New York City North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Planning

From Done Deal to Dead Deal?

by Michael R. Allen

Next American City has an article by Katherine Mella entitled “Atlantic Yards: A Crash Course” that provides a great overview of Forest City Ratner’s controversial Brooklyn mega-project centered around a new sports arena.

The supposedly “done deal” project was pushed through at the state rather than local level to head off opposition. Aggressive agents made over-market-value offers to secure control of key property around desired public land (underused Metropolitan Transit Authority rail yards). Atlantic Yards bolstered political support by lining up labor leaders, clergy and others who typically might oppose a large project and mass use of eminent domain. To woo the urbanist community, Forest City Ratner hired superstar architect Frank Gehry to design the complex. Residents who would be pushed out by the project have always had an uphill struggle.

There are many parallels to the NorthSide project. However, one thing about Atlantic Yards that we have not seen with NorthSide is a political swing in favor of opposition. Mella’s article concludes by noting that Atlantic Yards has lost much of its initial advantages:

Being able to borrow money and raise capital in this fiscal climate has placed the project at a severe disadvantage. And with a less than exciting main attraction, resolute local opposition, and legal and financial hurdles, it is hard to say if Ratner’s Atlantic Yards will ever — or even ought to — come to fruition.

I suppose the perils of large-scale development have never been as clear as now. Atlantic Yards may have killed itself through sheer folly of its ambitious scope and clumsy execution. The development team behind NorthSide should take heed.

Central West End Demolition Historic Preservation Planning

Medical Center Creeping Into the Central West End

by Michael R. Allen

Ecology of Absence has long covered the creep of the BJC medical center into surrounding urban fabric. Now we look at a (hopefully) rare instance of the corporation extending its reach north of the Forest Park Parkway into the southern end of the Central West End. Euclid’s pedestrian-friendly streetscape has long been an antidote to the medical center’s monotony, but now the architectural characteristics of each area will collide.

On Monday, the Preservation Board will consider on a preliminary basis demolition of the Ettrick (shown above) and three other buildings to make way for a new 12-story clinic building at the corner of Euclid and Forest Park as well as a new park further west. (Read the Cultural Resources Office staff report here.) Since the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) staff is strongly supportive of the demolition, and many urbanists seem comfortable with the new building, approval may be a foregone conclusion. Still, I think that preserving the Ettrick deserves more consideration. The current plan was enshrined in 2007 by the Board of Aldermen through Ordinance 67939, so the demolition plans are not news. However, a rush to approve the concept and the related park plan would be a mistake on the part of the Preservation Board.

The Ettrick is one of the city’s oldest apartment buildings and dates to 1905. A. Blair Ridington, an English-born architect and amateur Egyptologist who designed the Melrose Apartments at 206 N. Sarah (1907) as well as many houses across the city, designed the Ettrick. (Ettrick, by the way, is a region on the Scottish borders containing a large forest.)

Construction of the Ettrick was part of a trend toward the relatively-new apartment-style building for multi-family middle class housing. Previously, most people lives in tenements, which are so defined by having separate exterior entrances for each unit. Apartments provided elegant foyers and enclosed staircases. Within a year of the Ettrick’s completion, the first luxury apartment building, the Colchester (later dubbed “the ABCs”), would be built a block away at Kingsighway and Laclede.

The Cultural Resources Office claims that getting the Ettrick listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a single site would be difficult, but overlooks the fact that the later Melrose and Colchester were easily listed. The Ettrick is much more significant to the development of the apartment building and Ridington’s career than the Melrose.

The Ettrick’s style is decidedly Craftsman, and its details are lovely. The Flemish bond masonry, the use of cut stone, the hoods over the entrances — all provide expression of the building that is elegant as well as humane. The details are sized to the scale of the human hand. People often comment on the awkward below-grade entrances; these were created later when the raised lawn was removed and the basement converted into commercial space. The original design was more satisfying and in keeping with the setback and lawn shape of Forest Park.

Across Forest Park Parkway from the craftsman-detailed Ettrick stands a cavalcade of sanitized, machine-scaled giant buildings. BJC has done much to build up its campus, but little to address the life of the pedestrian.

