What Should Replace the 1960s 7th Street Parking Garage?

 

  In 1961 the former Stix, Baer & Fuller department store began building a 900-car parking garage, attached to its downtown location via a skywalk over 7th Street. Six plus decades later the old Stix store contains apartments, hotel, a museum, and restaurants. The garage is now surrounded on 3 …

Recent Book — “Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It” by M. Nolan Gray

 

  Over a century ago a new idea called “zoning” began, intended to guide cities to grow in a less chaotic manner than they had until then. Reality, however, was very different. It’s time to let go, change. A recently published book explains the why & how. What if scrapping …

18th Anniversary of UrbanReviewSTL, Stage 4 Kidney Cancer Still “Stable”, Gathering Today Noon-2pm

 

  Eighteen years ago today I registered the domain UrbanReviewSTL.com and began blogging about urban planning in St. Louis. YouTube didn’t exist yet. Facebook was known as The Facebook, still limited to college students at many universities. My husband (m 2014) was barely a year out of high school. Some …

Former St. Liborius Church Complex Fits Beautifully in the Street Grid

 

  A major reason why I decided to make St. Louis my home back in August 1990 was the complex street grid and the buildings that neatly fit into it. One of the finest examples of fitting into our decidedly non-orthogonal street grid is the former St. Liborius Church complex, …

Recent Articles:

What Should Replace the 1960s 7th Street Parking Garage?

November 15, 2022 Downtown, Featured, Parking, Planning & Design Comments Off on What Should Replace the 1960s 7th Street Parking Garage?
 

In 1961 the former Stix, Baer & Fuller department store began building a 900-car parking garage, attached to its downtown location via a skywalk over 7th Street. Six plus decades later the old Stix store contains apartments, hotel, a museum, and restaurants. The garage is now surrounded on 3 sides by the convention center. The skyway connecting the two has been sealed for years. See 701 North 7th Street on Google Maps.

The dome can be seen un the background in this August 2010 image
Pedestrian entrance on North 7th Street
Damage to underside of floors, 2016

I’ve previously posted about this garage, see Privately-Owned Convention Center Parking Garage in Questionable Condition from May 2016. At the time I shared that post with convention & building inspection officials hoping to get them to take action, not just leave it to the private sector.

Recently the city was able to purchase it. There’s no funds in the current convention center expansion project, AC Next Gen, to replace the garage. It was inspected, condemned for use, and now being razed.

With ongoing demolition the circular ramp was visible from the street, November 11, 2022

It had a lot of open/unused area in the center, with a circular ramp popular at the time. The 2nd floor of the 1993 convention center expansion connected to a level in the back. A new garage would certainly be designed very different. Prior to the early 90s the garage occupied an entire city block (#166), surrounded by 7th, Convention Plaza (aka Delmar, Morgan), 8th. The soon to be vacant site has 196 feet of frontage along 7th Street, it is 270 feet deep.

3D view of the garage from Apple Maps
Aerial view, the skywalk was visible in the lower right. Apple Maps

Before the city rushes to fund & build a conventional new garage to fill the site I think it makes sense to explore alternative options. We are talking about a full city block, though closed on 3 sides.

Doing nothing, holding for the future, is always an option. Another is a modern conventional parking garage. Beyond that it’s possible some of the back of the site might be useful to the convention center. At the street it would be nice to see some active uses, perhaps a restaurant(s) on the upper. A rooftop patio, balconies, etc are all worth considering to enliven the street. Residential and/or office space probably wouldn’t work, though I’m always looking for places for more low-income accessible units.

I’d love to see any parking be automated. These take half as much land as a conventional garage with ramps & drive aisles consuming a lot of space. They do cost more per space, but depending on the design of using half the block for active uses other than parking static vehicles for hours at a time could make it worth the investment. Various designs and costs/benefits need to be reviewed — before a commitment is made!

Big benefits include no need for mechanical ventilation or 24/7 lighting interior, but fire suppression is still necessary. Vehicles would be secured against theft or break in, the roof could hold solar panels. My only reservation is how automated parking would do with large events, such as an XFL game at the dome. Not sure if EV charging is possible.

My point is this city blocked-sized parcel needs to be examined from today’s perspective looking forward 50 years (2023-2073).

