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Downtown Bookended by Delayed (Dead?) Mega-projects

July 16, 2008 Downtown, Economy, Eminent Domain, Planning & Design 18 Comments

Acres and acres sit idle on the edges of downtown awaiting promised new development.  On the South edge we have Ballpark Village and just North of America’s Center and the Edward Jones Dome we have the Bottleworks District.  Both have made news over the past few
years, lately for not going anywhere.

Above:  blocks sit vacant awaiting the proposed Bottleworks District
The latter was in the news again this week for a settlement on one of the blocks the city took from its rightful owner:

A St. Louis jury awarded $2.8 million on Friday to the former owner of two acres just north of the Edwards Jones Dome downtown in a fight over eminent domain.

The city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Agency condemned the two-acre tract after the owner refused sell it in 2005 for $523,000.

The property, a city block bordered by Sixth, Seventh, Carr and Biddle Streets, was included in the “Bottle District” redevelopment plan for a $226 million entertainment destination including a restaurant, concert venue and bowling alley. It has not yet come through.

Today the entire site remains covered in gravel with much of the intact street grid blocked by Jersey barriers.

The surrounding blocks could have been developed without taking this one block from the owner.  But assembling larger and larger tracts for larger and larger projects is what proponents say must be done to get development.  Judging from the broken sidewalks and vacant blocks of land  think perhaps it is high time we questioned this practice.

Granted creating the ideal urban building on a single narrow parcel surrounded by vacant blocks is going to be an island for a long time.  Development does have to be large enough to build both excitement and a sustainable level of visitors.

An alternative to the single developer mega-project is to create a zoning overlay district that outlines the urban design qualities that future buildings must have.  This allows different property owners to participate in the redevelopment.  It also allows the business owner to build their own structure without being tied up in an increasingly complicated and difficult process of financing the mega-project.

This city was built one building at a time — each fitting into the grid.  I think we need to return to such a scale to finish filling in the gaps in our urban fabric.


Currently there are "18 comments" on this Article:

  1. trigger says:

    The Bottleworks site is the perfect location to build Danforth’s new museum. It would expand the number of attractions in downtown St. Louis without violating the sanctity of the Arch grounds.
    If there was a new Memorial Drive, then Danforth’s museum would be the first big thing you’d see on the north side of downtown St. Louis.
    At the Bottleworks site, the new museum would be strategically located between the Edward Jones Dome, Laclede’s Landing, the Lumiere Casino, and Washington Avenue.
    This is a potential win-win all around: Danforth gets his museum, everyone makes nice with the NPS, the Bottle District site gets a good, long term use, and downtown has one more major anchor.
    What’s not to like?

  2. southsider says:

    i like the sounds of your idea to rezone and step out of the way. those dopes at cda should stop chasing the big project and concentrate on making an environment suitable for small business to thrive. anything of else with merit will arrive in due course and survive based on merit.

    beside, remember those dorky glasses that german architect was wearing when the bottle works tower was announced. i knew the project was dead then. the guy can t even get the trade center rebuilt.

  3. john w. says:

    Libeskind is not in control of what get’s built on the WTC site, and is in fact not even involved at this stage. David Childs of SOM is the design architect of the deplorable and embarassing Freedom Tower, not Libeskind, so you may want to check your facts. Libeskind’s attire has nothing to do with his needlessness in St. Louis, because his needlessness is obvious enough. Anything with ‘merit’ will not arrive in due course if no promise of an environment appropriate to the cultivation of small business can be made and believed. Huge, multi-acre sites are unwieldy and in other than the most bountiful of times, offer little promise of realization. These are certainly not bountiful times, and will get more austere before recovery will be seen.

