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Grand and Chippewa a few years later

My first post about the McDonald’s at Grand & Chippewa was on February 1, 2005, nearly 5 years ago.    I was alerting everyone about the plan to build a new McDonald’s drive-thru across Grand at Winnebego (map link).

Former McDonald's in 2005

In 2006 the battle began.  The vacant site on Grand where the McDonald’s was proposed had been a Sears site decades ago. It stood vacant.  Neighbors of new nearby homes (and many others) objected to the drive-thru which did not conform to the original blighting plan for the redevelopment.

protest at site of proposed McDonalds on April 15, 2006
protest at site of proposed McDonald's on April 15, 2006

Many meetings were attended, protests were made.  The Summer of 2006 was a busy time fighting for an urban South Grand.

By September 2006 McDonald’s had won the approvals they needed to build their new location.  In November 2006 I declared the drive-thru project dead, delays took their toll and the local franchise owner closed the old McDonald’s rather than rebuilding on the new or old site.

Not long afterward the now defunct Pyramid Construction began building senior apartments once planned for the old McDonald’s site on the former Sears site.

On January 30, 2008 I posted about a title loan operation wanting to open up shop in the long boarded up McDonalds’s building.  I attended the hearing on the title loan outfit on Thursday January 31, 2008.  I didn’t get a chance to blog about the meeting, the following afternoon I had a stroke.  It was 3 months before I returned home.

During the Spring 2009 campaigns I heard a comment from someone the only thing I contributed to the 25th Ward (just South) was the boarded McDonald’s.  Thanks, I appreciated that.  Since then someone bought the unfinished senior building and finished the project.   And just recently the boarded McDonald’s got a fresh start:

Pho Mama (Mama Pho) Vietnamese Restaurant, a new restaurant in the Dutchtown West Neighborhood Association (DWNA) area is set to open on Monday, November 2, 2009! Pho Mamma is located at the corner of S. Grand and Chippewa. Their phone is 314-802-8348 and they will be open 7 days a week from 9am to 10pm.  (Source)

The old building is not the most urban but it also isn’t new.  Often small local start-up businesses cannot afford the rents on new construction. The site may eventually become more urban.  I stopped by the area yesterday to photograph both places.

Pho Mama, 3737 S. Grand
Pho Mama, 3737 S. Grand

Far more tasteful in appearance than the McDonald’s.

Senior housing instead of a new McDonalds drive-thru
Senior housing instead of a new McDonald's drive-thru

Today the former vacant site contains senior housing with street-level retail spaces facing Grand.   I’d say S. Grand is better off without a new McDonald’s drive-thru.  It would have been a tiny building on a large site with too much parking and a duel drive-thru lane.  If only we can get the traffic calmed in this part of Grand as well as a zoning overlay to require new construction to conform to the established urban standard.

Many people were involved in putting a stop to the auto-centric McDonald’s.  We should all be proud of the outcome, I know I am.  We should also go patronize Pho Mama.

– Steve Patterson


Pyramid sold former Sears site last year

For much of 2006 Pyramid was trying to swap the former S, Grand Sears site with McDonalds, but strong opposition from those that would be directly impacted by having a drive-thru closer to their homes raised a fuss — I helped too.    In the end the McDonalds closed.

The senior housing center Pyramid wanted to build on the site of the old McDonalds at Grand and Chippewa was then planned for the old Sears site across the street that they already owned. Owned as in past tense.

Property records indicate Pyramid sold that property (3708 S. Grand) and others on Oct 12th last year for $361,869. The properties are now titled with Pyramid’s name as well as “c/o Grand Future Realty LLC.” Grand Future Realty LLC is the owner of the adjacent building at 3722 S, Grand, which it purchased on 6/28/06 for $275,000. The registered agent and both organizers are from St Charles.
With Pyramid’s shut down last Friday it raises questions about the future of this project and others.  The property transfer raises questions about who all is involved in the project and who we might look to for its completion.


Title Loan Outfit Proposed for Former McDonald’s Location

One of the hot topics from 2006 was the proposal to relocate a McDonald’s location (w/double drive-thru) to back up to the Gravois Park neighborhood along South Grand. After a long battle, that plan was scraped. The owner shuttered the old McDonald’s at Grand & Chippewa.

