How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population

 

 The 2020 Census results results for St. Louis showed what I had predicted, the bulk of our population loss came from northside wards.  This was also true in 2010 and in 2020. No reason to think 2030 won’t be more of the same. We can sit back and do nothing, …

St. Louis’ Dr Martin Luther King Drive 2022

 

 Today’s post is a look at Martin Luther King Jr  Drive in the City of St. Louis — my 18th annual such post. As in the 17 times prior, I traveled the length in both directions looking for changes from the previous year. Not much has changed since MLK Day …

Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags

 

 Joey Pennywise sold widgets and wanted to increase sales. To do this Pennywise thought to buy 5 smart outfits to standout from generic & common widget salespersons. But Pennywise didn’t have the funds to buy the desired outfits.  Pennywise likes all things vintage and knows used outfits can be purchased …

Some Highlights of 2021 in Saint Louis

 

 It’s the last day of twenty twenty-one, so here’s a look back at the year in St. Louis. This isn’t a complete list, just some highlights — not in chronological order. Many things from 2020 continued into 2021. The most obvious is the COVID-19 pandemic.  Hospitals were often operating beyond …

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How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population

January 20, 2022 Environment, Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population
 
Graphic from November 2020 post showing area predicted to have population loss.

The 2020 Census results results for St. Louis showed what I had predicted, the bulk of our population loss came from northside wards.  This was also true in 2010 and in 2020. No reason to think 2030 won’t be more of the same. We can sit back and do nothing, or we can help manage the situation — possibly reducing some losses in future.

By mange I mean see where population is dropping more than in other areas. We can’t just write of a third of our geographic area. I propose a group comprised of experts, residents, business owners, etc to examine data and evaluate possible solutions.

Here is some of the data I’d like to see on a big map(s):

  • Population by age & race
  • Parcels of land being used (water connection) vs unused.
  • Parcels of land with new or substantially renovated structures vs severally deteriorated, condemned, or vacant.
  • Parcels of land owned by the city, out of state owners, owner-occupied, LLC, .
  • Historic properties, sites.
  • Schools, current & former.
  • Employers and numbers of employees
  • Crime
  • Topography
  • Probably other criteria as well…

Since north city is not declining uniformly we need to see which parts that are doing better than others. Is this because 0f newer housing?  Access to transit?  All we know at this point is some blocks are stable and occupied while others are rapidly declining. Mapped data can tell us a lot, people on the ground familiar with their area can confirm or dispute what the data tells us. Get everyone on the same page, then reassess every few years and make adjustments as circumstances change for better or worse.

What we all need to accept is that it’s very unlikely these neighborhoods will see a major population growth. Ever. Thus some land can be returned to nature, used for agriculture, etc. The maps will show us the least populated areas with the worst housing stock — contrasted with pockets of denser areas with housing unlikely to be abandoned this decade. I’m not talking about large areas the size of Pruitt-Igoe, NGA-West, or Fairgrounds Park. It might be possible that smaller nature areas could be linked together by a trail system. A few great vacant school buildings not reused for residential might get filled with hydroponics to grow produce.

The major corridors like MLK, Page, Natural Bridge, Kingshighway, Grand, etc should remain. Many connecting streets would also remain. However, it’s possible in some areas we might be able to justify removing unoccupied streets and alleys. As St. Louis begins to look at replacing lead water supply lines those areas that’ll benefit most from the infrastructure investment should get priority over areas that can be back to nature by 2030. Old water & sewer lines might get abandoned completely in isolated areas.

The goal isn’t to cut off services to existing residents, but to use resources to strengthen and grow the existing strong pockets. On a block with say only one resident we can wait until that person moves or dies of old age. The children of longtime residents aren’t really interested in moving into the house their relative refused to leave. Conversely, a nice block with one newly-abandoned house needs help to make sure that one house gets maintenance and reoccupied as soon as possible. Quickly reoccupying a vacant building helps prevent others on the block from also being abandoned.

An example of a strong pocket would be MLK & Burd Ave. You’ve the Friendly Temple church and Arlington Grove housing (new housing around a renovated school that’s also housing). Substantial investment has been made, and this is home to many. We can reinforce the positives and look to expand upon that a block at a time.

