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How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population

January 20, 2022 Environment, Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population
Graphic from November 2020 post showing area predicted to have population loss.

The 2020 Census results results for St. Louis showed what I had predicted, the bulk of our population loss came from northside wards.  This was also true in 2010 and in 2020. No reason to think 2030 won’t be more of the same. We can sit back and do nothing, or we can help manage the situation — possibly reducing some losses in future.

By mange I mean see where population is dropping more than in other areas. We can’t just write of a third of our geographic area. I propose a group comprised of experts, residents, business owners, etc to examine data and evaluate possible solutions.

Here is some of the data I’d like to see on a big map(s):

  • Population by age & race
  • Parcels of land being used (water connection) vs unused.
  • Parcels of land with new or substantially renovated structures vs severally deteriorated, condemned, or vacant.
  • Parcels of land owned by the city, out of state owners, owner-occupied, LLC, .
  • Historic properties, sites.
  • Schools, current & former.
  • Employers and numbers of employees
  • Crime
  • Topography
  • Probably other criteria as well…

Since north city is not declining uniformly we need to see which parts that are doing better than others. Is this because 0f newer housing?  Access to transit?  All we know at this point is some blocks are stable and occupied while others are rapidly declining. Mapped data can tell us a lot, people on the ground familiar with their area can confirm or dispute what the data tells us. Get everyone on the same page, then reassess every few years and make adjustments as circumstances change for better or worse.

What we all need to accept is that it’s very unlikely these neighborhoods will see a major population growth. Ever. Thus some land can be returned to nature, used for agriculture, etc. The maps will show us the least populated areas with the worst housing stock — contrasted with pockets of denser areas with housing unlikely to be abandoned this decade. I’m not talking about large areas the size of Pruitt-Igoe, NGA-West, or Fairgrounds Park. It might be possible that smaller nature areas could be linked together by a trail system. A few great vacant school buildings not reused for residential might get filled with hydroponics to grow produce.

The major corridors like MLK, Page, Natural Bridge, Kingshighway, Grand, etc should remain. Many connecting streets would also remain. However, it’s possible in some areas we might be able to justify removing unoccupied streets and alleys. As St. Louis begins to look at replacing lead water supply lines those areas that’ll benefit most from the infrastructure investment should get priority over areas that can be back to nature by 2030. Old water & sewer lines might get abandoned completely in isolated areas.

The goal isn’t to cut off services to existing residents, but to use resources to strengthen and grow the existing strong pockets. On a block with say only one resident we can wait until that person moves or dies of old age. The children of longtime residents aren’t really interested in moving into the house their relative refused to leave. Conversely, a nice block with one newly-abandoned house needs help to make sure that one house gets maintenance and reoccupied as soon as possible. Quickly reoccupying a vacant building helps prevent others on the block from also being abandoned.

An example of a strong pocket would be MLK & Burd Ave. You’ve the Friendly Temple church and Arlington Grove housing (new housing around a renovated school that’s also housing). Substantial investment has been made, and this is home to many. We can reinforce the positives and look to expand upon that a block at a time.

Former Arlington School has been residential since 2013
Aerial after construction completed. Image: Google Maps

Just north of this pocket is a largely vacant area, part of the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood that has gotten attention for mass demolitions. Other bright spots throughout north St. Louis include numerous tree-lined streets with well-maintained houses — it’s just hard for everyone to see & appreciate the them with so much decay. Whenever I see people wanting to raze vacant “problem” buildings I do get upset, because tearing down buildings in a random manner doesn’t improve neighborhoods for the long-term. It simply removes the current problem while likely speeding up others being abandoned as neighboring  owners/residents die or move.  By designating different areas for bright spot village and others as moving back toward nature we can reduce fights over razing vs preservation. I can even imagine a decent house in an area set to become nature/agriculture –it might be kept as basically a farmhouse. It wouldn’t necessarily be razed, just reimagined.

Along the way we can reevaluate I-70, an old interstate that winds its way through north city. Can we minimize this as a separating barrier in spots? Can we create areas for interstate drivers to pull off and get a bite to eat while their battery electric vehicle (BEV) charges?

