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Alley Retail Can Work…In The Right Conditions

September 24, 2018 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Retail Comments Off on Alley Retail Can Work…In The Right Conditions

Alleys are one thing that attracted me to St. Louis in 1990, we didn’t have them in the 1960s suburban subdivision where I grew up in Oklahoma City. Interestingly, my grandparents each had alleys behind their homes in the small Western Oklahoma towns of Weatherford & Clinton. I spent a lot of time in the alleys behind their houses. Everywhere I’ve lived in St. Louis has had an alley, though for the last decade the alley has technically been St. Charles Street.

In April 2012 I posted about the streets that are really alleys parallel to Washington Ave.; St. Charles Street to the South & Lucas Ave to the North.  A year later New Brewery Improves Alley-Like Lucas Ave.

A recent “Where am I?” photo on Facebook raised interesting issues about alleys, and led me to ban someone from commenting on the page. Let me explain.

I posted the photo to the right on Facebook (blog’s cover image) with the caption “Where am I?” There were right & wrong guesses as to the location — it’s off of Locust St. between 10th-11th. One of the comments was “A sketchy alley about to get mugged by a homeless guy with a shank.  Also next to the Urban Shark.” Yes, Urban Shark is attached to the Bike Station on the left. No, not at any risk of getting mugged, but many think that way about alleys.

One person commented we need to turn alleys into pedestrian-focused retail like other cities have done, citing San Francisco & New Orleans. I recall experiencing one in Vancouver years ago — great space. However, I replied that retailing has struggled downtown even on well-populated streets like Washington Ave. Later I asked him to name just one alley downtown that would make a good candidate for retail. He, we’ll call him GB, said I was bashing St. Louis and he’s seen it work well in other cities. I’ll post more on our interaction in the future, right now I want to stick to GB’s assertion we should enliven our alleys.

Our alleys, like in many cities, were planned as ways to keep unsightly business like trash disposal out of view from primary streets. Also, most of downtown’s alleys have been privatized. Certainly those who own to the rights to formerly public alleys could try to market an alley as a pedestrian-friendly retail & restaurant hub, though ownership is often split down the middle between property owners on each side.

Yes, this has worked well in other cities. So why not downtown St. Louis? First, this has been used in areas lacking vacant street-facing retail spaces.  When retail vacancy is near zero rents go up. By expanding into alleys building owners can make retail spaces in unused/unleased portions of buildings. The rents received isn’t what they get out front but it helps the bottom line. Retailers get spaces that are more affordable in their business model.

If we look at the immediate area around the alley I posted we can see lots of available storefront space. Lots.

The corner space on the building to the East is vacant. Same for the corner space on the building to the West.
Diagonally across 10th & Locust from the above, the corner of The Syndicate remains vacant.
Stefano’s former space at 504 N 10th has been vacant for 3+ years.

The South side of Washington Ave between 10th & 11th recent became fully occupied, but the North side has lots of vacancies.

The Dorsa building was renovated more than a decade ago but ground floor retail remains vacant.
The other storefront in the Dorsa is also vacant. Years ago the St. Louis convention people made the windows look nice at least.
Two months from now will mark 3 years since The Dubliner closed, the space remains vacant.
One bright spot is someone will soon be reopening Bella’s Frozen Yogurt at 1021 Washington Ave. Yay! Click the image to open their Facebook page in a new tab.

I’ve tried to think of an alley in Downtown or Downtown West that might be a good candidate. Laclede’s Landing — can’t think of one, North of the Arch/Ead’s Bridge, has done ok with an alley or two to gain access to buildings. The best local example I can think of is the Maryland Plaza alley in the Central West End.

The property owner(s) did a great job welcoming you to the back of the buildings.
A restaurant patio occupies the West end of the “alley” behind the buildings. This photo was taken on a hot Thursday afternoon, I’d imagine it’s hard to get a table here at certain times.
Looking East toward York Ave., we see a living wall to disguise the parking garage on the right.
Approaching York Ave.