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Show me the money. Plans are cheap to produce, but getting people to invest real money in real projects is much harder. Assembling larger tracts and creating a vision is not necessarily a bad thing – the alternative is either doing nothing, and letting the decline continue, or relying on the private sector to create a vision. In some cases, the private sector delivers. But in too many cases, especially in struggling or non-hot areas, the private sector will only deliver the lowest common denominator solution.
    Both proposed projects are victims of both the sluggish national economy and our own struggling local economy, as well as potentially flawed optimism. Developers, owners and tenants all want to invest in areas where they think they’ll make the most money, and there’s little about either project that screams “you’ll do great here”. The pragmatic world of economics, taxes, incentives, demographics and sales figures is having a much bigger impact on the progress (or lack thereof) of these projects than anything the city has or hasn’t done on the zoning side.
    Steve’s mostly right, relying on one master developer to finance and deliver a mega project is becoming increasingly more difficult. The only thing I need to disagree with is the need for a “zoning overlay district that outlines the urban design qualities that future buildings must have.” While high standards eventually may result in a much better built environment, we walk a fine line between having reasonable standards and having standards that are viewed as being too restrictive. It’s good to have goals, but they need to be achieveable!

  5. john w. says:

    I’m not sure you followed what I was saying, which was that I agree with overlay zoning but not one momentous effort by a single umbrella entity, or even one entity, building huge, multi-acre sites of development. Assembling large tracts of land for the purpose of creating a vision is a FANTASTIC thing, and then would be template for those small businesses to open, and KNOW that similar and congruent functions would be slated for adjacency (based upon physical form and not occupancy, however). Show you the money? No. You show yourself the money. Jim, like you just stated, “the alternate [to no planning] is either doing nothing, and letting decline continue, or relying on the private sector to create a vision”. I tend to believe there are plenty of businesses that would love to locate in an area that is ABSOLUTELY designated for this type of developement FORM, and an overlay (PUD) would undeniably be an excellent place to start.

  6. Tim E says:

    Ballpark Village and Bottle District are two different monsters in my opinion. BPV is an opportunity created by demolishing a stadium. This will happen while before the montrosity of Bottle District. The site will also favor more density (Offices, retail, residential, and hotel rooms will all be suitable for this site and going vertical will only make the developers more money in the long term).

    My fear for the Bottle District is that the current land owners are letting it sit as a future site for the next big football stadium or their assembling parcels for a major big box store development that will happen when the New Mississippi River bridge is built (empty gravel lots are cheap to maintain). Unfortunately, the city is getting played on this one in that the market doesn’t even come close to supporting a huge dense infill project. Heck, BPV is delayed and Pyramid collapsed under its own weight even before they could start on the Laural Lofts or at least tear down the skybridge.

  7. Colin says:

    Exactly what happened on Easter Island.

  8. John M. says:

    No doubt, Steve and Jim both know what they are talking about. Jim I couldn’t agree more with your very clear and simple portrayal of this and many other developments. Well said.

  9. studs lonigan says:

    What specifically are the Ball Park Village developers waiting for? Why don’t they begin? Why isn’t Mayor Slay calling them out on a regular basis and putting his foot in their ass?

    My opinion is that the BPV folks intend to let the project languish for a few more years, during which they will brazenly weather criticism from the Fred Lindecke-Ed Golterman-minded citizenry, dunning editorials in the PD and perhaps even a peep or two from the Mayor’s Office. Gradually, disappointed indignation will give way to pervasive disbelief that the project will ever happen and the conviction that only naive dolts and certifiable idiots ever thought it would. Right about then, we’ll get some grass, benches, trees, and a baseball-themed fountain and that’ll be that. They will not be penalized and grateful, Cardinal-loving St. Louisans will point out that, well, at least it looks nice. And that’ll be that.

  10. john w. says:

    …ugh. Let’s hope not.

  11. Jim Zavist says:

    No, what we’re gonna get, short term, is some new asphalt and some big white tents for next year’s All-Star game and its Fan Fest!

  12. trigger says:

    DeWitt says the housing component of BV is being put on hold to allow time for the housing market to recover. That’s not stopping the Robertses. Their Roberts Tower is under construction.
    Meanwhile, Ballpark Village has a much better location and could sell half the units to gazillionaire baseball players or corporations.
    I wonder what the Roberstes would do if they were the owners of Ballpark Village?
    DeWitt’s performance at BV is an embarassment.