I suppose that the medical center is the domain of its employees, patients and vendors, rather than an extension of the neighborhood. However, the Central West End MetroLink station lies just a few yards south of this intersection. Crossing Forest Park here is like leaving St. Louis and entering Campus Anywhere, USA. A few vestiges of the historic medical center remain, but the new architecture generally rises only to the level of need and no further. (The Siteman Center is an exception in form, although not in material.)

At any rate, transpose the medical center scale with that of Euclid Avenue to the north, and one sees exactly what the stakes are: architecture that reaches out to human beings could be wiped out for architecture designed by computer modeling, equations and corporate intelligence. The new building’s street-level retail simply is a programmatic improvement over the historic buildings that occupy the site.

The joined apartment buildings to the north of the Ettrick, alas, have been marred by re-facing and infill. These buildings date to 1905 and originally set back from Euclid with front lawns. The rise of the first floor above the sidewalk indicates that this was not originally a mixed-use building. If the storefronts below sidewalk level feel like basement space, that is because they are.

While the loss of a usable building is regrettable, this is one building whose future is negotiable. If BJC wishes to take it down to building something more urban, let it. However, let the new design be every inch original, and let the skin be other than “rental tan” concrete panels and teal-tinged glass. The Park East Tower has already introduced a new scale to this stretch of Euclid, and that is fine, but that is no reason to surplant the existing character wholesale. Hopefully BJC’s clinic is the last incursion north of Forest Park Parkway.

Even in its current state, this muddled old building has more heart and soul than much of the new construction that BJC has built in the last 30 years. Demolition in favor of a building that is architecturally sensitive to Euclid and its pedestrians — no matter how tall — would be a positive change. Demolition for another unmemorable hospital building — in a nation chock full of them, no less — would be a detriment.

The other part of the application to the Cultural Resources Office is demolition of the Schoenberg Residence Hall at 4949 Forest Park, west of the abysmal parking garage west of the Ettrick. This fine, restrained work of Georgian Revival design would be replaced by park space. Jewish Hospital, whose building on Kingshighway BJC plan to preserve, built this building in 1934 as a residential hall for its student nurses.

CRO Director Kathleen Shea errantly states in her recommendation to the Preservation Board that there is no possible way to stage construction of the 12-story clinic building without demolition of this building first to create a staging site. Shea’s claim is undercut by countless instances of high-rise construction within the restricted core of downtowns across the country, from Chicago to Des Moines. Closure of Forest Park and Euclid are impossible, of course, but there are numerous ways to stage the project without demolition of Schoenberg.

The urban voices who do not share my view on the Ettrick seem united against demolition of Schoenberg. The replacement of a viable building with a viable building is contested territory, but the replacement with empty space is not — as the San Luis Apartments effort demonstrates. The absurdity of creating a new park a half-block from Forest Park is obvious, and the Preservation Board should deny the demolition of Schoenberg no matter what its majority thinks of the other two demolitions.

Generally, the land use planning here is spotty. BJC owns much vacant land and surface parking, including frontage on Forest Park Parkway. There seems to be a way to preserve either or both the Ettrick and the Schoenberg Residence Hall while building the new clinic. Why does the Preservation Board only now get review of a plan approved by ordinance in 2007? Well, the preservation ordinance does not authorize preservation review of redevelopment ordinances even though those ordinances often bind the CRO and the Board. Of course, the city needs more sensible urban design laws that would coordinate decision-making rather than hand off deals to the Preservation Board.

Still, this is no done deal, at least under the preservation ordinance. Let’s see what happens Monday.

Historic Preservation Midtown Planning

Good and Bad on Locust Street

by Michael R. Allen

The PW Shoe Lofts project is heading toward completion at the northeast corner of Locust and Theresa avenues in the emerging Locust Street Business District. The project is an exciting step in the connection of the Grand Center district, with its large institutions and emphasis on arts, with the Locust Street area, a more organic mix of pedestrian-scaled development. The PW Shoe Lofts is the connector between the two area, and its occupancy will do a lot to help bridge an abrupt gap.