Former Arlington School has been residential since 2013
Aerial after construction completed. Image: Google Maps

Just north of this pocket is a largely vacant area, part of the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood that has gotten attention for mass demolitions. Other bright spots throughout north St. Louis include numerous tree-lined streets with well-maintained houses — it’s just hard for everyone to see & appreciate the them with so much decay. Whenever I see people wanting to raze vacant “problem” buildings I do get upset, because tearing down buildings in a random manner doesn’t improve neighborhoods for the long-term. It simply removes the current problem while likely speeding up others being abandoned as neighboring  owners/residents die or move.  By designating different areas for bright spot village and others as moving back toward nature we can reduce fights over razing vs preservation. I can even imagine a decent house in an area set to become nature/agriculture –it might be kept as basically a farmhouse. It wouldn’t necessarily be razed, just reimagined.

Along the way we can reevaluate I-70, an old interstate that winds its way through north city. Can we minimize this as a separating barrier in spots? Can we create areas for interstate drivers to pull off and get a bite to eat while their battery electric vehicle (BEV) charges?

One spot I see as the center of a future village is the intersection of Grand & North Florissant. That’s in part of 2 current neighborhoods, with a 3rd very close. It should be the very center of a thriving area.Why here? The intersection of two corridors should be treated as special. Both Grand and North Florissant are angled toward each other, so a person living or working here can pick either corridor to travel south — southeast on North Florissant or Southwest on Grand. Thanks to the odd street grid they have easy direct access to different parts of the city. Going northwest on North Florissant will eventually get them into St. Louis County.

By 2050 I see north St. Louis as being dotted with nice little villages, with nature in between. Primary corridors will be a line of density with restaurants, retail, offices, and multi-family housing. Rail &/or rubber tire public transit will connect these villages to each other and the larger city & region. I see walking & biking within and between villages.  I see jobs growing produce outside and indoors, more jobs along the corridors.  I see trees — thousands of them providing some relief from increased temperatures. The major corridors will be tree-lined, many new nature areas will become forests. I see all races, proportional to the mix in the population. Some villages, like The Ville, are predominantly black (75%, not 100%) with strong black-owned businesses. Again I’m talking 30 years, not 3.

What I don’t see are big surface parking lots for big box chain stores. I also don’t see blocks and blocks of obvious vacant residential buildings/lots.

St. Louis should use some of the money from the NFL to kick start the planning process to examine north St. Louis as I’ve described — taking stock and what we have (and don’t have) and then collectively finding solutions to change the trajectory. In the process others could come up with better ideas.

— Steve Patterson

St. Louis’ Dr Martin Luther King Drive 2022

January 17, 2022 Featured, History/Preservation, MLK Jr. Drive, North City Comments Off on St. Louis’ Dr Martin Luther King Drive 2022
 

Today’s post is a look at Martin Luther King Jr  Drive in the City of St. Louis — my 18th annual such post. As in the 17 times prior, I traveled the length in both directions looking for changes from the previous year.

Streetsign

Not much has changed since MLK Day 2021 but I’ll detail them later. First I want to address how the street gots it name, and when. After Dr  King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 some cities began almost immediately to rename major streets in his honor. St. Louis took four years.

In 2017 I quoted the following 2013 post on Facebook:

Stl250
February 17, 2013 

This Day in St. Louis History, February 17, 1972:
Martin Luther King Boulevard is dedicated
A Board of Aldermen bill was passed that changed the name of Easton Avenue and portions of Franklin Avenue to Martin Luther King Boulevard. Alderman C.B. Broussard was a primary sponsor, and he announced that the change was part of a nationwide organized drive to rename streets in honor of the murdered civil rights figure.

Sounds good, but in fact-checking I discovered it is partly inaccurate. I should’ve checked the accuracy in 2017. “Dedicated” implies an event, media, long-winded speeches, and big scissors to cut a ribbon — which did not occur.

Here’s what really happened:

  • February 18, 1972: A bill was introduced to rename part of Franklin  Avenue and all of Easton Avenue. (Post-Dispatch 2/19/1972 P7)
  • March 21, 1972: Board of Aldermen gave final approval to bill 20-2 earlier in the day. (Post-Dispatch 3/21/1972 P27)
  • Spokesperson for Mayor Cervantes said he would sign the bill the following week. (Post-Dispatch 3/31/1972 P19)
  • Post-Dispatch editorial expressed “reservations” about renaming Franklin & Easton for Dr. King. They weren’t sure it was a worthy honor. They favored a new park or boulevard. (Post-Dispatch 4/2/1972 P108)
  • East St. Louis mayor James E. Williams Sr. announced his city would rename the Veterans Memorial Bridge and Illinois Ave to honor Dr. King. This would mean a person could travel from the east limits of East St. Louis to the west limits of St. Louis on roads honoring Dr. King (Post-Dispatch 4/11/1972)

After the official change before businesses changed their letterhead, and the public continued to use the old names. Unfortunately it was only a few years after MLK was honored through East St. Louis IL and Saint Louis that construction began on a convention center, closing two blocks of King Blvd between 7th and 9th. D’oh!

