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Soulard Market to Become a Park

Don’t worry, the city has no plans to do away with the market.

However a bill (BB41) before the Board Of Aldermen would make the market part of the “Soulard Playground” park which shifts control from the Director of Public Utilities to the Parks Director.  Maybe this is a good thing?  Maybe it is a power play to increase the Parks Dept budget?

Given the issue of citizens getting to vote on any leasing or selling of park land I wonder how the long-term leasing of vendor stalls would be impacted?


Downtown Business Not So Good for Good Works

The giant ribbon-cutting scissors are barely back in their box and Good Works is pulling the rug on their second location, located on Washington at 9th (Banker’s Lofts). I attended the ribbon cutting on December 13th and I must say it was an exciting time, the ribbon cutting for Flamingo Bowl was later that same day.

Above: Deputy Mayor Barb Geisman, Ald Phyllis Young, the store manager and Jim Cloar from the Downtown Partnership cut the ribbon on December 13th, 2007.

In the Post-Dispatch on the 24th of this month the news of their closing:

In the latest blow to downtown St. Louis, Good Works Inc. will close its home-furnishings store next month due to a lack of new customers.Many of the shoppers who visited the store at 901 Washington Avenue were the same ones who frequented the Good Works store at 6323 Delmar Boulevard in University City, said Chris Dougher, one of the owners. Co-owners Dougher and Rita Navarro plan to expand the store in the Delmar Loop.

“We just aren’t generating new business,” Dougher said of the store on Washington Avenue. “It’s a huge disappointment, but we can’t foresee it changing in the near future.”

The 8,000-square-foot store, which opened in November, was one of the larger retailers to locate downtown in recent years.

The store on Delmar, which sells contemporary furniture and accessories, has been successful since opening at that location about 11 years ago.

The owners decided to open a second store on Washington Avenue because they wanted to be part of the downtown renaissance and thought it would become the next Loop.

However, a soft economy has slowed downtown loft purchases, store openings and retail spending.

On opening day I wrote:

“I wish Good Works the best of luck and hope they do get all the support they need from the city — and some on-street parking out front.”

Just imagine the loop as four traffic lanes and no on-street parking, it would totally kill the vibe that it has. That is what exists in front of the Good Works store on Washington — it is a poor pedestrian & retail environment. To do well they needed lots of customers and the area to the immediate East is a dead zone — so dead the taxi cabs get to use the sidewalk as a taxi stand. The loft crowd just doesn’t walk by this location on the way to get groceries, dinner or drinks. Too few people do walk by. OK, back to parking.

As I’ve written before I think so much of St. Louis is auto centric with too many drive-thrus and surface parking lots measured by the acre. Even downtown it is hard to take pictures without getting a damn parking garage in the image. So how can I be arguing for on-street parking? On-street parking does a number of very beneficial things for an area. First it reduces four traffic lanes down to two — much friendlier. This also helps to slow down the traffic on the street. People parking and getting in/out of their cars & feeding the meter creates activity on the street. And finally having parking in front of the store decreases the perception that downtown has a parking shortage. When someone arrives they may have to park in the next block or two but the fact that someone got to park out front helps give the impression that parking is fairly easy. This is not to say that a few on-street spaces out front would have provided a steady stream of customers but it would have changed the feel of the area for the better. Certainly more Loop-like.
Of course they recognize they were basically stealing customers from their Loop location. Not much you can say about that except it takes a lot of marketing to increase a customer base. The Loop didn’t happen overnight and neither will retail downtown. For many places the rents far exceed the number of customers.

This is why we need to take immediate steps to make downtown more pedestrian/retail friendly. On-street parking needs to be added where it doesn’t exist, add street vendors selling hot dogs, toasted ravioli, t-shirts, whatever. Street performers would also be a nice touch. The sidewalks need life to have a good stream of retail customers. If we are not quick to act I can see much of downtown being just a restaurant zone with very little retail.


Lessons from a West Palm Beach FL Lifestyle Center

The new owner of the failing St. Louis area enclosed mall, Crestwood Plaza, recently announced plans to raze the place and construct an open air “lifestyle center” on the site. Subsidies from the city of Crestwood will be sought (surprise).This made me think of one such center I saw last Fall when I was in Florida for the Rail~Volution conference. With the registration they gave us passes for all of their transit systems. So on my last day I took their Tri-Rail line up to Palm Beach. This is a heavy rail line serving several counties in the south Florida region. I was using the line on a Sunday so I didn’t get any picture as to how well it does serving commuters.

Not much existed around the depot but I could see buildings off to the east — toward the water so that was the direction I walked.

After several blocks of nothing I found something of interest:

Above on the left is a grocery store and on the right is the back end of the lifestyle center — the “front” faces onto a major road — more on that later. At first I wasn’t sure what it was I just knew the buildings were up to the sidewalk and of multiple levels

Up half a block I spotted motorcycle/scooter parking. Nice.

