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Monday, August 31, 2009

Updates

With any luck, this blog should return to regular activity soon.

I visited St. Louis for almost two weeks instead of my usual week-long return visits, and so I have a lot I'll eventually report on from that visit.

In short, though:

The weather was spectacular. I don't ever remember in one of my 22 years living in the city an August being so pleasant and non-humid.

I thought I had seen every photographic angle of Citygarden and so wasn't expecting to be as impressed and as surprised by the place as I was. It's a great space. Obviously, the planner in me worries about the longevity of Citygarden given the relative deadness of its edges (and, well, winter). Yet I have to say it was joyous for me seeing people feel so at ease in a downtown once declared dead by the New York Times (currently searching for that article reference). And so many of them too! In two weeks' time, I visited Citygarden five times and never felt bored at any one of them. And people were everywhere.

I finally got to Niche. And Taste. I fall in love with Benton Park more and more with each visit back to St. Louis.

More thoughts on Culinaria, Old Post Office Plaza, and other items at a later date.

For now, I am focused on getting this post-forsaken blog back on its feet.

Thanks for sticking with me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

This Could Be Interstate 70/Memorial Drive in Downtown St. Louis

A great post from the Infrastructurist lists the Top Seven Urban Freeways to Tear Down.

While none of St. Louis's many disruptive interstates made the list, this example from Syracuse looked strikingly like downtown St. Louis's Memorial Drive/I-70 couplet.

Before


After



The transformation of I-70 and Memorial Drive downtown, and I would argue especially the elevated portion that divides Laclede's Landing from the rest of downtown, could be one of the greatest reclamation of urban spaces from deadening big-project planning that the city has ever witnessed.

Amid Culinaria Ado, Don't Forget Pointer's in Benton Park!

Undoubtedly, St. Louis is excited about the opening of the first full-service grocery store in downtown St. Louis since Schnucks abandoned their store on Cass in the 1990s. The Culinaria will open in the Old Post Office garage, nee Century Building, and will be run by none other than Schnucks. The hours are impressive (6am - 10pm daily). Parking is validated on one level of the garage above. Prices, from preliminary reports, will be similar to those at other stores, if not the same.

If the Century Building had not been sacrificed to provide space and free parking for such a store, I'd be unabashedly ecstatic with all the rest. I'm still pleased, despite the resonant negativity, that downtown St. Louis is, with each passing day, becoming a more and more livable neighborhood.

Yet I'm extremely excited that one of my favorite St. Louis neighborhoods will be getting its own market. Pointer's, at 2901 Salena in Benton Park, is set to open in two weeks according to its owner (as reported by Sauce Magazine's blog here). At 12,000 square feet, Pointer's will be a bit less than half the size of Culinaria, but will offer meat, produce, and dairy departments.

Check out their building:


View Larger Map

This is urbanism at its best. Notice that there is no parking above; the building is a mixed use building with apartments on the second story and residential buildings all around. This market has the potential to do at least as much for Benton Park (and surrounding neighborhoods) as Culinaria will do for downtown.

South Siders have little choice but to jump in cars to autocentric grocery stories at unfortunately unsightly and large intersections, such as the Schnucks at Grand and Gravois or the Shop N Save in Gravois Plaza. The markets offer all the same fixings as their suburban counterparts--free and plentiful parking, a big box store, and yes, the same prices. Yet it's walkable neighborhood markets that seem a real value-added to urban neighborhoods. Instead of a depressing shopping experience at Grand and Gravois, I could pay a bit more on goods and spare myself the drive altogether. To me, this experience is truly more valuable than what's on the price tag of whatever I'm purchasing.

Congratulations, Benton Park, at continuing your path towards becoming St. Louis's most urban neighborhood!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

New 100-Room Hotel Planned for Midtown

Link here, via 17th Ward STL.

Central West End Midtown Development reviewed a proposal by Sasak Corp. to construct a 100-room. 5-story hotel at 3663 Forest Park Avenue. The new hotel would require demolition of the squat two-story Raffie Vending Company warehouse. This demolition would need approval from the city's Preservation Board first. The hotel itself would be of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites chain.

Behind the hotel would be a 100-space, two-level parking garage. CWEMD stated that they liked the proposal but would like to make sure the building will be built as rendered and not lose any of its architectural details in the process.