When complete, there will be 33 loft apartments inside of the former Pedigo-Weber Shoe Factory. Albert Groves, architect of the Masonic Temple, the front buildings at City Hospital and other buildings, designed the plain, handsome building, which was built by Murch Brothers and completed in 1918. (The one-story addition dates to 1948.) The Zane Williams company, former occupant, hired Renaissance Development to develop the building and Garen Miller to design the rehab. One of the best parts of the project is that the 33 units will be served by only 15 internal parking spaces, so the project does not create too much new parking in an area that has excessive supply. The end result will be a cool, urbane housing option near St. Louis University.

However, there are a few urban design problems on this end of Locust Street. Beside the blank back wall of the Moto Museum across the street, there is a bigger gulf here: the space immediately east of the PW Shoe Lofts.

East of the PW Shoe Lofts is the vacant lot where once stood a fine two-story livery stable. St. Louis University demolished the building in 2007, after it was included in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the West Locust and Olive Streets Historic District. In the place of the livery stable, built in 1885-1889 and later remodeled as an automobile dealership, stands a pernicious auto-related use: a seldom-used parking lot serving Chaifetz Arena. East of that lot, the university and Alderwoman Marlene Davis )D-19th) vacated Josephine Baker Avenue to create an even larger urban gulf between the vibrant end of Locust Street and Midtown.

Moving east, we have a fine row of four historic buildings — two of which are owned by St. Louis University, which promises eventual rehabilitation. These are the two at left in the photograph above. At very left is a fine, broad-front automobile sales building built in 1914 and designed by Clymer & Drischler (3331-9 Locust Street). To its right is an older three-story brick building with a fine iron fire escape on its front elevation (3327-9 Locust Street). Designed by Godfrey Hirsch, this building started life as a carriage repository owned by Joseph Long. These buildings are vacant.

The other two buildings in this row are in active use. There is the refaced building with a modern front at 3323 Locust Street, first built in 1891 but altered later to keep up with the demands of tenants trying to hawk cars on Automobile Row. Its more iconic neighbor at 3321 Locust Street is the firehouse-like Underwriters Salvage Corps No. 3 building, built in 1892 and designed by K.S. Evans. That building serves as a private residence.

All in all, these four buildings showcase a breadth of age, height, material and storefront treatment common in a historic commercial district. The variety is held together by the common vocabulary of human-scaled materials and ample fenestration.

What impulse compelled St. Louis University to place a windowless monster next to these four buildings? While the university’s new library warehouse is essentially a remodeling of a building that had long lost its windows, the completion was earlier this year. The university had the choice to place this warehouse in many locations, and it chose a pivotal connecting block in a commercial district trying to renew itself. Wealthy St. Louis University could have funded any number of architectural programs on the important Locust Street elevation, but it chose to go with a forbidding, bland EIFS wall interrupted only by utilitarian steel entrance and garage doors.

Plainly, the warehouse is a disruptive force in the Locust Street Business district. The placement of dumpsters in front on the building on Locust is yet another failing. Here, the university could have invested in the pedestrian scale of Locust Street, and instead it bluntly subsumed the commercial district to its own utility — just as it did with the livery stable demolition.

Meanwhile, two blocks east, Renaissance is working on the old Kardell Motor Company Building at 3141 Locust Street and an adjacent United States Tire Company building at 3147 Locust Street. Once covered by a nasty slipcover, the old showroom’s fine glazed terra cotta has been restored. The Kardell Motor Company Building dates to 1916 and was designed by Preston J. Brashaw, while the United States Tire Company Building is the work of Stephens and Pearson. Bradshaw’s mastery of ceramic expression is concentrated here, while in larger works like the Chase Hotel, the Paul Brown Building and the Coronado Hotel it is more diffused through large brick masses. The Kardell building is an architectural cream puff, and its restoration is testament to the vision of Renaissance and other parties working to revive Locust Street.

On one block, a developer is going so far as to remove slipcovers and restore damaged terra cotta. On another, there is a new faceless warehouse. Such contradiction cries out for resolution through a sensible master plan. Much of Locust Street between Jefferson and Theresa is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. How about design guidelines for new construction as well as rules and restraints on parking for a next step?

