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New Orleans Group Fighting Big Box Development like Loughborough Commons

Citizens in New Orleans are fighting to retain that city’s character as generic suburban developers seek to bring “cookie-cutter” projects to their city. By way of example, the website Think New Orleans used an image of just such a project — Loughborough Commons. Yes, St. Louis is providing yet another example of what others are trying to avoid — even in the wake of a major natural disaster.

Loughborough Commons as a bad example
Click here to see the full post.

I suppose we should be thanking Ald. Matt Villa for helping bring this mostly tree-less “project” to St. Louis. A project that doesn’t connect to numerous adjacent streets and still doesn’t welcome pedestrians. We are now at over seven months since the Schnuck’s grocery store opened and still no federally mandated ADA-compliant accessible route is in place. Seven months! Even a simple accessible route between the Schnuck’s and Lowe’s store is not in place, again a violation of federal civil rights law. Clearly the developers have little regard for the civil rights of those not in cars.

More power to the good folks in New Orleans fighting to keep St. Louis-style big box development out of their urban city.


Currently there are "61 comments" on this Article:

  1. Adam says:

    what an embarrassment! matt villa, you’re fired! (i wish.) but really, please resign.

  2. john says:

    There is no escaping the image of being from St. Louis. Not only in New Orleans is St Louis used as an example of how not to do something but also worldwide! In the latest issue of The Economist magazine (internationally circulated), is a featured article titled “Classroom Discipline”on how not to manage a school district, of course the SLPS.

    Conclusion: The district, which in the past five years has turned a $52m surplus into a $24.5m deficit, has already closed schools, cut services and squeezed spending hard. But as its critics point out, the elected school board still found plenty of money for junkets and public relations.

    The trickle of voters turning out for the pointless board election will pass banners celebrating the new season of the world baseball champions, the St Louis Cardinals. St Louis has made huge progress in attracting a new generation of young professionals to its downtown area, building new business developments and installing new infrastructure. The fiasco in its schools puts all that in jeopardy.

  3. Soon Phyllis Young as well!

  4. Becker says:

    Could an injunction be slapped on the tenants of Loughborough Commons to shut them down until they comply with ADA laws?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I’ve been looking into options and talking with various entities that usually deal with such issues.  The Dept of Justice is responsible for enfocing the ADA.  The disregard for pedestrians is shameful, especially considering the degree of tax subsidy this project is receiving.]

  5. me too says:

    I have driven on Loughborough past this site for twenty years and have never once
    seen a person travelling along Loughborough in a wheel chair.

    ADA laws are well-intentioned, reasonable laws that can go for years never
    making a difference in the real world.

    The project is what it is, a modern shopping center. It works and it fits the real

    The idea that New Orleans had to come all the way to St. Louis to find an auto-oriented
    shopping center project is a little much.

    There are tons of developments much closer to N’Awlins that would suffice.

    This seems like a well-positioned case of cooperative net activism, intended to
    draw further attention to a rather worn out, ho-hum local St. Louis issue.

    Aside from the urban-obsessed, how many people are complaining about “Loughborough

    Steve’s right…all we hear are the congratulatory comments aimed at the city,
    the developer, and the aldermen.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The ADA, The Americans with Disabilities Act, is not limited to those in wheelchairs.  Some people use mobility scooters to get around while others rely on canes.  You also have folks that have visual impairments and might want to walk to the store as their legs are just fine. Also, you may not see anyone in a wheelchair as they may arrive via bus to do their shopping (yes, I’ve been on a bus with someone in a wheelchair). Not everyone in a wheelchair drives but all of them would like to live as independent of lives as possible.

    I’ve visited Loughborough Commons more times than I would like to count since it opened and I can say there are few times I have not seen a pedestrian walking to or from the store.   These include kids, adults and the elderly — we do not need them walking in a busy driveway in harms way.  An ADA accessible route can serve more than simply those people in wheelchairs.]

  6. dave says:

    The commons could have been designed better but I am not taking anything serious from reps from New Orleans. Please! Talk about a messed up city, before and after.

    What is the next thing going in at the commons? Or should I say when? I just see alot of dirt.

    As for pedestrian friendly, maybe the commons tenants don’t want those that cannot afford a car to be shopping there. How can you blame them for that? Keeps losses down.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Oh boy, let’s see.  First, we should applaud citizens in New Orleans for attempting to improve their city.  Second, simply because someone walks to the store does not mean they can’t afford a car — maybe they like going for a walk!  And don’t even suggest that all those that cannot afford cars are thieves — that is simply not true.  Thieves come in all forms and income levels.  

    I was actually in the Schnuck’s the other day when a guy ran out with a couple of bottles of alchohol, he had a friend waiting in a car.  I don’t think many shop lifters plan on walking up a big hill with no sidewalk to catch the bus.] 

  7. LisaS says:

    Think New Orleans was trying to draw examples from similar circumstance. St. Louis is very similar to New Orleans in a number of ways, and not just in density and historic architecture. The cultures and histories of the two cities are both largely based in early French settlement, strong growth during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and erosion of the economic base because of technological and societal changes over the last 70-80 years. No place on the North Shore, elsewhere in Louisiana, or in the surrounding states is comparable.

    So far as congratulatory comments for City government based on developments like LC, I would say this: all of the suburban housing and strip centers in the world are not going to bring Chesterfield residents back to the City. Our leaders in City Hall are missing the point: those who choose to live in the City despite its many problems are largely those who love its historic buildings and walkable urbanity. Developments like LC erode these qualities. At the very least we should ask for more–including compliance with the law–from projects given financial incentives like abatement and TIF.

    As noted very often on this blog and by our government officials, people can and do vote with their feet, and St. Louis competes with the world. Remaking our City to resemble ubiquitous suburbia threatens the City’s natural market.