— Steve Patterson

Recent Book — “Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It” by M. Nolan Gray

November 11, 2022 Books, Featured, Zoning Comments Off on Recent Book — “Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It” by M. Nolan Gray
 

Over a century ago a new idea called “zoning” began, intended to guide cities to grow in a less chaotic manner than they had until then. Reality, however, was very different. It’s time to let go, change.

book cover

A recently published book explains the why & how.

What if scrapping one flawed policy could bring US cities closer to addressing debilitating housing shortages, stunted growth and innovation, persistent racial and economic segregation, and car-dependent development?

It’s time for America to move beyond zoning, argues city planner M. Nolan Gray in Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It. With lively explanations and stories, Gray shows why zoning abolition is a necessary—if not sufficient—condition for building more affordable, vibrant, equitable, and sustainable cities.

The arbitrary lines of zoning maps across the country have come to dictate where Americans may live and work, forcing cities into a pattern of growth that is segregated and sprawling.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Reform is in the air, with cities and states across the country critically reevaluating zoning. In cities as diverse as Minneapolis, Fayetteville, and Hartford, the key pillars of zoning are under fire, with apartment bans being scrapped, minimum lot sizes dropping, and off-street parking requirements disappearing altogether. Some American cities—including Houston, America’s fourth-largest city—already make land-use planning work without zoning.

In Arbitrary Lines, Gray lays the groundwork for this ambitious cause by clearing up common confusions and myths about how American cities regulate growth and examining the major contemporary critiques of zoning. Gray sets out some of the efforts currently underway to reform zoning and charts how land-use regulation might work in the post-zoning American city.

Despite mounting interest, no single book has pulled these threads together for a popular audience. In Arbitrary Lines, Gray fills this gap by showing how zoning has failed to address even our most basic concerns about urban growth over the past century, and how we can think about a new way of planning a more affordable, prosperous, equitable, and sustainable American city. (Island Press)

St. Louis’ first city planner, Harland Bartholomew, a civil engineer, was big on zoning. His planning firm unfortunately helped hundreds of municipalities adopt zoning laws — including in St. Louis. This form of zoning is known now as used-based zoning based on how it separates everything into separate pods. No longer can a business owner build a new building with their apartment over their store — these uses must be separate. No longer can a 2-family residential building be near single-family detached houses — these must be separate.

The latter ended up being a way of keeping immigrant/people of color communities separated from white folks — because whites shouldn’t be subjected to living near anyone different than themselves.  Idyllic new suburbs, in their mind, meant all white — except for servants, of course.  This attitude wasn’t limited to just the Jim Crow south, northern cities joined in this more subtle form of housing discrimination.

The St. Louis region is a prime example — it’s one reason why we have so many tiny municipalities. Going forward we must change the status quo, otherwise the entire region will continue to suffer.

Gray’s book will help you understand the problems & solutions.

— Steve Patterson

18th Anniversary of UrbanReviewSTL, Stage 4 Kidney Cancer Still “Stable”, Gathering Today Noon-2pm

October 31, 2022 Featured, Site Info, Steve Patterson Comments Off on 18th Anniversary of UrbanReviewSTL, Stage 4 Kidney Cancer Still “Stable”, Gathering Today Noon-2pm
 

Eighteen years ago today I registered the domain UrbanReviewSTL.com and began blogging about urban planning in St. Louis. YouTube didn’t exist yet. Facebook was known as The Facebook, still limited to college students at many universities. My husband (m 2014) was barely a year out of high school. Some of you were still in school. I started this blog as a way to clear my head as my father recovered from a heart attack at the start of the month. 

It worked, allowing me to focus my thoughts. Still does.

Now, nearly two decades later, I have more ideas than energy to research, photograph, write, and publish them. Three years ago I disclosed I have cancer, I found out a couple of weeks later it was stage 4 kidney (renal cell carcinoma). I didn’t know what to expect in terms of life expectancy.  I’m very happy to still be alive, and doing well considering.

By well I mean handling the side effects okay. My days are now spent preparing & eating 7 small meals per day, plus 7 glasses of water — 1.5 liters each day. I take medications 4x per day, 5 on Mondays. I get an infusion of Nivolumab (Opdivo in commercials) every four weeks. The cancer medication I take each night, Cabozantinib, costs $22k per month. My Medicare plan covers most, a Siteman Cancer Center social worker gets grants to cover the $1,100 per month co-pay.  Numerous foundations exist solely to help cancer patients with medication co-pays.