One spot I see as the center of a future village is the intersection of Grand & North Florissant. That’s in part of 2 current neighborhoods, with a 3rd very close. It should be the very center of a thriving area.Why here? The intersection of two corridors should be treated as special. Both Grand and North Florissant are angled toward each other, so a person living or working here can pick either corridor to travel south — southeast on North Florissant or Southwest on Grand. Thanks to the odd street grid they have easy direct access to different parts of the city. Going northwest on North Florissant will eventually get them into St. Louis County.

By 2050 I see north St. Louis as being dotted with nice little villages, with nature in between. Primary corridors will be a line of density with restaurants, retail, offices, and multi-family housing. Rail &/or rubber tire public transit will connect these villages to each other and the larger city & region. I see walking & biking within and between villages.  I see jobs growing produce outside and indoors, more jobs along the corridors.  I see trees — thousands of them providing some relief from increased temperatures. The major corridors will be tree-lined, many new nature areas will become forests. I see all races, proportional to the mix in the population. Some villages, like The Ville, are predominantly black (75%, not 100%) with strong black-owned businesses. Again I’m talking 30 years, not 3.

What I don’t see are big surface parking lots for big box chain stores. I also don’t see blocks and blocks of obvious vacant residential buildings/lots.

St. Louis should use some of the money from the NFL to kick start the planning process to examine north St. Louis as I’ve described — taking stock and what we have (and don’t have) and then collectively finding solutions to change the trajectory. In the process others could come up with better ideas.

— Steve Patterson

 

Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags

January 6, 2022 Featured, Local Business, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Retail, Taxes, Transportation Comments Off on Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags
The green car over the service pit is a Melbourne car from Seattle

Joey Pennywise sold widgets and wanted to increase sales. To do this Pennywise thought to buy 5 smart outfits to standout from generic & common widget salespersons. But Pennywise didn’t have the funds to buy the desired outfits.  Pennywise likes all things vintage and knows used outfits can be purchased much cheaper than those fancy new European outfits. Even after good cleaning and a tailor having to rework each outfit it’ll be cheaper ($3,700 vs $10,000).

This is where frequently generous uncle Samuel Moneybags enters the picture. Pennywise asks Uncle Sam for the money to buy five really nice game-changing used outfits. Uncle Sam grants Pennywise the requested $3,700.

All of Pennywise’s friends thought it would be better to get brand new outfits, even though they cost substantially more initially. They warned the continued cost to repair seams, replace buttons, fix zippers, etc would be easier to live with. Plus, they thought their friend should get something that’s fashionable now, not something worn many generations ago. Something better suited to the needs of the 21st century widget salesperson, not one from a century ago. The widget game just is different than it was more than a century ago.

After purchasing the used outfits Pennywise had them cleaned and altered to fit. Looked just like a widget salesperson from 1915. Additionally Pennywise got a new closet organizer to keep the outfits neat and ready.

Initially everyone was supportive, but Pennywise was often late to meetings because of wardrobe malfunctions. Plus walking in century-old shoes wasn’t nearly as fast as new sneakers. Still, sales the first few days were great, but then they dropped off considerably. Pennywise couldn’t afford to keep up with the expensive dry cleaning and fixing fragile threads. After failed attempts to get additional funds from uncle Sam, Pennywise reduced how often the vintage outfits were worn.  Until it was zero times per week.

Friends suggested Pennywise invest in the cleaning & repair costs, but there was no money left. So the expensive outfits hung in the beautiful new closet not getting used. Pennywise was still proud of the fact these outfits cost a fraction of what new outfits would have. The irony was lost on Pennywise.

Friends, miraculously all fans of Marie Kondo, said to wear them or give them up. “Sunk cost” proclaimed some friends advocating for getting rid of them. “They money has already been spent, spending even more isn’t going to change that,” they’d say. Over and over.

Meanwhile, Pennywise inherited a bunch of money from another relative, the family blacksheep Stanley K. Pennywise wasn’t sure if any of the new money should be invested in the vintage outfits taking up space in the closet. Pennywise surveyed friends and a majority said to use the funds for other needs, like sourcing better widgets. “Sunk cost!” Blah..blah…blah…

Then uncle Sam said if Pennywise doesn’t begin wearing the outfits soon they initial outlay would need to be returned. If not, small claims court to recover, no new requests will be considered. None. Pennywise depends on the generosity of uncle Sam,  but isn’t sure how to decide what to do.  The now-angry mob of friends begin chanting “SUNK COSTS!”, but this doesn’t help Pennywise reach a conclusive decision that will make everyone happy — especially rich uncle Sam.

