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Crappy Little Commercial Boxes Rarely Go Away

November 15, 2012 Featured, Planning & Design, South City, Walkability, Zoning 32 Comments

Buildings are largely permanent structures, although a demolition crew can change that quickly. Much of what we build stays with us for decades. Lowest common denominator auto centric structures, such as gas stations, seem to live on forever.

Early gas stations of the 1920s were small, much closer to the sidewalk and had details similar to housing of the day. Today these are often viewed as charming.

ABOVE: The former QT on Gravois in the Bevo area is something new, not sure what though.

Get off the bus or just walk down the sidewalk this spot is an urban void. What are the hours of this business? A menu? Heck, how do I even get to the front door?

ABOVE: The former convenience store structure built in 1991 is set far back from the sidewalk unlike adjacent properties.

Check out the aerial on Google Maps here to see how this is a radical departure from the long-established commercial district. This never should’ve been built 21 years ago. Too late for Bevo but we must prevent further such atrocities to happen to our urban commercial districts.

Hopefully I’ll see the day a new 2-3 story commercial building is built, up to the sidewalk, on this site.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "32 comments" on this Article:

  1. guest says:

    This building is being used as a Bosnian coffee house.

    • Bosnian immigrants have done great things for the Bevo area, hopefully someday a Bosnian developer will build a new urban building here to patch the hole.

      • guest says:

        Economics don’t support it. Cost of acquisition + demolition + new construction > ultimate end use = do not justify the investment. The building will stand another 50 years. It’s solid brick and well maintained.

  2. RyleyinSTL says:

    All good points Steve. That said, in STL, an occupied building with a small consumer oriented business is always a win…as apposed to the rotting building or overgrown vacant lot alternative.

    • I disagree, if vacant it’d be easier to replace with an urban structure.

      • Eric says:

        So why don’t you buy the property and replace it with an urban structure? Nobody’s stopping you.

        • Ah yes, the argument that I mst have the capital to execute every idea I suggest. My social security disability is above the national average, but not enough to do any development. That doesn’t mean I cease to have thoughts on Developemnt and how it affects pedestrians and the overall image of an area.

          Yes, it looks much better now than it did while it was for sake, kudos to the owners. It’s still lipstick on a pig.

          • JZ71 says:

            . . . . and a pig that is occupied, generating profits for the tenant, rent for the owner and taxes for the city.

          • Ah yes, if the city collects taxes then nothing else matters.

          • Fozzie says:

            Vacant buildings project a far worse image than auto-centric, occupied development.

            Not every block in the 60+ square miles of the city is going to densely,developed and pedestrian-friendly. Spend some time outside of your bubble and understand economic and societal realities.

          • I’m well aware that auto-centric patterns have become our default as a result of our 1947 Comprehensive Plan. I also know to alter this reality we must think about what we desire today and for the next 65 years.

          • Eric says:

            Every one of your thoughts requires other people (sometimes of low income) to give up large amounts of money. Typically, the only resulting gain is cosmetic. I don’t expect you to go into a full cost/benefit analysis of every idea, but it would be nice to see a little respect for the humanity and priorities of people who think differently than you. Putting yourself into their shoes, by imagining having to fund the project yourself, would be a good start.

          • Here’s what should’ve happened. When QT announced they were going to build a new location down the street the city planning department, neighborhood leaders and others should’ve undertaken a visioning workshop for the Bevo commercial district. Hopefully out of that a vision for a new structure on this site would’ve occurred. Given the current market it wouldn’t have happened but the community would still see that as a natural future step when the economics make sense to do so. It’s unlikely to happen now.

          • JZ71 says:

            Here’s what’s actually happening / the real problem – when crappy little boxes do go away, here, they end up being replaced by newer, crappy little boxes. I don’t have much of a problem with this QT being re-purposed, I have a bigger problem, intellectually, with CVS coming into town and replacing a gas station (Hampton & Gravois) and two car dealerships (Chippewa & Gravois, Big Bend & Manchester) with even lower density development. Apparently, their business model is to acquire sites on busy corners, regardless of their excess size, and to just add way too much parking if they have land left over. (At least their new location in Maplewood has an out-parcel on the market, unlike their other two locations.) I don’t have a problem with a business providing a reasonable amount of parking for their daily needs, I see no need in having parking that is only used, at most, one or two days a year! If the neighborhood or the government needs a vision, it needs to start with this one, simple issue.