Ok, let’s start on the east end and heading west.

On MLK, facing west toward Tucker Blvd. On the right is the former Post-Dispatch building, now housing the St. Louis offices of digital payment company Square. On the left is Interco Plaza. This block is now one-way westbound.
Interco Plaza, a public park, after being “closed for renovation” in September 2021 as a way of relocating the unhoused that had set up camp. The background is St. Patrick Center, a non-profit organized to “combat homelessness.” This public park has not yet reopened to the public.
A year ago I mentioned the old buildings that were razed on MLK just east of 14th. Now we have a surface parking lot with zero fencing, landscaping, trees, etc. Plus a new driveway. Why do hip tech businesses locate in downtowns if they don’t want to design for downtowns?
Imo’s Pizza is adding onto the east side of their headquarters/warehouse. 16th Street has been closed to vehicles and pedestrians for years — a subtle way to say “keep out” to north side who want to enter the more prosperous Downtown West neighborhood.
Hard to see in this photo, but clear plastic bottles have been put into the holes in a chainlink fence. I found it interesting. NW corner of MLK & Vandeventer.
Last month the non-profit Dismas House announced it bought the former 15-acre Killark Electric Manufacturing property at 3940 MLK.
Liked the 100k SF building for many years, not a fan of the replacement windows that were installed decades ago. Killark first leased the site in 1918, not sure when they bought it or built this building.
“KILLARK ELECTRIC MFG CO.” is in stone at the top of the main building. City records list 8 buildings on the site, but I can only see records for six. Of the 6, the oldest is from 1892 and the newest is 1966.
The glass-enclosed entry doesn’t look original, but it has been in place as long as I can recall.
From MLK I could see a community garden at Sarah & Evans. Click image to see Good Life Growing’s website.
More bricks have fallen off the front of 4277 MLK.
4749 MLK has looked bad for years, but thankfully it has been getting some stabilization.
4859 MLK has also looked bad for a long time, noticed a little bit of the side wall has collapsed. 4961 next door is also in poor condition. The building on the left is privately owned, right is owned by the LRA. Both were built in 1905.
The setback building at 4973 MLK, just east of Kingshighway, has been mostly finished for many years. New this year is temporary construction fencing. The side lot out to Kingshighway has been disturbed recently.
5084 MLK is now a Moorish Science temple.
The nice composition of buildings at 5700+ MLK still look stable.
5736 MLK is a medical cannabis dispensary, or will be once it actually opens — click the image to view their currently bare bones website. The space next door is a meeting/event space. Both very positive in an area short on good news.
Just west of Goodfellow we see one unit worse than the others.
Floors and the roof are gone, accelerating deterioration of the brick walls. 5810 MLK
5861 MLK, built in 1907, is showing some wear. The stone plaque over the center doors says it’s the “Kinsey Building”.
The former JC Penny department store at 5930 is still standing. Would love to see this building renovated and occupied.
The buildings across the street may not survive as long. The gap is where a building was lost in 2020.
The famous Wellston Loop transit building continues being exposed to the elements.
The west side is no better.
The sidewalk between Irving Ave and Kienlen Ave was just replaced. This is in Wellston — St. Louis County, just beyond the St. Louis city limits.

Like previous years a few bright spots, mostly depressing decay.

— Steve Patterson

 

Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags

January 6, 2022 Featured, Local Business, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Retail, Taxes, Transportation Comments Off on Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags
 
The green car over the service pit is a Melbourne car from Seattle

Joey Pennywise sold widgets and wanted to increase sales. To do this Pennywise thought to buy 5 smart outfits to standout from generic & common widget salespersons. But Pennywise didn’t have the funds to buy the desired outfits.  Pennywise likes all things vintage and knows used outfits can be purchased much cheaper than those fancy new European outfits. Even after good cleaning and a tailor having to rework each outfit it’ll be cheaper ($3,700 vs $10,000).

This is where frequently generous uncle Samuel Moneybags enters the picture. Pennywise asks Uncle Sam for the money to buy five really nice game-changing used outfits. Uncle Sam grants Pennywise the requested $3,700.

