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Reurbanizing Jefferson & Lafayette Pt 3: Getting Started

Yesterday I posted about the design problems at the vacant Foodland grocery store and adjacent parcels on the NW corner of Jefferson & Lafayette. The problems are numerous, but most boil down to a lack of planning for the circulation of pedestrian traffic.

ABOVE: 1984 grocery (left) and 1991 retail storefronts (right) and the main Jefferson Ave entry, the former Eads Ave.

Comments yesterday blamed failing schools and the loss of the middle class for the failure of retail at this corner. This reasoning doesn’t consider the new housing built west of Jefferson Ave in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Nor does it make sense given that other retail areas have remained stable or improved since 1984. In that period the Lafayette Square neighborhood, directly across Jefferson Ave to the east has solidified and actually gained population in the most recent census.

Poor pedestrian access (neighborhood connection) wasn’t the only the only factor in the failure but it’s one that could have been avoided and should be corrected. The city has already invested who knows how much into the area from tax incentives and the donation of land from the vacation of Eads & Texas Avenues. Now the city will be asked to contribute more money. In exchange we must fix the pedestrian  shortcomings so this retail becomes integrated into the adjacent neighborhoods in all directions.

Some have also expressed disappointment the proposal from Green Street Properties doesn’t start over from scratch. Understood, but from a sustainability perspective reusing older structures (1894 & 1984) is good if possible. Value remains in the tired vacant structures. This corner has been dehumanized incrementally since 1950 with the corner gas station to the razing of the area in the late 1970s. It’s not going to suddenly become an urban oasis, not in this economy anyway.

ABOVE: quarter mile radius of the center of the Foodland site

Solutions must account for those who will enter the site as a pedestrian, from within the usual 1/4 mile radius that most people are willing to walk. This includes those who may come from greater distances via MetroBus lines on both Jefferson & Park avenues.

ABOVE: Numerous pedestrian access points to the retail site

In the above image I look at the many points where pedestrians might approach  this corner. The pedestrians might be customers, retail employees or both. They might be library employees from across the street or from other businesses in the area. Motorists might be middle class parents shopping before or after picking up their kids at several nearby schools or downtown workers on the way home.

A retweet of yesterday’s post mentioned a desire  for a Trader Joe’s at this location. A TJs store would be an excellent draw here. Tomorrow’s post will show the results of the poll from last week, but I’ll tell you now Trader Joe’s received the second highest vote count behind Schnuck’s. Remarkable considering how few TJ’s are in the region and the closest to the city is in Brentwood.

One thing that makes Trader Joe’s unique is the size of its stores—most locations average between 8,000 and 12,000 sq ft. In February 2008, Businessweek reported that the company has the highest sales per square foot of any grocer in the U.S.; two-and-a-half years later, Fortune magazine estimated sales to be $1,750 in merchandise per square foot, more than double the sales generated by Whole Foods. (Wikipedia)

The vacant Foodland building is over 47,000 square feet so clearly the building will need to be divided up. The large parking area to the north was required for delivery tractor-traioler rigs to be able to back into the loading dock. Hopefully the architects can find a way for 3-4 tenants to receive deliveries without cutting off pedestrians.

ABOVE: The entrance & canopy to the old store will likely get removed.

A St. Louis Bread Co (Panera) also seems like a good fit for this location. Highway travelers might exit I-44 for a bite, those staying in the hotel need a place to walk to for dinner. This might be a storefront space in one of the existing buildings or perhaps a freestanding structure like Panera is building now. The benefit of the latter is a new building could help fill up the massive parking area, adding some massing. However, these include a drive-thru land which could be acceptable if good pedestrian access throughout the site is created.

