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St. Louis’ THF Realty Creating Anti-Pedestrian Sprawl in Colorado

Billionaire & Wal-Mart heir Stan Kroenke’s development company, THF Realty, is continuing to create more sprawl across the land. This time they are taking 2,000 acres of Colorado farm land and converting it to a generic wasteland of big boxes, massive streets and boring office parks.

To appease critics the project includes an 80 acre wildlife area for eagles. The remaining project will be a devotion to the automobile. The most glaring example is the last sentence from the following from contractor RG Brinkman:

“The Buckley Road Street Improvement consists of constructing 2 miles of major arterial roadway to connect the north end of the Prairie Center site to the south end. Buckley Road is an essential connection of the new residential construction occurring south of the Prairie Center project. This new construction includes all necessary utilities and paving required to serve the retail portion of this site. A pedestrian underpass with a skylight also is being constructed to allow for access to the future school.

A pedestrian underpass for the kiddies!?! Wow, that sounds really appealing — a street so challenging to cross we must put pedestrians underground. I can’t imagine spending $500 million destroying 2,000 acres and at not at least making it so people can walk from place to place without having to duck under roadways.

I found this quite telling as well:

The mass grading for the Prairie Center project consists of the mass overlot grading for a 250 acre commercial section of property. Approximately 1.5 million cubic yards of material had to be moved in order to provide the required elevations for the building pads and parking lots for the Prairie Center project.

That is some serious earth moving. But when you are plopping down 100,000sf big boxes with parking you just can’t keep natural grades like so many small town main streets.

If such a development was created fifty years ago or even thirty years ago I might understand, most planners just didn’t know any better back then. But in the last 20 years we’ve seen the rise of alternatives to this commonplace sprawl in the form of New Urbanism. THF Realty must know of New Urbanism and the concepts of making developments accommodate both pedestrians and cars. It just seems they ignore good planning in favor of continuing the old ways.

Additional Information on Prairie Center:

  • St. Louis Business Journal
  • Prairie Center overview
  • New Home depot (w/pictures)
  • Additional Information on alternatives to THF’s typical sprawl:

  • NewUrbanism.org
  • Congress for the New Urbanism
  • New Urban News
  • Wikipedia encyclopedia
  • Sierra Club on sprawl
  • EPA on Smart Growth
  • Smart Growth America
  • Project for Public Spaces
  • Remember, “this land is our land.” We are the ones that should determine the fate of our built environment. Will it be sprawl as usual or will we return to places for people?

    – Steve


    Upsetting the Bike Community By Speaking Up About Sprawl Makers

    Last night I resigned my position on the board of the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation. At issue was THF Realty, the builder of sprawling big box projects such as Maplewood Commons on Hanley.

    Why would a developer be an issue to a bike group?

    Simple, someone over at THF Realty likes bicycling so they give money each year to various local groups, including the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation. Because of this I’m supposed to show good judgement by not speaking out against them.

    In a recent interview for Point to Point Cycling News I was asked the following question:

    Resolve this conundrum: THF Realty is responsible for some of the most anti-pedestrian developments in St. Louis and elsewhere. Yet, they are also the biggest financial supporter, by far, of cycling events and teams in the area. Is this just a big PR stunt. Should cyclists be a bit more critical of this support?

    Here was my response:

    Thank you for asking this question. I’d love to see the entire cycling community refuse money from THF. THF is wreaking havoc on the planet and accepting their money is an endorsement of how they gained the money. While we are working to make the built environment more connected and friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists they are profiting while creating anti-bike and anti-pedestrian sprawl.

    For the full interview click here (PDF, see page 18).

    THF Realty’s chairman is Stan Kroenke, #164 of the Forbes list of 400 Richest Americans with a net worth of $1.8 Billion. Kroenke’s wife is an heir to the Walton Family of Wal-Mart fame.

    A few thousand dollars is sofa change to them yet it manages to keep otherwise vocal transportation advocates silent. This is hush money in my book. It seems to be effective. You get a group used to some money and pretty soon they come to expect it. Once they expect it they become dependent on it and fear the loss of the money. Wait, we’ve heard this before haven’t we? From the Post-Dispatch:

    If Belleville turned down the tax incentives, would Wal-Mart look for a site elsewhere? “Oh yes, I’m sure we would,” Bornstein [of THF Realty] said.

    And that lies at the center of the debate over TIFs. Cities feel as though they must give them. The existing Wal-Mart, about a mile away, is the largest producer of sales tax revenue in Belleville. That store, by the way, was expanded in 1993 with another TIF.

    If Belleville won’t play ball, THF could buy land a half-mile away in Shiloh. Belleville would be left with nothing.

    So the local bike community is in the same boat as Belleville; dependent upon on money from the big box and afraid to do anything about it. It really is sad that an organization that purports to improve the region for bicyclists is afraid to speak out against a company that is arguably one of the worst offenders in the St. Louis region — topping even Desco. Any individual, group or municipality that is in such a position is compromised beyond the point of being impartial. They’ve been bought. Credibility goes in the trash once you’ve been bought. Just ask Metropolis. [Note: see the comment below on Metropolis & my reply; 11/9 @ 4:20pm]

    I will continue to push for bike racks throughout the city and a downtown bike station, just not as a board member of the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation.