          • I have zero problems with the current reuse of this 1991 structure! They’ve done an admirable job with the place. Like with the CVS stores you mention, we need to be more thoughtful about what we build because the reality is the structures stick around. Razing urban buildings for the current fad chain retailer isn’t a viable long-term solution to revitalizing our urban commercial districts.

      • RyleyinSTL says:

        Your right but I’d argue that occupied now is better than waiting 20 years.

  3. JZ71 says:

    These won’t be going away anytime soon IF a) they remain occupied, b) the cost of building new exceeds the costs of keeping the old stuff, c) most people choose to drive over walking or taking the bus (and appreciate free, convenient parking), d) the return on investment isn’t adequate to justify building more densely, and e) our lax sign laws allow any business to “get in your face” as we walk, pedal, drive or bus by – see “Learning from Las Vegas” (Google it). And no, I’m not advocating for this reality, I’m just stating that this IS our reality. It’s going to take a lot more than “hoping” to see a “new 2-3 story commercial building built here”. It’s going to take a paradigm shift in our local economy and how most of us lead our daily lives. These businesses all exist here (and elsewhere) because they’re profitable, they generate enough revenue to cover the rents, period.

    The primary purpose of commercial real estate is to generate revenue, for both the property owner(s) and their tenant(s). Do (the proverbial) you buy this property for $250,000 (and lease it pretty much as is) or do you buy it and then rebuild, spending another $500,000 – $800,000? Bottom line (and yes, it IS the bottom line!) you need to decide if you can generate 3-5 times as much rent by rebuilding. In addition to ground-floor retail, are there office or residential tenants for the upper floors who are willing to pay higher rents than those in nearby properties? Developers are mercenaries, they’re in business to make money. IF they thought they could make more money by building “a new 2-3 story commercial building . . . up to the sidewalk, on this site”, guess what, they’d do it in a heartbeat! The problem is that no one has figured out how to make a/more profit by doing so, no matter how it affects the “urban character” of the area!

    • Moe says:

      And don’t forget….the residents HAVE spoken. No matter what business it is, a hearing had to be held to issue an occupancy permit. The neighbors had the opportunity to oppose.

      • Depending upon our archaic use-based zoning there may have been some sort of hearing about allowing a business to occupy a vacant structure. Not the same as a creative visioning process where people think about how to guide growth & development in the coming decades.

        • JZ71 says:

          Visions without resources are usually a waste of everyone’s time. Making a property owner jump through multiple, unnecessary planning hoops and having neighbors spend hours in meetings, without the funds or the political will to actually implement any of the great ideas that come up, is just self-serving mental masturbation.

          • Resourses without vision results in a crappy auto-centric former gas station. Planning for how an entire district of multiple properties can and should evolve over time is never wasted effort.

          • JZ71 says:

            No, limited resources, with or without a vision, resulted in a crappy auto-centric former gas station being quickly re-purposed as a neighborhood coffee shop. You’re assuming that there are significant resources available, either from the current owner and/or the city, to do something other than what’s happening here. This is an area of limited resources in a city of limited resources. At least there’s a barrier between the sidewalk and the parking lot, unlike many other crappy little boxes.

          • QT has unlimited resources, relatively speaking. The problem isn’t the current property owner or operator of the business. The problem started in 1991 when the city allowed QT to race urban buildings in what was then a largely vacant but cohesive district.

          • JZ71 says:

            Agree, but why penalize/vilify the current owners? You’re assuming that 21st Century urban renewal would be somehow better than mid-20th Century efforts, where viable neighborhoods were demolished based on the argument of failing, inappropriate structures and on the hubris that the contemporary generation somehow knows better than previous ones.

            The other potential challenge with a neighborhood visioning process is that the neighborhood may not have the same vision that you have (and be in no mood to be reeducated or enlightened). The neighbors may decide that more auto-centric, single-story, suburban-scale “crap” is exactly the future they desire. There are no guarantees in democracy!

  4. Will Fru says:

    Pretty sure that’s a grocery.