ABOVE: guide to the "strategic land use" for the area.
ABOVE: Legend of land use designations

The area in question is designated a “Neighborhood Commercial Area”

Areas where the development of new and the rehabilitation of existing commercial uses that primarily serve adjacent neighborhoods should be encouraged. These areas include traditional commercial streets at relatively major intersections and along significant roadways where commercial uses serve multiple neighborhoods or where the development of new commercial uses serving adjacent neighborhoods is intended. Mixed use buildings with commercial at grade and a mix of uses on upper floors are an ideal type within these areas. These areas may include higher density mixed use residential and commercial and may initially include flexibility in design to allow ground floor uses to change over time e.g., ground floor space that can transition from residential to commercial use as the local demand for retail goods and services strengthens in the area.

The Foodland, Midwest Petroleum, Holiday Inn and retail building combined occupy over 8 acres, with the Foodland being nearly 6 of those. This is a substantial amount of land to create a neighborhood centric commercial district. Done well, it could draw customers from outside the immediate area just as say South Grand does.

Unfortunately the land use designations aren’t really used, it’s the zoning that matters. The land use strategy is modern and suggests what is desired.

ABOVE: Zoning for the area
ABOVE: Zoning legend

Our zoning, however, is a relic of Harland Bartholomew’s days, as our city planner (1918-1950). It tells you what you can’t do and how much parking you need for those activities not prohibited (modern zoning outlines what is desired).The parking mandates have no basis in our current times which is why the Board of Adjustment often grants waivers for reduced parking. We need to instead set low maximum parking requirements and let developers argue why they need a waiver to provide more parking.

This area is zoned (G) Local Commercial and Office:

The purpose of the G local commercial and office district is to establish and preserve areas that accommodate a wide range of businesses catering to the personal and home needs of the general public and to provide for employment activity and service to the public which does not detract from nearby residential uses. (Ord. 59979 § 12 (part), 1986.)

You can use the link above to read the entire section but here are the types of businesses listed in the ordinance:

  • A. Any use permitted in the F neighborhood commercial district;
  • B. Bars and taverns;
  • C. Dyeing and cleaning works;
  • D. Laundries;
  • E. Livery stables and riding academies;
  • F. Milk distributing and bottling plants;
  • G. Package liquor stores;
  • H. Printing shops;
  • I. Restaurants other than carry-out restaurants that operate as described in Section 26.40.026B provided that carry-out restaurants that meet the site requirements specified in Section 20.40.026B2 shall be permitted;
  • J. Telephone, outdoor pay, if the proposed telephone is not located on a lot that is located contiguous with or directly across a street, alley, public or private easement from a dwelling district;
  • K. Tinsmith or sheet metal shops;

That’s it, a livery and a package liquor store with a pay phone or two! How we expect to be competitive in the 21st century when our zoning dates to the early 20th century is beyond me. Bartholomew, who got us down this path was born in 1889! I’m surprised our city still has over 300,000 people given our antiquated zoning.

This entire area is within the 6th ward.

– Steve Patterson


Reurbanizing Jefferson & Lafayette Pt 2: Foodland

ABOVE: Vacant Foodland store was built in 1984. Click to view map.

The long-vacant Foodland grocery store (1601-45 S. Jefferson) was in the news recently:

Developer Green Street Properties has filed plans with the City of St. Louis to rehab the empty 47,000 supermarket, and hopes to fill it with a smaller grocery store and other retailers. It has a contract to buy the building and hopes to start a $6.6 million first phase in the spring, with a second phase potentially to come later.

The store – just across Jefferson Ave. from Lafayette Square – has sat empty since 2004, when Foodland closed after failing to get neighborhood support for a liquor license. It had previously been a National store. Much of the surrounding neighborhood is now considered a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for lack of grocery options. (STLtoday)

On Saturday I posted about the SE corner of Jefferson & Lafayette, how a 2007 residential & retail building is a starting point for reurbanizing this intersection. This grocery store was occupied for only 20 years (1984-2004) before being vacated 7 years ago. That’s a rather sad statement but not really surprising given how out of context it is.

This post will critique of 70s & 80s planning theory that created the existing problems. Part 3 tomorrow will look at possible solutions.

Street Grid:

The short-block walkable street grid was always decimated by development. Street closures are still common practice in St. Louis.