All of Pennywise’s friends thought it would be better to get brand new outfits, even though they cost substantially more initially. They warned the continued cost to repair seams, replace buttons, fix zippers, etc would be easier to live with. Plus, they thought their friend should get something that’s fashionable now, not something worn many generations ago. Something better suited to the needs of the 21st century widget salesperson, not one from a century ago. The widget game just is different than it was more than a century ago.

After purchasing the used outfits Pennywise had them cleaned and altered to fit. Looked just like a widget salesperson from 1915. Additionally Pennywise got a new closet organizer to keep the outfits neat and ready.

Initially everyone was supportive, but Pennywise was often late to meetings because of wardrobe malfunctions. Plus walking in century-old shoes wasn’t nearly as fast as new sneakers. Still, sales the first few days were great, but then they dropped off considerably. Pennywise couldn’t afford to keep up with the expensive dry cleaning and fixing fragile threads. After failed attempts to get additional funds from uncle Sam, Pennywise reduced how often the vintage outfits were worn.  Until it was zero times per week.

Friends suggested Pennywise invest in the cleaning & repair costs, but there was no money left. So the expensive outfits hung in the beautiful new closet not getting used. Pennywise was still proud of the fact these outfits cost a fraction of what new outfits would have. The irony was lost on Pennywise.

Friends, miraculously all fans of Marie Kondo, said to wear them or give them up. “Sunk cost” proclaimed some friends advocating for getting rid of them. “They money has already been spent, spending even more isn’t going to change that,” they’d say. Over and over.

Meanwhile, Pennywise inherited a bunch of money from another relative, the family blacksheep Stanley K. Pennywise wasn’t sure if any of the new money should be invested in the vintage outfits taking up space in the closet. Pennywise surveyed friends and a majority said to use the funds for other needs, like sourcing better widgets. “Sunk cost!” Blah..blah…blah…

Then uncle Sam said if Pennywise doesn’t begin wearing the outfits soon they initial outlay would need to be returned. If not, small claims court to recover, no new requests will be considered. None. Pennywise depends on the generosity of uncle Sam,  but isn’t sure how to decide what to do.  The now-angry mob of friends begin chanting “SUNK COSTS!”, but this doesn’t help Pennywise reach a conclusive decision that will make everyone happy — especially rich uncle Sam.

Finally one friend (named Bla Gher) came forward, disclosing initial preference for more expensive modern outfits and opposition to vintage outfits, offered some additional accounting terms nobody had yet considered.

“Relevant costs” and Incremental analysis” Bla Gher said enthusiastically.  One friend in the group quickly stood and said “Sunk Costs!”  as others nodded in agreement without fully understanding any off the terms. Bla Gher explained that sunk costs are funds already spent that can’t be recovered, incremental analysis is a process of looking at all options and comparing the relevant costs — since sunk costs are, sunk, they’re not relative to the current discussion about figuring out what to do next.

Bla Gher repeated: the initial $3,700 cost of the outfits is no longer relevant to discussing future options.

Gher then outlined Pennywise’s possible options, all to be priced and evaluated:

  1. Do nothing: Leave the outfits in the closet to collect dust. Don’t take any angry calls from uncle Sam, accept that previous generosity has just ended. Set aside $3,700 plus fees in case you lose in court.
  2. Reduce sunk amount: Auction the vintage outfits, use that recovered money to remake the closet so it looks like it did before. Also sell all sewing machines, steam irons, bolts of fabric, buttons, etc.  And, like above, don’t take any angry calls from uncle Sam, accept that previous generosity has just ended. Set aside $3,700 plus fees in case you lose in court.
  3. Double down: Rather than the small amount to cover cleaning and repairs for a short while, put $3,700 from uncle Stanley into adding more vintage outfits so Pennywise can be seen only in a vintage outfit. Seven days a week, morning to evening. For analysis purposes, estimate if this would impress widget buyers enough to justify the additional expense.
  4. Mix & match: determine if anything, such as the closet, platform shoes, etc could still be used with those sexy modern European outfits. If so, Pennywise could expand the sales territory — serving the needs of more widget buyers and users. Funds to do this can come from $3,700+ of the money from uncle Stanley, and possibly more from uncle Sam! However, Joey Pennywise should no longer be involved in outfit decisions.

Bla Gher doesn’t know which of the above is the best option as the pricing and analysis hasn’t been done.

The End.