    – Steve

    [UPDATE 11/9 @ 9:15am – I want to make it clear that I fully support the mission and work of the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation. I have been friends with a number of board members for years. For me personally I cannot sit quiet while the THF’s of the world run amuck. I will support programs of the Bike Fed (such as pushing for more bike parking), just not as a board member. I wish them all the best of luck. – SLP]


    THF Realty sprawls big box development over region

    November 17, 2004 Big Box, St. Louis County, Suburban Sprawl, THF Realty Watch Comments Off on THF Realty sprawls big box development over region
    From a recent Deb Peterson column in the Post-Distpach:
    BUSINESS PER USUAL: THF Realty took the acronym out of its name and put the words back in – To Have Fun – at the company’s annual meeting Thursday night at the St. Louis Zoo’s Living World. About 300 people – including 100 employees and 200 business partners – listened and danced to rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Famer Johnnie Johnson. The revelers were toasting THF for being recognized as the fastest-growing privately held developer in the country. 

    The Post-Disptach reported a few days ago that THF is seeking TIF financing for a project in Arnold. In the way is a VFW Hall. Municipalities across the region are doing whatever they can to increase their budgets. Unfortunately, many seek auto-centric big box developments.


    So who is this THF Realty and is big box so bad? THF Realty is a privately held developer responsible for projects in nearly 20 states. Many of these include either a Wal-Mart, Sam’s or Lowes. Given that Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the US this is hardly a surprise right? But it isn’t really a coincidence. The chairman of privately owned THF Realty is Wal-Mart heir Stanley Kroenke. The THF website bio of Kroenke says he is a member of Wal-Mart’s board but a check of that site does not list him.

    Wal-Mart is pro sprawl and therefore anti-urban.

    Maplewood has been doing everything it can to take in more tax revenue – at the expense of its once-charming urbanity. The new Shop-N-Save grocery store along Manchester road subtracts from the charming main street buildings across the street. Their latest attempt to destroy their city is a massive suburban center along Hanley. Two of the three boxes are complete – Wal-Mart and Sam’s. The third, a Lowe’s Home Improvement is still being constructed. All three are Wal-Mart owned stores.

    The picture below is the view a pedestrian has as they leave the remaining neighborhood and walk toward the development. I think the highline wires will be removed once the project is complete so I am not faulting those. However, those are the only thing that separate a pedestrian from passing cars. While the grass may be green and the shrubs attractive this is not a pedestrian-friendly environment. You’ve got a massive retaining wall to one side and cars flying past you on the other. You have no shade because street trees are not being planted around this project. People walk when they have something engaging to look at but here it is plainness all the way to the entry.

    Below is a picture from the side street on the North edge of the development. In the far left you can see the residential houses adjacent to this super-sized project. Facing the pedestrian is the cross walk from the street into the development. The distance to cross this entry is far greater than crossing the actual street! The generous radius of the entrance is designed to keep the cars moving in and out at great speeds – never mind the safety of pedestrians crossing the drive.
    Continuing down the same road (see below) we see the sidewalk is pushed up against the curb. Funny how a project with over 30 acres can’t afford a 3ft strip to plan trees. The side of the street adjacent to the development is now marked as ‘No Parking.’ Not that anyone going to Wal-Mart is going to park on the street and walk through the holiday season sized parking lot anyway. But, if I lived in a house across the street it might be nice if guests could park on the street. A row of parked cars would give pedestrians a greater sense of safety.
    And finally we get to the point adjacent to the side of the Wal-Mart, the side with the automotive center and greenhouse. Changes in grade mean the home owners next door are not subjected to the sight of all the cars. Unfortunately they are subjected to the massive parking lot lights. This part of the street actually has good separation of the sidewalk from the street but the landscaping is done and street trees are not important. Street parking is prohibited.
    I measured the width of the street at this point which is narrower than it is closer to Hanley. The street is 30ft wide – more than sufficient for parking on both sides. Just allowing street parking could have reduced some of the parking lot size. Many other cities have adopted guidelines for streets - click here to view.

    But my going on about THF’s development not being pedestrian friendly is really a waste of time. It’s a fucking big box development – it isn’t supposed to be pedestrian friendly. You are supposed to drive there – even if you live a block away. They want you to drive a big SUV so you can buy lots of cheap goods. Like you are going to walk to Sam’s and carry back a 3-gallon tub of mayo?

    The THF website says it best:

    “When we drive down the street, we do not only see what is in front of us…we see the future.

    We see growing communities where none exist. We imagine innovative ways to attract businesses that will invest in building successful operations in new communities. We see economic growth that attracts new residents, and results in new homes, new schools and new playgrounds.

    When we drive down the street, we see much more than the potential for a new shopping center. We see – and build – developments that become the economic engine of the community.

    Our projects turn out the way they do not just because we dream bigger or brighter. Our developments are successful because we have built a unique organization focused on consistently delivering a signature product. How? By executing better than everyone else.”

    Wow, when we drive down the street. What about when we walk to the corner store? When we bike to the library? Nope. When we DRIVE. They see communities where none exist – aka sprawl. They see a world of continued sprawl that puts work, home, school and leisure in an auto-centric world that is the “economic engine of the community.” And when the fuel prices skyrocket these communities will come crashing down first.

    Most of the region is so auto based I don’t know if it matters that THF wants to raze a VFW Hall in Arnold. But, the City of St. Louis is still quite urban in design so I ask that Kroenke/THF not try to help us out. Mr. Kroenke, we don’t need what THF has to offer.

    Related Sites to visit:
    • Sprawl-Busters
    • Wal-Mart Watch
    • Sprawl Watch
    • Natural Resources Defense Council
    • Smart Growth
    • Congress for the New Urbanism
    • New Urban News (free subscription with membership in CNU!)