Rendering is below:



Some concerns:

-The parking garage will be too prominent from the front elevation, in my opinion. I have to wonder whether this garage (and associated large curb cut) is even needed given the monstrous (and ugly) garage constructed just to the west for the University Heights Loft Development. If not that garage, then what about St. Louis University's own ridiculously huge Laclede garage? If the parking were shared somehow, there would be a greater buildable area that could include a courtyard or some outdoor space that would be much more attractive than a parking garage.

-Is this the best location for a Midtown hotel? The city really should be working to develop a hotel in the Metropolitan Building as was originally planned (a Hyatt, I believe). With a constant flow of tourists in Grand Center, as opposed to Forest Park Avenue on what is essentially an interstate offramp, certainly both the Arts District and SLU would see benefits. Can Midtown support multiple hotels?

-Also, a minor point: why can't Grand Center have a Joe Edwards? I try to avoid chain hotels when I stay anywhere, opting for bed and breakfasts or local hotels if they're not too expensive. A unique, local hotel such as the Moonrise in the East Loop would be great for Grand Center, which has been for decades attempting to brand itself as a unique and creative destination. Somehow a Days Inn or Hyatt doesn't scream "Art" to me.

The Post-Dispatch Puts Online Some Great Shots of the Now-Gone Mill Creek Valley Neighborhood Circa 1948

Click here. (I probably can't legally screen cap these, so click while you can! I'm actually thinking of buying one of them...)

These are heartrending.

I truly believe if this area were still existent today and did not experience too much demolition, St. Louis University would never have even needed to "save" Midtown. The lack of a pedestrian-scale neighborhood in the Central Corridor from the Mississippi River to about Sarah Avenue is striking and something that has held the city's revitalization back entirely.

Much of the housing seen in these photographs was built in the Civil War-era (the mansard-roofed Second Empires were likely 1870s construction). Unfortunately, Soulard and Old North are the only remaining neighborhoods with much housing left from those eras. A supremely historic city, especially being so far west in the American landscape, has very little record of its earlier history. It's especially disappointing to see the conditions of the Mill Creek homes; they look great! Sure they had outdoor restroom facilities. Was that a reason to clear dozens and dozens of solid residential blocks? Sigh.

Will developments like Art House bring a new human scale architectural dynamic to St. Louis's pockmarked Central Corridor?

At the very least, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the Locust Automotive Row (a.k.a. Midtown Alley) is picking up steam and is turning into a really cool and soon to be active business district. And Samuel Shepard just north of Locust does feature some remnants of Mill Creek-style housing (3-story Italianates and Second Empires). Maybe someday we'll see a proposal to develop sensitive infill along this stretch (unlike the cheap rowhouses with the red doors that we see currently) so that there will finally be a pedestrian link from downtown all the way to the Central West End.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Skinnytown Sculptures / South Grand Road Diet

I am in love with the new Morganford--AKA Skinnytown--sculptures that have arisen along the funkified stretch over the past couple weeks. I first learned out these little pieces of whimsy through St. Louis Brick's post entitled "Morganford is the new South Grand", but St. Louis Investment Realty's Matt Kastner has snapped photos of still more sculptures here. From that very blog comes the photo below. Its legginess makes it the perfect tease photo to get you to follow the link to see nine (9!) others (This doesn't even include the giraffe sculpture staring across the street at the Three Monkeys). These appendages strut their stuff outside Vintage Haberdashery, an homage to the legs suspended from their second story window.



In other Tower Grove South news, South Grand is going on a road diet and you, St. Louis, can vote on the resulting slimmer design at an upcoming public meeting. I hear high-tech touch pads will be used for the voting process. Here's a cut-and-paste of the meeting announcement from the Tower Grove South website:



GREAT STREETS INITIATIVE SOUTH GRAND: Public Meeting and Design Charrette Announcement
Good Evening Everyone,
Please accept the attached postcard as an invitation to participate in the Public Meetings and Design Charrette scheduled for Monday, August 10, 2009 – Wednesday, August 12, 2009 from 4:00PM to 7:00PM. Also, please share the postcard flyer with your constituents so that they may have the opportunity to participate in the meetings as well. Should you have any comments or question, please give us a call at (314) 436-3311. We appreciate your immediate attention to this matter, and we look forward to meeting you.
Bridgett S. Willis
Hudson and Associates, LLC
1204 Washington Ave., Ste. 402
St. Louis, MO 63103
Office: 314-436-3311
Fax: 314-436-3503
Cell: 618-560-3225


Maybe a slimmed down South Grand will be able to compete with the charming, wacky Skinnytown along Morganford?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Tour of South City on a Restored Bus Line: the #8 Bates Macklind



Source: Next Stop St. Louis - A Conversation About Transit

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