This example was never a public service alley, but it does show how a small sliver of property behind a building can become an asset rather than a liability. Former service alleys can be given this same treatment, the results are often amazing.

Still doesn’t make it a good idea for downtown St. Louis. It might, if you can think of the right location.

— Steve Patterson

 

From Municipal Auditorium to Enterprise Center

September 17, 2018 Downtown, Featured Comments Off on From Municipal Auditorium to Enterprise Center

Buildings used to be named after a person, usually a man, that had the building built or perhaps as a memorial to a prominent figure.

Opened in 1934 as the Municipal Opera House/Municipal Auditorium, the building was bounded by Market on the North, Clark on the South, 14th on the East and 15th on the West. This 1934 photo was by Charles Trefts, click image for source.

The first nine years it remained Municipal Auditorium, but in 1942 2-term (1913-25) former mayor, a Republican, Henry Kiel died at age 71. The building was quickly renamed after him.

The arena, completed in 1934, at a cost of $6 million, seated 9,300 and was built by Fruin-Colnon Construction. It was originally named the Municipal Auditorium, but was renamed in honor of former St. Louis Mayor Henry Kiel in 1943. A unique feature of the auditorium was that it was split into two; the front of the building was the Kiel Opera House. It was possible to use both sides at once as the stages were back to back. President Harry Truman gave a speech there in which both sides were opened to see his speech. (Wikipedia)

Both sides of the Kiel closed in 1991 as the auditorium portion on the South was demolished to make way for a new sports arena.

In 1992/3 the convention hall at the back was razed to construct a new sports arena

Construction on the new Kiel Center moved quickly.

The arena opened in 1994 to replace Kiel Auditorium, where the Saint Louis University college basketball team had played, which was torn down in December 1992. The Blues had played in the St. Louis Arena prior to moving into Kiel Center in 1994; however, they would not play in the arena until January 1995 due to the lockout that delayed the start of the 1994-95 season. The first professional sports match was played by the St. Louis Ambush, an indoor soccer team. (Wikipedia)

The city, via the Treasurer’s office, built a parking garage to the West.

Today it’s still called Kiel Center Parking.

Meanwhile, a new company was formed in the St. Louis region.

Savvis was founded in November 1995 under the name DiamondNet by CTO/COO Timothy Munro Roberts and CEO Andrew Gladney. The two had met in the St. Louis area in 1994 where both lived, with Roberts working for a computer store and Gladney a customer. Gladney put up the initial capital ($600,000 or $1 million, according to different sources) for a 75% stake in the startup, with Roberts’ stake the remaining 25%.

Gary Zimmerman, recruited by Roberts from SBC Communications Inc. to become Vice President of Engineering at Savvis in November 1995, built out Robert’s first national network design. The original network design was unique within the industry at the time it became fully operational, and there was significant coverage and discussion in the trade press regarding both the network and its architect, Roberts. In 2001, the last year in which Robert’s original design was in use, Savvis was ranked the #1 fastest Backbone Network by Keynote Systems, an independent network ratings service. (Wikipedia)

After being acquired by another company in 1999 it was spun out on its own in 2000. That year Savvis inked a 20 year deal for the naming rights — making the Kiel Center the Savvis Center.  However, in 2006 they changed their minds:

The agreement had been set to expire in 2020. But Savvis paid $5.5 million to back out of the deal.

Savvis says the Kiel Center Partners still have the option to keep Savvis’s name on the arena.

The company says it is not having cash flow problems.