I was at the North end of “City Place” — a mixed-use upscale lifestyle center. The name is only part of selling a city/urban lifestyle. As you can tell from the map this development integrated itself into the existing street grid.

Three story buildings aligned both sides of South Rosemary Ave. The upper floors of most of what you see above is residential.

The upper floors overhang the sidewalk space to create an environment safe from the hot Florida sun. The high ceiling gives it an open feeling.

looking back the other direction toward the intersection we see shrubs — the line of travel was shifted. I had lunch at the outdoor patio you see on the left and I observed that most people crossing the street above went to the left of the shrubs rather than to the right for the crosswalk. The lesson here is that people take the shortest route — architects and planners need to remember as much. If they would take the time to do a pedestrian circulation study of their proposed design they’d catch these issues. Sadly, more time is spent on the circulation of cars. Still this project is a thousand times better than a typical strip or enclosed mall.

The main street is narrow with on-street parking to help give that city/urban feeling. Balconies, even when vacant, suggest a lively streetscape. But don’t get any ideas about running a clothesline across the street from building to building — this is not a typical urban street — it is under the control of one management company.

Further down the street we see a large multi-level Macy’s was integrated into the design. Looking closely at the design it is easy to find flaws with the execution but just walking down the street it works as intended — to blend in and mask the true size of the store behind the walls.

Up next was a pleasant surprise — a former United Methodist church was reborn as the centerpiece of the whole project with life as a performance hall. The inclusion of an existing structure within the development site added a nice bit of history lacking in the new buildings.

A modest sized plaza with outdoor dining is at the rear of the old church. An important lesson here, which they did well, is to make the plaza a good size but not so big that it looks empty most of the time.

By putting the stage in the middle of the space it broke up the area to keep it from being too expansive. The plantings and pavement further help break down the overall size of the space.

Sadly the entire project lacks bike parking. Here cyclists used the pole from a stop sign. Unfortunately the sop sign was placed at the end of a crosswalk so the bikes now contribute for blocking the pathway. This project has numerous parking garages hidden behind the buildings but they failed to plan for people arriving by a mode other than the car. This area, not far from the water, has a number of condo buildings nearby so it should have been assumed that some customers would bike.

We’ve now reached the south edge — a major blvd in West Palm Beach. As you can see in the distance are nearby condos.

Directly across the street to the south is more new housing nearing completion. Unfortunately crossing the boulevard on foot wasn’t part of the plan — at least not that I saw.

Entering from the main entry (above) you certainly feel like you are going into a singular unified project rather than just another city street. Such a tactic is probably necessary to attract the right tenant mix, the right shoppers and the right residents. Still, Im glad that in other directions that it just blends so much better.

Housing types vary within the project — these townhouses with garages are great for those that may not care for an over a store type of unit. Note this is an alley serving these units — pedestrian entrances face courtyards or in the case of the ones on the left facing a public street.

Overall not a bad project. Many of our St. Louis area projects would do well to copy elements such as the streets in addition to the building scale. Loughborough Commons, for example, would have been outstanding with a main street through it’s center and side streets connecting to the adjacent streets. Sure this type of project costs more to build but you also get more in return. I doubt that whatever replaces Crestwood Mall will be as diverse as the above project. It will really come down to the vision of the developer and their architect as I am certain the City of Crestwood has no vision beyond sales tax revenue.


St. Louis Magazine Drops the Glitterati for Green in January Issue

jan-cover-smallWell, not really. The glitterati section is still there — you know people must be seen at all the social functions wearing just the right overpriced outfit. Still, the staff at St. Louis Magazine found time to put together an interesting green issue — their first.

The magazine is still on the same paper and most likely using the same inks as it has been, I see no indication of any recycled paper content or earth-friendly inks. An evaluation of the paper stock and printing methods they use would be a good idea! From “E: The Environmental Magazine” in 2001:

When it comes to promoting ecological destruction, toxic pollution and wastefulness on a large scale, it’s hard to beat the magazine industry. According to Coop America, nearly 95 percent of magazines print on paper with no recycled content, condemning 17 million trees to death by the saw each year.

But the trees cut to make paper are only the first environmental victims of magazine publishing. Turning those trees into pulp consumes enormous amounts of energy and water, and the bleaching process creates dioxin, a chemical the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called “the most potent carcinogen ever tested on laboratory animals”

Environmentalist say this colossal problem could be greatly reduced simply by switching from virgin to recycled paper. Government research agrees. The EPA has reported that substituting one ton of 100 percent recycled paper for virgin paper saves 17 trees, 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity, 7,000 gallons of water and produces 60 pounds less air pollution.