I’m not complaining, I have it significantly better than many cancer patients. I’m sharing to explain why I haven’t blogged as much as I used to. But I have reprioritized my life to rest, work on my affairs & bucket list. I know my pricey treatment will eventually stop working, but I don’t know when. There are additional treatments to try at that point.

I hope to be around to celebrate this blog’s 20th anniversary in two years. The 25th anniversary in 2029 would be awesome, but not as likely.

Kaldi’s patio in Citygarden.

As previously announced I’m going to be available for outdoor gatherings. This afternoon I’ll be at Kaldi’s Coffee at Citygarden, 808 Chestnut, noon-2pm. If you don’t see me outside I may have had to go in to the restroom. Please stop by to chat. 

More will happen, weather permitting. I hope to find more outdoor locations near a restroom. I considered Forest Park, but the elevator at the Forest Park-DeBaliviere station is still out of service after historic flooding in July. Location suggestions welcomed.

— Steve Patterson

Former St. Liborius Church Complex Fits Beautifully in the Street Grid

October 21, 2022 Featured, History/Preservation, North City Comments Off on Former St. Liborius Church Complex Fits Beautifully in the Street Grid
 

A major reason why I decided to make St. Louis my home back in August 1990 was the complex street grid and the buildings that neatly fit into it. One of the finest examples of fitting into our decidedly non-orthogonal street grid is the former St. Liborius Church complex, bounded by Hogan, North Market & 18th streets. This is where two different grids collided (View in Google Maps).  When two grids of different orientations met the result was often awkward — this created very interesting buildings on non-rectangular sites. The views looking down streets as they bend into another grid alignment can be spectacular.

Looking east on North Market in September 2011. The former convent is in the center, the church on the right.

St. Liborius was a catholic parish founded by German immigrants on October 21, 1856 – 166 years ago today. In the 1850 census St. Louis had a population of 77,860 — that was a 372.8% increase over the 1840 census. By 1880 the population was 350,5218.

In March 1888 work on the foundation was underway, their existing church & school were a few blocks to the west. In June of that year it was reported the cost was $100,000 and “much of it was on hand.” In 2022 money that’s like $3.124 million!

“The church was completed in 1889. The rectory was built the following year and the convent was built in 1905. The School Sisters of Notre Dame taught in the parish school from 1859 to 1969. The parish buildings were declared a City Landmark in 1975 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.” (Wikipedia)

The year after the church opened the 1890 census showed the St. Louis population had grown to 451,770.

Let’s take a look at the church and surroundings in 1909.

The October 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the church, convent, and rectory –plus a school & other structures on the site. Only the 3 circled in green remain, everything else in this view is gone. Click image to view full page of the 1909 map. Pink is masonry, yellow is wood frame.

The 1910 population was 687,029. By this point the parish was more than half a century old, the sanctuary more than two decades. In late August I finally got up close to the buildings, and saw inside the sanctuary.

Getting closer we can see the front relationship between the convent and church
Around the north we see a brick wall where the school had been.
Inside the wall we see the large space between the sanctuary and convent.
The rectory faces 18th Street. With the grade change the 2nd floor of the rectory connects to the main floor of the back of the sanctuary. Great use of topography.
Back around near the front corner of the church we see the back of the rectory. Additional buildings were to the right in 1909.

In my 32+ years in St. Louis I’ve seen too many great 19th century buildings fall apart due to neglect & abandonment. I’ve feared the loss of these. But the former convent is owned by Karen House, a catholic worker house. The sanctuary & rectory are owned by SK8 Liborius — a skate park.

The interior of the church was stripped after closing in 1992. It’s great seeing indoor ramps in the space. Photo by David Frank.

The other use for an old sanctuary I’d like to see would be as a vertical hydroponics farm.

— Steve Patterson

I’m Now More Optimistic (Less Pesemistic?) About The Next NGA West Campus

October 18, 2022 Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Planning & Design Comments Off on I’m Now More Optimistic (Less Pesemistic?) About The Next NGA West Campus
 

A decade ago the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), located near Anheuser-Busch brewery, announced it intended to build a new campus. If you’re not familiar with the NGA here’s how they describe themselves:

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) delivers world-class geospatial intelligence that provides a decisive advantage to policymakers, military service members, intelligence professionals and first responders. 