  8. Tyson says:

    Andres Duany had a good article in metropolis mag a couple of months ago about creating “opt-out” zones in N.O. where people didn’t have to follow strict building regulations. The point was to make rebuilding less expensive, keeping the residents out of debt and maintaining the “New Orleans” way of life. Interesting read:


  9. me too says:

    How can you say that a new shopping center is eroding our urbanity when it is replacing a 30+ year old worn out Schnuck’s store and an abandoned factory? Some people have nothing better to do than complain, even when we are seeing major new investments. Loughborough Commons is probably a 15-20 million dollar modern shopping center. Wide areas of our metro would be welcoming such a project with open arms. Yet we in the city whine and complain about it. How about addressing some actual problems for a change?

  10. chee-chee says:

    Honest questions: At what point is a development judged for ADA compliance by the DOJ? From architectural drawings? Mid-way? Or upon completion? Furthermore, whose responsibility is it to make such a development ADA compliant? The alderman or the developer? Am I correct that TIFs are awarded through aldermanic vote? Is the Board of Aldermen expected to inspect commercial developments on a regular basis for various forms of compliance and safe building practices? (I thought that’s why we have a Building Division.) Before I get too angry like everyone else here, I want to make sure I’m mad at the right people. Or perhaps we’re jumping the gun here?

  11. “How about addressing some actual problems for a change? ”

    you mean actual problems like for instance plopping down un-sustainable suburban shit in the middle of my urban city?

    Sothtown Centre is still mostly vacant after how many years?
    The “development” at the old K-Mart site at Gravois & Hydraulic is doing no better after only how long?
    The now-mostly vacant former Walgreens & Blockbuster video sites near Southtown show no signs of ever re-developing.. and that whole tract was built how long ago?

    Look closely at these folks, because that is EXACTLY what this Lughborough Commons crap is going to look like in 10 years or less (if it isn’t already). More suburban-style blight to be torn down and rebuilt with new improved shit, again with taxpayers money.

  12. Jason says:

    Chee Chee

    The architects, engineers, and Developer/owner are all responsible for the accessibility of the buildings and the site. In Texas they have their own accessibility guidelines and standards. They have Registered accessibility Specialists who review drawings during the building permit process, and then visit the site afterwards to make sure everything is in compliance. These are consultants that are required to be retained by architects practicing in Texas. I doubt Missouri will do this in the near future, but making these people accountable is the first step.


    Have you spoken with Deborah Dee who is the Commissioner for the office of the dsabled? I am sure she would be a good resource as well as contacting Paraquad.


    [UrbanReviewSTL — I have met Dr. Dee on site at Loughborough Commons.  Their office does not enforce ADA but she said she could see what could be done.  Basically, they help people figure out how to get around in the city when it doesn’t meet ADA.  So we pay for non-ADA compliant shopping center and then pay someone else to help people with physical needs learn how to tolerate and navigate.  Smart system huh?

    If we simply required developers to plan for good pedestrian access from scratch then making this access fully ADA compliant wouldn’t be a big deal.  The trick is starting with a good pedestrian-friendly basis.] 

  13. chee-chee says:

    Stadtroller: So are you blaming the Slay/Hanrahan camps for the failures or shortcomings of the Southtown commercial areas? What other proposals were offered for the area? Did the alderperson of the 23rd turn down some amazing development plan that I missed? Would you rather have a K-Mart instead of a PetCo, OfficeMax, Starbucks, Verizon Wireless, EB Games, Walgreens, and Stone Cold Creamery? Or would you rather that the land be still vacant and undeveloped? And by the way, as a resident of the area, I appreciate your passion. But perhaps we can dispose of the profanity. In my humble opinion, sometimes are elected officals deserve criticism…other times not. Please feel free to disagree…

  14. chee-chee says:

    correction: 10th Ward…I guessed I just marked myself on the map…

  15. chee-chee says:

    …or the 14th…I guess I have lost all my credibility now…

  16. chee-chee says:

    Jason: To your point, why should we blast Matt Villa for the shortcomings of the LC development group?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Oh I’ll take that one.  Ald. Villa was in the position to ensure the project would work well with the surrounding neighborhood.  If he doesn’t have the knowledge to know better he was in a postition to talk with the planners over at our city’s Planning & Urban Design Agency.  Second, I spoke personally to Ald. Villa and DESCO’s engineer about my concerns prior to the start of construction, I was assured pedestrian access would be taken into consideration.  These aldermen put themselves into powerful development positions (the go between for tax incentives) yet are clueless about good design vs. bad.  They see a pretty drawing and don’t ask questions.  This is no formula to ever get good design unless it is part of the developers mission.  The aldermen are not going to change the status quo because it gives them a feeling of power.]

  17. chee-chee says:

    So, Steve, are they (Villa and DESCO) promising to become ADA compliant once the development is complete? Or are they just bypassing the issue in your opinion?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I’ve seen the permit drawings which are not ADA compliant.  I believe they are bypassing the issue and will simply have a token non-ADA sidewalk at some point.  Good design could have resulted in full ADA compliance and a much better project.  This is not about money, it is about taking pedestrians into consideration at the initial stages of such a project.  From the city’s perspective, it needs to be present before tax dollars help fund the project.]

  18. “Would you rather have a K-Mart instead of a PetCo, OfficeMax, Starbucks, Verizon Wireless, EB Games, Walgreens, and Stone Cold Creamery? Or would you rather that the land be still vacant and undeveloped? ”

    if these are my only options – especially in their current form – then YES, I would certainly have a vacant lot remain until an urban project came along rather than the homogenized, craptacular suburban spawl we have now, which is ultimately doomed to failure and then we’re left with buildings of a form-factor which cannot easily be re-developed into something which *IS* sustainable.

    You seem to be of the “any development is better than no development” camp. which put simply, is just wrong.

    and, I believe if you do your homework, there were PLENTY of alternatives proposed for these sites, which were ultimately shoved aside, disregarded or propogandized out of existence in favor of the current corporate kickback, political payoff, TIFF, stick-it-to-the-taxpayer development(s).