The above is why I don’t get the number of magazines I used to. Even if we recycle them when done the trees are still gone and the pollutants are in our environment. I applaud St. Louis Magazine for doing a green issue, but their future issues need to actually be environmentally green. However, all the photos of the people featured in the green section were taken without any artificial flash and thus didn’t use any electricity — certainly worth noting

But, let’s move past magazine production to the content of the January 2008 issue.

Editor Stephen Schekenberg, a prior client of mine, helps introduce the topic for the month:

At present there is an incredible amount of environmental action taking place throughout St. Louis. In this first “green” issue of the magazine, we celebrate the stars of the region’s environmental scene: architects and designers, college kids and politicians, entrepreneurs and citizens. It’s hard to say what’s been more inspiring — learning what these St. Louisans are doing or hearing the attitude they have while doing it. Yes, the world’s environmental concerns are serious and significant. But their tone — and, we hope, ours — is neither gloom-and-doom nor finger-wagging. I’ve been inspired by their positivity, and their hope. I hope you will be, too.

One of the articles is 20 Cool Ways to Help Stop Global Warming. The number one thing? Ride a scooter, of course! The entire list is well worth reading. They didn’t include using a clothesline to hang laundry, I guess it wasn’t cool enough.

They also do a nice photo spread on the EcoUrban modular home in South City. Besides the nice photos, they point out all the various green features of the home which, to the naked eye, are not always apparent.

The main article is the “Green Giants” — those that are “doing the most to sustain our city — and our planet.” I’m not going to give away their entire list — you’ll have to get the magazine to see that. I did want to point out a few. Among the ‘citizens’ are Eric & Mary Brende as “models for slow living.” Eric Brende, some of you may recall, was the author of “Better OFF: Flipping the Switch on Technology” which I reviewed in July 2005. Eric pedals people around town on his rickshaw and Mary makes wonderful soaps she sells at the Soulard Farmers’ Market. I’ve been honored to speak to have been a guest in their home and I stop and talk to Mary when I am at the market or I’ll chat with Eric when I see him out and about (assuming he doesn’t have any customers).

In the ‘advocates’ section we have J.B. Lester, publisher of the popular Healthy Planet monthly in our region. Early on I wrote a monthly column for the Healthy Planet and one of my dearests friends, Lois Brady, was their food & travel editor for many years. Jeff McIntire-Strassburg from greenoptions.com and sustainablog.org is on the list as is the host of KDHX’s Earthworms show, Jean Ponzi. Also on this list is, well, me!

In the ‘entrepreneurs’ section we have Patrick Horine & Jenny Ryan of the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market and, along with Maddie Earnest and Jason McClelland, also of Local Harvest Grocery. Jenny Ryan is a recent graduate of the Urban Planning program I am in at SLU, her final ‘capstone’ for the degree being about local/sustainable food and the Tower Grove Market was used as a case study.

Also in this section is Terry Winkelmann, a co-owner of Home Eco — the cool store on Macklind that sells all the goods a green person needs. From a great selection of books, to hemp jeans, to solar panels and yes, worm bins — they’ve got it or can get it for you.

Numerous architects and builders are mentioned including Marc Lopata from Sage Homebuilders and Jay Swoboda and Nate Forst from EcoUrban.

In the ‘civic forces’ section we have Citizens for Modern Transit led by my friend (and UrbanReviewSTL reader) Thomas Shrout. Nothing better than debating light rail vs. streetcars with Mr. Shrout! Also mentioned is the Gateway Green Alliance for their activism including getting signatures to have the state audit the City of St. Louis. I’ll be on a panel hosted by the Greens on February 6th. The topic will be transportation – mark those calendars.

And finally we have the scholars and educators section. Someone who is both a scholar and educator as well as a personal friend, and the director of the Urban Planning and Real Estate Development program (UPRED) at St. Louis University, is Dr. Sarah Coffin. Dr. Coffin is one of the main reasons I entered the program at SLU. We don’t always agree on things but she is excellent at ensuring all students get a chance to express their views on the wide range of material presented in her classes. An expert in brownfield development, land trusts and a variety of other topics, I’m glad Dr. Coffin is here in St. Louis. And yes, I have her for one of my three courses next Spring but trust me when I say that sucking up doesn’t fly with Dr. Coffin — participation and well researched and presented ideas are required!

Another feature article, by Stefene Russell, is called Luddite’s Delight. This is how “one writer survived a month of treading lightly on the earth.” This is really a great read as Stefene decides to go green for a month and takes her husband on the journey with her. After starting off the article about the environmental credentials of her family, Stefene turns to herself:

And me? I recycle. That’s about it. In my family, I am the eco-blasphemer. The loser. The kid who might as well have become a dope dealer or an Amway distributor. My husband grew up in the suburbs, in a subdivision he describes as “so cookie-cutter, all the houses developed the same crack in the dining-room ceiling.” He spent his summer days watching MacGyver in an air-conditioned house, two-fisting Twinkies and Kool-Aid. He still loves hot dogs, video games, long meandering drives, new things crackling under plastic shrink-wrap, drive-through pizza, heated car seats, long showers, movie popcorn, swimming pools and gadgets of every sort.