The property sold last year and now a title loan company (or similar?) is proposed for the existing building and drive-thru. I’m told the same company is also interested in opening in the former Wendy’s at South Kingshighway and Tholozan. Neighbors of both properties are mobilizing to oppose what they see as loan sharks that prey on the poorest in our society.

Tomorrow morning at 8:30am, in room 208 of City Hall, a hearing will be held on conditional occupancy of the former McDonald’s location (along with other agenda items). Ald Florida (D-15th) is said to neither support nor oppose the application.


Pyramid’s South Grand Land Swap Fiasco is Dead

John Steffen’s Pyramid Companies has thankfully been thwarted in their pursuit of mediocrity in areas outside of downtown. The plan, hatched long ago with the full support of Ald. Jennifer Florida, was to allow McDonald’s to construct a suburban-ish drive-thru restaurant on the site of the former Sears store on South Grand. In turn, Pyramid would get to build some senior housing on the current McDonald’s site.

A long battle ensued with a strong and effective grassroots campaign to halt the drive-thru from encroaching into the Gravois Park Neighborhood. On June 21, 2006, however, it looked as though the campaign had lost — the city’s Board of Adjustment denied the neighbors appeal on the variance for the drive-thru. Steffen’s lackeys from Pyramid had a smug look on their face as the ruling went in their favor. Ald. Florida, wisely, wasn’t present. But it seems the whole deal unraveled after that.

The blame is on the deed restriction on the property which reads:

Grantee, by the acceptance of this Deed, agrees, as a covenant running with the land, that the Property shall not be used for retail sales purposes, except that, notwithstanding the foregoing, a portion of the Property may be used for retail sales purposes provided that in no event shall more than fifteen thousand (15,000) square feet of floor area in the aggregate on the Property be used for retail sales purposes and in no event shall any single store, business or other commercial occupant on the Property use more than two thousand (2,000) square feet of floor area on the Property for retail sales purposes. This foregoing use restriction shall be binding on the Grantee and the successors and assigns of Grantee forever.

This restriction on the property has been in place since Pyramid acquired it as part of the Keystone Place project. Such restrictions are typical for stores such as Sears to place on property so a competitor could not take over the building. When the area was in Craig Schmid’s ward, the decision was made to raze the store. This, in hindsight, was a major mistake. But back to the restriction, this was fully known to Pyramid and likely Florida and McDonald’s as they worked on this plan at least since late 2004. Pyramid and McDonald’s are far to experienced in development to have not known and considered the restriction. Most likely, they assumed they’d be able to get away with building it and Sears likely would not have pressed any issue or even known about it. But, it was the adjacent residents that are part of the Keystone Place development, also on former Sears land, that may have had a leg to stand on in court to enforce the restriction. They — Pyramid, Florida and McDonald’s — knew a legal challenge was possible.

So today we have a closed McDonald’s down the street from a closed Burger King. Over on Kingshighway we’ve got a closed Wendy’s and over at Gravois & Jefferson another closed Burger King. Doesn’t look like the city should bank on these high-debt franchises for our future. It is unfortunate the individuals working in these establishments are likely unemployed now. Tax wise things will go on. The city residents that ate at all of these establishments will not stop eating all of a sudden. They will visit other restaurants like Arby’s, Subway or Taco Bell. Or perhaps one of our fine locally owned restaurants. We will still collect the sales tax — it will just come from different places. And hopefully those that worked at the closed places can find work at the others that will handle the additional customers.

Lucas Hudson writes for the ACC about the owner of the McDonald’s franchise that just closed:

He was demonstrative in pointing out what kind of businesses are taking over the area– across the street there are a couple of no-name markets, a non-descript car detaling place that used to be a licensed Firestone branch, and the omnipresent legalized theivery of Rent a Center.

Interesting. Perhaps he is unaware of the condos going into the former Southside National Bank? And while the street has some “no-name” markets what is wrong with that? If you are not a chain place your name is worthless? Conversely, the German-chain Aldi’s next door to McDonald’s isn’t exactly small potatoes. And did the McDonald’s franchise owner (or Lucas for that matter) stop to think that just maybe the McDonald’s chain itself has contributed to the decline of the area since it opened in 1974? For over 30 years a highly auto oriented fast food chain has dominated the corner and now the owner is being critical of other businesses that follow! One of my arguments all along was that we are not going to attract good urban design if we build a new suburban drive-thru.

The Lawrence Group’s renovation of the SSNB is great but it is still needs our help. They need retailers for the base and future urban buildings along Grand & Gravois. They are also taking on the smaller building across Grand with a need for street level retailers. Ald. Florida does deserve kudos for her continued efforts to save and renovate the SSNB but it is not in isolation. Retailers need to see more than simply the footprint of the property in which their store might be located. We must revitalize the street and return it to being a pedestrian-friendly and urban corridor that it once was before the McDonald’s entered the picture in the early 70’s and changed all that. Now that it is closed we have a fighting chance of actually turning this street around.

Back to the ACC:

The ACC just talked to Jennifer Florida about the closing, and she does not currently have plans for the site, but mantains that she wants to go through a “community based planning process”, and used Lafayette Square as a model of successful design.

Now she wants to plan. Great. Let’s see, how long did it take? Ald. Florida was sworn into office on April 17, 2001, nearly six years ago. Where was the “community based planning process” in all the years prior to this controversy? Non-existant! Before this she was in her “you can’t get everything you want” mode of thinking, no doubt instilled in her by old timers like Ald. Fred Wessels. But maybe she has now seen the light, or at least the power of a small & determined group with internet access, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt. Not you Fred, just her…

My friend Steve Wilke-Shapiro has been taking the lead of late on looking at this section of Grand on his excellent 15thWardSTL blog. Click here to read his initial take on the new plan by Pyramid to build senior housing on the old Sears site (as well as the section past the alley to Arkansas St.). You can check out Ald. Florida’s comment-limited blog here. To get an appreciation for Pyramid’s experience at senior housing in a St. Louis neighborhood see my post on Sullivan Place.

Here is what we need to do on South Grand from Utah to a point somewhere south of Chippewa, quite possibly it should match the blighted area which continues to Meramec. First, a community based planning process not driven by the current needs of a particular developer or single property owner. This needs to be followed up with a “zoning overlay” for the district. This overlay would replace the current zoning for that district and would allow us to have greater control over what could be proposed and built within the area. Requirements, such as any surface parking being located behind the building, could be enacted (think Kinkos/Bread Co at Grand & Arsenal). By having quality zoning, something from the 21st century, it will be less important for citizens to scrutinize each and every new project. With new urban-focused zoning for the street this will actually free up Ald. Florida and the developers to plan accordingly and be relatively assured that what they propose will not meet with strong resistance from the community. Citizens, rather than having to waste countless hours tracking down details of every project on every parcel, can hopefully move on to doing comprehensive planning in other parts of their neighborhoods and even work with the developers along Grand on finding tenants.

After all this we do have the potential to make something great happen on South Grand. Actions speak louder than words and right now the ball is in Ald. Florida’s court.


What happened to the new McDonald’s?

After months of controversy over McDonald’s moving from its current location at the NW corner of Grand and Chippewa to the SE corner of Grand & Winnebego we’ve seen no evidence of anything moving forward. Not that I want the drive-thru moved adjacent to the homes in the Gravois Park neighborhood, but we were all given the impression that time was of the essence.

It has been nearly 3 months since the city’s Board of Adjustment denied an appeal by residents to prevent the McDonald’s from being built. Pyramid Construction was supposed to do a land swap with McDonald’s but a quick check of records for 3708 S. Grand indicates Pyramid Construction is still the property owner. The same records also indicate building permit application #358646 to construction the restaurant remains open, the permit has not yet been issued. With all the administrative hurdles jumped I just can’t imagine why three months would pass without construction starting.

It would appear that someone involved in the deal isn’t going forward. The parties are Pyramid Construction, McDonald’s corporate, the franchise operator and deal maker Ald. Jennifer Florida.

If the deal has gone south now is our chance to work as a community to envision what this street could look like. If you go back to my post from a couple of weeks ago using Photoshop to show incremental changes we can hopefully do a similar treatment for South Grand. If McDonald’s is staying where they are and the empty site at Winnebego is to remain empty or get another plan we need to bring everyone together to work on good solutions that are a fit for the community.