59 years ago today. Previously they were located in the Railway Exchange building, Image from May 2014

Schwartz & Van Hoefen is also known for:

  • Marchetti Towers I & II, SLU campus.
  • Mansion House, 4th Street downtown.
  • Council Plaza, which included a “flying saucer” gas station (later various places like Naugles & Del Taco, now a Starbucks & Chipotle)
  • Northland Cinema (demolished)
  • Busch Stadium II (local architect, demolished)
Optimist International has formally listed their property for sale a number of years ago, it includes the slightly taller building next door. Photo from May 2021.

There have been numerous proposals for the property, including one for renovated and updated office space. The most recent, announced last week, calls for demolition of the original 2-story building and late 70s 4-story addition. In their place a new 7-story apartment building.

This recent proposal is what got people fiercely debating, falling roughly into 3 camps: we need to preserve our few remaining mid-century modern buildings, more density is good, and preservation focus should be on saving 19th century buildings. This is a generalization of their points so let’s get into some specifics.

This view shows the Taylor side of the proposal.

Many see an artist’s rendering of a proposed project from a bird’s eye and get all excited. From this vantage point artists can make anything look good — they could make the workhouse look like a lush resort.  Humans, however, don’t experience the built environment from a bird’s viewpoint.

Those on the side of preservation of Optimist International are correct that increasingly we’re seeing MCM buildings being razed, especially in the Central West End. Last century these MCM buildings were seen as important symbols of reinvestment as the wealthy began to flee the city, as Gaslight Square began to fade.

One disputed point is “architectural merit”, I’m not qualified to argue for or against on this particular building. However, from the Mansion House nomination to the National Register of Historic Places I can learn about the firm responsible:

The firm of Schwarz & Van Hoefen was a midcentury incarnation of one of the longest-running continuously operating firms in St. Louis. It began in 1900 as Mauran, Russell & Garden when three architects broke away from the St. Louis office of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge (which was set up locally as Shepley, Rutan, Coolidge, and Mauran). John Lawrence Mauran brought along two younger colleagues, Ernest Russell and Edward Garden, and the firm almost immediately received several important commissions. Ned Garden left the firm in 1909, to be replaced by William Crowell in 1911. After Mauran’s death in 1933, Russell & Crowell added W.Oscar Mullgardt.

By the mid-20 century, more than half a century into its existence, the partnership remained one of the leading architectural firms in St. Louis. Esley Hamilton wrote that in the 1950s and 60s, the firm “was unusual in maintaining its design flare while working on large commercial projects. The firm completed many architecturally significant works during this period. In addition to the Mansion House, four of their other projects were recommended for National Register listing in the City of St. Louis’ Modern Movements survey of 2013.

This means that 1/5 of the 25 properties on the list were by the various iterations of this single partnership, more than any on other firm on the list.

The four other buildings on the list are as follows. The Wohl Recreation Center (1959) at 1515 N. Kingshighway Boulevard is a glass-skinned neighborhood recreation center commissioned by the City of St. Louis. The Engineers Club of St. Louis (1959) at 4359 Lindell Boulevard is a low-rise addition to the emerging Modernist corridor; its use of traditional masonry and playful forms is very striking. The original two-story section of the Optimist Building (1961, 4490-94 Lindell Boulevard), a block to the west of the Engineers Club, has an exposed concrete frame.[Emphasis added] Finally, the Steinberg Art Gallery Building at Washington University was a collaboration between the partnership and architect Fumihiko Maki, who is credited with the design (1960, 6201-53 Forsyth Blvd.)

In addition to the buildings recommended for listing in the City’s Modernism survey, the partnership of Schwarz & Van Hoefen designed many other important buildings in St. Louis. Among the most visible is Council Plaza, which consists of two towers and two smaller buildings located at 212 – 310 S. Grand Boulevard (NRHP 3/02/2007).

So the architectural firm is an important part of our history. The city’s modern architecture page includes the survey mentioned above, which lists the Optimist International property as significant and worthy of individual listing. The list only contains 25 properties. So one of the two buildings is architecturally significant. Saying otherwise ignores the established record.

