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Reactivating 7th Street

February 27, 2012 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Retail Comments Off on Reactivating 7th Street

The short stretch of 7th Street from Washington Ave north to Convention Plaza (formerly Delmar) has been a dead zone for years. That’s changing thanks to the old Dillard’s building being occupied by a hotel, apartments and soon several street-level uses facing Washington Ave.

ABOVE: Looking north on 7th Street from Washington Ave,side of America's Center convention center (left), Edward Jones Dome (center, background), former Dillard's Dept Store (right)

Both the Embassy Suites Hotel and Laurel Apartments face 7th Street, creating daily activity not seen in decades. The hotel’s 212 guest suites and the 205 apartments can potentially put a lot of feet on the sidewalks in the area, but only if their are places to walk to.

ABOVE: Looking south on 7th Street toward Washington Ave

Parking isn’t allowed on 7th which then looks too wide and empty. However, people are parking on the street at times and the hotel valet is using part of the space. But once you remove the parked cars the excessively wide street looks abandoned.

ABOVE: Without parked cars the street is clearly too wide

In terms of active facades the east side of the street is good with the hotel and apartment entrances & visible lobbies.  The west side of 7th is totally dead though.

ABOVE: Steps to nowhere, the entrance to the MetroRide store faces Washington Ave, not 7th
ABOVE: View of 7th Street from inside the MetroRide store (click image for website)
ABOVE: Marketing windows, but no active doorways, exist along the east side of 7th Street to create activity and the perception of safety.
ABOVE: View of side of convention center from across 7th Street

The architects did a good job breaking up this facade and trying to make it look hospitable but it’s nothing more than a gussied up blank wall, lipstick on a pig.

Are we just stuck with one side of 7th Street remaining dead forever? I don’t think so.

ABOVE: The space along 7th is back space and employee hallway

We need the Convention & Visitors Commission to look at activating the 7th Street facade of America’s Center. From a retail perspective the MetroRide store is a total dud occupying what should be a very active corner between the convention center and a MetroLink station.

– Steve Patterson


St. Louis Needs CEOs Creating Walkable Shopping Around Their Corporate Campuses

Over the last 6-8 years I’ve watched the corporate campus of Chesapeake Energy Corporation in Oklahoma City grow and grow and grow. But I wouldn’t use the old phrase “sprawling campus” because the site has developed quite dense and walkable.  Most of you in St. Louis have likely never heard of Chesapeake so here is a summary from Wikipedia:

Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) is the second largest producer of natural gas in the United States, a top 15 producer of U.S. liquids and the most active driller of new wells, according to an August 2011 investor presentation. It recorded 2Q 2011 natural gas production of an average of approximately 3.049 billion cubic feet (86,300,000 m3) of natural gas equivalent, a 9 percent year-over-year increase. The 2010 full year was Chesapeake’s 21st consecutive year of sequential production growth.

The company had a few buildings in an older office park when I first visited an employee. Recently those original buildings were razed.

ABOVE: Construction equipment has is a fixture of Chesapeake's campus

From such humble beginnings, the company’s Oklahoma City footprint has multiplied an astonishing 450 times. The Chesapeake campus now measures 2.7 million square feet. Employees work in 24 buildings, and there’s another half million square feet of office space under construction. (source)

They even have a page to talk up their campus:

Chesapeake’s 72,000-square-foot Fitness Center is located on campus, and plays host to a wide range of recreation programs, group exercise classes, cardio machines, weight room, basketball courts, racquetball courts, swimming pool, fitness assessments and preventative health screenings. Our adjoining athletic field hosts a variety of outdoor events during and after work, including coed flag football, soccer, kickball, team Frisbee, softball and personal training, and includes a quarter-mile track.

Also on campus are three restaurants, The Wildcat, Fuel and Elements, which offer a wide variety of healthy choices for breakfast and lunch. From a fresh salad bar, to made-to-order deli line and grill, employees have a variety of healthy alternatives to choose from.

The impressive fitness center was one of the first new buildings constructed as expansion began. Even though they have three restaurants for employees on campus they have developed shopping across Western Ave to the west. I posted about ClassenCurve last year.

ABOVE: ClassenCurve just opening in September 2010

Last month a new Whole Foods opened at The Triangle at ClassenCurve. Chesapeake is located on the edge of Nichols Hills (map), a small but very affluent suburb of Oklahoma City, their version of our Ladue. Tulsa has had a Wild Oats/Whole Foods for years, located in a space vacated by a former chain grocery. There have been several times I would stop at the Whole Foods in Tulsa to pick up items to eat at my parents house in Oklahoma City.

ABOVE: OKC's newly opened Whole Foods

Now I can stop at the huge new Whole Foods store in OKC when I’m visiting family.  The thousands of workers on Chesapeake’s campus can walk across the street to get a salad, food from the hot bar or pick up a few groceries. Whole Foods is in Oklahoma City now because of Chesapeake.

ABOVE: Bike racks are right out front, easy to use and actually used by cyclists

The campus-adjacent shopping isn’t just intend for Chesapeake’s employees, all can enjoy — assuming they can afford the types of shops locating in the retail spaces. By my standards the retail developments are barely walkable but compared to most of OKC they are a pedestrian paradise.

ABOVE: Public sidewalk along Classen in the campus looking west toward the retail

The architecture of the retail is a complete contrast to the campus. The campus has Georgian red brick structures while the retail is dark, modern and sleek.They compliment without copying. The retail doesn’t have any of the materials, look or logo of Chesapeake.

