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Downtown Gets Yet Another Plaza

Today (4/3/09) at 4pm Mayor Slay will officially open The Old Post Office Plaza. This is more open space in a downtown with too much open space but not enough quality urban public space.  And though it may look like it, this plaza is not public.

This 3/4-acre plaza is owned, not by the city, but Downtown Now/The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis.  The plaza is to the North of the Old Post Office, across Locust between 8th & 9th (map).

Don’t confuse this new private plaza with the private plaza one block East, that unused plaza will soon become another parking garage.

The plaza is considered a key piece of the emerging Old Post Office Square, which includes the renovated Old Post Office building across the street at 815 Olive St. and Roberts Brothers Properties’ planned $70 million, 24-story residential tower adjacent to the Roberts-owned Mayfair Hotel at Locust and Eighth streets. (source, August 2007)

The plaza’s designers, BSN Architects of Toronto, describe the project:

The winner of an invited architectural competition, this new public Plaza celebrates the adjacent historic Old Post Office of St. Louis and actively engages the surrounding urban form.  A dramatic three dimensional armature is proposed to provide substantive user amenity and involve the public in the unfolding urban drama of the revitalized downtown. Its morphology incorporates surrounding built features into a dynamic stage for public life inspired by an operatic interpretation of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus.

Yes, some architects actually talk like that.

A year ago the project hit a snag which delayed completion:

Underground construction debris has caused design changes and a three-month delay of the Old Post Office Plaza.

Construction crews working on the $8.2 million Old Post Office Plaza at Ninth and Locust streets downtown hit a snag in recent months when they uncovered concrete, steel and other debris beneath the ground.

The St. Nicholas Hotel, built in the 1850s, was formerly located on the site. The hotel was demolished in 1974, but remnants were left behind. “They simply let it collapse into the ground,” said Kozeny-Wagner President Pat Kozeny. “There’s structural steel, even the building’s elevator.” (source, March 2008)

In August 2008 construction was well underway:

A couple of days ago it now looked like:

As you can see it is mostly a hard surface plaza.  This, I believe, is appropriate for an urban context.  Except for the fact we already have the Arch grounds, Kiener Plaza, Gateway Mall, Baer Plaza, etc…  We need less open space to help create more urban space.  This block, like all the others, used to be filled with buildings.

When it came time to renovate the Old Post Office a 2nd time, the need for immediately adjacent parking was cited by potential tenants.  So although this site existed to the North of the Old Post Office, we instead raze the marble-clad Century Building which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Some said a garage could not be built on this site.  I say BS.

Hardscape plazas can be interesting.  No doubt Dundas Square (Wikipedia, map) in Toronto was an inspiration:

Above: Dundas Square in July 2006
Dundas Square is a wonderful urban space – very dynamic.  When I visited Toronto in July 2006 my hotel was just a couple of blocks away.  I saw the space on normal days as well as packed for a large annual event.
I haven’t been in the Old Post Office Plaza yet because it has been fenced off as construction was being completed.  I’m looking forward to experiencing the space this afternoon.  I did roll by along the sidewalk on the South edge:
It is shiny & new.  It is more interesting than the old collection of surface parking lots.  But from the outside looking in I could see (not see?) one glaring omission: bike parking.  Holding large events in a vibrant urban area naturally draws crowds on bikes.  Well designed spaces make sure cyclists have a place to secure their bikes.  Such was the case at Dundas Square:

Yet this new $8 million + facility doesn’t have a single bike rack that I could see.  I guess everyone is expected to drive to the plaza to help justify the garage that replaced the historic Century Building?

The ribbon cutting is 4pm today with activities this weekend.


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. Clark says:

    Which architects talk like that? Albert Speer?

  2. Clark says:

    Sorry for jumping so quickly to prove Godwin’s Law.

  3. Jimmy Z says:

    I agree, downtown has “too much open space”, but I’m not sure that this doesn’t qualify as “quality urban public space”. From what I can see from your photos, it looks like it’s a well-designed addition to downtown, assuming we needed another plaza/pocket park. It also appears to be much more “user friendly” than the multi-block series of parks and plazas between Market and Chestnut. Ideally, we’d see a new building (or older ones retained) on the site. Realistically, few new buildings are being built downtown, so this sure beats the next viable/previous alternative, surface parking.

