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Five Easy Solutions to Help the City of St. Louis, Downtown – No Stimulus Funds Required

We here all the time about the need to assist multi-million dollar projects such as Ballpark Village.  St. Louis and cities nationwide have been helping fund big ticket projects for decades.  Some deliver on the initial promises while others do not.  But this post is not about the massive project costing hundreds of millions.  It is about little things.  Things not dependent upon federal stimulus money.

The following is my list, you may have others:

#5 – Reduce most six lane roads to four by striping outside lane for bikes and/or parked cars.

Yes stripes do take some money but not that much.  Jefferson, Market, and Natural Bridge quickly come to mind.  We have a fraction of the population we had in 1950 yet we have the lane capacity for a much larger population.  These streets all need expensive diets but paint on pavement can do wonders.

#4 – eliminate all minimum parking requirements throughout the city.

Our entire zoning code is 60+ years old.  Much has changed and the code needs to as well, but that takes time & money.  In the short term we should just 86 those sections in the zoning code that require parking.  Just delete them entirely.

#3 – allow on-street parking on all streets in CBD, reducing 4 lane one-way streets to just two travel lanes.

Downtown St. Louis is blessed by short city blocks that are both walkable and easily biked.  Unfortunately in many places what would be a pleasant two travel lane street has four travel lanes in a single direction.  These should all be reverted to 2-way traffic and reduced to two travel lanes.  But changing signals to go back to two-way streets takes money.  .

#2 – street performers

St. Louis has many talented residents that could help animate our staid streets while earning a buck or two.  Changing the ordinances to make it easier for performers to do their thing on St. Louis’ public sidewalks would do wonders for residents & visitors’ perceptions.  Again, no massive debt-laden project is necessary.

#1 – street vendors

Related to street performers, street vending is as old as cities.  For decades we’ve gone the wrong direction with respect to street vending, being too busy trying to emulate suburbia.  Time to lighten it up Francis.  The vendors are there and they are well aware of the obstacles.  It is sort of the chicken-egg debate.  The first step is to loosen the regulatory grip and in time the vendors and customers will find each other.

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Pyramid Construction, A Year Later

April 18, 2009 Downtown, Economy 12 Comments

Last years collapse of Pyramid Construction is a tragic story on numerous levels, fortunes lost, promises broken, etc.  Last month came the worst news out of this continuing story.

A former employee, who was suddenly out of work when Pyramid folded, committed suicide.  He and his widow had both worked at Pyramid and had not found new employment as the economy worsened.  My heart goes out to her, their family and friends.

It was one year ago today that I broke the news that Pyramid was ceasing operations (see post).  I was still in the hospital at the time, about four hours from St. Louis.  My post indicated the news of the collapse was a “rumor.”  I knew, based on my source, that it was true.

The fallout continues.  Lenders have taken back preoperties. A few projects, like the senior housing center on South Grand, have been completed.  Most remain no further than they were a year ago.

 

St. Louisans Want More Street Vending!

This past week I asked a simple question in my weekly poll (see post):

Many cities have active sidewalks with: numerous street vendors selling hot dogs and such. What are your thoughts on allowing more street vendors downtown?

I’m never sure what the sentiment among the readership will be.  I just put it our there and see how people vote.  Here are the final results for the above question:

This poll was not scientific.

Out of 161 responses only two indicated either to retain the status quo or eliminate the little bit of vending that is permitted.  Overwhelmingly you the readers want more street vending.

So now what?

Legal permits are severly limited in number.  I’d never advocate just setting up shop on the sidewalk illegally.  I also don’t want to see all barriers brought down so we have chaos on the sidewalks.

Like valet parking, I think we need to review best practices from other coties so as to allow, but not stifle, the activity while not infringing on neighboring brick & mortar businesses.

My guess is that several decades ago well meaning men thought it best to restrict street vending to protect restaurants hurting from downtowns dwindling role in the region.  Your elected officials at city hall need to understand you want the current politically imposed limitations eased.  We, as consumers, need to support street vending if we hope to see more street vendors on the sidewalks.