— Steve “Bla Gher” Patterson

Bla Gher concluded by saying until the above options (and any others) are impartiality analyzed there is no good way to know which option is best.

Some Highlights of 2021 in Saint Louis

December 31, 2021 Featured Comments Off on Some Highlights of 2021 in Saint Louis
 

It’s the last day of twenty twenty-one, so here’s a look back at the year in St. Louis. This isn’t a complete list, just some highlights — not in chronological order.

Many things from 2020 continued into 2021. The most obvious is the COVID-19 pandemic.  Hospitals were often operating beyond official capacity throughout the year. Last year’s debates about mask mandates were joined by debates about vaccines. In case you missed any of these debates don’t worry…they’re going to continue in 2022. Possibly 2023.

Some downtown St. Louis nightclubs were forcibly closed after repeatedly violating Covid health orders, another after frequent violence in and around it.

Nature Playscape opened in Forest Park, for kids of all ages.
The Missouri Botanical Garden began razing their visitors center, a new one is being constructed. The old (1980s?) visitors center (above) required a change of level to actually visit the gardens, the new one won’t require a staircase or elevator. Yay!
The new MLS stadium, started in 2020, continued throughout this year.  The stadium (left) will be finished in 2022, the St Louis City SC will begin playing in 2023.
New this year was a few old buildings east of the stadium coming down. This land has been combined with a couple of huge surface parking lots — a new multi-level parking garage will fully occupy the block bounded by 20th, Olive, 19th, and Pine. Street-level uses will hopefully keep it active every day, even when there’s no soccer match or other event at the unnamed stadium.
Largely because of Major League Soccer coming to the downtown west neighborhood, a developer bought the massive & vacant Butler Brothers warehouse a few blocks to the east. Will be very nice to see this renovated and occupied.
Activist Cori Bush, elected to congress in November 2020, was sworn into office as Missouri’s representative in the first district. Cori Bush (left) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (right) in 2018.
The St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners is on the first floor at 300 N. Tucker (@ Olive)

St. Louis held its first nonpartisan preference election in March of 2021, with the top two primary candidates in each local race going to the general election. Treasurer Tishaura Jones and alderwoman Care Spencer, both progressives, came out on top in the 4-way primary. Jones was elected mayor. Mayor Jones vetoed development legislation that included too many tax incentives. In the 5th ward aldermanic race newcomer James Page defeated incumbent Tammika Hubbard.

Loop Trolley 001, November 2018

In the Delmar Loop shopping & entertainment district the Loop Trolley was dormant the entire year, ceasing at the end of December 2020. An effort to get funding failed and the feds want a refund if the vintage trolley cars aren’t rolling by the summer of 2022. Also in the Loop, the Tivoli Theater sold to a church.

Saint Louis University announced plans to sell a parking lot on Grand at Lafayette to QuikTrip. The city had foolishly granted SLU development rights for the area.

Three Illinois metro-east cities merged: Alorton, Cahokia, and Centerville became Cahokia Heights. The region still has far too many separate units of government.

Tower Grove Park announced plans to daylight a stream that have been in a culvert for decades.

Missouri’s gas tax increased — a first in many years. Missouri still has low fuel taxes.

Larry Giles, founder of the National Building Arts Center, died.

Afghan refugees arrived in St. Louis, hoping to restart their lives here.

This year was the 40th anniversary of the movie Escape from New York — filmed in St. Louis. The film, starring Kurt Russel, used the St. Louis streets around vacant warehouses, a vacant Union Station, and a closed Chain of Rocks Bridge as the setting for post-apocalyptic New York in 1997.

City Foundry St. Louis officially opened with a food hall, grocery store. A theater is coming as are new buildings on the west end of the 15 acre site. Inside the 1930s Century Electric foundry, now a food hall.
City-level data from the 2020 census was released later than usual due to the pandemic. The city population was officially 301,578. A previous citizen vote approved cutting the number of aldermen from 28 to 14 based on this census. After a few drafts a revised ward map was approved with 7 predominately white wards, 7 predominantly black wards. Following the spring 2023 elections St. Louis will only have 14 aldermen.

BJC slowly dismantled Queeny Tower to make room for a new hospital building. The building couldn’t be imploded due to proximity to other hospital buildings. Construction on a new Siteman Cancer Center building began on another part of the Washington University in St  Louis medical campus.