    And don’t even get me started on Unholy Trilogy of Corporate Amerika that is Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and Starbucks. And PetSmart – my wife and I now boycott this business due to the their abouse of animals and sale practices in the stores. Cold Stone Creamery? I’ll have my ice-cream WITHOUT salmonilla, thank you very much…

    So, yeah, I blame Slay, the aldermen, the developers, AND partially the public for all of it.
    To put a twist on an old saying “no developer ever went broke in St. Louis underestimating the gullibility of the public”

  19. chee-chee says:

    So, Stadtroller, blame the public because because all of us don’t know what’s good for us…blame politicians and developers and store owners and everyone else because we’re not all like you. I happen to like all of the establishments that I named and I happen to frequent many of the businesses of the intersection of Kingshighway and Chippewa. I just apologize for not knowing my ward boundaries well enough.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — BTW, the Stone Cold Creamery is already closed.  I don’t mind the stores either, I just don’t like the way they are physically arranged on the site.]

  20. me too says:

    Stadtroller is a classic representative of the internet age. He has a loud keyboard. He probably also detests working in traditional settings-like neighborhood organizations.

    He’s probably never met an elected official or large developer that he didn’t have some enmity towards. He creates circular arguments to make his points. He fails to acknolwdge that the Southtown site was vacant for over five years, and that the current project was a compromise solution by all the parties that were at the time involved. Including the courts.

    He is another example of all-self-absorbed, I want-it-all-now, and it’s-all-about-me era of young, non-service minded individuals. Please, keep posting! It’s great reading!

  21. wow, mr Anonymous “me too” you sure know me well! Please, enlighten me with more knowledge of myself!

    “He fails to acknolwdge that the Southtown site was vacant for over five years, and that the current project was a compromise solution by all the parties that were at the time involved. Including the courts”

    Acknowledge??? Hmm… I guess you don’t know me TOO well, since I post with my full name, real e-mail adress, and link to my (albeit outadated and incomplete) web site domain which among other things would lead you right to my home address, which in turn would inform you that I live near within SIGHT of this abortion of a project. I lived there while the old Famous bldg was there, the entire time it was vacant, and while it was (supposedly is) being “developed”.
    I have had the misfortune of having several direct dealings with the retard we call our esteemed alderman, who in addition to this blight is responisble for such brilliant doings as having the 10′ easement behind our street BARRICADED OFF, so that Bell, Ameren etc, can’t even access the lines to maintain them, instead of addressing the original neighborhood concern which was illegal dumping and illegal running af ATV’s all up and down the things by the punks up the street. So now before Ameran can come in and repair the service drop to my house which has been dangling 4′ off the ground for about a year now, the city has to come back and rip out the damned concrete barricades, and then HOPEFULLY the Ameren trucks have enough clearence to get over the storm drain cover they put smack in the middle of the easment entrance. Not that I’m bitter. / I digress.

    As I recall events, the abomination we see now in the blight-center of Kingshighway & Chippewa is nothing at all like what the “compromise” promised, but was pretty much in fact the same crap they wanted to build from the get-go.

    But anyway, it’s all wasted breath. I’m in progress of moving out of there, and soon after we’ll be selling my wife’s house in U-City. (motto: The same houses as South St. Louis, but with twice the property tax!). Will we inhabit the City? An Inner ‘Burb? only time and politics will tell. The more we see go down, the more encouragement we find to move to New Mexico.

  22. Then why didn’t you file against Gregali?

  23. Jim Zavist says:

    Chee-Chee – The DOJ enforces the ADA on a complaint basis. They do not review plans before construction starts. It’s ultimately the owner’s responsibility to comply. Generally, architects and civil engineers are aware of most requirements for compliance. Where the disconnect usually occurs is when owners think they can get away with not meeting specific requirements. Designers can and do “recommend” and “strongly encourage” our clients to comply, but we do not have absolute power to force them to do anything they don’t want to.

    As for the design quality and the role of aldermen – given this site and what it is (a big box shopping center), there are only two ways to orient the structures, facing east, toward I-55 (as it’s built) or facing west (toward the remaining residential neighbors). My guess is that the alderman listened to his constituents’ desires and encouraged the developer to place the parking (and the parking lot lights and traffic) as far away from the residents as possible. While, in theory, facing the project west would’ve afforded more connections to the intersecting streets, the reality of a 20′-30′ difference in grade would’ve yielded similar results to what’s there now, a big retaining wall, a fence and no access except at either end of the site.

    Yes, there are many things that could’ve been done better design-wise – it’s a functional project with minimal embellishment. And, yes, there’s no excuse for not complying with the ADA. The big question remains one that will probably never be fully answered – how much was the city able to get and did we “get” as much as we possibly could? Would’ve requiring 20 more trees killed the deal? What about a functional internal traffic flow? Or, to look at it another way, should we (city taxpayers) have increased the TIF to cover more amenities? Bottom line, it’s the bottom line. If the developer is confident that he or she can make a profit, they’ll put in whatever a city demands and/or is willing to pay for through “contributions” and “participation” in the way of TIF’s, tax abatements, eminent domain, even bonding. But there is a point in every project where both the potential profit and the profit motive evaporates, and the project stalls or dies.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Keep in mind the only retaining wall on the site was along Loughborough at the original store.  The balance of the site met up with adjacent streets.  Jim, the big boxes could have been arranged a number of other ways.  For example, both could have been on the east edge of the site facing each other with parking in the middle.  The existing houses could have remained at the corner of Loughborough & Grand while new housing (row houses?) could have been constructed along the length of the site along Grand.  Additional storefronts could have lined a new street running north-south through the site.  Additional parking for either box could have been provided on the roof or below the building(s).  The natural slope of the site would have helped make under the store parking less costly.  Options abounded that would have been much better and still not sent parking lot lights into neighbors.]

  24. Adam says:

    “Wide areas of our metro would be welcoming such a project with open arms.”

    wonderful. then give the suburban projects to those wide areas and keep the city a city.


    what other developments had been proposed for the Southtown site?

    me too,

    “He fails to acknolwdge that the Southtown site was vacant for over five years, and that the current project was a compromise solution by all the parties that were at the time involved. Including the courts.”

    what does this have to do with stL_Stadtroller’s comment that there were better developments on the table? who were “all the parties” involved? do you mean the local government and the final developer (sandsone group i believe)? and by “compromise” do you mean compromise over tenants for the already-decided-upon strip mall, or compromise over building something other than a strip mall? if you meant the former then that doesn’t sound like much of a compromise to me.

  25. john says:

    What commenters keep circimventing is Steve’s main point: If a city as poorly manged as NO uses a project in StL as “how not to do things”, what does that say about StL and its leadership, reisdents, zoning laws, etc. ? Debate is good, but personal attacks are unseemly.

    Good luck NO, you understand what it feels like to be buried as a wasteland. St. Louisans are just beginnning to recognize similar trends in their own city… at least you can blame nature, we can’t.

  26. Chee-Chee says:

    Jim: The point you make is pretty much the point I was hinting at earlier. According to his bio, Matt Villa is the treasurer of his family’s business…not an architect (we can debate whether alderpersons should hold other jobs and which of the jobs is secondary later). So who does the design review for development proposals he supports at the conceptual stage? And, as you point out, DESCO’s architect or civil engineers can only make recommendations to comply with regulations (local or federal). I think it’s becoming pretty clear that DESCO is the one responsible here for the error/oversight. So my next question is, does DESCO have a history of discriminatory or otherwise unfair/unethical business practices? Does DESCO have a track record of developments that are not ADA compliant? If so, then I think it’s fair to point a finger at Villa for his role in this. I don’t live there…I didn’t vote for or against him…that’s not the issue. I just think that sometimes blaming the local politician is the easy target. I mean, some people are talking about firing both Villa and Gregali here. Is that the real solution?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The job of alderman is considered part-time so I have no issue with them holding jobs outside of city hall.   They are elected to a legislative body, I expect them to legislate.  However, the alderman assume the role of development guru in their wards.

    Developers come to the aldermen about a project and by the time the citizens hear about a project, much less the design professionals on the city’s staff, it is “too late” to make any changes.  This is by design.  The aldermen are kings of their wards and playing the big shot in development projects is their only real power.  They have no requirement to involve our planning staff at the early stages of a project in the hopes of making a project better.  This is why we get crap such as Loughborough Commons and Southtowne. 

    When the aldermen inject themselves into the process to the exclusion of more qualified individuals they are squarely to blame, at least partially.  Again, I spoke to Villa in person in January 2005 before the project was started. 

    Ald. Villa, if qualified to make such judgements, could have seen that earlier DESCO projects have little pedestrian connections and that landscaping varies greatly from project to project — depending upon where it was located.  I agree, Ald. Villa and most of others are not at all qualified to play development advocate for the city.  Yet, they continue to assume that position.]

  27. ct says:

    It’s been 7 months of wet winter and spring. You can’t move dirt in those weather conditions. I’ll give them some more good weather time to get the entrance area worked out.

    All this complaining for a grocery store rebuild and taking an eyesore of a factory and turning it into a convenient home improvement center. This is my neighborhood and I’m happy to have both.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Workers were on-site as late as November 28th and they’ve been back for a couple of weeks now.  They had a good 3 months after the store opened to get a sidewalk to the store. It was basically not a priority.

    Even when they complete the planned sidewalk they still will not have an ADA compliant accessible route.  So basically someone made the decision to ignore federal civil rights law.  

    And this is not about leaving the site as it was vs what we got — it is about what type of development should we expect in our city — in particular when we help subsidize the costs.]

  28. Jim Zavist says:

    Likely, the ONLY way to get DESCO’s (and other developers’) attention is a successful lawsuit and a hefty fine. From http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/ide/access/002116.html

    “Kmart has agreed to settle out of court, paying $13 million in damages to shoppers, $3.25 million in legal fees, and a projected $60 million to retrofit 1,400 Kmart stores across the country.”

    Bottom line, it’s the bottom line . . .

  29. Matt B says:

    Cold Stone Creamery is open. The closure appeared temporary perhaps a seasonal closure similar to Ted Drewes.

    Stadtroller is critical of Gravois Plaza, but with the exception of one space next to Penn Station it is fully occupied, and an improvement over what was there before. With its position on top of the hill a traditional streetfront design would have looked really awkward.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Indeed the CSC is back open again, interesting they removed it from their website and then added it back.  As for Gravois Plaza, there is no way that is the only design option for that site.  The parking lot is largely empty all the time and it is worse than Loughborough Commons with respect to pedestrian access.  Pedestrians are placed at risk daily just for walking to the grocery store.  Jennifer Florida is so proud of that project but each time I see someone walking in the auto drive I wonder if this is the best we can do.  

    Gravois Plaza is bordered by four streets and is large enough to actually have an internal street.  Such a large site could have been designed so much better — to have good pedestrian access from outside the site as well as within the site.  Where is the required ADA access route from the Shop-N-Save to the Penn Station to the Pizza Place?] 

  30. Jim Zavist says:

    Steve, we agree that this is not great architecture or urban design. I guess I’m just enough older to realize that little retail architecture is actually very permanent, so I have less of a visceral rection to it. I’ve seen shopping malls open, flourish, decline and close. I’ve seen drive-in movie theaters (remember them?!) close and be replaced by retail. In the short time I’ve been in St. Louis, I’ve seen Krispy Kreme open and close on a prime corner in Clayton. I’ve seen the “biggest enclosed mall west of the Mississippi” (when it opened) close and be replaced by a Wal·Mart and halfway-decent transit-oriented development (yin & yang / good & bad).

    The reality is we, as a community, get the retail we “deserve”, the retail we support with our dollars. If “we” don’t want a Wal·Mart or a Walgreens in our neighborhood or city, don’t shop there, and convince your friends and neighbors not to do so as well! Name any great retail area (5th Avenue in NYC, Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Collins Avenue in Miami Beach) and you’ve named an aberration. There is mile after mile of strip shopping centers, commercial streets and big box developments in each of these cities, just like here.

