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The St. Louis Region Needs to Consider No Longer Chasing Big Conventions

July 6, 2020 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy Comments Off on The St. Louis Region Needs to Consider No Longer Chasing Big Conventions

We keep being told we need to expand our region’s primary convention center in order to compete with other cities for big conventions/conferences.

Looking South on 9th Street from Cole Street. The CVC can’t expand north, east, or south — so it now wants to close 9th to go West.
Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D’Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.

The purpose of convention centers is to get outsiders to travel to a region, spending money on hotels & food — adding to the economy. The convention center facilities themselves are often a loss leader, they don’t make a profit or break even on their own but help bring warm bodies with cash to burn to a region.

The past few years attendance at conventions/conferences has been shrinking. The number of conventions have also been getting fewer and fewer. Then came COVID-19, cancelling the rest of 2020. The future of the big convention is seriously in doubt.  The big conventions that do continue will have their choice of top facilities. Even if we go for the latest expansion we won’t be in the top tier. The remaining smaller conventions & conferences will have their pick of hotel-based convention/conference facilities.

We need to say enough is enough. The current convention/dome occupies what was once 11+ city blocks!  A 12th block is a privately-owned parking garage that predates the Cervantes Convention Center.  Ballpark Village was only 3 city blocks originally.

Our mostly vacant convention facilities occupies the same space as four ballpark villages!

It’s absolutely insane to have this much prime downtown real estate sitting idle most of the year. Yes, when a huge convention is in town downtown is hoping. But what if these blocks, plus Baer Plaza & The Bottle District, were redeveloped?

Three North-South streets would again connect downtown to those of us who live immediately to the north, across Cole.  Sixth, seventh, and eighth streets would provide easy access, rather than having to go around a huge obstacle. Ninth street would remain open. Two East-West streets would also be reopened: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd & Convention Plaza (aka Delmar). The City-owned parking garage and parking lots on the West side of 9th could also be developed.

We would still need a tourism office and folks to help fill up various smaller convention/conference facilities throughout the region. They just wouldn’t be pressured to try to fill a huge white elephant.

To my knowledge, no city/region has had the courage to opt out of chasing conventions. We should be the first to do so, creating a neighborhood in its place that’s so vibrant that people from out of town want to visit.

— Steve Patterson

 

Ugly Addition Being Transformed Into New Entrance To Former Post-Dispatch Building, Square’s New St. Louis Offices

June 17, 2020 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design Comments Off on Ugly Addition Being Transformed Into New Entrance To Former Post-Dispatch Building, Square’s New St. Louis Offices

The work to modernize the former Post-Dispatch office building at 900 Tucker is well underway. Major alterations to a later addition at Tucker and Cole Street will be the biggest exterior change, as you’ll see below.

900 N Tucker, January 2019 photo
This January 2016 photo shows the Tucker side later windowless addition on the north end of the building.
This June 2012 photo shows the blank side along Cole Street.

More than five years ago the St. Louis Post-Dispatch announced it wanted to sell its building, to downsize.

Lee Enterprises, owner of the Post-Dispatch since 2005, announced Tuesday it is selling its building on 900 North Tucker Boulevard and searching for a new location.

The six-story building, completed in 1931, has been the newspaper’s headquarters since 1959, the year that the Post-Dispatch bought the property and printing equipment from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, a now-defunct morning newspaper. (Post-Dispatch)

In August 2018 Jim McKelvey, via StarLake Holdings, was to buy the building, the Post-Dispatch was to remain as a tenant on the top two floors. The purchase closed in September 2018.

The Post-Dispatch decided to renovate and move to a vacant 1980s building a block to the east. StarLake Holdings became Starwood Group.  In July 2019 payment company Square announced it would relocate its St. Louis offices from the CORTEX area to 900 Tucker. Not really a surprise since McKelvey is a co-founder of Square, along with Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.

The Post-Dispatch’s 7th home, 901 N. 10th Street.

Once the Post-Dispatch moved into their newly renovated building a block away, work began on the old building.  Inside at first, but then to the addition.

On May 16th I was driving home and noticed the buff veneer brick was being removed from the concrete block addition.
By May 30th the veneer brick had been removed from the entire west facade and window openings were being created in the block structure.
And window openings also on the north side, also on May 30th
By June 3rd ground floor window openings had been created on both the Tucker & Cole facades. This view shows windows once existed on the Cole side, later bricked up.