Savvis had originally agreed to pay $62 million in annual installments for the naming rights. (St. Louis Public Radio)

That same year, 2006, the RFT named former Savvis CEO Robert McCormick as Best Local Boy Gone Bad:

Hometown network provider Savvis Inc.’s stock price may have been in free-fall, but that didn’t stop Robert McCormick from rolling high. During a 2003 outing to a Manhattan strip club, the lusty CEO and father of three allegedly racked up a $241,000 tab on his corporate AmEx card and then, when the bill came due, welshed. McCormick, who’d ultimately tender his resignation over the matter, didn’t deny visiting the New York pleasure dome on the night in question but insisted he couldn’t have spent more than $20,000. And ever- attentive to the line between business and pleasure, the CEO never asked Savvis to reimburse him for the trip. (RFT)

Savvis’ stock value was also related to the end of the naming rights deal, apparently they paid for the rights in stock. Savvis is still local, now a subsidiary of a Louisiana-based company.

Looking north toward the Scottrade Center at 14th & Clark

In September 2006 local brokerage firm Scottrade stepped in to rename the facility Scottrade Center. After a decade Scottrade announced it was being acquired by Omaha-based TD Ameritrade. By September 2017 TD Ameritrade completed the acquisition of Clayton-based Scottrade. No surprise, a company from Omaha Nebraska isn’t going to keep paying to sponsor a facility in another city.

St. Louis-based Enterprise had been looking to sponsor a local sports facility:

Enterprise’s National Car Rental brand was slated to be the sponsor of the proposed St. Louis riverfront football stadium in 2015 as National Car Rental Field. The St. Louis Rams football team ultimately moved to Los Angeles and the football stadium was never built. The 20-year naming rights agreement would have been worth $158 million. (Post-Dispatch)

After the Blue’s and Enterprise announced the deal in May 2018 the Scottrade name was quickly removed.

September 1st very little had changed, an Enterprise banner had been added on the SW corner but smaller sponsors remained, though one was covered.
On September 6th the names of smaller sponsors were being removed.
And Enterprise Center was installed.

The current deal is for 15 years — until 2033. Will Enterprise still be a St. Louis company? Hopefully private ownership and long family roots will keep the company here. I’d say the odds are good this 15-year deal will last until the end.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Parking Lot Change Resulted In Cars Encroaching On 11th Street Public Sidewalk

August 27, 2018 Downtown, Featured, Parking, Walkability Comments Off on Parking Lot Change Resulted In Cars Encroaching On 11th Street Public Sidewalk

The Louderman building at 11th & Locust includes restaurants, offices, and residential. Most parking is underground, but they’ve always had a small surface lot

The fenced surface lot is over the underground parking for Louderman Lofts building. A few years ago I used this image in a post suggesting a small retail kiosk/building at the 11th/Olive corner. The developer confirmed it was built to handle that.

Change did come to this corner in June 2017, but not in the form of an urban building to establish the corner. The parking lot was reconfigured — possibly without city approval.

June 22, 2017: A Jeep is pulling out of the one fenced-in parking lot.
A new curb cut was created. This is just East of their basement garage drive.
Looking toward the lot we see the South fence section removed.
A more direct view
Closer up we can see the old fence leaning in the background.
The removed section was installed out at the Olive sidewalk, but a gap remains along 11th Street. September 6, 2017
Parking stops weren’t used so vehicles can pull forward to allow others to be able to exit. This means vehicles are parking on the public sidewalk — as defined by a tire on the sidewalk. May 16, 2018

Either the Louderman condo association did this without the city’s blessing/permission OR the city ignored their own parking lot requirements regarding minimum space size and fencing. This lot once used the existing alley for access, now we have an exit onto Olive. It was bad enough watching for cars entering/exiting their underground garage, not pedestrians must watch for vehicles exiting this surface lot as well. The sidewalk is narrowed by the cars encroaching.

Either way it’s annoying, ugly. I’ll be sending a link to this post to numerous people to find out A) was permission granted for the curb cut change and B) if there’s anyway to require parking stops &/or continuous fencing to keep cars from encroaching on the sidewalk.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Sidewalk Obstruction Removed After Annoying Pedestrians For 7+ Years

August 6, 2018 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Walkability Comments Off on Sidewalk Obstruction Removed After Annoying Pedestrians For 7+ Years

Last month I began going to the Downtown YMCA at the MX to workout (thanks AARP Medicare Plan). Locust would be direct, but crossing 13th in a wheelchair is awkward and construction has the sidewalk on the North closed at 10th. So I take Washington Ave East to 6th. It was there, next to the Eastbound Convention Center MetroLink station entrance, I encountered an obstacle. A wooden box with a yellow stick on top. At times I’d be meeting someone walking the other direction, one of us had to wait (usually me because of direction) while the other went by.