Finally one friend (named Bla Gher) came forward, disclosing initial preference for more expensive modern outfits and opposition to vintage outfits, offered some additional accounting terms nobody had yet considered.

“Relevant costs” and Incremental analysis” Bla Gher said enthusiastically.  One friend in the group quickly stood and said “Sunk Costs!”  as others nodded in agreement without fully understanding any off the terms. Bla Gher explained that sunk costs are funds already spent that can’t be recovered, incremental analysis is a process of looking at all options and comparing the relevant costs — since sunk costs are, sunk, they’re not relative to the current discussion about figuring out what to do next.

Bla Gher repeated: the initial $3,700 cost of the outfits is no longer relevant to discussing future options.

Gher then outlined Pennywise’s possible options, all to be priced and evaluated:

  1. Do nothing: Leave the outfits in the closet to collect dust. Don’t take any angry calls from uncle Sam, accept that previous generosity has just ended. Set aside $3,700 plus fees in case you lose in court.
  2. Reduce sunk amount: Auction the vintage outfits, use that recovered money to remake the closet so it looks like it did before. Also sell all sewing machines, steam irons, bolts of fabric, buttons, etc.  And, like above, don’t take any angry calls from uncle Sam, accept that previous generosity has just ended. Set aside $3,700 plus fees in case you lose in court.
  3. Double down: Rather than the small amount to cover cleaning and repairs for a short while, put $3,700 from uncle Stanley into adding more vintage outfits so Pennywise can be seen only in a vintage outfit. Seven days a week, morning to evening. For analysis purposes, estimate if this would impress widget buyers enough to justify the additional expense.
  4. Mix & match: determine if anything, such as the closet, platform shoes, etc could still be used with those sexy modern European outfits. If so, Pennywise could expand the sales territory — serving the needs of more widget buyers and users. Funds to do this can come from $3,700+ of the money from uncle Stanley, and possibly more from uncle Sam! However, Joey Pennywise should no longer be involved in outfit decisions.

Bla Gher doesn’t know which of the above is the best option as the pricing and analysis hasn’t been done.

The End.

— Steve “Bla Gher” Patterson

Bla Gher concluded by saying until the above options (and any others) are impartiality analyzed there is no good way to know which option is best.

 

A Tour of City Foundry St. Louis, the Food Hall, and Fresh Thyme Market

December 21, 2021 Featured, History/Preservation, Midtown, Planning & Design, Real Estate, Retail Comments Off on A Tour of City Foundry St. Louis, the Food Hall, and Fresh Thyme Market
One of my favorite views is seeing the remains of the elevated railroad line.

Today’s post is a look at City Foundry St. Louis, a new retail & office development in an old foundry along Forest Park Ave., between Spring and Vandeveter.

Almost 100 years ago, the Century Electric company purchased the Midtown St. Louis property now known as City Foundry STL. At the time, Midtown was a manufacturing hub for the city, thanks to its proximity to the Wabash Railroad line, which cuts across the City Foundry STL Property.

Century Electric was one of the top 3 manufacturers in the city, manufacturing motors and generators that were sold internationally. In fact, Century’s motors helped spark the development of small household appliances.

While the foundry changed owners over the years, and the products produced there changed, one thing did not: nearly 24-hour-a-day work continued on the site until 2007.

Today, this 15-acre site is being reimagined as City Foundry STL, with first-to-the-area makers and merchants moving to the complex. We can’t wait to for you to be a part of the next chapter of this storied creative complex. (City Foundry St. Louis)

First, a definition:

A foundry is a factory that produces metal castings. Metals are cast into shapes by melting them into a liquid, pouring the metal into a mold, and removing the mold material after the metal has solidified as it cools. The most common metals processed are aluminum and cast iron. However, other metals, such as bronze, brass, steel, magnesium, and zinc, are also used to produce castings in foundries. In this process, parts of desired shapes and sizes can be formed. (Wikipedia)    [An aside: a segment from a 1997 Simpsons episode comes to mind]

I’ve lived in St. Louis for over 31 years now, but don’t recall the name Century Electric. My memory of the foundry was the smell making automotive brake parts for Federal-Mogul. My post from last month: A Look at City Foundry St. Louis…in August 2013.