I was very happy to see this windowless addition being opened up, but how would it be utilized? On June 7th I got my answer, turns out the main entry will move from Tucker at MLK to Cole Street.

The new lobby will not open to Tucker Boulevard on the west, but to Cole Street on the north. That is philosophical. McKelvey wanted the lobby to face Cole to recognize the untapped potential of the largely African American population on the north side. (Post-Dispatch)

That last line sounds like BS to me, a marketing explanation for what physically made sense with the structure — they wanted to keep the old lobby intact but not as a lobby, so they needed a new lobby. The north addition was their only option.

The morning of June 16th the work on the Cole facade continued. This time the block is being removed entirely. This suggests a different treatment for this section, all glass with the entrance at the sidewalk level is my guess
The view shows the east & north sides.

Given the historic nature of the 1931 original there was no room for anything creative on the exterior. This addition, however, is the perfect place to be creative.  I’m enjoying seeing it evolve.

In December 2011 I posted about how Tucker will become  Downtown’s New Entrance once the new bridge opened, this is the case for many. This new entrance will pop once completed, getting lots of eyes from drivers on Tucker.

In August 2012 I posted about filling in three blocks along Tucker — building new infill to enhance the urban feel of Tucker. Here’s a crude graphic I made at the time.

Aerial of a few blocks of north Tucker showing locations where infill buildings can easily be constructed (blue) and additional spots where they should be considered (red)

Hopefully we’ll see some infill on some of the parking lots, at least on the 3 other corners of Tucker & Cole. In a future post I want to talk about their proposed “innovation district” concept.

— Steve Patterson

 

Demolition of St. Louis Centre Bridge Over Washington Ave Began A Decade Ago

May 21, 2020 Downtown, Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design, Walkability Comments Off on Demolition of St. Louis Centre Bridge Over Washington Ave Began A Decade Ago

Ten years ago today work began on reversing a mistake that had been in place for 25 years prior — the pedestrian bridge over Washington Ave created a dark environment at the sidewalk level.

Taken two days before the bridge bash you can see how dark it was underneath

The “Bridge Bash” event started with comments from numerous white men, followed by Mayor Slay operating the wrecking ball, pyrotechnics made breaking glass a little more exciting.  Here’s the video I uploaded from the scene — the action starts at 8:45.

St. Louis Centre was part of the ‘bring the suburbs to the city’ movement. The inwardly focused mall was a killer to the sidewalks downtown — especially under the Washington & Locust wide bridges connecting to Dillard’s & Famous-Barr, respectively.

Looking west from 6th Street on May 22, 2010
Looking west from 6th Street May 2010
Looking east along Washington Ave from 7th, February 2006
Looking east along Washington Ave from 7th, February 2006
Same view yesterday
Same view after the bridge was removed

Removal of this oppressive bridge and facing the ground level retail of the MX (formerly St. Louis Centre) has done wonders for this part of downtown. If only we hadn’t wasted decades trying to be like the burbs.

— Steve Patterson

 

Aloe Plaza Nudes Unveiled Eight Decades Ago, MLS Coming

May 11, 2020 Downtown, Featured, Parks, Planning & Design Comments Off on Aloe Plaza Nudes Unveiled Eight Decades Ago, MLS Coming

Eighty years ago today the nude sculptures in the Aloe Plaza fountain across Market Street from St. Louis Union Station were formally unveiled. The other figures in the fountain were unveiled the previous night.

Carl Milles’ ‘Meeting of the Waters’ is the focal point of Aloe Plaza

Artist Carl Milles attended,  Edith Aloe (1875-1956) did the unveiling.

Edith Aloe, 64, was the widow of the man who two decades earlier pushed to raze buildings across from St. Louis Union Station — former president of the Board of Aldermen Louis P. Aloe (1867-1929). Mrs. Aloe was instrumental in Milles being selected to create the fountain.

Since then the plaza has largely remained unchanged. A wheelchair ramp was added years age to access the plaza from Market Street and a decade ago awful spot lights were installed. Why awful? The resulting light from overhead is so bright it overpowers the lighting within the fountain — prison yards likely have similar lighting schemes. Incredibly uninviting.

Aloe Plaza across from Union Station cleared away “undesirable” buildings, followed by decades more demolition creating the largely failed Gateway Mall

The view above is looking West from 18th Street in June 2013. Right now the new Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium is being built on the West side of 20th Street.