  13. Dave says:

    These mega-developments usually only pull progress from other urban areas and at best cater to suburban-minded folks that are then happy to dine out at the new chain restaurants until they become stale.

    Urban development is best when a city provides the infrastructure and tax incentives to spur development by multiple independent developers. This immediately provides for a diverse building stock and removes the need for cannibalizing other areas with all-at-once development and working out rediculously complex financing.

    How different would the area of Ballpark Village look had the city agreed to rebuild the street grid and in turn requested that the Cardinals owners sell the individual blocks to developers at market value? Perhaps the city could have even given the Cardinals permission to find their own developer to build on one of the blocks? The city would have then used the public money to restore utilities and the street grid, while the Cardinals still could have made loads of cash selling land to other developers and developing on one of the blocks themselves. Hmm, think Centene might have been able to build their HQ then if they could have just had the land and used their own developer? Also all of the utilities, street and sidewalks would already be in place.

    Ballpark Village is a mess and unfortunately there is not much we can do about the soon to be faux-urban development that will get built. However, the city could step in at the Bottle District site and use public money to restore the street-grid w/ wide ped-friendly sidewalks and then have the individual blocks sold to developers for development. Perhaps the area could even have a TIF to provide further incentives to developers.

  14. southsider says:

    bpv will not get started until potential commercial tenants start to sign leases. its pretty simple. the residential component will suffer likewise until the dt loft market picks up. in the mean time lets not get all fussy about holding peoples feet to the fire.

  15. studs lonigan says:

    With all due respect to the previous post(er), unlike some St. Louisans, I have a long memory regarding this town’s LACK of “fussiness” about feet and fire. Example: the Kiel Partners pledged to renovate and reopen Kiel Opera House in exchange for a miscellany of indulgences and goodies from the city. Instead, they spent a certain figure and coolly announced that their work was done and it was all they cared to do and see ya around. What consequences were incurred by their brazen lies? Not much fussiness, unfortunately.

    If all DeWitt & Co. have to do to plead off doing anything is contrive excuses and delays based on uncontrollable market forces, they will put their energies into that rather than turn any earth or actually keep their word. Their arrogant treatment of the citizens of St. Louis, who represent one of the most vital baseball “markets” in the nation, was nothing better than extortion.

    Before the public coffers and taxing jurisdictions in a supposedly strapped municipality are raided to benefit billionaires who actually blackmail the rabble and their scared-ass elected officials with relocating the baseball team, ironclad agreements with real teeth and fiscal consequences should be drafted and assiduously enforced by the city. Of course, if such governing documentation was possible, it would probably all be moot because the city would have the balls to say no in the first place. Fool me once…

    As Ed Golterman said about the status of BPV when the Centene charade ended: “Leaders of this city have no right to be so naive.”

  16. harry s truman says:

    I would argue that Chouteau’s Landing is the real southern anchor for downtown. I just dont think this project can ever happen. The “developer” (per city of STL) controls only tiny pieces of the land required to make a big play and all that has been developed in five years is a small bar on 4th st. The big building by the highway is about to cave in on itself – (despite the banners) or is that just grafitti?

    The city granted redevelopment rights to Chivvis Development LLC. Who are these people? Do they have any clue what they are doing? This just seems like another “Pyramid” scheme.

  17. studs lonigan says:

    Ironically, a major impetus for the whole concept of “Chouteau’s Landing” and the “Ice House District” was the development of BPV. These two proposed new redevelopment areas were seen as bridges between the revitalizing downtown and the revitalized Soulard. Even without BPV, it makes sense to create these new districts, which will probably succeed through organic growth (and some incentives!) before BPV ever gets to first base.

    I went to Agave in “the Grove” for dinner Saturday night. What is happening in that district, particularly in the present economy, gives me hope not only for individual neighborhoods but for the entire City’s prospects. While it’s still far removed from the CWE or the Delmar Loop, that stretch of Manchester is even more removed from where it was ten years ago. Morgan Ford is another zone that is changing every day for the better. Both of these are occurring without the presence of a big-ticket, silver-bullet, mega-project to buoy them along.

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