The 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show a few scattered wood frame buildings in this area, not a foundry. City records list four buildings on the site:

  • Manufacturing 1932: 146,015 square feet
  • Warehouse 1937: 66,197sf
  • Warehouse 1953: 38,640sf
  • Manufacturing 1982: 5,760

Let’s take a look, getting into some history along the way.

This 2015 photo looking east shows a new intersection on Vandeveter with a driveway for the then-new IKEA.
Leaving IKEA we see the low building along Vandeventer no longer exists. My assumption is this was the 1982 building.
Looking left we see the intersection of Vandeveter & IKEA Way now includes Foundry Way to the east.
Foundry Way would be named Clark Ave if they continued the name from east of Spring Ave. The open land on either side here is for future phases. Sidewalk only on the south side, for now.
One of my favorite views is seeing the remains of the elevated railroad line.
My 2nd favorite view is toward the left, looking NE. The repetition of old piers the held the railroad tracks is just lovely to my eyes. The bright red wall on the left, not so much.

I wanted to know more about Century Electric so I began scouring the Post-Dispatch archives online via the St. Louis Public Library. Here’s a bit of what I found in a Post-Dispatch article from December 25, 1949, P61:

  • Century Electric organized 1900, incorporated 1901
  • first workshop an old church at 1011 Locust
  • first working motor tested on thanksgiving day 1903 — sold to Rosenthal-Sloan Millinary Co.
  • products shipped to 90 foreign countries
  • first to offer repulsion type motor in small sizes
  • a century motor was in the first successful home refrigerator
  • manufactures everything except the wire
  • foundry address is/was 3711 Market Street — before I-64/Hwy 40 went though.

Let’s resume the tour.

Again, I love the concrete railroad piers. Using them as an element is better & cheaper than removal and dumping in a landfill.
Here it begins to open up. The silver metal building is one of two new buildings designed to hide the new multi-level parking garage that was cut into the land between Forest Park Ave and the historic foundry.  These new buildings are considered “liner buildings”, shallow structures designed to screen and offer a nicer street view. We’ll visit that upper area later.
Now we’re facing east, with the old foundry on the right, new liner buildings hiding the parking on the left.
The food hall is the main public attraction in the old foundry building. More on this food destination below.
Continuing further east, toward Spring Ave. Old foundry still on the right, liner still on the left.
Almost to Spring Ave we get to the 1937 building that houses Fresh Thyme grocery store. You can see the east end of the parking garage.
Looking north/uphill along Spring Ave from near I-64 we can see foundry offices that used to front onto Market Street, the foundry, and the SE corner of the building that’s now Fresh Thyme.

Let’s go out to Forest Park Ave and approach from the west.

This approach is the worst, blank wall, no street trees, gravel instead of landscaping.
Looking back west, toward Vandeventer Ave.
This is the primary pedestrian access from Forest Park Ave., the new garage on the left. Dreary, but at least it’s wide. This brings you in at the upper level, mentioned previously.
Looking west, toward IKEA. Again, the vacant land will be for a future phase.
Looking southeast we get a good look at the old foundry.

One last exterior area to show you, the building on the SW corner of Forest Park & Spring avenues. It began as the new offices of a local grocery chain, so using it for a new grocery store is very fitting. From the Post-Dispatch July 18, 1937:

This 1937 article announces the construction of a new building to be built for the Tom Boy Stores grocery chain. A few years later I saw it written Tom-Boy and then Tomboy before disappearing in the archives.
Looking SW from the opposite corner at Spring & Forest Park avenues. Spring continues down the hill, where we were earlier.
Looking south across Forest Park Ave
In front, the door isn’t the main entry. I love that a building built for the offices of a grocery chain with late 19th century roots is now used as a grocery store.
The main entry is in the west facade, facing the top level of the parking garage. This photo was taken on opening day, 11/10/2021.
Looking back north toward Forest Park we see a protected pedestrian route to the right of the yellow bollards. Unfortunately they’ve been filing it with extra shopping carts lately, defeating the purpose.
Looking back out toward the parking. New hotel with rooftop bar across the street, in the background.

Let’s go inside Fresh Thyme, later we’ll go into the Food Hall.