Optimists International’s 1961 headquarters at 4494 Lindell. Preservation Board denied demolition of the Optimist International building on Lindell for a high rise apartment building. In the end the developer submitted a proposal that keeps the original mid-century modern structure.
Ameren began changing electric meters to allow time of use billing — higher rates at peak times.
Groundbreaking for a tiny homes project to help unhoused veterans happened just off North Grand.
Paul McKee upsets many by calling his 3-bed emergency facility Homer G. Phillips Hospital.
View of Bob Clark’s new convention center proposal.

Stalemate over funding of convention center expansion. The old parking garage at 9th & Cole has been razed in preparation for the planned expansion. Bob Clark, Clayco CEO, advocated tearing most of the existing dome & convention center to start over from scratch.

Metro introduced WiFi on transit vehicles. Metro also reduced service due to the pandemic. The CWE MetroLink station reopened, it was rebuilt  — moving the elevator and creating a staircase twice as wide as before. New electric articulated buses began service on the busy #70 Grand route.

Target announced another city location, to be part of a new apartment building on Grand near the MetroLink station. Three new apartment buildings have taken shape around the Forest Park MetroLink station — one replaces the old park & ride lot in place since light rail began in 1993.

In the Fall of 2021 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story about how it could access the social security numbers of educators on a state website. Experts determined the database had been misconfigured, but Governor Parson doubled down on his baseless claim a reporter hacked the Department of Education website. Technology experts and us lay people got a good laugh at his foolish statements, while shaking our heads in disbelief.

St. Louis & the NFL reached a settlement on the departure of the Rams. City, county, and sports commission have yet to divide up the net proceeds.

Legal Missouri 2022 kicked off its campaign to collect signatures to get a question on Missouri’s 2022 ballot. If approved it would legalize the recreational use of cannabis, automatically expunge low-level possession records, and establish license only available to Missouri residents in disadvantaged areas — allowing others to get in on the ground floor of the lucrative cannabis market. Signatures are being collected now through mid-May 2022.

Very recently a tornado hit an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville IL, killing roughly 6 workers. The same storm later hit Kentucky and other states.

A campaign to distribute $500 to city residents still impacted by the pandemic began earlier this month.

Blogger Steve Patterson on the Gateway Mall hallway, Citygarden. Photo credit: Humans of St. Louis

On a personal note, I’m just thrilled to still be here. In the fall of 2019 I was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer so I didn’t know if I’d live to see the end of 2020, much less the end of 2021. In June I was featured on four posts on the Humans of St. Louis.

Looking forward to summarizing 2022 a year from now, seeing a MLS soccer match in 2023. Have a safe evening and happy new year!

— Steve Patterson

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A Tour of City Foundry St. Louis, the Food Hall, and Fresh Thyme Market

December 21, 2021 Featured, History/Preservation, Midtown, Planning & Design, Real Estate, Retail Comments Off on A Tour of City Foundry St. Louis, the Food Hall, and Fresh Thyme Market
 
One of my favorite views is seeing the remains of the elevated railroad line.

Today’s post is a look at City Foundry St. Louis, a new retail & office development in an old foundry along Forest Park Ave., between Spring and Vandeveter.

Almost 100 years ago, the Century Electric company purchased the Midtown St. Louis property now known as City Foundry STL. At the time, Midtown was a manufacturing hub for the city, thanks to its proximity to the Wabash Railroad line, which cuts across the City Foundry STL Property.

Century Electric was one of the top 3 manufacturers in the city, manufacturing motors and generators that were sold internationally. In fact, Century’s motors helped spark the development of small household appliances.

While the foundry changed owners over the years, and the products produced there changed, one thing did not: nearly 24-hour-a-day work continued on the site until 2007.

Today, this 15-acre site is being reimagined as City Foundry STL, with first-to-the-area makers and merchants moving to the complex. We can’t wait to for you to be a part of the next chapter of this storied creative complex. (City Foundry St. Louis)

First, a definition:

A foundry is a factory that produces metal castings. Metals are cast into shapes by melting them into a liquid, pouring the metal into a mold, and removing the mold material after the metal has solidified as it cools. The most common metals processed are aluminum and cast iron. However, other metals, such as bronze, brass, steel, magnesium, and zinc, are also used to produce castings in foundries. In this process, parts of desired shapes and sizes can be formed. (Wikipedia)    [An aside: a segment from a 1997 Simpsons episode comes to mind]

I’ve lived in St. Louis for over 31 years now, but don’t recall the name Century Electric. My memory of the foundry was the smell making automotive brake parts for Federal-Mogul. My post from last month: A Look at City Foundry St. Louis…in August 2013.