Downtown Infrastructure North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Planning

City Hall Asking Right Questions about McEagle Project

by Michael R. Allen

Friday’s St. Louis Business Journal carried two stories on McEagle’s NorthSide project that quoted Deputy Mayor Barbara Geisman and Mayoral Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford. (Articles are available online only to subscribers.) The primary article, “Will Paul McKee and City hall bond?” dealt with the developer’s request that the city guarantee via general revenue half of the $410 million in tax increment financing bonds sought. From the comments in the article, it sounds like City Hall is not ready to roll over on the request.

Rainford says that Mayor Francis Slay is skeptical on the city backing the bonds, and that Slay will only do so under “extraordinary circumstances.” Rainford acknowledged ongoing negotiations between the mayor’s office and McEagle, but the article did not elaborate on what “extraordinary circumstances” would be.

Deputy Mayor Geisman went further, stating that the city doesn’t know enough about the project yet to consider a request for general revenue backing. The article ends with a frank — and encouraging — quote from Geisman: “Lots of people ask for lots of things; it doesn’t mean they’re going to get it.”

While there is much to admire in the scope of McEagle’s vision as it has been laid out, the TIF request is abrupt and based on unsubstantiated financial information. The size of the request alone raises questions, but the push for city backing is premature. As the Business Journal article notes, the only three times when the city backed TIF bonds — St. Louis Marketplace, the convention hotel and Pyramid’s acquisition of One City Center — the city has ended up on the hook for failed or troubled development projects. McEagle has yet to demonstrate that its project would be any different.

I am heartened that City Hall has shifted gears from largely favorable comments to on-point comments. Hopefully this indicates a stance of tough bargaining, because a city that is eliminating jobs and implementing furloughs cannot afford to throw the treasury open for an untested vision.

That said, the second article, “McKee eyes land swap with MoDot for first phase,” showed some of the possibilities of the McEagle development. McEagle wants to eliminate the 22nd street ramps and use that site for new office development, and it seems that City Hall favors that approach. Readers know how much I want City Hall to support eliminating needless highway components, so I am glad that Geisman seems positive about removal of some of the most useless highway infrastructure in the region.

I have little to complain about the 22nd Street part of the McEagle vision: it removes useless and divisive infrastructure, adds density, does not affect any houses, businesses or historic buildings and it could result in a termination of the visually-challenged Gateway Mall other than a chain link fence. McEagle wants this to be the first phase — why not separate this area out into its own redevelopment area with its own enabling legislation?

One major problem with the McEagle project has been the lack of public-side planning. If city government was vigilant about setting and enforcing urban planning goals, the McEagle project would conform to those objectives and not be as problematic as it has been. Barring real planning, City Hall ought to use its powers to make sense of the project for the benefit of the city. Beyond the TIF deal, City Hall should look at the possibility of breaking the project down into smaller redevelopment areas, creating real historic preservation planning and placing the promises unveiled on May 21 into an actual contract between the city and the developer. A good deal is possible, and City Hall is at the center of that.

Historic Preservation Housing Planning

Taxes and Urban Rot

by W. Philip Cotton, Jr.

The following essay by W. Philip Cotton, Jr. appeared in the volume “Laclede’s Landing” Area, published by Landmarks Association of St. Louis in 1968. When I first unexpectedly found this essay tucked in a booklet on Laclede’s Landing, I was impressed by Phil’s astute observations on taxation policy and its relationship to preservation of historic neighborhoods. In 1968, in the era of wide admiration of singular works of architecture, this line of preservationist thought was truly progressive. Phil’s words on the use of government incentives are prescient. Yesterday, at a memorial service, we celebrated Phil’s work and contributions. I wish to again state that his legacy is worth the consideration of today’s preservationists. — Michael R. Allen

Wrong methods of taxation are a fundamental cause of urban decay. One might ask what taxes have to do with landmarks? For landmarks thought of in the narrow sense of isolated buildings the question is not so significant, but for landmarks of the urban environment, districts and sections which are the essence of a great city, taxes are highly significant. It is necessary, at times, to go beyond the confines of a specific concern or interest to get at fundamental components or problems.