I snapped this photo on July 11, 2018 — my 6th visit to the YMCA at the MX. I didn’t share the pic.

By my 10th visit on July 11th I’d had enough, posting the following on Twitter:

On Facebook I posted this image and the one above with the same text. Reader Jim Zavist commented: “Based on Google Streetview, four bolts were imbedded in the sidewalk somewhere between 2009 and 2011 (for a sign?) and they’re apparently still there. Why nothing was ever installed is a very good question! https://goo.gl/maps/knG2vLWnEQ22”

When I got home I pulled up the link on my computer — Google Street View allows you to see current views, but you can also go back to see older views. I also looked through my photos to see why I had. Below is a mix of Google Street View screenshots & my photos. First, background history. The Convention Center Metrolink Station opened on July 31, 1993 as part of our original light rail line. The Eastbound entry/exit is located on the SW corner of 6th & Washington.

Eight years earlier St. Louis Centre indoor mall opened. So opening a  transit station adjacent to a mall is a good thing. After helping to kill downtown’s sidewalks, the mall closed.

October 2007 shows the unobstructed sidewalk, MetroLink station, tower & St. Louis Centre indoor mall . Source: Google Street View
September 2009 is much the same. Source: Google Street View
Looking west from 6th Street on May 22, 2010. The oppressive skywalk over Washington Ave would soon be removed as the indoor mall was turned into a parking garage with sidewalk-level retail. The adjacent office tower would also get a new entrance facing Washington Ave.
July 16, 2010 — the glass facade is being removed.
August 8, 2010 — — the bridge/skywalk is gone along with one bay of the old mall.
November 19, 2010 — the office tower’s new entry is taking shape
April 29, 2011 — new sidewalks are poured, new lighting installed.
June 2011 the exterior is basically done
July 2011 — Google Street View captures the recently poured sidewalks. Note the barrier…
Zooming in we can see 4 bolds sticking up from the newly poured sidewalk. Seeing the bolts made me think perhaps Metro planned some signs, I remember seeing new signs about this time.
October 11, 2011 — a worker installs a new sign on the other side of 6th. Recently I noticed this sign has a large base, way too big for the four bolts across the street. Perhaps a smaller version?
April 2015 — at least 4 years after the sidewalk with 4 bolts was poured a wooden box now hides them.
The box looks weathered, itself a trip hazard.
july 2015 — the box is still there unmarked. A Sherif’s van is parked on the sidewalk because that’s what we do in St. Louis.
july 2017 — by now someone added a yellow stick to the top of the box — to point out to pedestrians it is on the sidewalk

So when I posted about this on July 19th it had been an issue for over seven years. Seven years!

The box looks well worm by July 19, 2018

Either Metro or the MX developer planned something that was never going to be installed. Rather than cut the bolts off they built a wood box, then later added a yellow pole to said box to prevent people from tripping.  I know this is just one little sidewalk on a side street, but it illustrates how little concern there is for the pedestrian experience downtown — right next to a transit station.

The box & pole were still there on the morning of July 25th, but July 28th I came around the corner and saw they had been removed and the bolts cut off.

July 29, 2018 — no box w/yellow pole
Close up shows where thw bolts were cut off. No evidence of any electrical

It wold’ve been cheaper if the bolts had been cut off years ago, or realize the sidewalk was too narrow in the first place and the bolts not put in there in the first place!

In the big scheme of things St. Louis still has major problems, in that context this is insignificant. To me and others who use this sidewal, it is important,  There are still hundreds of other issues I deal with just downtown. I can’t solve St. Louis’ big problems, but I’ll take on small issues one by one.