    As for the bike parking, I agree, it’d be a nice amenity to include – it may still be in the works (and not yet installed) or it may not have seen to be a need or a program requirement. A bigger issue, from both a safety and maintenance standpoint is the attractive nuisance component – this looks like it’s going to be a GREAT skateboard venue, in a city that could really use one! It’s got ramps, it’s got ledges, it’s got rails, it even has multiple vertical surfaces for tagging! Hopefully Downtown Now/The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis have budgeted for those expenses . . .

  4. samizdat says:

    More nothing space which no one will hang out in when the temps rise over 87-or drop below 60. At least they could have made the paving semi-permeable. Lovely, more storm-water runoff which contributes to the already over-loaded combined sewer system. Can anyone in this town actually think into the next few decades, instead of just doing things as they have been for the last Century? Blockheads.

  5. Todd says:

    I’d throw in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland as another example of another vibrant urban hard surface plaza. Portland, however, is much less plagued by excessive numbers of surface parking lots in its downtown than St. Louis is.

  6. John M. says:

    At first glance I like it. But that is acknowledging the good observations and criticisms already made. I see the new home for the Locust Avenue Film Festival. I think that is what Mike called it. But a whole lot ‘o fun every time. Second only to the taste of Stl.

  7. Steveo says:

    I like the plaza IF it is used. Of course that’s the rub, but maybe downtown activity will concentrate here and we can begin to build on the other plazas – hopefully something more than parking garages.

  8. We don’t see residents walking around the OPO complaining about insufficient open space. Lucas Park and Keiner Plaza are only a few blocks away. Residents don’t use those Plazas enough as it is. This was a complete waste and another example of our ribbon cutting for the sake of ribbon cutting.

    Along with 3 other buildings, Sullivan’s 10 story St. Nicholas Hotel, aka Victoria Building, once stood at this site. Why are we squandering the opportunity for buildings at this prime location?

    A parking lot could have been removed for a new building. But would the Downtown Partnership do the same for their plaza?

    The ideal outcome would have been infill not an urban plaza which has no demand except in the eyes of politicians who need citations for campaign literature.

  9. Armature? LOL.

  10. jdb says:

    You all need to give this place a chance. We have significant residential projects to the north (Robert’s Tower) and to the west (Roberts Lofts – old school district office project, whatever it’s called now). This is an urban plaza. It has a nice sense of urban enclosure, nice scale.

    Contrast this with the plaza in front of the US Bank building.

    There’s some really neat things going on with the architecture and landscape design (yes, hardscape is landscape!). The lighting is actually part of the urban idea – the large pylon type lights. I’ve seen the water feature when they were testing it and it’s cool – pouring off the metal mesh structure. This is a big step forward for downtown urban space. Missing bike racks should be pretty easy to fix.

    I’m excited to see it open!

  11. john says:

    Who needs or wants bike parking in that concrete jungle? I’ll keep my pedaling wings in gear and head to the Arch grounds or other areas before stopping in this labyrinth. Probably cheaper and better PR to delay the garage to another day and concrete is easier to install/maintain than shade.

  12. mark groth says:

    Steve, were you interviewed on KSDK? I thought I walked by a TV and saw you with this place in the background. If so, did you give em hell or did you bow down to Diane Lane and pull a Downtown Now?

    [slp — yes, that was me. You can find the video on KSDK.com. ]

  13. john m says:

    I think we should hold a TEDxSTL (pending) at this site. What do you think Steve? I have submitted my request to TED for this to happen on their side. I assume I would approach Downtown Now for use of this space?

    Let’s use this wonderful gift for spreading voices just like your own by holding a TED event here. I would love to get you on board. I just wanted to get the ball rolling. In fact if I remember you expressed a liking of T(echnology)E(tertainment)D(esign) efforts.

    I had trouble finding the video of you on KSDK, which by the way I cannot stand their site. I never can find anything of value that is not already highlighted.

  14. Jimmy Z says:

    I made it down to see it in person and I like it. I see a LOT of potential for it to enhance the adjacent residential developments, which can do nothing but help the rest of downtown.

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