When you enter the main doors, you head to the left.
They’re known for having nice produce that’s nicely displayed.
I love the old industrial skylight.
Inside looking north toward the meat & deli areas.
In the NE corner is a seating area, I can imagine Saint Louis University students/staff/faculty walking over here, meeting friends.
The compact store is well-stocked, though they don’t yet have sweetened condensed milk.
Even checkout is self serve, though there are a lot of employees to help you. Some are for smaller purchases while others are for larger with more area for scanned items.

Fresh Thyme Market has other locations in the region, on both sides of the river. The grocery chain in based in suburban Chicago (Downers Grove, IL). The large chain Meijer is an investor, their nearest location is Springfield IL. So you’ll see some Meijer products on shelves.

On opening day I planned to get a package of Meijer frozen tuna steaks that I priced on the Fresh Thyme’s website (Kirkwood location). At this new location the very same item was 50% more than in Kirkwood. WTF!?! I ask the manager why the price is so much more. The answer was unexpected. The Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL isn’t part of Fresh Thyme’s system, including pricing. Fresh Thyme investor Meijer is a partner on this location, so the pricing is based on that.  The manager told me they’d match the significantly better price at checkout. To this day if you do a search on the actual Fresh Thyme website for the nearest location it won’t find the City Foundry location. It’s not on the Meijer website either. Very weird.

Other than the frozen tuna steaks the prices I’ve checked have all been reasonable, their milk price is the best I’ve seen anywhere in the region. We’ve been back numerous times, a welcome new addition. Now if they’ll just stop filling the ADSA-compliant accessible route with extra shopping carts.

Moving on, let’s visit the Food Hall.  First, a food hall is not the same as a food court:

Here are 4 things about food halls and what makes people love them:

  • Food halls are usually a collection of small, locally-developed restaurant concepts or outright new creations that come from the minds of local chefs or start-up entrepreneurs and restauranteurs. They offer an assortment of unique food and beverage items that are usually cooked from scratch (prepared from raw ingredients vs. shipped in partially or wholly made) or nearby in a commissary (but still from scratch). On the other hand, food courts are usually filled with national chain restaurants that offer little scratch cooking and little-to-no brand cache.

  • Food courts will typically feature a cast of usual players like one or two Asian concepts (with one or both of them serving a version of Bourbon chicken), an ice cream place, a pizza place, a burger chain or two, a Latin concept, a hot dog concept, a cheesesteak concept, and maybe a cookie place. The dining options in a food hall are more in line with a collection of food trucksat a food truck park than the food found in a food court, with ethnic favorites like Vietnamese bao buns, Cuban street sandwiches, wine and cheese, Italian sandwich or pasta shop, local ice cream or gelato, chocolatiers, or Napolitano style pizza (vs. Sbarro’s par-cook-n-reheat slices), southern fried chicken sandwiches, and just about anything you can imagine.

  • Food halls are aesthetically pleasing, often in turn-of-the-century warehouses, train stations, or old mills with high ceilings where the building’s history is partially or mostly preserved. Ponce City Market was originally a Sears & Roebuck distribution warehouse. Chelsea Market in New York was a Nabisco factory where the Oreo was invented. Quincy Market in Boston is one of the oldest food halls in America (it was a food hall before folks started calling them food halls) and sits next to historic Faneuil Hall…it was designed from the beginning (1824-1826) to be a marketplace. In a food hall, the charm of historic significance combines with the unique food offerings and the novelty of reclaimed industrial space to form a city’s social nucleus, while food courts are really little more than uninspired feeding pit stops for mall shoppers.

  • Food halls are destinations. Retail stores are few and are injected to add interest and shopping-as-entertainment to the food experience, but they must convey a consistent lifestyle “voice” to their visitors. Anthropologie, Lululemon, or Madewell are common national retail supplements. Food courts are designed to keep shoppers shopping so they don’t leave the mall when they get hungry… the food supports the shopping, not the other way around like in a food hall.

Ready?

Entry before you get into the main space.
The main space is in the heart of the old foundry, very industrial.
Tables & chairs are throughout the large space. Vendors have small storefronts.
Most vendors are walk up.
But a few also offer bar seating. This might not be ADA-compliant because a person in a wheelchair couldn’t eat here, will need to see if they have a provision for that.

Concluding thoughts on City Foundry St. Louis

I was very happy & curious when I first heard the developers planned to keep the old industrial buildings rather than scrape the site clean. Overall I’m pleasantly surprised by how they’ve turned an old dirty industrial site into a retail & office destination. If you haven’t been I recommend visiting.