Anyone who sails a U.S. ship, flies a U.S. aircraft, makes national policy decisions, fights wars, locates targets, responds to natural disasters, or even navigates with a cellphone relies on NGA. (NGA)

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The NGA site is a big chunk of the St. Louis Place neighborhood. The latest documents call it 97 acres, not 99 on this image used in a prior post.

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I just couldn’t see how building a large high security military facility was going to be a positive for the immediate area — people would drive in for work, maybe drive out for lunch, then drive home at night. Having seen the secure entrance to their current facility numerous times it’s not welcoming, nor pedestrian oriented.

Current NGA entrance, 2015

This February 2016 concept was prior to the final decision of the St. Louis Place site in April 2016

In the concept above we see structures in the center of the site, not edges — for security. In the very center is 7 separate buildings, with a parking garage to the north & south (left & right). If you’ve been watching the construction taking place you know NGA’s actual design is different than St. Louis’ concept rendering. Again, the concept above was part of the successful St. Louis effort to have the site at Jefferson & Cass selected.

Construction of a parking garage in September 2021, as seen from the #04 Metrobus

Last month us residents participating in the process to create new plans for the 6 neighborhoods around NGA (St. Louis Place, Old North, Hyde Park, JeffVanderLou, Carr Square, and Columbus Square) were invited on site for an open house.

The open house was at Gate 3, off of Cass Ave. There was a presentation in the parking area, then we got to go up into the viewing tower on the right for a better view. Yes, I slowly walked up the flight of steps.

Photography & video were not allowed, but we were given a site plan for the actual design. To my knowledge this is the first site plan the public has seen of this project.

Site plan distributed last month, click image to see a larger version.

Finally seeing what the NGA is actually building gives my some hope that it can potentially have a positive impact on the trajectory of North St. Louis. My concern had been this becoming a big barrier, especially once the intact street grid was erased. Well, it’s still a barrier but the employees within the grounds will have opportunities to come & go relatively easily as pedestrians. Hopefully this will translate to businesses east, south, and west of the site.

I was also concerned about a line of cars on Jefferson Ave to enter the site.

There will be two “Access control points” for those driving to work — one in the NW & SE corners of the site. Each has a curved drive to give cars room to queue up without blocking through traffic on Parnell or 22nd. This design also means vehicles can’t get a good straight run at trying to crash through the gate.  All cars entering the facility are examined, especially for explosives.

The inspection facility in the NW corner will allow trucks with deliveries to unload and leave out the alley on the north. Items will be inspected before being loaded onto a secure truck for delivery to the main building.

You can see a sidewalk out to Jefferson. The SW corner of the site is the intersection of Jefferson & Cass avenues. The security fencing will be set way back from Cass to allow a corner park/plaza space and visitor parking. A park that’s not behind a security fence? They’ll allow visitors?

A visitor’s center will be adjacent to the visitor parking. This center is where guests will go through security. Apparently the main building is compartmentalized such that visitors can be allowed in part without risking security in the remainder. It will have an outdoor courtyard in the center of the building.

The SE corner of the site (22nd & Cass) is the other access control point — accessed via 22nd Street, not Cass Ave. Along 22nd Street is where I hope to see businesses in the existing buildings, or maybe urban new construction. Perhaps places workers see driving in/out so they decide to walk to them at lunch.

I think 22nd & Cass will likely become a signalized intersection, possibly another at the other access point.  I use the #32 bus along Cass Ave at times so I’m curious about the nearest bus stop to Jefferson — right now the westbound bus stop is before 22nd Street, so a long distance from Jefferson. No bus stops are shown on the site plan. Across Cass Ave to the south is the mostly vacant former Pruitt-Igoe site. How this gets developed will determine the long-term success of the area. I hope we don’t get a free-standing Starbucks with or without a drive-thru.  A coffeehouse on the ground floor of a multi-story building on the SE corner of Cass & Jefferson would be great.

Knowing NGA employees can get in/out of the site pretty easy as a pedestrian is encouraging.  The construction will be finished in 2025, the NGA expects to relocate to this new facility in 2026.

— Steve Patterson

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