Looking West from Aloe Plaza as crews remove the old highway interchange and begin work on the stadium. April 24, 2020

The stadium will give the Gateway Mall a proper terminus, but will Aloe Plaza remain unused, unchanged?

We should begin thinking & talking about a major renovation of the 2-block long plaza. The fountain & sculpture are sacred, in my view. Everything else is negotiable.

Why?

Union Station has made major investments in replacing the failed train shed mall, uh, festival marketplace with an indoor aquarium & outdoor Farris wheel. The MLS stadium is an even bigger investment. Both will draw huge crowds. Aloe Plaza is located between them.

Aloe Plaza was designed as a tranquil passive space in a growing city of 800k plus. 2011 photo

The first question is if the space should remain passive or if it needs activity areas?

Obviously I think it needs a redesign with opportunities for programmed activity.  But what activities? Would programming & activities compliment or distract from the fountain?

Too bad the Gateway Mall Advisory Board was disbanded.

— Steve Patterson

SOURCE: May 11, 1940 (page 3 of 16). (1940, May 11). St.Louis Post-Dispatch (1923-2003) Retrieved from link.

PS: The 1940 census shows 64-year old widow Edith Aloe living in the Park Royal Apartments, 4605 Lindell Blvd. — apartment 414. Her rent was $125/month. Her 24-year old single maid Evelyn Iffrig also lived there. Evelyn married in 1946, so Edith would’ve needed a new maid. Evelyn died in 1995, her husband lived until 2006.

 

Examining the St. Louis MLS Stadium Site Plan, Part 4

February 10, 2020 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design Comments Off on Examining the St. Louis MLS Stadium Site Plan, Part 4

In parts 1-3 I looked at the areas south, north, and east of the coming soccer stadium. Today a look at the area west of the new stadium.

The site plan has the stadium at the top, bounded by Olive on the north, 20th on the east, and a new 22nd Street on the west. Pine will be closed between 20th and 22nd. Team offices and two practice fields will be south of Market.
This image shows the two block long section of Pine that’ll be vacated. Surveyors were working the day last fall that I was out photographing.
The tallest structure in the area west of the stadium is the Pear Tree Inn, 2211 Market Street. Built in 1965 it’s unfortunately set back from Market Street in a very suburban manner. There’s no pedestrian accessible route…just an automobile parking lot. I’d like to see the space between the tower and street infilled over time to urbanize Market Street. It seems wasteful to raze the entire property and start over, but that would likely produce a better product — good for another 50+ years.
The back of the Pear Tree, at 23rd & Pine, a low rise parking garage also built in 1965. The site is a full city block, it is underutilized.
Across Pine from the Pear Tree Inn’s garage is a building type more typical of the area — boring single story infill. 2229 Pine was also built in 1965.
Across 23rd from the Pear Tree garage is a little warehouse building from 1948, currently used as a resale shop.
View of the northwest corner of 23rd & Pine, as seen from the southeast corner.
The St. Louis American newspaper leases the 1964 one-story building at 2315 Pine.
Across Pine is Stray Rescue at 2320 Pine, built in 1964. They own this building and the 1948 warehouse shown earlier. Owning their building will help insulate them if demand for the area increases dramatically in the coming decades.
Moving north to Olive we have the Firestone tire & auto at 2310 Olive — built in 1964 (seeing the pattern?)
On the southeast corner of 23rd & Olive is the Lincoln Hotel, 2222-2230 Olive. Built in 1928, this is the oldest structure directly west of the new stadium.
The Lincoln isn’t a fancy boutique hotel, it’s an SRO — single room occupancy. I fear the new stadium will put economic pressure on the owner to turn it into an expensive hotel, reducing the number of SRO rooms in the city.
The Lincoln as seen from the rear alley.

It appears in the 1960s nearly every building west of the new highway ramps was razed and replaced. Thankfully they left the street grid, though Pine is one-way westbound to Jefferson.

This couple of blocks of Pine between the new stadium at 22nd and Jefferson will need to be returned to 2-way traffic. This will need to include a signal change or removal at Jefferson — likely planned as part of the changes to Jefferson being made to help workers get from I-64 to the new NGA West headquarters being built at Jefferson & Cass.

I suspect the west side of the stadium along 22nd will be the back side, but maybe those functions will be part of the underground access. Hopefully it’ll be presentable.

Expect the area bounded by 22nd, Market, Jefferson, and Olive to look very different 30+ years from now, maybe much sooner.

— Steve Patterson

 

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