Downtown Green Space Parking Planning

Thompson Coburn Garage and the Economics of Parking Downtown

by Michael R. Allen

Today, the St. Louis Business Journal is reporting that giant law firm Thompson Coburn announced today that it has signed a 12-year lease to remain in the US Bank Tower at 7th and Washington downtown. The lease comes with city incentives totalling $700,000 and, most interesting and unusual, a state-financed $15 million parking garage on the site of the Ambassador Building at 7th and Locust streets, currently a lifeless and unattractive “plaza.”

The announcement comes after speculation that the law firm would relocate to the planned Brown Shoe Company campus on Maryland Avenue in Clayton. Clayton is still luring major businesses out of downtown, and snagging some that have also looked at moving downtown. Thus, the announcement is good news for a downtown that is seeing a decline in residential projects and a small, hopeful rise in the creation of rehabbed office space.

The parking garage component is predictable, although undesirable in terms of planning. Sadly, we live in a city with a parking economy built on an inverse ratio of supply and demand. Downtown St. Louis has more parking spaces than residents, and probably more spaces than daily workers. Parking is cheap and easy. Parking is not quite free, like in the suburbs, but in this dense urban core, it barely costs anyone to park at all. In these cirumstances, any major employer who wants copious and adjacent parking gets it — either by building a new garage, leasing existing spaces or moving out of downtown where parking doesn’t cost employees at all.

Obviously, downtown has an excess of parking. Lots are obvious visual blight, but garages aren’t much better. Even with street level retail, a garage doesn’t generate the same level of activity, visual interest and use as a building. That a garage on the Ambassador site is an improvement over the plaza says little about the new garage and a lot about the inadequacies of the protected private plaza.

Pine Street suffers from a glut of parking garages, and has little to recommend it as an attractive street on which to do muchy more than park or grab a quick lunch. Locust Street is much better, although the recent addition of the Ninth Street Garage chips away at its urban character. The Thompson Coburn garage will be two blocks from the Nonth Street Garage, and only one block from one of downtown’s ugliest garages on Seventh Street, the so-called Hubcap Palace at Seventh and Olive streets.

This proximity is not good for developing a downtown that is a compelling, lively, architecturally distiguished place. The economics of parking and land values downtown allow such proximity, while the planning apparatus of city government remains weak. Rather than examine the health of street life or even desirable land uses for downtown, all decisions are subsumed by economic logic. That’s well and good for function, yet we must remember downtown is not simply a series of useful structures, but also the core of our city that defines its architectural character to the world.

Obviously, we need Thompson Coburn and other employers downtown. The firm needs parking. But we all need a downtown that compels the world to respect the great city of St. Louis. (In other words, this had better be the best damn parking garage in the world!)

Downtown Green Space Housing JNEM Mid-Century Modern Parking

Venturo Capitalism

by Michael R. Allen

Rumors are circulating that the Danforth Foundation has arrived at a surprising plan for the Arch grounds: resurrect the 1970s Venturo House by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen by placing a line of one hundred of the houses on the western perimeter of the grounds. Apparently, the Foundation’s planners realized that without strong connections to a residential population, any plan to develop the grounds would fail. The Venturo House has appeal due to the shared nationality and similar last name of Suuronen and Arch architect Eero Saarinen. (In this vein, the Foundation could ask band Rilo Kiley to perform on Dan Kiley’s historic modernist landscape.)

If successful, city leaders have discussed the potential for building steel frames with elevators on several blocks of the Gateway Mall. Venturo homes could be hooked up to utilities that would run to each level of these towers. When a resident moved, that person could take their home with them and make way for a new resident.

Accompanying zoning and code changes would allow downtown building owners to place Venturo homes or similar modular homes on roofs — or adjacent surface parking lots. The changes would allow parking garages to be preserved and their historic architectural features left intact should they fall vacant. Venturo homes — arranged on special steel shims to adjust for the typical garage floor slope — will allow preservation-minded garage owners to avoid demolition.

If true, exciting news!

Century Building Downtown Parking

Shouldn’t This Be Done By Now?

by Michael R. Allen

Progress on the century Building Memorial Parking Garage has been slow, although parts of it have reached a height above the Century Building’s roof. This photograph from June 2006, looking northwest from the corner of Olive and Ninth, makes one wonder why the garage project is taking so long. The view also shows how the choice of pigment for the cast concrete cladding may not have been the best, to say the least.

The post-modern hulk slowly rises.

Century Building Downtown Parking

Channel 5 Covered Bad Piers on Ninth Street Garage

by Michael R. Allen

Piers Being Re-Worked on Snakebit Site – Mike Owens of TV station KSDK Channel 5 reported on the delays in the Ninth Street Garage on the Wednesday, November 23, newscast. Watch the report on the KSDK website.

