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The Future of a Tiny Vacant Lot on Cherokee Street

June 3, 2009 Cherokee Business District 14 Comments

For decades a handsome 3-story building stood over the SE corner of Cherokee & Texas (map).  The building served as home to the Empire Sandwich Shop.

Above: Building at Cherokee & Texas before being razed in the Spring of 2006. Source: City of St. Louis.

By 2005 the Empire was closed.  The building’s owners, unable to sell the property, “gifted” it to the City of St. Louis.  Within months the roof caved in.  9th Ward Alderman Ken Ortmann was faced with a “heartbreaking” reality: emergency demolition of the building.

Source: Google Maps Street View
Source: Google Map's Street View

In the 3 years since the building came down the city owned corner has changed little.  The ground is uneven and bare.  It is a hole in an otherwise mostly intact and up and coming commercial district.  The other three corners at the intersection are in the 20th Ward represented by Ald. Craig Schmidt.  Furthermore the South side of Cherokee Street is the Gravois Park neighborhood while the North side is Benton Park West.  Add in the Cherokee Station Business Association and you quickly get a lot of interested parties.

In October 2008 it was announced “the Incarnate Word Foundation has agreed to invest $25,000 to seed what those who care about the neighborhood decide would be most effective in answering these questions.”  A meeting was held to get ideas.  Out of that came three concepts: a free wi-fi network for Cherokee Street, a community garden and a plaza on this vacant corner lot (more info from Cherokee Street News).  In November a community vote on the 3 concepts was held.

The plaza on the vacant city owned lot won the vote, eventually.  Voting took place over a couple of months.  The plaza idea was announced the winner in late January (view).

Alderman Ken Ortmann refused to release the lot, he wants to keep it available for new construction.  He supports grass but with the city staying in control of the lot.  I agree the lot needs to have a building.  There is no such thing as a temporary plaza.

A couple of people brought the issue to my attention.  I called Ald. Ortmann to discuss.  I’ve been at odds numerous times with Ald Ortmann before but in this case I think he is right to hold out for a new building. I agree with him that a miscommunication occured.  This is why email makes such a nice record.

So what is the wait?  Yes, the current economy is a mess.  But 3 years later no grass?  No RFP (Request for Proposals) issued by the city to unload the lot and get a new building?

Further reading:

All this talk of Cherokee Street has me thinking I need to find a smoke-free place there for some good Mexican food!


Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. Chris says:

    If we can’t keep stupid plazas out of downtown, maybe we can at least keep them out of our neighborhoods.

  2. bridgett says:

    There may not be such a thing as a temporary plaza, but one of the other suggestions–a community garden–could be a temporary solution. It would at least be less of an eyesore until someone can gather the ideas, funds, etc to build something.

  3. Adam says:

    ^ the more community gardens the better.

  4. Jimmy Z says:

    Make it a “temporary” parking lot! 😉

    Realistically, if a building is the right answer (and I think one would be), do a better job of pacakging and marketing the parcel, don’t just let it languish with the LRA. And while it’s probably heresy, I’d start with a chain like Chipotle or Qdoba or El Pollo Loco and see if they could be convinced to come in – they’ve got the deeper pockets and a proven track record. (I don’t have any quarrel with the Chipotle in the Loop, although I know a lot of others do.)

  5. zung says:

    JZ – you goat! Folks went crazy with chains invading the UCity Loop, and you are promoting a Qdoba for Cherokee? The horror!You’ll be kicked out of hipster circles everywhere for thinking like that! How uncool of you!

  6. aaron says:

    I’d rather not see a chain on cherokee, but it would be a lot better than an empty lot. If a chain were to move in, i would hope it would at least be a locally owned franchise, rather than a corporate location.

  7. Adam says:

    a chain might help but NOT a mexican food chain! there’s a ton of authentic mexican food on cherokee already. at least make it something that isn’t already there and won’t harm local businesses.

  8. Angelo says:

    The community came together, nearly 200 people, and voted on three proposals: the Community Plaza (which won), the community garden, and community Wi-Fi. 77 people voted for the plaza, 70 for the garden, and 40 for the Wi-Fi. That’s a pretty substantial number of people considering how low community participation is in most parts of the country.

    Also, to tell the truth, many people from the other proposals (and who supported the other proposals) got behind the winning plaza….while also working to further the projects they originally promoted. I myself was on the Wi-Fi team….but lended my support to the Plaza.

    Whatever you personally envision for the spot; our local community came together with a solid plan….and quite abit of money. To block that is to reject community-level control.

    The debate over whether or not a building should go there is moot. A structure will not be built for a long time. It’s far cheaper to simply rehab or rent one of the many vacant buildings on the street. The lot is also rather small, most corporate chains need more space than what is provided.

    Only a small business would want to build on that space….but, again, that would only happen if there weren’t so many available buildings on the street.

    You know what the song says “You can’t always get what you want….”. If it were up to me I would have a ten foot statue of Fran Drescher…but I am always willing to put my personal preferences behind the needs and desires of the community.

  9. Jimmy Z says:

    Great points, Angelo – the question remains, then, why has nothing happened for 3 years?! Does Ortmann really have that much power? Is this just another example of an elected representative not really representing his constituents?

  10. Angelo says:

    From what we found out, the LRA (which owns the lot) never goes against the wishes of the alderman. Without his approval, nothing can happen with that lot.

    As you well know, our city is oriented towards Aldermanic power. The wards are given alot of discretion on their own affairs, channeled through their elected representative.

    Unfortunately, because of the bizarre gerrymandering that takes place, what is a central part of our community is the periphery of the 9th ward. In other words; the people in support of the project were divided by the ward boundaries. 100 people in favor of a project translates into 50 people in one ward and 50 in another. Ortmann could block the proposal with minimum political fallout.

    That reminds me, any of you who happen to be in growing, prospering, empowered communities ought to watch out in 2011. The city government doesn’t like the status quo being challenged. Further dividing of communities at the ward level is likely; simply to keep in power our oh-so benevolent officials.

    [slp — this is unrelated to your comment above but I want to note that in 1990 I worked at an antique store East of Jefferson and for lunch I’d walk to a Subway West of Jefferson. The franchised chain did not survive.]

  11. I have no worries about “Mexican” chains on Cherokee. They would fail.

  12. Ben says:

    The city has long suffered from severe balkanization at the local level because if its plethora of tiny wards with small populations, such that alderpeople readily bow to neighborhood politics to stay in office. Large wards that encompass many neighborhoods, and thus have diverse constituency, do not see the this-side-of-the-track vs. that-side tensions expressed so strongly in the political sphere.

    Should the 20th ward again be gerry-mandered to a new location in the coming years, might I propose a new location?


    It’s got great views of the river (when it’s not under the river).

  13. Brian S. says:

    There used to be a Subway on Cherokee back in the day. A chain like that would be preferable to a Qdoba or Chipolte (who I don’t think would have any interest in this area anyway), but I’d still rather see something like, say, the Empire Sandwich Shop.

  14. Angelo says:

    All I can say is….if you want it…support it. Come down to Cherokee Street regularly, shop local and independent, and the local community will grow and prosper. At some point what you want will be a possibility…but you have the lay the foundation first. In economics, that foundation is demand.


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