One of my favorite lines from the piece:

Even my father, after going on a 45-minute screed about the “political boondoggle of ethanol,” recoils after I inform him I’m going to ride the bus. “That sounds pretty exotic,” he says. “Don’t you have any college students who could do that for you?”

This tale of Pradas, transit, MacGyver and toilet paper is an excellent read and thankfully an extended version is available online.
If you go out and buy the magazine be sure to offer it to someone else when you are done. If you’d rather not buy a copy, head to your nearest public library to read it in the periodicals section.


I’ve been to Hell and back Today

This morning when I got up I knew what I had to do today, scoot out to the suburbs. Rock Hill, specifically. Normally I don’t really mind a nice long ride but it was a tad cold this morning. Bundled up, I made my way out Chouteau/Manchester to my destination.

Back on the road I cruised through the new development at Manchester and Rock Hill (McKnight). Wow, and I thought we had some vacant storefronts downtown. I didn’t even stop for pictures. They’ve actually got some good pedestrian connections but they also got some real dumb mistakes. They have a long way to go to get those spaces leased. A little advice to Rock Hill, make sure they get a few more tenants before starting to raze buildings to the North. Look for a review in January ’08.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I decided to head straight for the center of hell — Brentwood and 40. Since I was out this direction I had to stop at Whole Foods and Trader Joes to get a few things I can’t really get elsewhere. Whole Foods is great because of their commitment to the environment. However, I think they may have gone a bit too far:


The urinal in the men’s room has a nice new lever handle designed to conserve water (so does the toilet). Up for liquid and down for solid waste. How nice, but this is a urinal!!!! My dad never pulled me aside to share that solids don’t belong in urinals, this is something we guys just seem to know. I’m all for saving water but people need to think more critically. This might certainly encourage some unintended consequences.

Heading from one strip mall to another I made my way to Trader Joes. Ah, so many items and so little carrying capacity. Good thing about a day like today, my frozen items stay frozen. Looking to the North as I left I saw the I-170/40 interchange and realized that, for all its flaws, I’m so glad I live and work in the city. I walk to destinations now and scooter to those places outside my local environment. I could not imagine living life in that environment amongst highway ramps, huge parking lots and so on. I thought about stuff they had at Trader Joes that I wanted to get — briefly considering a return trip soon or even a venture there on MetroLink but I’m not sure it is worth it.

Traffic was moving slowly on Hwy 40 heading back to the city but not slow enough for my scooter. I took the back ways through some of Maplewood’s lovely residential areas (those that have not been converted into horrible anti-pedestrian big box centers). Returning to the city limits was a relief for me. I was still in an ugly part of town (St. Louis Marketplace) but crossing back over the line was comforting to me.


Approaching Kingshighway on Manchester, however, and we had a preview of what we may see in a few weeks – backed up traffic on a major East-West route. The Water Dept had the two Westbound lanes of Manchester closed so traffic was condensing to one lane. Eastbound traffic was backed up for a considerable distance before noon.

Upon crossing Kingshighway I was back in my element. Ah yes, urban buildings near the street. On-street parking. Mixed uses. Not perfect, by any means. But, home. Got the grub put away and headed out the door on foot to a couple of ribbon cuttings.

First up today was Good Works, a second location for this local store that is a fixture in the Loop. A former bank lobby, the Good Works space at 9th and Washington Ave is impressive. Above is Barb Geisman (Dept Mayor), Ald Phyllis Young, the store manager (sorry, didn’t catch her name), and Jim Cloar from the Downtown Partnership. I wish Good Works the best of luck and hope they do get all the support they need from the city — and some on-street parking out front.

After a brief stop at the AIA Bookstore, next door, I headed to the ribbon cutting at Flamingo Bowl.


Mayor Slay arrived sporting a personalized bowling shirt. Slay got to throw out the first ball, leaving a couple of pins. OK, he admitted he wasn’t a bowler.

The space? In a word, stunning! It is divided into two parts, each with a bar, restrooms, kitchen and lanes (4 on one side, 8 on another). This means groups can reserve a section while the balance is open to the public. Their hours are noon to 3am daily. The noon thing might put a crimp in the early lunch crowd.

They allow smoking so we’ll have to see how well the systems work to remove the smoke and smell. Of course, the toxic pollutants are still in the air. This might keep some of us from going for food, I can handle a drink and bowling around smoking but I just can’t consume food around people smoking.

The Downtown Residents holiday party is this evening so I will be back there later tonight. Unlike so many other great venues downtown, I think we just turned a corner today. Up until now everything seemed like it might slip away any moment. Today this place will do a lot of selling for downtown.