    We have many neighborhood businesses that deserve our support. They’re the ones that pay the rent in all the storefronts that line the streets that were once trolley lines. But when we (I) vote with our (my) dollars, and decide to shop at Lowe’s or Home Depot instead of Southside or Maplewood Hardware, as we (I) sometimes do, we’re (I’m) sending a message. When I decide to eat at JackSon’s instead of the new Houlihan’s in Brentwood, I’m also sending a message.

    Bigger picture, LC is a mixed blessing. Lowe’s is bringing new sales tax dollars into the city, but it’s probably not high on the wish list of most nearby residents. But I’m pretty sure that the new Schnuck’s has been welcomed by most local residents, including the larger community of Carondolet and Holly Hills, with or without trees in the parking lot. Grocery shopping is a fact of life, and a good supermarket is a great anchor for any neighborhood – just look at the ongoing complaints about a lack of grocery stores downtown and in many of the poorer parts of town. Could the execution have been better? Sure! It all gets back to my earlier question – did the city get as much as it could from this developer?

    Should New Orleans try to avoid a repeat of projects like this while they rebuild? Sure, IF they can. But their reality is a lot like ours – they’ve lost half their population, so there are a lot more existing retail sites and parcels than there are customers to support them. This equates to little leverage or economic pressure to rise above the lowest-common-denominator, “generic” or “average” – your competitor down the street can “build cheap” and still be successful. Combine that with a huge need to generate taxes to pay for rebuilding the public sector, and you have a perfect recipe for “uncreative” and “insensitive” redevelopment . . .

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Jim, I too am old enough to see many retail changes here and in other cities.  Yes, retail architecture is far more temporary these days, a sad reality.  I’m not asking for a developer to recreate to the last detail a former streetcar commercial street.  I’m just saying they need to look at the site planning and orient the buildings differently.  Yes, they can be big boxes.  Do they need that much parking?  Let’s give them a variance to the building code so they can reduce the parking requirements — hopefully the savings by not having to pave so much land (and perhaps getting more SF on the site) will offset some cost of trees.  It is about thinking differently.  

    I don’t want upscale shopping — I have no use for over priced stuff.  I shop at Aldi’s and Shop-n-save with the occassional trip to Trader Joes. I’ll admit to going to Walgreen’s but I’ve also been to urban Walgreen’s in other cities.  I have issues with Wal-Mart only due to the size of the store and their labor practices.  I didn’t oppose the K-Mart on Kingshighway.  To me it is about form and I’ve seen enough to know that by tweaking a conventional site plan you can minimize the impact of big box stores, you can provide some shade trees and you can connect all elements through the use of sidewalks.  It is not that difficult.  And when we are helping foot the bill for the development I’d rather we spend an extra $500K or so on a few such elements rather than go with the standard project that as you point out will fail and close.  I suggest the added elements of better urban design (not fancy architecture) will allow the project longer life.]

  31. me too says:


    Excellent post. I’m not big on making “thumbs up” or “me too” replies, but you nailed it, dude. Your point on competition and substitution alternatives is right on the money. It’s all about the bottom line, profit, and competition.

    Getting carried away with design and failing to understand the economic dynamics of real estate development is an urbanist’s folly.

    Let’s switch the scenario to a struggling neighborhood, say in Gary, Indiana. Imagine you’ve got a ten acre corner location in the heart of the area, near a highway interchange and the population center. However, Gary has low incomes, a reputation for crime, and business failures.

    Now a risk taking developer proposes a new shopping center. The developer wants to go with the standard, pure vanilla strip center. Some urbanists want a more upscale design. The parties are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

    Area residents just want some new, decent shopping. Elected officials want to provide services to their residents.

    Would the urbanists tell the developer to go pound sand until he/she comes back with an acceptable urban design plan?

    Would the developer play footsie with elected officials to get his TIF-assisted, pure vanilla strip center?

    What about his proposed anchor grocery store tenant? What if they too want the pure vanilla, massive Walmart-styled parking lot in front layout?

    Would the urbanists tell the elected officials, the neighbors wanting new shopping, the proposed grocer, and the developer to all go pound sand?

    Herein lies the problem, dear urbanists. You do not always seem very practical. And sometimes you even sound marginal to the point of being irrelevant. Your challenge is how to make your vision relevant. Call it sustainable, call it green, call it eco-friendly, call it urban, call it pedestrian friendly, call it ADA compliant. Call it what you will. But will it attract investors, tenants, and broad based community support?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — You’ve completely missed the point.  First, ADA is not an option for cities, developers or retailers.  

    Sure, we can say as a city that pure vanilla is acceptable, which is what we’ve pretty much done.  Other municipalities in the region have also done that.  However, others have come up with some minimum design standards which do not create high quality urban environments but do manage to improve the standard strip center. No retailer is going to bolt because the city requires a certain number of trees in a parking lot — unless it got to the point where they required a forest.

    When I first saw the drawings for Loughborough Commons over 2 years ago I knew it was not good urban design.  My goal switched to making it marginally acceptable.   Connecting entirely new construction with sidewalks on a large site is a no brainer.  It does require a tad of thought about being a pedestrian.  And, it is not always about arriving by foot.  Say you go to a store/restaurant at a strip center and then remembering you need a few things from the grocery store.  Must you move your car to do that or can you simply walk to the store from within the site on a comfortable sidewalk?  Again, this is neither rocket science or urban idealism. 

    Check out a post I did last fall about a former mall razed for a strip center in Bloomington-Normal IL.  This is about as vanilla strip center as you can get — except that they paid extra attention to the layout and how they connected each set of buildings via a sidewalk.  This is not even close to good urbanism but the extra thought and bit of concrete got them good ADA compliance along with a substantially improved shopping experience.  It feels differerent.  The buildings are the same throw away architecture we get everywhere and the stores are the same generic chains we see in every city.  Yet, the mere act of connecting the pieces on the site with sidewalks changes the experience.  Now, I would have taken that site and gone way urban with it  — very dense and mixed use.  The market likely wasn’t there.  But at no point can someone argue the market is not there to be able to walk from one strip building to another. 

