Home » Downtown »Pedestrian Mall »Planning & Design »Travel » Currently Reading:

Tearing Out A Pedestrian Mall

July 3, 2009 Downtown, Pedestrian Mall, Planning & Design, Travel 12 Comments

Soon we will see crews doing to St. Louis’ North 14th Street what I saw yesterday in the town of Rockford Illinois:  ripping out a tired pedestrian mall  (Map).

Crews began ripping out the two remaining blocks last month.

There were 48 retailers, restaurants and salons on the mall when it opened in 1975. Today only two of those 48 are still there. Five years later, in 1980, retail establishments on those four blocks were already being decimated as shoppers flocked to shopping centers and the CherryVale Mall that opened in 1973.   (source)

The same story can be told in places where the mall was seen as the way to lure shoppers away from new open-air & enclosed malls in the suburbs.  Rockford appears to have been on the cutting edge with efforts to revitalize their downtown.  Cutting edge planning has been destructive to cities and their downtowns.  Revitalization efforts today are often simply to undo past mistakes.  Rockford’s retail area is now firmly embeded in the think ring of sprawl.  The 21st century version will be different than it was 75 years ago but also different than it has been over the last 30 years.

I had lunch inside the restaurant you see pictured with the outdoor seating.  I asked my waitress what she thought of the mall going away.  She didn’t want to see it go. I should not the mall was older than she was.

She was skeptical of the plans for having traffic on the street.  “I hope it works out,” she said.  Indeed, I plan to return after the Main Stret reopens.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "12 comments" on this Article:

  1. samizdat says:

    I am aware of only one mall of this type that works, and works well: the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, CO. The difference in Boulder is that the City of Boulder has taken a very proactive role in shaping the area around the Mall. Most new development seems to relate on a design standpoint which is mostly missing from other developments. The role of the new structures in Boulder seems to enhance the Pearl Street development, rather than detract from it. Not one of buildings I observed was over three stories tall, and they all came right up to the sidewalk. Very attractive and well-planned area, overall. ‘Tis the exception, though. Of course, the presence of the UC campus in town surely has a positive benefit, as well. Boulder has PLANNED well, not just for the Mall, but the entire City. All stakeholders seem to get a say, especially transit users and cyclists. Something which is missing here in STL: Citywide planning focused on improving the entire City, not just a building or neighborhood, and certainly not benefitting one person or entity over another. All of which is why so many people wnat to move to, and live in, the City of Boulder, and not the City of St. Louis. I would guess the citizens of Boulder have much more confidence in their political leadership simply because of what they see around them. Results speak louder than campaign rhetoric and the lies coming from marketing/PR whores.

  2. Jimmy Z says:

    Much like Portland, OR, Boulder’s mall, as well as the rest of the city’s planning efforts, are a “success” primarily because of its greenbelt/UGB, which distorts supply (reduced) and demand (increased). There really is no other place to build much competition, so if you want to be in Boulder, you either have to be on the Pearl Street Mall or in Crossroads Mall (until recently, an aging enclosed mall, now a lifestyle center). The downside is the diversity that made Boulder so attractive in the ’70’s has changed as the city has gentrified and the “price of admission”, has increased, substantially – kinda like Rodeo Drive or Michigan Avenue, if you can afford to be there, it’s great. The negative fallout has been the phenomenal growth beyond the greenbelt, in the growing cities of Broomfield, Louisville, Lafayette, Longmont, Erie, etc., where typical suburban sprawl is picking up the affordabilty slack that Boulder has moved beyond.

    Two other malls that I’m familair with are the 16th Street Mall in Denver and the 4th Street Mall in Louisville, KY. Denver’s mall has evolved into a big success because it includes a transit component, where free buses run as frequently as every 70 seconds, much like horizontal elevators, allowing downtown workers and visitors to easily access all parts of the mall quickly. Essentially it’s an elongated TOD project, with major bus stations at either end and light rail crossing in the middle. Louisville’s mall, on the other hand, continues to struggle and tries to “reinvent” itself on a regular basis, including a Cordish venture (the guys trying to pull off Ball Park Village here) call 4th St. Live. It, however, remains more in the camp of “you succeeded in killing off the old downtown, now how do you attract people back from the suburbs?”

    In contrast to downtown St. Louis, all three examples above started with linear downtowns – there was one main retail spine, which “made sense” (back in the day) for malling. Here, apparently, there was no one street downtown that cried out to be malled, so inertia worked, sort of, with 20/20 hindsight – retail wasn’t driven out by a converted-street mall, it simply followed its customers to the suburbs without that to blame (although we do have that enclosed mall to take its place). Bottom line, retail is driven by and supported by customers. Either you need to preserve and continue to grow the local area’s employment base or you need to limit suburban retail options. Ripping out the mall on St. Louis’ North 14th Street certainly can’t hurt. The real trick will be in attracting the customers back, both old and new. It’ll be interesting to see whether North 14th Street or Manchester in the Grove is more successful – they’re both starting at roughly (both literally and figuratively) the same place . . .