The first sentence above states that “wrong methods” of taxation are a root cause of decay and slums in cities. The principle word is “methods.” The amount of taxes is not necessarily the determining function, but, rather, the way they are raised profoundly affects the state of health of the city. The old tax on windows in England had an obvious effect on the number of windows in a building. It is easy to picture that this method of raising the necessary revenue had at some point a deleterious effect on public health, as many habitations would be without sufficient light and air.

Our present policies of taxing land and improvements (with the greater portion derived from improvements) have recognizable effects: slums are the most profitable housing investments, not because of any inherent attractiveness of slums but because of tax policies. For letting buildings decay one is rewarded with lower taxes; on the other hand, improvements are penalized with higher taxes. Decay spreads faster than we can treat its symptoms, which we usually do with one or more government programs. There is little chance of fundamental improvement or reform from within our government; it can come only from an aroused citizenry which is aware of the fundamentals of cause-and-effect economics as distinguished from social-reform economics.

Another great obstacle in the way of fundamental reform of taxation is the implicit belief in the Eleventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not rock the boat.” — even if by rocking, the boat be saved from sinking. For many this is a greater imperative than the other ten.

As long as slums provide a higher economic return on investment than well maintained housing, the various government appeasement offerings serve only to reward the slum owners and temporarily pacify slum inhabitants. “More than fifty years ago Lloyd George warned the British Parliament that ‘low rent public housing bills will never be effective until you tackle the taxation of land values.'”* In 1960 the Mayor’s Special Committee on Housing in New York City reported, “The seemingly unstoppable spread of slums has confronted the great cities of the nation with chronic financial crisis … The $2 billion public housing program has not made any appreciable dent in the number of slum dwellings … No amount of code enforcement … will be able to keep pace with slum formation until and unless the profit is taken out of slums by taxation.”*

The idea of taxing land values and not taxing improvements is neither new nor untested theory. Where it has been fairly tried it has produced effects which can readily be observed and evaluated. Brisbane, Australia has not had taxes on improvements since 1896; it taxes only the unimproved value of the land. Colin Clarke, economist at Oxford University, who lived in Australia for twenty years writes of Brisbane that it is “the only great city in the world without a slum.”*

The restraining effects of taxes on improvement in St. Louis are so great that to stimulate major new construction in the city it is necessary to use the Missouri Redevelopment Act making it possible to give a near exemption from property taxes for a decade or two. This subsidy at the expense of all other property owners (and taxpayers in general) is necessary to attract new investment in improvements. Why not give, in effect, a subsidy to all who improve and maintain their properties by untaxing improvements and taxing only the value of the site location which is created by public improvement and population rather than giving the subsidy to a few?
Private enterprise cannot solve the housing problem and other problems of the urban environment as long as the profit motive is harnessed backwards. Until there are financial incentives for improving and maintaining property and thus, in effect, penalties for decay and rot, there is no hope for substantial improvement.

The fundamental answer to the problem is not charity without tax reform. Winston Churchill writes, “…a friend of mine was telling me the other day that, in the parish of Southwark, about 350 pounds a year was given away in doles of bread by charitable people in connection with one of the churches. As a consequence of this charity, the competition for small houses and single-room tenements is so great that rents are considerably higher in the parish! All goes back to the land, and the land owner is enabled to absorb to himself a share of almost every public and private benefit, however pitiful those benefits might be.” So the rot was then and so it will remain until we stop subsidizing slums and penalizing well maintained property by out ill-conceived tax policies.”

* “Taxes and the Death of Cities” by Perry Prentice. Architectural Forum, November 1965.

Central West End Parking Planning

One of the Central West End’s Parking Lots

by Michael R. Allen

The 1.48-acre parking lot on the southeast corner of Euclid and Delmar is a great reason not to allow construction of another parking lot in the Central West End.

In the late 1970s, the non-profit Union-Sarah West Economic Development Corporation demolished a row of vacant commercial buildings here to build the lot under the guise that the parking lot was necessary to serve the renovated Euclid Plaza Building. Today, the lot sits vacant. Not only is the lot closed off to public use, it is never used at all. The parking lot is weedy and blocked off. The Roberts Companies have proposed new construction on the site, but nothing is current in the works.