 

Catching Up, A Potpourri of Topics

You go away for nine days and you miss stuff.  Plus I had some major technical issues for a week. Adjusting to the time changes from the West coast and central time zones has not been easy.

The following is a potpourri of topics:

Ballpark Village softball field and parking lot:

OK, I was back for this exciting news.  Where we thought we were going to have a mixed use village we will instead have a softball field and a surface parking lot.  I understand the economic conditions today but this dragging started years ago.  Current conditions are simply a cover.  It has been said this solution is temporary for the July All-Star game.  My guess is it will still be there a decade from now.

Treasurer’s Office and the Post Office:

Parking revenue contractor ACS forgot to pay the Post Office $53 for a P. O. Box so hundreds of payments got sent to a dead letter office.  Thus, payments people had mailed in were not received.  Not good.

Graffiti downtown:

The vacant building across the street from my loft got tagged with graffiti on three floors.

Graffiti in windows of unfinished Leather Trades building at 16th & Locust
Graffiti in windows of unfinished Leather Trades building at 16th & Locust

This was a project started by the now defunct Pyramid Construction.

Madoff:

Organizer of the biggest scam on Wall Street is finally in jail.  Yesterday his accountant was arrested on charges of fraud for rubber stamped audits.  Many more folks had to have been part of the ponzi scheme.

Natasha Richardson:

Actress Natasha Richardson died as a result of a head injury from a ski accident.  Richardson had bleeding between her brain and skull.  13 months ago I had a stint to drain bloody fluid from my brain after my stroke.  We can’t walk around wearing helmets  but after deaths like this we may want to consider it.  Certainly when bicycling, riding a scooter or other such activity please be sure to wear a helmet.  Story on CNN.

Economy:

Newspapers ceasing print.  More layoffs.  Bankruptcies abound.  AIG pays bonuses.  Earmarks are demonized while bigger budget items go undebated.

Software & Hardware:

On my second day of my vacation my blog encountered major issues.  The problem was hard to pinpoint.  All is well now.  In a weird way I’m sorta glad I couldn’t post new posts.  It gave me more freedom to enjoy my vacation.  At least until the last day.  I took over 1,100 photos and I backed them all up to Flickr as soon as I pulled them off my camera.  Good thing too because the hard drive on my Mac notebook (12″ G4) gave out.  I have some good video clips I hope to recover.

 

Downtown Bookended by Delayed (Dead?) Mega-projects

Acres and acres sit idle on the edges of downtown awaiting promised new development.  On the South edge we have Ballpark Village and just North of America’s Center and the Edward Jones Dome we have the Bottleworks District.  Both have made news over the past few
years, lately for not going anywhere.


Above:  blocks sit vacant awaiting the proposed Bottleworks District
The latter was in the news again this week for a settlement on one of the blocks the city took from its rightful owner:

A St. Louis jury awarded $2.8 million on Friday to the former owner of two acres just north of the Edwards Jones Dome downtown in a fight over eminent domain.

The city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Agency condemned the two-acre tract after the owner refused sell it in 2005 for $523,000.

The property, a city block bordered by Sixth, Seventh, Carr and Biddle Streets, was included in the “Bottle District” redevelopment plan for a $226 million entertainment destination including a restaurant, concert venue and bowling alley. It has not yet come through.

Today the entire site remains covered in gravel with much of the intact street grid blocked by Jersey barriers.

The surrounding blocks could have been developed without taking this one block from the owner.  But assembling larger and larger tracts for larger and larger projects is what proponents say must be done to get development.  Judging from the broken sidewalks and vacant blocks of land  think perhaps it is high time we questioned this practice.

Granted creating the ideal urban building on a single narrow parcel surrounded by vacant blocks is going to be an island for a long time.  Development does have to be large enough to build both excitement and a sustainable level of visitors.

An alternative to the single developer mega-project is to create a zoning overlay district that outlines the urban design qualities that future buildings must have.  This allows different property owners to participate in the redevelopment.  It also allows the business owner to build their own structure without being tied up in an increasingly complicated and difficult process of financing the mega-project.

This city was built one building at a time — each fitting into the grid.  I think we need to return to such a scale to finish filling in the gaps in our urban fabric.

 

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