  5. The big picture is we shouldn’t allow such development in Bevo or other commercial districts.

    • JZ71 says:

      OK, “we shouldn’t”. How do we get what “we want” built, instead? Just say no, until developers “see the light”? Force them to choose between the city and the county? I agree, these are crappy little boxes and they’re not going away. They’re also much of what is still getting built, even here, in the city. People with money are spending money to build and occupy crappy little boxes. Other people are spending money, enabling their poor urban design choices (and apparently not spending enough money in businesses that have made the “right” urban design choices). I sure don’t expect the public sector to start building retail, and until the private sector sees the wisdom of building pedestrian-focused retail in an auto-centric world, I don’t see how much is going to change. Money talks, on many, many levels. Don’t tell us what’s wrong, don’t just say we need more rules, make the economic arguments as to why developers should go more dense, why Metro’s funding should be doubled, how to get cyclists to be both respected and to respect traffic laws. Building buildings that many people don’t want simply isn’t a viable “answer”!

      • Setting a community vision and changing zoning to enforce that vision is how you get headed in the right direction. No need to say “no” to anyone when the blueprint is clearly articulated.

        • Michael B says:

          Yes! How can (some of) you believe that anyone should be able to build whatever they want as long as they’ve got the money? This is not how a city becomes a CITY–with LIFE–with a real sense of place and with vibrant communities and characters. Our disjointed messes discourage community participation and, well, shit, any sense of community at all.

    • tpekren says:

      The big picture is that St. Louis has half the population of when a dense urban fabric existed for a population in which transportation cost as a whole was a far large rpercentage of the household budget and therefore people could not afford a car in the first place. Coding might help but will not change economic and demographic realities. I’m definitely of the mind that returning a structure to use is first and foremost the most important step needs to happen in St. Louis to bring back what might be desired for the city as a whole
      What I see is an opportunity to encourage demand to a point where space is at a premium to build a multistory mix use building in the future – surface parking lots exist on the economic basis of cheap land. Restricting options on cheap land convinces those with capital to go somewhere else. That opportunity and success will be dependent on an existing structure being used not being foreclosed on. Otherwise, you will get another vacant deteriorating building owned by the Land Development clearing authority, one of thousands. Or another way to put it Steve, is that you use the same old tired argument that all you have to do is tell people what they can or cannot build without an economic basis of reality and you will get your desired result.

  6. gmichaud says:

    To me it is almost an attempt to knowingly ruin neighborhoods. Look at how often the corner stores and lots are targeted and are now gone. If you travel the city at all you know what I mean.
    Forgive me for bringing up the Grand Ave central rail station again, but it exemplifies more than anything a government that is not working in the peoples interest. How in the 20 years or so of its existence can the land around this rail station not have at least a zoning designation that supports the considerable public investment in light rail?

    That same attitude is clear at this site on Morganford and Gravios. I can’t agree more with you on this Steve. I remember being surprised when the QT closed, it seemed to always be busy. So it is not surprising something else would succeed, That would probably be the case too if the original buildings were in this location. Corporations are allowed to run amok.

    The core of the problem is a lack of commitment to walkable neighborhoods with transit service. The transit system is an organizing force for the city, helping corners like this succeed. When buildings like this are allowed, it destroys the continuity of walking, bicycles and transit.

    Unfortunately the current design of the transit system does not encourage the maintenance of walkable neighborhoods and the city planning to go along with a successful design.

    You get QT’s anywhere, but they don’t care long term about the site nor, more importantly, the people. This store was small, so it probably doesn’t meet QT’s new standards. Capitalism is one thing, but it is also in the interest of the people to have a good, sound transit system and walkable neighborhoods.

    Those neighborhoods would also support capitalism. These left over QT style buildings are hard to reuse when compared to early storefronts. Our souls should not go to the highest bidder. And certainly we should not buy into abandonment capitalism as practiced by QT, Wal Mart and the rest. Why destroy viable blocks for corporations that are going to move on in 20 years or less? (thirsting for the next government handout as they always do)

    We’re just talking about livable cities here, That does not include attempts to overcome the negative impacts of global warming and oil shortages. You would think in a sane world this would be enough to take action and begin to return to a system of urban planning much less auto centric. It is hard to see evidence of that right now. The Grand Ave station being the poster child for that neglect and failure. With Biondi and SLU the Grand Ave station is in play right this minute.

    Yet there is no action. If none on Grand Ave, it is not surprising less prominent sites, even with the relatively well known Bevo Mill around the corner, that the political establishment fails develop pedestrian, transit and urban strategies.
    It seems to be a trend, continuing until today.


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