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Hotel Has Used State-Owned Retail Storefront Rent-Free For A Decade

October 25, 2012 Downtown, Featured, Retail 18 Comments

Last month I posted about a vacant retail space in a state-owned parking garage  (see: Storefront Still Vacant A Decade Later, Tax Dollars Wasted?). Some said perhaps the Renaissance Grand Hotel used the space for storage, but that didn’t seen likely to me. Well, turns out the retail storefront has been used by the hotel for storage rent-free for a decade!

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 (MDFB) built and owns the garage, the attached ballroom building has separate ownership. The vacant storefront is just to the south of the auto exits from the garage.

ABOVE: Many hotel guests walk from the garage to hotel daily

For a decade now the state has received $0.00 in rent for this space while visitors to St. Louis see a poorly papered over storefront. The MDFB mission is:

To assist infrastructure and economic development projects in Missouri by providing the critical component of the total financing for projects that have a high probability of success, but are not feasible without the Board’s assistance.

How does leaving this storefront vacant for a decade support their mission?  I talked with a hotel employee in the finance department who said if someone wanted to lease the storefront they’d remove their stuff. Retail spaces don’t lease themselves, it takes work to get tenants.

Even if the space was leased to a business for next to nothing it would be better for the city’s image of the city if it was occupied by an active business. — Steve Patterson


Readers Not Keen On Walmart Express

October 24, 2012 Retail 18 Comments

No majority winner in the poll last week but clearly readers don’t want a typical auto-centric Walmart:

Q: Would You Support Or Oppose Walmart Express Stores In The City Of St. Louis?

  1. Oppose, Walmart is a horrible company 66 [41.77%]
  2. Support, with good design regulations 59 [37.34%]
  3. Support, competition is good 23 [14.56%]
  4. Neutral 4 [2.53%]
  5. Unsure/No Opinion 3 [1.9%]
  6. Other: 3 [1.9%]

The three “other” answers were:

  1. Oppose. Letting them in would likely open Pandora’s big-box.
  2. Not any worse than Family Dollar
  3. I’d have to see one first

The problem is so many of our elected officials like new construction, they add the cost to their tally to brag about investment they attracted. Some do get that we need an overhaul of our regulations to force retailers to use their connected urban prototypes rather than doing the least they have to. These retailers have saturated suburban markets and need new locations to grow.

We can demand better from them!

— Steve Patterson


Poll: Would You Support Or Oppose Walmart Express Stores In The City Of St. Louis?

Retail giant Walmart is looking to reverse declining sales by opening smaller, more convenient, stores:

ABOVE: Walmart Express stores will compete with numerous dollar stores like this Family Dollar on Gravois near Bevo Mill.

Express stores are less than one-tenth the size of Wal-Mart supercenters and offer groceries, general merchandise like tools, and pharmacies. Neighborhood Markets are more than twice the size of Express stores and offer perishable food, household supplies and beauty aids as well as a pharmacy. (USAtoday.com)

The new Walmart Express format is just under 15,000 square feet in size, a fraction of Walmart’s other formats:

  •  Supercenter: 185,000 square feet
  • Discount stores: 108,000 square feet
  • Neighborhood Markets: 42,000 square feet (source

Their Neighborhood Markets format is a grocery store, not seen in St. Louis but already dominant in some markets, like Oklahoma City. The Walmart Express will give other retailers strong competition:

Dollar-store chains have expanded quickly in recent years and pose intense competition to Walmart. They open stores closer to customers’ homes, a big advantage in times of high gas prices. According to a Credit Suisse analyst, the average round-trip to a dollar store is six miles vs. 30 miles for a typical Walmart trip. These stores have enjoyed strong revenue growth as they’ve lured more shoppers with bargain prices and wider selections. (source)

My concern is these national retailers with generic store designs will continue buying up every corner they can, making our city less urban every year, rather than more urban.

The poll this week wants your reaction to the idea of Walmart Express stores popping up in our neighborhoods near Family Dollar and Walgreens locations. The poll is the right sidebar, mobile users switch to the full site to vote.