Cities in which residents & tourists have challenges as a pedestrian are not going to have bustling sidewalks. Downtown retail/restaurants can’t survive without foot traffic. St. Louis would be wise to make life easier for pedestrians all over the city — but especially around major transit.

— Steve Patterson

 

Entrance To Gateway Arch Should Have Faced Downtown From The Start

July 2, 2018 Downtown, Featured, Parks Comments Off on Entrance To Gateway Arch Should Have Faced Downtown From The Start

On Thursday morning last week I made my first visit to the Arch since the new downtown-facing entrance opened recently. Before we get into the nw entry I need to take you back to how it was for decades.

At the base pf each leg of the Arch the walkway would slope down to the entrance was an entry/exit to the underground visitor’s center. These remain.
When security was added it was just inside the door — so the line was outside in the cold, rain, or heat.
Looking out fro the old entry/exit points. These will now be exit-only. But first you had to get here.
For many visitors that meant driving to the 1980s parking garage that was located on the North end of the grounds, then walking to the North Arch entry.
Others coming from Laclede’s Landing North of Eads Bridge or MetroLink got to walk through the 80s garage.
For those already downtown this 2010 photo showsthe highway separating downtown (left) from the Arch grounds (right). When the Arch was first planned this was the at-grade 3rd St Parkway, but it became a high speed interstate “depressed” below grade. Depressing indeed.
Construction on the “lid” over the highway, July 2014
By October 8, 2015 the entire area was closed for major construction.
Same day, same camera location, looking more tossed the Arch/river
A year later Luther Ely Smith Square was finished but work on the new Arch entry continued.
The accessible platform allows to peak over the concrete barrier & chain link fence

For so long it was just a big dirty hole, but slowly it began to take shape. Recently the entry was opened for visitors, but last week was my first visit to this entrance.

The approach to the new Arch entry feels so natural, it’s a shame it wasn’t like this 50 years ago.
Approaching from the North or South the new dug into the hill entry gradually appears.
A small plaza with water feature is in the center, forcing you to either side
Going around the center plaza will take you down to its level or go further to the outside of the circle fore the wide ramps leading to the entrance.
The center plaza
Looking back West from the center plaza
Both outside ramps lead down to the entrance — with revolving door. power operated doors tex to it for strollers, wheelchairs, etc.
From the center just inside.
Looking West from inside, very inviting! You can see ramps going off to each entry.
To the left (North) is restrooms & tickets for the trams, movies, etc. Admission to the museum is free.
To the right (south) is the entrance to take you down to the museum. This is like airport security. Unlike the old entry, this line is indoors!

The lower level was open, though the museum wasn’t — it opens tomorrow. The lower level also has the gift shop, a new restaurant, a movie theater, etc. I decided to wait so my husband could help me get through security, help with bags, wallet, etc. I’m excited by the new entrance, it’s clear to me downtown has not capitalized on the millions who’ve visited over the last half century.

Local journalist/author Jm Merkel is out with a 2nd edition of his book The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, the Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch.

With his fourth book from Reedy Press, The Making of an Icon, Jim Merkel captured the spirit behind the conception and construction of one of America’s most distinctive and beloved national monuments. More than two million visitors stand in awe at the Gateway Arch each year, and the stories behind it were unearthed in breathless detail in the first edition. Back with even more lore and the addition of beautiful color images, Merkel brings new information on the Arch grounds and museum to this updated and revised second edition. Now expanded, his book includes more stories compiled from interviews with the visionaries, finaglers, protesters, and intrepid workers who built the arch while one misstep away from a fatal fall. Merkel’s book will help us appreciate the relentless pursuit, innovation, and toil that raised the Arch to the sky. (Reedy Press)

As beautiful as the Arch is, I still think razing 40 city blocks was a huge blunder that we’re still suffering from today.

— Steve PattersonT

 

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