I can’t think of any Fortune 500 company in St. Louis that has done what Chesapeake has done. A-B? Nope. A.G. Edwards (now Wells Fargo)? Nada. What about institutions with deep pockets like Saint Louis University? Yeah right!

Chesapeake’s campus, like most corporate & institutional campuses, has lush lawns, water features, plantings and lots of parking. It’s edges separate the public from private but it does so in a friendly way. Architect Rand Elliott:

“We’re really fortunate,” Elliott stated “to have a number of CEO’s in this community, including Aubrey certainly, who believe that architecture is a powerful statement, and an important one for our community and for their businesses, as well.”

I was fortunate to have been paired with Rand Elliott on a project in middle schools during my freshman year at the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture. We need CEOs that will create walkable campus-adjacent space in the St. Louis region.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Where Do You Shop For Groceries?

November 13, 2011 Featured, Retail 8 Comments

Recently I was in the Target on Hampton and saw they had finally added a fresh food section. I often wondered why a fresh food section wasn’t included when this store opened in 2005.

ABOVE: New fresh food section in the Hampton Target

They had to steal square footage from other areas to get the space to expand their grocery offerings. So I began wondering where all of you shop for groceries. Do you go to big supermarkets like Schnuck’s or Dierberg’s? Whole Foods? Vincent’s? Walgreen’s?

ABOVE: Soulard Farmers' Market (click for website)

The poll this week asks the question and provides many answers. The poll is in the right sidebar.

– Steve Patterson


Ordering Food at a Walk-Up Window…in Ladue?

Recently I was in Frontenac and decided to stop for lunch on my way back downtown. I was already on Clayton Road so I decided to visit Red L Pizza owned by my friend John Rice.  Rice previously operated Colorado’s on Laclede & Restaurant Space on The Hill. Red L Pizza is located in the wealthy suburb of Ladue.

ABOVE: Red L Pizza in Ladue (click for website)

The above isn’t the entrance to the dinning room — this is it. You order at a window.

ABOVE: Customers ordering food at Red L's window

Rice explained:

“We have no food, nor do we prepare any food in our ordering booth. The window is merely an vehicle for controlling our food delivery to the automobiles or the patio. 95 % of our orders come via the telephone.”

I sat on the patio to wait for my food and sure enough a guy came around the corner from the kitchen to deliver my order to me.

ABOVE: Seating is limited to a few outdoor tables, most call in for pick up to take home

My visit was on a picture perfect day so as soon as I was done there were other customers ready for my table. Now that the weather has changed I suspect you won’t have any trouble finding a seat.

I’d like to see this model used more often. It’s not a full restaurant but it’s more than a food truck. It livens up this corner of this strip shopping center in Ladue (map).

– Steve Patterson


Readers Unsure About the Future of Retailing at St. Louis Union Station

October 26, 2011 Downtown, Featured, Retail 48 Comments

Last week readers weren’t optimistic about the future of retailing at Union Station:

Q: Does retailing at Union Station have a future?

  1. The surrounding blocks need infill with housing with local shoppers 37 [30.58%]
  2. A few places will do well, but the rest of the retail space needs to be reallocated to other uses 26 [21.49%]
  3. No! 20 [16.53%]
  4. Sure, just needs better marketing 11 [9.09%]
  5. Retailing under the shed needs to be opened to 18th Street 6 [4.96%]
  6. unsure/no opinion 6 [4.96%]
  7. Other: 15 [12.4%]

I was glad to see my favorite answer get the most votes.  The surroundings  are depressing, Union Station representatives say they aren’t a mall — they are a destination. Yes, when someone is in town that hasn’t seen the Grand Hall I take them to see it. That happens once every five years. In between I might go to an event or meet someone but otherwise I have no reason to visit.

ABOVE: Looking east on Eugenia St toward Union Station (click to view in Google Maps)
ABOVE: Only part of a planned highway loop around downtown was built, a huge waste of land to the west of Union Station.

The numerous dead spaces around Union Station must be filled in with offices and residential. Eliminate the on/off ramps at 22nd Street (add WB exits at Jefferson) and build a new neighborhood.

ABOVE: The east side of the old train shed along 18th St is a dead zone.

For a number of years now mall owners have been opening up walls and starting to face some retail spaces outward. Union Station must reevaluate the lack of connectedness to both 18th & 20th streets.

The other answers provided by readers were numerous:

  1. It is isolated from the east, west, north and south. Wide roads are moats.
  2. Tourists want a place 2 shop DT, but dont like US stores- need better retailers
  3. needs free parking – then marketing
  4. It could be an enclosed antique mall.
  5. it would if trains stop there again!
  6. Put in open market where paid parking exists!
  7. reduce and concentrate retail to ground level, coordinated int. facelift & mktg
  8. Reality is that if it has stores and life it will be snuffed out by thugs.
  9. needs free parking and better marketing
  10. Amtrack should of been positioned there, problem solved.
  11. It’s isolated, needs free parking and needs specialty shopping such as outlets
  12. Turn it into an IKEA.
  13. Both items 1 & 2
  14. Union Stations around the country have failed also – it is not just St Louis.
  15. Needs something new!

Note the software presents poll answers in random order to each person so I have no idea what answers the person at #13 liked. For #12 the site is way too small for an Ikea even if you razed all the structures. Ikea stores are far from the urban core for a reason — they are auto-centric big boxes.

Hopefully buyers will come along and update the train shed and the city will work to fill in the surroundings.

– Steve Patterson