Transit users can take MetroLink to either Grand or Cortex, the nearest bus lines are the 42 & 70.

— Steve Patterson

 

If We Want Conventions We Need To Start Over

December 9, 2021 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Walkability Comments Off on If We Want Conventions We Need To Start Over

My previous post on the convention center was back in July, see: The St. Louis Region Needs to Consider No Longer Chasing Big Conventions. Basically I said leave just a little and tear down the rest. This would allow new private development and reconnect the neighborhood north of the complex to the downtown central business district (CBD) — 6th, 7th, and 8th streets have been closed for years and 9th will close if the current plan moves forward.  In September the CEO of Clayco Construction, Bob Clark, proposed another alternative to the current plan.

The current plan adds more lipstick to our nearly 45 year-old pig, fixing problems created by prior applications of quick fix solutions: ballroom next to the kitchen, improved loading docks, more space, adjacent outdoor space, etc. The goal is to go after conventions that have eluded us due to inadequacies in our facilities.

My solution was to simply stop chasing after them and reconnect a neighborhood that was intentionally cut off.  It is also the neighborhood where I live. So in September I was happy to see an influential CEO weigh in on the topic, but go the opposite direction.

St. Louis should scrap its $210 million convention center addition in favor of a larger, $800 million plan that would see the current downtown facility and Dome demolished, Clayco CEO Bob Clark said.

Clark said he’s pitched the larger plan to area officials for two and a half years, but is going public now because federal infrastructure money could be coming to St. Louis and a potential settlement with the National Football League looms over the Rams’ 2016 exit to Los Angeles. And Clark thinks the state of Missouri could contribute to the more ambitious proposal, solving a funding problem that limited the current plan’s scope. (St. Louis Business Journal via KSDK)

Late last month St. Louis (city of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority) settled with Kroenke/NFL, with the former receiving $790 million dollars (before attorney’s fees).

The current main entrance at 8th & Washington Ave. was part of a major 1993 expansion to the 1977 original.

Here is Clark’s post on his personal blog:

Over the years, St. Louis has missed a lot of great opportunities to revitalize its downtown neighborhoods. From losing out on railroads to Chicago to failing to merge the city with St. Louis County, so many things have happened throughout the city’s history that still prevent it from being as good as it can be. With renewed attention on reimagining the downtown convention center, I’m calling for a larger, more ambitious plan to be considered that would completely transform the city for the better.

With additional funding opportunities coming from federal infrastructure spending, a potential settlement with the NFL, and additional state funds, we have a real chance to think bigger and put forth even better ideas for America’s Center, like my proposal to build a convention center that would boost business and better connect north city neighborhoods to downtown.

Modeled after the convention center in Nashville, Tennessee, our plan envisions a modern convention center for the future that would occupy a three-block footprint near the Bottle District stretching from Carr Street south to Convention Plaza. It would provide more exhibit and meeting space and also connect to the NoW Innovation District that is already generating positive results for job growth and the local economy. And it would also play a part in keeping the city safer, since it would provide better access between the city’s northern neighborhoods and southern neighborhoods going right through downtown.

This is a project that gives us a great opportunity to build a better city for St. Louisans and share what we have to offer with visitors from all over the world. It would help solve some of the most pressing issues we face as a city, and I’m urging our local elected officials to consider it further.

Clark is correct that just adding on more space to be able to check boxes isn’t the right approach if we actually want to be seriously considered for some convention business. Yes, I’ve posted about how cities keep wasting big bucks chasing conventions, see  Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities by Heywood T. Sanders from 2014. It seems to me it’d a bigger waste of money to keep attempting to make a half-ass facility into a competatibvr .

The current configuration occupies 12 city blocks (11 plus a privately owned garage surrounded on 3 sides).  If the current plan goes ahead it’ll add a 13th city block. While it may then be able to check off boxes on convention event planner’s must have lists the reality is it’ll still be a spread out mess that separates the city with a huge monolithic mass with Broadway (5th Street) on the east and 10th Street on the west.

Our original 4-block Cervantes Convention Center, which opened in 1977, is still in the center of our current facility.

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.

To the north of this mass only 8th street is closed, occupied by apartments. Sixth, 7th, and 9th all still exist in the neighborhood. The most recent plan for a north-south light rail plan includes a little bit of 9th, so the planned route would have to change.