ABOVE: Google Maps aerial of the Foodland and Eads Park (click image for larger version)

Eads Ave east of California Ave was removed, Ohio Ave was removed from St. Vincent Ave to Henrietta Pl and Texas Ave became lost in a sea of parking. Cul-de-sacs were created for new housing built in 1979, the same year the television series Knots Landing premiered (set on a California cul-de-sac). Yes, Eads Park was created from the replatting of the land but that doesn’t justify the disruption in the grid — the connectedness of the area.


ABOVE: Since opening the message has been this is a place to be driven to, remaining disconnected from the less functional sidewalk grid

The nearby houses were only 5 years old when this grocery store opened as a National in 1984. Still, it wasn’t designed to be walked to from houses that could see the store from their windows. The single access point from Jefferson Ave is an auto drive where Eads Ave used to be located. St. Louis’ population in 1980 was 452,801 and in 1990 it was 396,685 — both significantly greater than our 2010 count of 319,294.

Today those remaining still walk to the store, but now their choices are limited to gas station convenience stores.

ABOVE: A man walks northbound in front of the closed Foodland carrying groceries from the corner convenience store
ABOVE: Two men walking under the front overhang of the store after shopping at the same convenience store.

These last two guys cut by the side of the store to go through an opening in the fence to reach the park and residences beyond.

ABOVE: The last guy walking northwest toward the neighborhood
ABOVE: Opening in fence gives pedestrians the access they need but it's hardly friendly

Lack of Connection within the development

In addition to deliberately not connecting to the city beyond the boundaries of the property even new construction isn’t connected to each other, everyone is expected to drive from place to place.

ABOVE: Looking east from the walk at the front of the store out the driveway, formerly Eads Ave

In 1991 a small retail building was built on a separate parcel to the north of the grocery (far left above). The auto access drive, once a public street, is part of the grocery property. The parcel with the retail building was likely  granted an easement to use the drive for auto access. Developed after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it has no concern for pedestrians entering from Jefferson or even the adjacent grocery store. Plenty of auto parking though.

ABOVE: Pedestrians using wheelchairs can't access the side, the only ramp provided is in the middle of the facade reached via the parking lot
ABOVE: The grocery building is very close to the retail building but in pedestrian terms it is miles away

Reaching the site

The problems aren’t limited to the site.

ABOVE: Crosswalks with pedestrian signals aren't accessible, are unfriendly even to the able-bodied

Perhaps the attitude was “why bother?” since no pedestrian route exits to the front of the buildings. It’s no surprise to me this has failed as a retail draw, urban customers must be able to reach the stores by foot as well as car.

Corner Gas Station:

The NW corner of Jefferson & Lafayette has had a gas station since  1950. The building has changed but the issues have been the same for more than six decades.

ABOVE: This is currently the neighborhood's grocery store, but it's no more walkable
ABOVE: Sidewalk and auto drives merge into one, with autos winning the territory

The pedestrian space is lost, overtaken by autos. A public library branch is across Lafayette Ave.,  in the background. Let’s get around to Lafayette Ave, the south edge of the area.

ABOVE: The former Texas Ave (left) is now a driveway into the Foodland site but it lacks sidewalks for pedestrian use

In 1998 a Holiday Inn Express was built on a separate parcel south of the still-open grocery store.

ABOVE: Pedestrian access to Lafayette Ave is provided but it's too narrow

I was barely able to get past the brick columns and I had to move a bench on the sidewalk under the canopy to be able to head toward the grocery store.

ABOVE: A connection to allow guests to walk to the grocery wasn't provided.
ABOVE: The hotel as seen from the grocery

I reviewed Historic Aerials from 1958, 1971, 1998 and later for this post.  Search for 1601 S. Jefferson 63104 to view for yourself. Tomorrow I will offer my thoughts on how Green Street Properties together with adjacent property owners and the city can connect the retail to the surroundings.