The 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show a few scattered wood frame buildings in this area, not a foundry. City records list four buildings on the site:

  • Manufacturing 1932: 146,015 square feet
  • Warehouse 1937: 66,197sf
  • Warehouse 1953: 38,640sf
  • Manufacturing 1982: 5,760

Let’s take a look, getting into some history along the way.

This 2015 photo looking east shows a new intersection on Vandeveter with a driveway for the then-new IKEA.
Leaving IKEA we see the low building along Vandeventer no longer exists. My assumption is this was the 1982 building.
Looking left we see the intersection of Vandeveter & IKEA Way now includes Foundry Way to the east.
Foundry Way would be named Clark Ave if they continued the name from east of Spring Ave. The open land on either side here is for future phases. Sidewalk only on the south side, for now.
One of my favorite views is seeing the remains of the elevated railroad line.
My 2nd favorite view is toward the left, looking NE. The repetition of old piers the held the railroad tracks is just lovely to my eyes. The bright red wall on the left, not so much.

I wanted to know more about Century Electric so I began scouring the Post-Dispatch archives online via the St. Louis Public Library. Here’s a bit of what I found in a Post-Dispatch article from December 25, 1949, P61:

  • Century Electric organized 1900, incorporated 1901
  • first workshop an old church at 1011 Locust
  • first working motor tested on thanksgiving day 1903 — sold to Rosenthal-Sloan Millinary Co.
  • products shipped to 90 foreign countries
  • first to offer repulsion type motor in small sizes
  • a century motor was in the first successful home refrigerator
  • manufactures everything except the wire
  • foundry address is/was 3711 Market Street — before I-64/Hwy 40 went though.

Let’s resume the tour.

Again, I love the concrete railroad piers. Using them as an element is better & cheaper than removal and dumping in a landfill.
Here it begins to open up. The silver metal building is one of two new buildings designed to hide the new multi-level parking garage that was cut into the land between Forest Park Ave and the historic foundry.  These new buildings are considered “liner buildings”, shallow structures designed to screen and offer a nicer street view. We’ll visit that upper area later.
Now we’re facing east, with the old foundry on the right, new liner buildings hiding the parking on the left.
The food hall is the main public attraction in the old foundry building. More on this food destination below.
Continuing further east, toward Spring Ave. Old foundry still on the right, liner still on the left.
Almost to Spring Ave we get to the 1937 building that houses Fresh Thyme grocery store. You can see the east end of the parking garage.
Looking north/uphill along Spring Ave from near I-64 we can see foundry offices that used to front onto Market Street, the foundry, and the SE corner of the building that’s now Fresh Thyme.

Let’s go out to Forest Park Ave and approach from the west.

This approach is the worst, blank wall, no street trees, gravel instead of landscaping.
Looking back west, toward Vandeventer Ave.
This is the primary pedestrian access from Forest Park Ave., the new garage on the left. Dreary, but at least it’s wide. This brings you in at the upper level, mentioned previously.
Looking west, toward IKEA. Again, the vacant land will be for a future phase.
Looking southeast we get a good look at the old foundry.

One last exterior area to show you, the building on the SW corner of Forest Park & Spring avenues. It began as the new offices of a local grocery chain, so using it for a new grocery store is very fitting. From the Post-Dispatch July 18, 1937:

This 1937 article announces the construction of a new building to be built for the Tom Boy Stores grocery chain. A few years later I saw it written Tom-Boy and then Tomboy before disappearing in the archives.
Looking SW from the opposite corner at Spring & Forest Park avenues. Spring continues down the hill, where we were earlier.
Looking south across Forest Park Ave
In front, the door isn’t the main entry. I love that a building built for the offices of a grocery chain with late 19th century roots is now used as a grocery store.
The main entry is in the west facade, facing the top level of the parking garage. This photo was taken on opening day, 11/10/2021.
Looking back north toward Forest Park we see a protected pedestrian route to the right of the yellow bollards. Unfortunately they’ve been filing it with extra shopping carts lately, defeating the purpose.
Looking back out toward the parking. New hotel with rooftop bar across the street, in the background.

Let’s go inside Fresh Thyme, later we’ll go into the Food Hall.