    And your Gary Indiana example?  While like Bloomington-Normal the ideal of a dense mixed-use project may not be in the cards for financial reason we have even more reason to think about the design.  If located in a poor neighborhood we must assume that a good many of the patrons of the new center will be arriving by foot or car —- the bulk of their incomes being spent on food & shelter.  All the more reason to think about how we site the buildings and how do we connect them to public sidewalks and with sidewalks internally.  We can also look at reducing potentially excessive parking requirements.  With some buildings oriented toward the street and some internal with good connections between the two we can likely take advantage of available on-street parking.  The architecture and the mix of stores will likely be on the low-end but that is OK.  Good site planning will improve the experience for those using the center and as the area improves a building or two might get replaced with better architecture without having to clear the site and start all over.

    There is a whole world out there of ideas but we keep getting the bottom of the barrel.  Jim is right, we get what we deserve.]

  32. Matt B says:

    I’m not going to defend the design of Gravois Plaza, its pretty awful. But to call it a failure and equate it to Southtown Commons as Stadtroller did is wrong. It has high occupancy and is constantly busy, the largely empty parking lot is a result of the size of the parking lot not the amount of traffic the stores generate.

    Southtown is located along a traditional retail corridor and could have capitalized on that in its design, Gravois Plaza is not located in a similar context.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Sorry Matt, Gravois Plaza is a failure.  Penn Station still has up huge banners trying to let people know they exist because they are not seen given their location.  The space next to them remains vacant and another space in the main section is vacant.  Still another area next to the pizza place is also vacant.  A number of the few parking lot trees they did have are long missing and not replaced.  And to be located in the middle of a healthy residential area and to have ZERO pedestrian entrances makes it a failure.  

    Sure, the numbers are still good but sorry, when I’m out and about looking for a good shopping experience I don’t assure myself that the numbers look good so I should be OK with having to walk in the same space as cars entering and existing a strip mall.   Numbers guys tend to build the same crap in city, suburb or exurb and assume it will have a short life span before needing a face lift.  For once I’d to see someone actually give some thought to people.]

  33. Adam says:

    “Some urbanists want a more upscale design.”

    this is complete misrepresentation. urbanists want sustainable, pedestrian-oriented design, not necessarily “upscale” design.

  34. “Your challenge is how to make your vision relevant. Call it sustainable, call it green, call it eco-friendly, call it urban, call it pedestrian friendly, call it ADA compliant. Call it what you will. But will it attract investors, tenants, and broad based community support?”

    My feelings are that if a development were all, or even most of these things then by virtue it is automatically more appealing to the general public, tennants, investors, etc – even if they are not conciously aware of the reasons why.
    If development relates well to its surroundings, if building are made more “green” (ie, allowing in more natural light) have more landscaping/trees/etc then people are more invited & relaxed in the space. if they are in or above ADA minimal compliance and have good connectivity then it is easier for people who are completely able-bodied as well as those with a disability. If the built environment, and businesses attracted are more sustainable then these are assets to a community, boost property values and provide neighborhood stability.
    These issues and considerations may not be on the minds of the average Joe/ non-urbanist, but I guarantee you that most poeple would rate their experiences in these environments better, even if they don’t know what went into making that way.

    And just a short comment on Gravois Sprawl-Plaza – ask the people living in the flats directly across the street from the place, whos homes are lit up like it’s daylight with 2-billion candlepower helium arc tractor-beam floodlights every night if they think it’s a success. As them which way their property values have swung since then… Successful urban developement should increase the prop. values of neighbors, not drive it to the ground..

  35. Jim Zavist says:

    “Additional parking for either box could have been provided on the roof or below the building(s). The natural slope of the site would have helped make under the store parking less costly.” Yeah, if someone was ready to write a big check. In round numbers, parking on grade costs ±$10,000 per space, parking in a structure above grade costs ±$20,000 per space, and parking below grade costs ±$30,000 per space. The ADA has a strong preference for “flat” paths of travel, and limits ramps to 30′ per run and a 1:12 rise, so it takes a 30′ long ramp to gain just 30″. Retaining walls increase in price exponentially – a 20′ wall is four times as expensive as a 10′ wall. Elevators are in excess of $20,000 apiece. To do what Target did at Hampden and Chippewa probably increased their costs by more than $4 million (±200[?] spaces x $20,000/space difference + two elevators + 3 escalators). Why’d they do it? They had a proven track record there AND they owned the land (and they couldn’t get more). Here, as in many places, it’s cheaper to buy the needed dirt than to pay for structured parking (and to quit building once you “run out” of surface parking spaces). So given that the site was going to be big boxes (unfortunately), the “logical” and “cost-effective” solution is to do what they did – flatten the site, plop down the boxes and watch the cash roll in . . .

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Jim, you’ve made my point to a degree.  For the amount of earth they moved and the massive retaining walls they could have used the existing slope to enable them to parking at grade with the store above — about $20K per space as very little excavation would have been necessary. I personally would have eliminated all the earth moving and retaining walls — added cost with no benefit to the overall design.]

  36. Clay says:

    Jim Zavist said, “Why’d they do it? They had a proven track record there AND they owned the land (and they couldn’t get more).”

    Umm, actually, they did not own the land. As I recall Target threatened to pull out because the out-of-town landowners were less than cooperative.

  37. me too says:

    God I hate reading that word “umm” in blogposts. It’s like hearing some high dollar financier, elected official, or academe preface some conclusion with the words…”at the end of the day….(insert your conclusion here…)”.

    Yes I am trying to change the world.

  38. stlmark says:

    I will wait to pass full judgement on the accessibility and overall satisfaction/dissatisfaction with LC until the entire site is complete and occupied with businesses.

  39. “until the entire site is complete and occupied with businesses. ”
    Don’t hold your breath bud. I predict that like SC and GP, LC will NEVER be “complete and fully occupied”

  40. townie says:

    Southtown sits semi-vacant because Sansone/DDR are seeking rents higher at Southtown than are being seen in downtown STL.