— Steve Patterson


How Not To Do Retail Storefront Space

By the late 1980s many architects & planners began to realize a desire to include exterior retail spaces to enliven new buildings that would otherwise be lifeless at the sidewalk.  They were right, but their early execution left a lot to be desired. Case in point: AT&T’s data center from 1990.

ABOVE: 801 Chestnut

The building occupies the entire city block bounded by Chestnut on the south, 9th on the west, Pine on the north and 8th on the east (map). The building, built for Southwestern Bell, was designed to accommodate the planned westbound 8th & Pine MetroLink station that opened a few years later in 1993. Good coordination among different parties at least!

Let’s take a walk around so you can see all four sides.

ABOVE: The NW corner at 9th & Pine
ABOVE: The SW corner at 9th & Chestnut
ABOVE: The SE corner at 8th & Chestnut
ABOVE: The NE corner at 8th & Pine, the MetroLink sign is visible

Did you see the three small retail spaces accessible by the general public? You didn’t? Only one is occupied, to my knowledge the other two have never had a tenant. The problem is they don’t face the sidewalks, they are hidden back in the dark recesses.

The occupied retail space is in the corner of the building pictured above, it just isn’t visible from motorists or pedestrians.

ABOVE: The space at the NE corner of the building, near the westbound 8th & Pine MetroLink station, is the only one that’s occupied. The entrance faces west, not the top of the escalators to the south. Even during the day it is dark in the area.
ABOVE: A customers enters the small convenience store while another exits MetroLink

The size of the space is appropriate, we do need more spaces like this adjacent to our light rail stations — but with the windows and door facing the transit users coming & going as well as visibility from adjacent sidewalks.  This is not too bad, if you exit the station here you will see the side window and investigate if you are thirsty.

ABOVE: The vacant space at the NW corner, again not facing 9th or Pine
ABOVE: The third space in the SW corner near the main street entrance on Chestnut. But data center employes use the walkway over the 9th street to come and go.

I can just hear people downtown saying retail doesn’t work, using these as their examples. That these are still vacant more than two decades later would  have been easy to predict.

— Steve Patterson


OK, Kanas City Region To Get An Ikea Before St. Louis

October 4, 2012 Big Box, Featured, Retail 19 Comments
ABOVE: Ikea in Bolingbrook, IL, January 2009

The Kansas City region is getting an Ikea store and we’re not:

The home furnishings company, which has 38 stores in the U.S., is announcing at a press conference this morning that it is putting a store in Merriam, Kan. The store is expected to open in fall 2014.

So what does that mean for the prospects of a much desired store in St. Louis?

Joseph Roth, an Ikea spokesman, said the Kansas City store does not diminish St. Louis’ chances.

“They are completely separate trade areas in our mind,” he said. “We still recognize the customer base that exists for us in St. Louis. We just have not committed to a time frame yet or found the perfect site.” (stltoday.com)

This is pretty logical if you think about it, the nearest Ikea to the St. Louis region is the Bolingbrook, IL location in the Chicago region — that’s 273 miles from St. Louis. The closest Ikea to Kansas City, MO is Bloomington MN at 431 miles (Bolingbrook, IL is 486 miles from KC).

I know numerous people here that have driven to the Bolingbrook Ikea in the morning, shopped, and driven back to St. Louis that night, others have stayed in a nearby hotel overnight. Either way, we have much better access to Ikea than people in the Kansas City region do — for now. And once the Kansas City Ikea opens in Merriam, KS two years from now it’ll be roughly 15 miles closer to St. Louis than the Bolingbrook, IL Ikea. A change of pace for those who usually head north on I-55 for flat-packed furniture.

This summer many thought an Ikea was going to come to Richmond Heights because a developer had proposed it. Based on the 6 Ikea locations I’ve visited over the last+ 22 years I doubt we would see an idea within 15 niles of downtown St. Louis. They are a big box retailer that locates along wide exurban arterials on sites highly visible from the highway.

For my last big order I shopped through one of the two local companies that make regular trips to Bolingbrook — I had them bring back items I’d never be able to transport anyway.

My hope is the Kansas City location will be close enough to civilization that it will be on a bus route so I can visit without having to rent a car — a perfect way to make sure I don’t buy too much.

— Steve Patterson