Here’s a story that broke first in the blogs and was picked up on television news. I feel good about helping get the story to the attention of news organizations with wider audiences. (Note that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has yet to report the problems with the parking garage gone wrong.)

Century Building Downtown Parking

Bad Piers

From the minutes of the October 4 meeting of the Missouri Development Finance Board:

“Mr. Miserez asked Ms. Kathleen Barney to give a project status update on the Ninth Street Garage construction issues. Ms. Barney reported there were deficiencies in many of the piers poured and that with a total of 56 piers, 16 of the poured 37 piers were discovered to be substandard. The Office of Administration monitors the construction for MDFB and is considering that all the piers are bad. The developers of the project have hired experts to evaluate the piers, which has caused a delay to the project. Ms. Barney reported that the problem is the developer’s responsibility and there will be no additional costs to MDFB.”

We reported the news about the concrete pouring on August 16.

(Thanks to Arch City Chronicle for the link.)

Century Building Downtown Parking

The Concrete Shaft

Looking northwest toward the site of the Century Building on November 5, 2005.

Image taken by Claire Nowak-Boyd from a neighboring building that is not being demolished.

Century Building Downtown Parking Streets

Old Post Office Short on Parking Spaces

by Michael R. Allen

The new “old” curbs are in, the sidewalks are being paved and the vintage light standards are up at the Old Post Office in St. Louis. One thing is clear: there will be no on-street parking on the Old Post Office block when the renovation is done.

Really, for a project whose backers are so paranoid about insufficient adjacent parking, it’s a huge embarrassment that there is no actual street parking on three sides of the Old Post Office block itself. Such parking would be convenient to people wanting to stop in at one of of the Old Post Office shops and would form a protective buffer between sidewalk diners and through traffic on Olive, Ninth, Locust or Eighth streets. Assuming any of those people ever show up.

Downtown Parking Planning Urbanism

Too Much Parking Around 900 Block of Locust

by Michael R. Allen

“Viable real estate development in the Midwest depends in large part on the availability of parking. This is convincingly demonstrated in the Frisco Building, which has been beautifully rehabilitated but has enjoyed less than 50% occupancy since its completion — parking is the missing ingredient for success.”

So wrote Barbara Geisman, St. Louis Deputy Mayor for Development, in an August 29, 2002 letter to Carol Shull, Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, opposing the National Register listing of the Century Building.

This statement came to mind as I thought again about the problems faced by the 900 block of Locust, which contains one of downtown’s largest parking garages and is just west of the one of the largest surface parking lot areas in the downtown core. If parking was the ingredient for success, the block would be thriving. The new Renaissance Grand Parking Garage opened in 2003 and the last building standing in the middle of the surface lots on the 800 block of Locust fell in 2002, creating more spaces. Yet the block is regaining health only with new residents and a new business that will have no reserved parking spaces.

I think the abundance of parking areas actually hurt the block by eliminating businesses that were located in storefronts cleared to make so much parking. The Ninth Street Garage that is replacing the Century Building on this block is a setback. Parking does nothing to create life on a block.

Downtown Parking Streets

Downtown Parking

by Margie Newman (Special to Ecology of Absence)

In downtown St. Louis, employees of the convention hotel and SBC find that parking at meters along 10th Street all day is preferable to parking in the garages. I watch them feeding the meters as they expire; yesterday, one of the hotel workers explained, as he was changing dollars for quarters at Breve, that it’s cheaper than the garage.

His choice is rational, but bad for retail businesses, like our art gallery, which need the meter spots to turn over. Of course, the real problem is that the city’s parking enforcement currently does not include enforcing the two-hour limit posted on the meters.

Inquiries to our alderman and to the parking czar, Larry Williams, over the past few months have resulted in no change to this failure to enforce, though I did get a call from a city PR consultant, explaining that they don’t enforce it because the tickets get thrown out in court. Huh?

Such lame responses to basic, obvious needs — needs addressed long ago in other places that are functioning and growing — quite simply wear me out. Taking the time to point out such obvious issues to reluctant-to-change city officials is an endless and exasperating job. The early entrepreneurs in a revitalizing retail district bear enough risk as it is; asking us to shoulder this sort of foolishness
is asking too much.

Too often, I feel like the first soldiers on the beach at Normandy. When we get shredded by the shrapnel, maybe they’ll figure out some of these basic operational issues, so the next wave will survive longer.

Margie Newman is co-owner of Gallery Urbis Orbis at 417 N. 10th Street and a downtown resident.