– Steve Patterson


Reurbanizing Jefferson & Lafayette Pt 1

The Union Club once stood on the SE corner of Jefferson & Lafayette:

The Union Club was a social club which built its Romanesque Revival home on the current Union Club site in 1890. The Great Cyclone of 1896 completely destroyed the first Union Club building which was rebuilt on the site in 1900. The building remained until the 1950’s when it was demolished and an Aldi Grocery store was erected on the site.

The history above is far too brief, for example, Aldi didn’t begin US operations until 1976. The building that had the Aldi store is visible in a 1971 satellite image. In 1958 the site had a large oval object. You can view images at HistoricAerials.com, just search for 1700 S. Jefferson 63104.

I-44 wasn’t around in 1958 but was in place by 1971. The former gas station on the NE corner of the intersection was built in 1960, per city records. That property is now owned by the Church of Scientology, again per city records. The gas station still in operation on the NW corner was built in 1950.

I’ll be looking closer at the NW corner on Monday, today I want to focus on the SE corner. For decades this intersection, with the exception of the Barr Library on the SW corner, went from urban walkable to auto-centric drivable. All over the city the same thing happened, one by one corners were chipped away and then the spots between the corners until nothing urban remained. It took decades to destroy this intersection and it will take decades more to reurbanize it.

ABOVE: The 2007 Union Club

Thankfully in 2007 a big step forward was made with the construction of the Union Club condos.  It’s not perfect but it gives the SE corner much needed massing.

Just because an area was turned over to the auto decades ago doesn’t mean it must remain the way forever in the future.

If we build the right forms in the right places we can reorganize the city one intersection at a time. Monday I will look at the NW corner mostly occupied by the long vacant National/Foodland.

– Steve Patterson


Saturday in Fox Park

November 12, 2011 Featured, Parks, South City 12 Comments

A week ago I took the bus to Fox Park — the neighborhood and city park — to check out a community project in the park. Mark Groth (St. Louis City Talk) told me he and others on the Fox Park park committee would be planting 40 trees so I had to stop by.

The city website for the park says: “Fox Park and Playground began to be used for recreational purposes in 1917 under a permit from the Fox Brothers and was purchased in 1931.” In 1909 the land that is now the park was the lumberyard for the Fox Brother’s millwork and wagon businesses.

ABOVE: The Fox Park pavilion faces Shenandoah Ave (click image to view in Google Maps)
ABOVE: An auger made digging relatively easy
ABOVE: Placing the trees in the holes created by the auger
ABOVE: New playground equipment was recently added when the park was in the 7th ward
ABOVE: Next on the wish list is a new basketball court to replace the tired existing court
ABOVE: Only one of two rims remains but it's in sad condition
ABOVE: The west end of the park had buildings facing California Ave until recent years
ABOVE: Much work remains to address years of neglect
ABOVE: The east end of the park is leased to the Police Athletic League for a ball diamond

I really like this little neighborhood park, such a great asset  for the residents. I applaud them for putting sweat equity into the park.

– Steve Patterson


New Development on Hampton not an Improvement

The vacant Ponderosa Steakhouse on Hampton is no more.

ABOVE: Vacant Ponderosa as seen on Google Streetview (click to view)
ABOVE: The old Ponderosa was set back from the sidewalk and lacked an ADA pedestrian route.
ABOVE: The new car wash/convenience store/gas station is pushed to the back of the lot
ABOVE: The new car wash/convenience store/gas station under construction in September

The job site foreman told me the building will have an ADA pedestrian access route along the north side of the property.  That’s good, but the fact the occupied building is at the rear isn’t so good. Many falsely think a new building is better than an old one.  The old Ponderosa was nothing worth saving but it was relatively close to the sidewalk. Adjacent commercial buildings are near the sidewalk so this new development is going against the established pattern. The existing pattern isn’t urban like downtown but it is vastly better than what is replacing the Ponderosa.

As is the case all over the city and region nobody is taking the time to set a vision for the Hampton corridor. The one exception in the region is the Delmar Loop.

 – Steve Patterson