So I’m agreeing with Bob Clark, if we want convention business we should start over with a clean slate. I haven’t been to Nashville since the Music City Center was constructed, but I looked at the website, photos, interior 360º views, aerial, and Google Streetview. Nashville’s convention center is 3 blocks long, 2 blocks wide. One city street continues through/under the building — I walked through via streetview. From the outside you cannot see the loading docks, one side is highly approachable with outdoor seating and businesses that can serve convention attendees as well as locals.

The main takeaway of Nashville’s center relative to Clark’s proposal is the street that continues rather than being vacated. In. St. Louis that allows a 3-block long convention center to orient north-south, next to the dead space known as the elevated I-44 interstate. Another is building up, not out. We’re a city, downtown buildings shouldn’t largely be single story.

View of Bob Clark’s proposal, click image to see larger view.

I’m not advocating we build Clark’s idea, I’m suggesting we start over from scratch. We’ve added on and altered the convention center built 45 years ago to the point it’s a sprawling mess. The Nashville center can’t compete with Chicago’s McCormack Place in terms of size, but it has the same light-filled open airy feeling. Our current facility will never have that. Never.

Here’s what I like about Clark’s proposal:

  • Fresh start, better for 21st century needs.
  • North-south orientation along Broadway (5th).
  • Better connection  to Laclede’s Landing.
  • Cole Street (east-west) continues uninterrupted.
  • Sidewalk-level opportunities for storefronts around entire building, including along Cole.
  • A big massive building doesn’t separate the downtown CBD from the neighborhood north of Cole.
  • The long-vacant land north of Cole Street is utilized.
  • Vacant land to the west can be filled with new buildings, users, opportunities, tax revenue.

Here’s what I don’t like about Clark’s proposal:

  • The outdoor event space (Baer  Plaza) between Broadway and I-44 is horrible. Conventioneers attempting to cross Broadway would get hit by the speeding one-way traffic. Broadway should be 2-way and this land should have hotel, apartments, condos, etc. Some of any new residential should be workforce housing and low-income housing.
  • 7th, 9th, and 10th streets all need to be rebuilt/continue uninterrupted between Washington Ave and Cole — for pedestrians and vehicles.
  • Not sure keeping the existing curved entrance is a good idea.
  • No green roof or solar panels like they have in Nashville.
  • Convention Plaza needs to return to its previous name: Delmar.

The important thing is to put the brakes on the current expansion plan and take a fresh look at what it means to offer a convention center — not just how can we make a nearly half century old place less objectionable to convention planners. If we move forward with the current expansion plan we’ll be stuck with a bloated pig for at least another 20-30 years.

— Steve Patterson

 

A Look at City Foundry St. Louis…in August 2013

November 22, 2021 Featured, Midtown, Planning & Design Comments Off on A Look at City Foundry St. Louis…in August 2013

In August 2013 the vacant brake foundry in Midtown St. Louis, Vandeventer Ave. & Forest Park Ave., was an “eye sore” just south the main campus of Saint Louis University.  IKEA’s announcement to build on the opposite side of Vandeventer was still a few months away. I visited the foundry site as best I could in my power wheelchair, taking 9 photos in a 20 minute period.

Before posting about the new City Foundry STL (with food hall, offices, retail space, and recently opened grocery store) I want to take you back to the afternoon of Saturday August 24, 2013:

Looking NE from the west side of Vandeventer, under I-64.
A little further north, looking toward Forest Park Ave.
Turning east, the rail spur (right) hadn’t been used in decades.
Further north, looking east.
Now east of Vandevener, looking east along the north side of the foundry site, Forest Park Ave
From the gently-sloping parking lot within the site, looking east.
This is a cropped view from the previous image.
Into the site a little more, looking SE
Looking south along Spring Ave, the east boundary of the foundry site.
Down the hill, looking back north along Spring Ave. The eastern most foundry building is now on the left.
Looking east from IKEA’s 3rd floor restaurant on September 23, 2015 — the day the media was allowed to preview the new store. IKEA’s Opening Day was a week later, September 30, 2015. The foundry site to the east was unchanged more than 2 years after my visit above.

Soon I’ll use these images to compare the foundry to the completely reimagined present. The single-story building along Vandeventer was razed, all other buildings remain today. See amazing before interior photos here.

— Steve Patterson

 

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