  41. ct says:

    Good replies Steve and good posts Jim Zavist. I realize your point of view Steve and appreciate your efforts. I don’t think they did the best they could at LC, but I still see it as an improvement over what I had before. I would like to see a sidewalk and I hope there will be one soon. We all need to remember there is a second, much less busy entrance off Grand. If any pedestrians are concerned for their safety while the construction is still going on just use the sidewalk on Grand and come in the back way. I use that entrance every time by car, bike or foot.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — At some point we must develop a higher standard than simply it was better than before.  I would hope, after spending roughly $40 million dollars, the site would be improved.  We must shift our thinking and say, “OK, millions of dollars are being spent and every inch of the site is being touched, what is the best way to do this.”  

    To the many pedestrians living east of I-55 the Grand entrance is of no help.  It is, however, good for many people.  With lots of room I have to wonder why they didn’t provide any sidewalks here?  Answer?  They didn’t have to.  A few hundred feet of sitewalk alongside the Lowe’s would not have killed the project but nobody from the city spoke up to acknowledge all the adjacent houses and suggest that some my visit via foot.]

  42. apathy says:


    It sort of sounds like you are advocating a Supreme Soviet form of development controls.

    You write:

    “We must shift our thinking and say, “OK, millions of dollars are being spent and every inch of the site is being touched, what is the best way to do this.”

    What if a developer counters-this is the best I will give you, or this is what works for my company, or is this is what my tenant requires?

    Do we make them conform to the mandates of what “we” say?

    Where is the consensus for what the “we” will demand? Where are the urban design standards? This is about more than zoning.

    What constitutes a quality design varies according to the eyes of the beholder. You and I may agree on one thing, but there may be ten other people with a different opinion.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Adam has already responded after you but I need to specifically address your comment.  

    In 1926 the US Supreme Court upheld states rights to zoning — a legal form of police power.  This is a power granted by states to cities and counties (and townships, etc.. depending upon the state).   All major cities, except Houston, have enacted some form of zoning and land-use plans which dictate what will and will not be allowed to be built on private land.  Thus, the idea of establishing a community standard is hardly new.

    St. Louis’ zoning, dating to 1947, is from the cold war era of thinking.  First, every use should be separate.  An apartment above a storefront?  Oh no, not allowed.   Too bad that you want to live above your new establishment the way your father and grandfather did.  Nope, you need to build a storefront behind a huge sea of parking and then build your home in a single-family subdivision.  You will drive from one to the other.  This is the “new” way of doing things we’ve been living with for the last 60 years. 

    How many people that created the 1947 plan are even alive today?  Yet we live under their idea of city unless we jump through hoops (called campaign contributions) to obtain a variance if we want to deviate from the 1947 anti-urban vision of prior generations.  Talk about Soviet thinking!

    This is why I advocate new zoning to compliment our 2005 land-use plan.  This is why I advocate community planning for the city — by district or commercial corridor. We collectively reach a consensus about an area and then as projects are proposed a city staff person can determine if the proposal meets the plan, avoiding the political dance and hopefully community protest. 

    As Adam indicated after me, this actually works in other cities not so entrenched in machine politics.  We must be willing to take the necessary steps to have a discussion about zoning, building form and what it is we as a community seek.  Until we take that step we will be left with only what developers are willing to do — the lowest form of development.] 

  43. Adam says:

    “It sort of sounds like you are advocating a Supreme Soviet form of development controls.”

    i hardly think that reasonable zoning and development standards constitute a supreme Soviet form of control. it seems to work for other cities. maybe we should give it a try. and maybe what “we” demand should be decided by a democratic process and enforced by elected officials. makes sense to me anyway.

  44. john says:

    If JimZ is accurate in his description of ADA guidelines, then many of MetroLink ramps, especially in the WashU-Shrewsbury extension, FAIL to meet “preferred” standards. Probably compliant in a legal sense but not in a usage sense…not surprising. Just imagine using the ramp at the Shrewsbury station when two wheel chairs are going in the opposite direction! What a nightmare!

  45. oldguard says:

    Hey Adam,

    Then instead of BLOGGING about it, why don’t you DO SOMETHING???

  46. GMichaud says:

    Actually blogging is doing something. It is called democracy, or discussion of issues. It is the first step in determining policy. Discussion of issues is something City Hall does not do well, and sometimes not at all.
    Urban design is not simply in the eye of the beholder. Urban planning principles have been developed over 1000’s of years of human history. Much could be done to humanize and urbanize big box developments if the government acted as advocates for the citizens instead of only representing the interests of developers.

  47. ct says:

    “To the many pedestrians living east of I-55 the Grand entrance is of no help.”

    It’s not as convenient for those who might live north of Loughborough, but I wouldn’t say it’s of no help to anyone on that side. Remember Koeln Avenue goes underneath I-55 on the south side of the property. It’s a much safer and less hilly route if you have to come from that side of the highway.

  48. Jim Zavist says:

    Just a friendly comment/FYI to urban planners – putting “parking on the roof” is, at best, an academic exercise. There’s only one building that I’m aware of that does this (the Greyhound bus station in Denver), and they’ve given up on using the parking. (And this doesn’t apply to putting retail on the ground floor of a multi-level parking structure, just to the idea of putting a single level of parking on the roof.) It’s simply easier to put parking under a building (like the Southtown Target) than to put it on the roof (IF you can’t figure out how to get enough parking on grade).

    The reasons are purely pragmatic. The minimum design load for a roof is 20 pounds per square foot, 40 psf for automobile parking and 100 psf for retail stores. The preferred/minimum ceiling height in retail is 12′ – 14′, while 8′ is perfectly acceptable in a parking structure. (This equates to shorter ramps and fewer steps). The plumbing vents, roof drains and air conditioning units (that typically cover a store’s roof) need to be accomodated. In retail architecture, the fewer support columns the better – they’re less of an issue in a parking structure. But the biggest reason is leaks. Roofs eventually leak, and parking significantly complicates the problem.