When you enter the main doors, you head to the left.
They’re known for having nice produce that’s nicely displayed.
I love the old industrial skylight.
Inside looking north toward the meat & deli areas.
In the NE corner is a seating area, I can imagine Saint Louis University students/staff/faculty walking over here, meeting friends.
The compact store is well-stocked, though they don’t yet have sweetened condensed milk.
Even checkout is self serve, though there are a lot of employees to help you. Some are for smaller purchases while others are for larger with more area for scanned items.

Fresh Thyme Market has other locations in the region, on both sides of the river. The grocery chain in based in suburban Chicago (Downers Grove, IL). The large chain Meijer is an investor, their nearest location is Springfield IL. So you’ll see some Meijer products on shelves.

On opening day I planned to get a package of Meijer frozen tuna steaks that I priced on the Fresh Thyme’s website (Kirkwood location). At this new location the very same item was 50% more than in Kirkwood. WTF!?! I ask the manager why the price is so much more. The answer was unexpected. The Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL isn’t part of Fresh Thyme’s system, including pricing. Fresh Thyme investor Meijer is a partner on this location, so the pricing is based on that.  The manager told me they’d match the significantly better price at checkout. To this day if you do a search on the actual Fresh Thyme website for the nearest location it won’t find the City Foundry location. It’s not on the Meijer website either. Very weird.

Other than the frozen tuna steaks the prices I’ve checked have all been reasonable, their milk price is the best I’ve seen anywhere in the region. We’ve been back numerous times, a welcome new addition. Now if they’ll just stop filling the ADSA-compliant accessible route with extra shopping carts.

Moving on, let’s visit the Food Hall.  First, a food hall is not the same as a food court:

Here are 4 things about food halls and what makes people love them:

  • Food halls are usually a collection of small, locally-developed restaurant concepts or outright new creations that come from the minds of local chefs or start-up entrepreneurs and restauranteurs. They offer an assortment of unique food and beverage items that are usually cooked from scratch (prepared from raw ingredients vs. shipped in partially or wholly made) or nearby in a commissary (but still from scratch). On the other hand, food courts are usually filled with national chain restaurants that offer little scratch cooking and little-to-no brand cache.

  • Food courts will typically feature a cast of usual players like one or two Asian concepts (with one or both of them serving a version of Bourbon chicken), an ice cream place, a pizza place, a burger chain or two, a Latin concept, a hot dog concept, a cheesesteak concept, and maybe a cookie place. The dining options in a food hall are more in line with a collection of food trucksat a food truck park than the food found in a food court, with ethnic favorites like Vietnamese bao buns, Cuban street sandwiches, wine and cheese, Italian sandwich or pasta shop, local ice cream or gelato, chocolatiers, or Napolitano style pizza (vs. Sbarro’s par-cook-n-reheat slices), southern fried chicken sandwiches, and just about anything you can imagine.

  • Food halls are aesthetically pleasing, often in turn-of-the-century warehouses, train stations, or old mills with high ceilings where the building’s history is partially or mostly preserved. Ponce City Market was originally a Sears & Roebuck distribution warehouse. Chelsea Market in New York was a Nabisco factory where the Oreo was invented. Quincy Market in Boston is one of the oldest food halls in America (it was a food hall before folks started calling them food halls) and sits next to historic Faneuil Hall…it was designed from the beginning (1824-1826) to be a marketplace. In a food hall, the charm of historic significance combines with the unique food offerings and the novelty of reclaimed industrial space to form a city’s social nucleus, while food courts are really little more than uninspired feeding pit stops for mall shoppers.

  • Food halls are destinations. Retail stores are few and are injected to add interest and shopping-as-entertainment to the food experience, but they must convey a consistent lifestyle “voice” to their visitors. Anthropologie, Lululemon, or Madewell are common national retail supplements. Food courts are designed to keep shoppers shopping so they don’t leave the mall when they get hungry… the food supports the shopping, not the other way around like in a food hall.

Ready?

Entry before you get into the main space.
The main space is in the heart of the old foundry, very industrial.
Tables & chairs are throughout the large space. Vendors have small storefronts.
Most vendors are walk up.
But a few also offer bar seating. This might not be ADA-compliant because a person in a wheelchair couldn’t eat here, will need to see if they have a provision for that.

Concluding thoughts on City Foundry St. Louis

I was very happy & curious when I first heard the developers planned to keep the old industrial buildings rather than scrape the site clean. Overall I’m pleasantly surprised by how they’ve turned an old dirty industrial site into a retail & office destination. If you haven’t been I recommend visiting.

Transit users can take MetroLink to either Grand or Cortex, the nearest bus lines are the 42 & 70.

— Steve Patterson

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