While the fate of this lot and the fate of any lot built by the St. Louis Archdiocese cannot be compared — the Archdiocese will be a good steward of a new parking lot, I am sure — this lot raises a planning question. Does a neighborhood with so many underutilized surface parking lots at prime corners need another?

Downtown I-70 Removal Infrastructure North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Planning

Six Ways to Remove a Freeway — How About Seven?

by Michael R. Allen

Six Case Studies in Freeway Removal is a an excellent overview of successful efforts to eliminate interstate highways in urban areas that created barriers. While there are examples from large cities like San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver where one might expect progressive government, there are also studies from Milwaukee and Chattanooga where advocates for reconnecting the urban fabric faced greater odds.

There are constant themes in each project profiled in Six Case Studies in Freeway Removal: beautification and functionality were major goals of cities that removed freeways or freeway sections, spillover traffic was absorbed without major new congestion and freeway removal almost always lead to higher property values. St. Louis leaders contemplating the mess at the western edge of the Gateway Arch grounds ought to consider the findings of this study, and commission one aimed at the particular local problem that I-70 poses.

One of my first reactions to the case studies from other cities is that the I-70 problem is not that big. Taking the logical dimension of removal from the Poplar Street Bridge on the south to Cass Avenue on the north, one sees that we don’t have as long or as vital a stretch of highway as other cities removed. What we will have in a few years, after the new river bridge opens, is a redundant second section of an interstate highway that disrupts the connection between downtown and the riverfront.

Is St. Louis ready to join the ranks of the cities that have found the leadership needed to think big? A few months ago, I might have been pessimistic. Now, I see that City Hall and many leaders are willing to take a major urban planning risk with McEagle Properties’ NorthSide project. Putting aside the details of NorthSide, that project takes a leap of faith — the scope is vast, the cost great and the potential for changing the central city tremendous. Part of the project even involves removing interstate highway infrastructure, the 22nd Street ramps connecting to Interstate 64. The project aims to capture southbound I-70 exit traffic and send it onto Tucker Boulevard, not eastward toward Memorial Drive. That flow could lessen traffic volume on the old I-70 and Memorial Drive.

Is there a connection between NorthSide and removal of I-70 downtown? Not yeat, but there is a binding tendency in each project: big-picture economic development planning. While NorthSide’s proponent is its developer, proponents of removing I-70 are citizens who see tremendous development opportunity along a human-scaled street. The removal of I-70 would weave the riverfront back into downtown, and it would create acres of land ripe for transformative downtown development. Like NorthSide, the process could take decades, but the results would be redevelopment on a scale beyond our wildest dreams. Add in the Chouteau Greenway project, and in thirty years Downtown could be ringed not by bleak interstate, asphalt parking and towing lots and vacant buildings but by connections to exciting new projects and renewed old neighborhoods.

Other cities took the leap of faith needed to set this level of vision into motion. Will St. Louis?

Detroit North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Planning Pruitt Igoe St. Louis Place

Looking Back at Gateway Village

by Michael R. Allen

To some people, the current discussion about McEagle’s “NorthSide” project has roots in a project proposed for the same area 13 years ago: Gateway Village. Like “NorthSide,” Gateway Village involved a close relationship between a mayor and a private developer from outside of the city, proposed massive demolition, proposed eminent domain and large public subsidy. Unlike “NorthSide,” however, Gateway Village never moved close enough to reality to disrupt the section of St. Louis Place it would have wiped out.

Aerial rendering of Gateway Village from Mayor Bosley's 1996 application to HUD.

In 1996, Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. unveiled his grand plan for revitalizing north St. Louis: a 180-acre golf course and subdivision called Gateway Village that would use the Pruitt-Igoe site as well as the western part of St. Louis Place. The boundaries were Martin Luther King Drive on the south, 20th Street on the east, St. Louis Avenue on the north and Jefferson Avenue on the west. The plan called for building 781 new homes (priced out of range of most St. Louis Place residents) and a 9-hole golf course (designed by renowned designers Don Childs Associates) platted for very low density at odds with surrounding historic city fabric. Going against neighborhood sentiment in an area where he had tremendous political support, Bosley supported the acquisition of 209 residences and six businesses to clear the project site.