    And while we can push cities to reduce their required parking minimums, the reality remains that most chain retailers have their own requirements that can be greater than city requirements. (If the developer can’t deliver enough parking, the deal won’t happen.) I’m not going to argue that chains are good (or bad), but they do drive most development and redevelopment projects. They have the credit and the credibility to get projects like this one financed. Given the right circumstances, chains can be “persuaded” to go into places where the parking numbers don’t “fit the mold” (Home Depot in NYC), but that’s the aberration, not the rule. Most retailers accept that the vast majority of their customers will drive to their store, and they want to make sure they can do so without too much effort.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The Whole Foods store in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego has roof parking.  Also, there is the proposal for a Lowe’s store with rooftop parking that I wrote about in October 2005.  I’m sure numerous other examples exist.  Yes, the cost per space is higher but depending upon how the site is used the difference can be made up by building more densly.

    Even if we are not into rooftop or underground parking just capping the parking at a reasonable/realistic number would be good.  DESCO bragged about having more parking than was required by the city.  Oh great, more paving without trees.  The day before thanksgiving the Schnuck’s lot was still not totally full.]  

  49. Adam says:

    good one, oldgaurd. i’m always amused with comments like “instead of BLOGGING about it, why don’t you DO SOMETHING???” because, of course, i can’t both blog AND participate in my community. SUPER LOGIC, OLDGAURD!

  50. Becker says:

    West County Mall has on-roof parking. I kind of hate to say it because almost no one knows about it and it is a great way to sneak in to a space right by a door.

  51. newurbanism says:


    Aside from blogging, how many hours of your time, or dollars from your treasure have you provided to further your urban vision for St. Louis? Talk is cheap. Money and time measure up to generating results. Especially money.

  52. Jim Zavist says:

    Hey guys, personal attacks do nothing to further the discussion. While “talk is cheap”, it’s the first step in solving any problem.

  53. historic says:


    You’re a relative newcomer…however, when it comes to talk, St. Louis has been doing it for years, and that’s going back way before the internet made the chatter deafening.

    We need action. We need people working together, we need people generating resources, we need people serving our community.

    Steve is providing a starting point for some to learn. They need to leave this website inspired to take action.

    There is much action to be taken. Just figure out a way to get involved. We don’t all need to architects, planners, or developers, but we do all have a role. For some it’s giving time, for others money. If we’re not giving anything, then our lives don’t matter.

  54. Jim Zavist says:

    I agree that action is required. That’s why I’m a big believer that if you’re not a part of the solution. you’re a part of the problem. But I’ve also found, as a newcomer, that it’s really hard to “pry the doors open” and to become a part of the process. As has been stated many times in many posts, many government officials around here seem / are unwilling to engage their constituents in many of their decision-making processes. It’s frustrating. We vent, a lot, here, because there are few other options. But it’s also a lot easier to focus on the problem when we’re attacking the problem and not each other’s perspectives . . .

  55. Adam says:

    you’re so right, new urbanism. i don’t donate thousands or even hundrends of dollars to campaigns to elect officials that will push “my” urban vision. and alas, i have no wealthy friends in high places to influence big decisions. sorry, i’m just a lowly citizen with an opinion. anyway, i DON’T spend my money at shit developments like Fill-in-the-blank Commons. i support local, independent retail as much as possible. i attend neighborhood meetings and take part in clean-ups, plantings, fund-raisers, etc as often as i can. i vote. i pay taxes. i walk, ride my bike, or take metrolink whenever possible. in any case, i have an opinion. you have an opinion. i’m blogging. you’re blogging. tell us a little bit about YOUR contributions, will you?

    thought to myself: i wish there were a way to determine when one person makes multiple comments under different screen-names…

  56. Adam says:

    and please get off of your pedestals. blogging and active participation are not mutually exclusive.

  57. metropolitan says:

    Hey Adam,

    We’re with you. We don’t donate one dime to candidates. We go out of our way to avoid political loyalties because that sword cuts both ways. We’ve been down that road before and learned it’s better to stay politically neutral at the aldermanic level and focus on the longer term (although we do publicly support our mayor).

    We donate funds to community based organizations. We actively participate in community planning efforts. We donate hundreds of hours in support of community development efforts. We work locally. We own a city home. We are active in a number of local community organizations. And we build bridges between neighborhoods and other community organizations.

    If you’re wondering about whether some persons post under multiple names, you’re wondering right. I’m not interested in publicly disclosing my identity in a blog which permits anonymous posting. I’m more interested in the exchange of ideas here which fuel further thought and dialogue. (By the way, note how at PubDef the conversation in the comments section has now devovled heavily into a much smaller circle of commenters, slanted partly by Catholic zealots promoting their very outed perspectives on vouchers and other narrowly held views.)

    And to Mr. Zavist, with all due respect, I must disagree with your observation that it’s hard to get involved in St. Louis. Many people may not like what it takes, but it definitely is not hard. It takes time, yes. You need to show up. But if you show up and work, starting at the neighborhood level, there are countless opportunities to make a difference.

    We are a neighborhood and community organization town. If you are not comfortable working in those settings, then yes, you would have difficulty getting invovled. However, if you are fluid at the neighborhood level, then you should find our city very inviting indeed.

  58. Eric says:

    Apropos of nothing, you know what I think of when I see that parking lot pic? Six Flags. Except that Batman: The Ride is generally more exhilarating than buying produce.

  59. Jason Toon says:

    Shorter version of the sockpuppet known as oldguard/newurbanism/historic/metropolitan:

    “I will sling baseless insults at other posters at the drop of a hat, and demand evidence that they meet a standard of activism that I find acceptable. I am also a total coward.”

    For someone like you, I agree that hiding your identity is a good idea: less chance that somebody will pop you in your fool head after you idiotically shoot your mouth off on a message board. Stay safe, coward.

  60. Jason Toon says:

    Toon’s Law:

    Anyone who says something like “Instead of blogging about your problem, why don’t you do something about it?” ON AN INTERNET MESSAGE BOARD is a grade-A pompous ass. Nothing this person says need ever be acknowledged or given the slightest credence, ever again.


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