I love density, but it’s also correct that the Central West End isn’t where we need to be building more density. That said, I do like that the proposed apartment building includes small studio apartments. If only new CWE residential projects included some affordable and low-income units — they are not the same thing. An alternative is paying into a fund the help building units elsewhere in the city. Elsewhere means cheaper, less desirable neighborhoods…like where I’ve lived for before and for the last 2+ years.

One pro-preservation argument I saw said the Optimist International building was urban, in line with adjacent properties. Well, yes and no. It’s not set back behind a surface parking lot and the entrance clearly fronts onto the primary street.   The Lindell facade respects the established building line, the Taylor side is a set further back than the slightly older Grant Medical Clinic at 114 N. Taylor, designed by Harris Armstrong. In addition to being set back further than other buildings a low stone wall & raised lawn separates the building from the Taylor facade.  As a result of the design, the Taylor side has zero activity/openings/entrances. This is not urban form.

Looking south you can see the substantial setback behind the raised lawn. The low wall is the established building line along Taylor.

The proposed 7-story apartment building would be built out to the building line, not set back. It would have have a few retail storefront spaces right off the Taylor sidewalk. Balconies would also face Taylor, the common pool area also faces Taylor. I believe Taylor Ave would be more active and interesting with the proposed building, compared with the existing.

I do think we need to save our architectural history from all centuries. Both 19th & 20th century buildings are threatened, often for different reasons. While I love clean 20th century modernism it often is a negative to the urban experience. Claiming MCM buildings are urban is just as disingenuous as those who say the Optimist International building has no architectural merit.

In the event the current proposal falls through, I could see a reuse project where the 1979 4-story addition is replaced by a taller tower with west-facing balconies. A few storefronts or entrances are carefully cut into the Taylor facade. with a section of lawn & wall removed to create an entrance to each. Cafe tables with umbrellas would look great. Maybe the main building has storefronts, residential lobby on the ground floor and structured parking on the upper floor? New residential units would all be in the new tower to the east. The roof of the old building could be a green roof with outdoor seating, activities.

— Steve Patterson

 

Long-Vacant Retail Space Now A Police Substation

June 14, 2021 Crime, Downtown, Featured, Retail Comments Off on Long-Vacant Retail Space Now A Police Substation
 

In October 2012 I posted about a state-owned retail space used rent-free for hotel storage (see Hotel Has Used State-Owned Retail Storefront Rent-Free For A Decade). In August 2013 it was finally ready to lease — the space was emptied and a “for lease” sign in the window. It wasn’t long before the sign was gone, I guess everyone just gave up.

It has been vacant until recently. The space isn’t numbered, but it’s on N 9th between Locust St and Washington Ave.

The long-vacant storefront is now marked as a police substation.
The vacant space in August 2012, the paper hid hotel furniture being stored here.
In December 18th the furniture stored inside for years was being moved out.
In August 2013 the space was listed with a commercial broker.

The downtown police unit has a space two blocks south, at 215 N 9th St.

I have yet to see police enter or exit the new substation.

— Steve Patterson

Few Exposed Brick Pavers Covered With Asphalt

June 10, 2021 Featured, North City, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on Few Exposed Brick Pavers Covered With Asphalt
 

Most older streets in St. Louis were paved in cobblestones or paver bricks, few exist anymore.  Asphalt paving is significantly smoother, just far less attractive. In 1953 the Cochran Gardens high rise public housing complex opened, but construction closed off 8th Street between O’Fallon Street and the alley south of Cass Avenue. Eighth Street was reopened when the high rise towers were replaced with the mixed-income Cambridge Heights townhouses & apartments, except 8th wasn’t connected through to the little stub of a street to Cass.

This October 2, 2019 view is looking south on 8th from Cass. You can see the land just after the alley, Cambridge Heights, and the downtown skyline on the horizon. In the foreground you can see brick pavers. It looked like it had been paved over decades ago, but most was long gone so the old bricks were exposed.
On May 5th I returned home tfrom a press conference at the Chain of Rocks water treatment plant to see city crews paving over the small amount of bricks.
Closer view
A couple of days later I went back to see the finished results.The concrete in the foreground was part of the new river bridge project, when Cass was raised in height over the interstate.

This half block of 8th Street gets very little traffic, the uniformity of the asphalt paving does look better than it did with patches of old asphalt and broken bricks. This is better, but I still miss seeing the bricks.

— Steve Patterson

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