  3. City Worker says:

    I disagree with Jimmy Z’s take on the Grove and Old North. The Grove has population density way higher than Old North, and the Manchester district was not completely emptied out like 14th Street. Also, Manchester from Vandeventer to Kingshighway is over five times as long as 14th Street from St. Louis Avenue to Warren Street. Plus the Grove has emerged as food and drink destination, and 14th Street is not likely to head that way. Manchester is already pretty established, while 14th Street will get its start in a few months.

    Apples and oranges.

  4. northside neighbor says:

    Manchester in St. Louis was never converted into a pedestrian mall. A better comparison would be Manchester in Maplewood, pre-Kmart removal. When Kmart and its lame parking structure came down, Manchester in Maplewood’s downtown opened back up and came to life.

    The circa 1960’s Maplewood Kmart plan was an attempt to mall-ify downtown Maplewood. Failed. The year 2000 or so reworking of Manchester in Maplewood into a traditional main street again was part of the total Maplewood turnaround.

  5. john w. says:

    Though the turnaround has been much slower than expected, as evidenced by what should be choice storefront real estate on the 7600 block that remains boarded up and vacant, and other trying shops struggle. I would submit that the life-sucking hole that is the SnS parking lot, which now sits where the former drugs and prostitution shop of a parking garage once stood (and where a mirror image of the historic southern southern side of the street stood before that) is preventing this otherwise intact historic stretch of Manchester from really exploding. Friday and Saturday nights are quite active with Boogaloo and Jive & Wail, but the restaurants alone can’t keep the streets at this level of activity constant. I believe a critical infill project at the outer, southern edge of the SnS parking lot would both flank and envelop Manchester properly and screen the volume of the parking lot and suburban style facade of the grocery store and strip mall. A new mixed-use project is also hoped, from the city of Maplewood, to soon be built on the space occupied by Metro bus loop around the corner and to the south on Sutton Boulevard.

  6. Jimmy Z says:

    The challenge with any retail district is attracting AND keeping customers. St. Louis has multiple examples of shopping districts of all sizes and all stages of viability and current activity. Older areas have gone through, and will continue to go through, periods of growth and periods of decline. And yes, there can never be any real, direct, equal comparisons – every neighborhood is different, economically, racially, what’s it close to, what it’s not, and with what sort of preconceptions the larger community views it, accurately or not. And while the Grove is larger, there are many more storefronts that need to be filled than on 14th. Will there ever be a “winner” declared? I doubt it, and I hope not – I’d like to see continued growth and reinvestment in both areas, and beyond . . .

  7. northside neighbor says:

    So, John W, you agree that there has been significant progress? Happy 4th everybody!

  8. john w. says:

    It would be impossible to argue with the progress. When I moved to the area in 2000, the crime garage was already gone and must have been for at least a couple of years. I recall the garage from my time in St. Louis in the summer of 1994 while working for Beckner Painting, also in Maplewood. There was a single owner of many viable buildings in this area of Maplewood that made some unfulfilled promises to the city concerning rehab, and most of those properties have found their way into the ownership of others. Mark Langston, the city mayor, even owns and rehabbed one of these properties on Sutton that actually used to be the original city hall and jail. The rebound from its recent, degraded past has been more than encouraging, and hopefully with appropriate infill where needed, the full power boost will have the remaining vacant storefronts filled… and don’t put any wooden picket fences around your sidewalk cafe seating either ;).

  9. john w. says:

    …I’m sorry, the former mayor of Maplewood.

  10. Angelo says:

    For those that think the closure of the street is what caused the economic downturn I would like to point out the economic condition of the surrounding area….as well as of the entire city from the 70’s ’till 2000.

    It isn’t as if the area was booming until the street was pedestrianized, then it all fell apart. Cherokee Street was a Mecca of retail and restaurants until the 70s, even though it maintained its vehicular traffic it lost nearly every single business. It’s almost impossible to isolate the strip from the surrounding economic downturn that just so happened to coincide with its own depression.

    [slp — The reports indicate 14th was stable and nearly every storefront was full. One business was a JC Penny. One argument in favor of the mall was the large number of shoppers competing with the cars. I don’t think the mall killed 14th but it was an accomplice.]

  11. Jimmy Z says:

    Des Moines is another city trying to make their urban mall go away: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20090707/OPINION03/907070347/1110


Comment on this Article: