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The Union Station MetroLink Stop Should Be Moved Under The Train Shed

St. Louis’ Union Station reopened as a “festival marketplace” in 1985 and eight years later our light rail system, MetroLink, opened. For the last 18 years the Union Station stop is basically on the other side of 18th Street. Stairs and and elevator do come up on the east edge of the old train shed, but you’d hardly describe the station as well-integrated.

ABOVE: This is the view when you come up to grade from the MetroLink platform. An open-air parking garage!
ABOVE: MetroLink trains travel through the old baggage tunnel under the historic Union Station train shed.
ABOVE: The MetroLink platform is located on the east side of 18th Street, totally exposed to the elements.

My thought is build a new platform in the tunnel with steps and elevator coming up in the middle of the train shed. Currently some riders catch buses on 18th but once the Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center is rebuilt and expanded I expect we’ll see those lines move to 14th.  Yes, the interior of the tunnel will need to be finished so it is not so creepy looking.

ABOVE: A walkway exists at the center point of the shed, coming up to grade at this point would put you very close to Hard Rock Cafe and equal distance between 18th and 20th Streets.
ABOVE: Looking east toward the current MetroLink exit
ABOVE: Looking south you’d be in line to walk to the office buildings along the south edge of the property next to I-64.
ABOVE: A decent connection that probably doesn’t get much use.

A new platform and direct access under the shed with improved pedestrian connections to main building, office buildings, 18th and 20th along with a revised parking lot could dramatically change impressions of Union Station.  A few more free-standing structures like the Hard Rock Cafe could add to the activities.  It’s been 27 years since Union Station reopened — it’s time for a major rethink of transit, train shed, and pedestrian circulation.

Please don’t suggest that Amtrak service be resumed at Union Station, I’m tired of hearing that every time I mention Union Station, train service at  the new facility works fine.

— Steve Patterson

 

Walking To The “Flagship” Dierbergs & Schnucks Locations In Des Peres, MO

On September 15, 2009 Schnucks, the largest grocer in our region, opened a new “flagship” location:

DES PERES, Mo. – After 46 years of serving customers in its present location, Schnucks Des Peres will close at 9 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 14, and reopen at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at its new location, 12332 Manchester Road (next to West County Mall). The relocation of this landmark facility marks the beginning of a new era for the family-owned grocery company.

At 74,000 square feet, this combination food and pharmacy store is like no other Schnucks store. Schnucks Chairman and CEO Scott Schnuck explained, “We promised our Des Peres community something special and that’s just what we will deliver. Des Peres will be a flagship store in our company because of the atypical offerings it will include.” (Source: Schnucks)

Not to be outdone, the region’s 2nd biggest grocer, Dierbergs, opened a new flagship store nearby on July 31st of this year:

The supermarket, located on the south side of Manchester Road, one mile east of I-270, is a free-standing 75,000-square-foot store. It sits on approximately 6.5 acres, occupying a full city block of Des Peres. HBD Construction is the general contractor for the project.

Dierbergs submitted its proposed site plans to the city in fall 2009. With plans for three levels, including a mezzanine dining area, it was evident from the beginning that this would be a different Dierbergs. (Source: Dierbergs

Two huge locally owned flagship grocery stores a short distance apart? This foodie had to see what each had to offer! On Saturday August 18th I caught the #30 MetroBus just two blocks from my downtown loft. At the Maplewood MetroLink station I transferred to the #57 MetroBus that goes all the way out to Wildwood. I got off at Manchester & Bopp Rd since the Dierbergs was the first location I came to arriving from the east.

Using public transit meant I was arriving as a pedestrian, not a motorist. Of course, no downtown resident is going to go all the way out to Des Peres to shop for groceries. But people living near these new stores may decide to walk, rather than drive, to shop on a nice day. This is a look at how Des Peres residents would walk to these two stores.

Dierbergs:

Located on the south side of Manchester, where Bopp Rd ends, this large building is highly visible to passing motorists.

ABOVE: View of the new Dierbergs as seen from southbound Bopp Rd at Manchester Rd. ADA ramps, crosswalks, and pedestrian signals were all replaced as a part of this project.
ABOVE: Like the Target in south city, the Dierbergs has parking under the building. Pedestrians have the option to enter at this point.
ABOVE: Unfortunately for a first-time visitor it’s unclear where the entrance is located and no protected pedestrian path is provided.
ABOVE: Back outside, those approaching from the east will cross an auto entrance, but walk signals are provided.
ABOVE: For those who don’t wish to enter via the lower level parking they can continue west to the main entrance. Curvy sidewalks are annoying but I’m glad it wasn’t up next to Manchester Rd.
ABOVE: A walk takes you from the Manchester Rd sidewalk to the main entrance, which faces the parking lot to the west.
ABOVE: The western boundary of the site is Lindeman Rd. Those persons living directly to the south also have a sidewalk to get them to the store.
ABOVE: Unfortunately the crossing distance near the entry is wide and a ramp wasn’t provided right away. This is the biggest pedestrian access error they made.
ABOVE: View of the produce section from the upper level mezzanine.

This Dierbergs is a big box geared toward the driving public but they recognized the need to provide access for pedestrians from all possible directions.  A neighbor might send their 8 year old for a loaf of bread or an 80 year old neighbor might want to do their shopping and stay fit.

Let’s head west on Manchester now to check out the Schnucks flagship store.

Schnucks:

Part of a new shopping center called Des Peres Corners on the southeast corner of Manchester & Ballas Rd (map).

ABOVE: Getting close to Ballas Rd so it must be close. Here’s a MetroBus stop, great for low-income service workers that can’t afford private transportation. Sidewalks are new and friendly considering they’re next to busy Manchester Rd.
ABOVE: At the eastern edge is a one-way auto driveway but no pedestrian access.
ABOVE: A little further west is the main entrance to the Des Peres Corners shopping center that contains the new flagship Schnucks.
ABOVE: The Des Peres Corners main entry but no access for pedestrians. I’ll keep looking.
ABOVE: Des Peres Corners contains a couple of buildings besides the Schnucks, each with multiple tenants. So close but I’m not seeing a way to the businesses from the public sidewalk.
ABOVE: Without any luck off Manchester I turned south along Ballas Rd to try that side.
ABOVE: Just past the first building I can see the second building, but no pedestrian access.
ABOVE: So I continued south along Ballas to what I assumed was the last opportunity for pedestrian access.
ABOVE: At the intersection I can see the public sidewalk continue to the south, providing a way for all those residents to walk to the store, if there’s a way to do so.
ABOVE: Oh good, I knew there had to be at least one way to enter this large site as a pedestrian!
ABOVE: But this is as far as I was able to get. An able-bodied person could find their way to the Schnucks but I couldn’t go any further.
ABOVE: By now I was ready for lunch but I couldn’t even do that at any of the places at Des Peres Commons. I crossed Ballas and had a nice lunch at West County Mall.

Final Thoughts:

These new “flagship” grocery stores are world’s apart when it comes to pedestrian access. Dierbergs is still largely auto-centric but it goes beyond the minimums required by the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990. Those who planned the Dierbergs clearly made a decision in their process to provide a way for pedestrians to reach their store. These pedestrians include employees arriving for work on MetroBus, neighbors walking from nearby homes as well as residents of nearby suburbs also arriving on MetroBus. I’d give it a B+/A-

The Schnucks at Des Peres Corners is a total failure from a pedestrian perspective, a big F. Schnucks/Des Peres Corners makes no attempt to provide access to those from outside the development or even internally from one building to the next. The civil engineers responsible need to have their licensees taken away. They may know parking lot drainage and requirements for retaining walls but that are incompetent when it comes to pedestrians and the ADA. I hope someone with legal standing takes Schnucks and the developer to court to force them to come back and correct their mistakes — also known as a violation of my civil  rights as a disabled person.

Only after I got back home did I see that my friend Herbie Markwort pointed out the flaws at Des Peres Commons in July 2009, prior to Schnucks opening:

A quick look around the site, however, reveals that no thought was given to accommodating pedestrians. (Gateway Streets)

It’s appalling that such a bad development can get municipal approval and bank financing. Loughborough Commons doesn’t look quite so bad now.

If you live in Des Peres please don’t patronize Des Peres Corners until they’ve retrofitted the site with internal pedestrian connections as well as access from both Manchester & Ballas.

— Steve Pattersin

 

 

Storefront Still Vacant A Decade Later, Tax Dollars Wasted?

September 7, 2012 Downtown, Featured, Retail 17 Comments

The Renaissance Hotel, Ballrooms and parking garage were built in 2002, a decade ago. Like most deals, it was complicated and players took fees off the top.  But tax money was also involved.

ABOVE: This storefront facing 9th Street has been vacant for years, no leasing information has been posted in the window.

The Missouri Development Finance Board was involved in the financing of the hotel and building the garage, from their 2003 annual report:

The decrease in operating income from 2002 to 2003 is primarily related to the decrease in loan and note receivable interest income from 2002 due to the pay off of the St. Louis Convention Center Hotel loan receivable. The St. Louis Convention Center Hotel loan’s outstanding balance as of June 30, 2002, was $13,455,000 with an interest rate of 9.5% with interest income of $1,753,225 and $759,329 earned in FY2002 and FY2003, respectively. Other considerations for the decrease in operating income are a decline in participation fee income of $179,540 and an increase in professional fees of $139,862 for FY2003.

I just find it curious when I go down 10th Street I see a thriving Stefano’s and an Edible Arrangements location on the west side of this building but on the east side, facing the hotel, a retail space remains empty — for a decade! Shouldn’t someone be trying to get this space leased? What must visitors think when they see this?

A restaurant with sidewalk dining would be nice, the building would provide shade for dinner. The city has the parking lane marked off as no parking, that’d need to change to lease this space. But how does it happen that no visible effort is made to lease a space for a decade?

— Steve Patterson

 

Union Station “Festival Marketplace” Opened In 1985

August 29, 2012 Downtown, Featured, Retail 14 Comments

St. Louis Union Station reopened 27 years ago today as a “festival marketplace.” Roughly translated that means cheesy mall in an old space built for some other purpose, in this case an old train shed. Actually part of the train shed is used for hotel rooms and meeting space, under the south end is parking and part is used for retail shops and food court.

ABOVE: The midway was once lined with shops, additional glass booths in the center have been removed.
ABOVE: One of the many former restaurant spaces that’s closed, in a very ugly way
ABOVE: Former Nature Co. space now a small retailer.
ABOVE: Under the train shed one of the few remaining restaurants, Landry’s, mentions parking validation. The MetroLink light rail station probably brings more people to Union Station than cars.

In the poll last week I was pleasantly surprised by often readers had been to Union Station in the last year, I thought many more would pick “0”.

Q: How many times have you been to St. Louis Union Station in the last 12 months?

  • 0 116: [54.21%]
  • 1-3: 78 [36.45%]
  • 4-6: 12 [5.61%]
  • 7-10: 4 [1.87%]
  • 13+: 3 [1.4%]
  • 10-12: 1 [0.47%]

Still more than half did indicate they hadn’t been to Union Station in the last year. To my knowledge the hotel does well so hopefully someone will buy the place and rethink  it once again.

— Steve Patterson

 

Filling In Three Blocks Along North Tucker Boulevard

North Tucker Boulevard has been more urban than it is today. Over the years buildings came down left and right to provide surface parking, mostly for workers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Much of the surface parking is owned by the paper but with hundreds fewer employees the same level of parking is no longer needed. It’s time to rethink north Tucker Blvd!

ABOVE: Privately owned parking lot vacant on a Tuesday afternoon (June 5, 2012). NE corner of Tucker [email protected] Cole St., click image for Google Maps.
ABOVE: Unused parking lot owned by the Post-Dispatch.
ABOVE: Across Cole St to the south the parking area is partially full on the same day.
ABOVE: The building at 911 N. Tucker was built in 1890.

Below I’ve placed blue rectangles on the spots where new buildings could be constructed. The red are harder spots due to small size (Carr St) or a new useless plaza (south end).

ABOVE: 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)

The Carr St on the north to Convention Plaza (Delmar) on the south there are many opportunities to construct infill buildings. At the center is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

I can hear the naysayers now, “there’s no demand for new construction here” or “location, location, location.” The new Mississippi River Bridge opens in 2014 and then suddenly this will become a major entry into downtown St. Louis. Now’s the time to start planning so at least one building can be open by 2014. It may very well take 10-20 years to fill in as I’ve shown but this is the first step to getting to that goal.

Remember, 15 years ago naysayers said there was no demand for housing downtown — and they were right — sorta. Those who wanted a hip loft in a walkable downtown had no way as individuals to get what they wanted. A few were marketed but not enough were willing to take the risk — and it was a risk. Then Washington Ave went on a road diet going from 4 travel lanes to two, widening the sidewalks in the process. Through these efforts the area was reinvented and things began to take off.

Storefronts are still vacant but housing occupancy is on par with other areas.  The area of North Tucker Blvd I’m talking about is just a few blocks north of Washington Ave. The new Tucker streetscape is being finished now. It includes provisions for on-street parking in this area so ground-level retail is an option.

Lee Enterprises, owner of the Post-Dispatch, should be talking with developers now. They might get a new parking garage behind new buildings facing Tucker — I’d want the city to prohibit/strongly discourage a parking garage facing Tucker but facing 13th would be ok.

In the block opposite the Post-Dispatch new buildings on each side of 911 N. Tucker should be respectful without copying. Modern would be fine with me, just not a six-story mirrored box.

The opportunity for a “signature” building is on the NW corner of Tucker Blvd. & Cole St.

ABOVE: Looking east on Cole St from Tucker Blvd.
ABOVE: Looking west on Cole St from 11th. A new building on the vacant lot would hide KDNL’s building.

Cole Street has a very wide right-of-way east of Tucker, giving the opportunity for high visibility for pedestrians and motorists heading west on Cole. This is also an opportunity to look at Cole and how to encourage more pedestrians to use Cole to connect parts of downtown and the housing to the north.

Perhaps a CVS or Walgreen’s would locate in the ground floor of one of these buildings on Tucker?  New construction in this area could be exciting, much more so than Ballpark Village.

— Steve Patterson

 

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