The developer behind the project, whose identity was unveiled after the first announcement, was Waycor Corporation of Detroit. Waycor’s president was Don Barden, a wealthy Detroit businessman who has since gone on to become a major casino owner. At the time, Barden was the owner of television stations who had never developed a project on the scale of Gateway Village. Also in 1996, the Federal Election Commission determined that Barden has co-signed an illegal loan to a Detroit Congresswoman.

Whatever his inexperience and lack of ties to St. Louis, Barden gained the confidence of Bosley, Jr. and Maureen McAvey, the director of the St. Louis Development Corporation. Unlike today, where McEagle is unveiling its own plans, in 1996 Bosley and McAvoy did the public relations work for the developer. In August 1996, McAvoy released a study by Don Childs Associates that predicted that Gateway Village would be feasible and successful. The city paid the architects $38,000 for a study that championed a project in which they had a financial interest.

The study predicted that Gateway Village would precipitate “a return to living in major metropolitan cities” and that it would “act as a catalyst to revitalize the area.” The Greater Pruitt Igoe Neighborhood Association, which is now defunct, rose up against the plan to safeguard the 209 homes sought for condemnation and demolition.

In October 1996, the city government requested a $8 million grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development toward the project. The total project budget was $127.5 million, an amount fairly low for such a large area. The low cost was indicative of low density construction and low construction standards. Of course, $8 million was not the only handout sought by Waycor. Waycor wanted an additional $35 million in public financing. Waycor would not commit any of its own capital unless it could secure public money first — also different than the current situation.

The feasibility study commissioned by the city outlined the path toward development, with step one being “complete agreement with Waycor.” That step was removed after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch discovered that the city had commissioned a development feasibility study that not only recommended a certain developer but indicated that an agreement was already being created.

Site plan for Gateway Village from Mayor Bosley's 1996 application to HUD.

The Greater Pruitt Igoe Neighborhood Association sent a letter to HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros asking that he deny the $8 million grant request. Shirley Booker was one of the authors of the letter and very active in organizing St. Louis Place residents. Vernon Betts was one of a few St. Louis Place residents who gave favorable comments about Gateway Village to the press, but the majority of residents were opposed.

Bosley’s response to the Greater Pruitt Igoe Neighborhood Association’s letter is classic and timely: “It’s unfortunate that a small group now want to try and thwart the one thing that can work.”  In development, there always seems to be “the one thing that can work” — what the person using that phrase wants to do.

An aldermanic election for the Fifth Ward, where the project was located, came in spring 1997. Veteran Alderwoman Mary Ross was retiring. In the race to succeed Ross, Democratic candidates April Ford-Griffin and Loretta Hall supported Gateway Village, and John Bratkowski was adamantly opposed. Ford-Griffin, whose support was for the project was not staunch, won the seat. At the mayoral level, Bosley lost the Democratic primary to Clarence Harmon.

Even before he took office, Harmon announced his plans to pull city government out of the Gateway Village project. On April 4, 1997, the Post-Dispatch published an article entitled “Harmon: ‘Dead Stop’ for Golf Course Plan,” that covered the mayor-elect’s opposition to a project that would lead to the dislocation of city residents. McAvey retorted that the project would bring the middle class back as well as retail for low-income residents.

Harmon’s move coincided with HUD’s denial of the city’s request for funding. Shirley Booker explained neighborhood opposition well. Residents wanted development, she said, “just not a golf course. We can’t keep existing with all this vacant land. The Lord didn’t mean for it to be like that. It’s a waste.”

McAvey clung to Gateway Village, though, telling the press that no one would be able to develop St. Louis Place without large public subsidy and amenities provided. Her tenure would end shortly thereafter. Ford-Griffin learned a few lessons from Gateway Village and spearheaded an often rocky but productive community-based planning process leading to the Fifth Ward Master Plan, published in 2000 although not fully adopted by the Board of Aldermen.

Harmon, of course, showed little leadership on development issues, but his decision to pull the plug on Gateway Village allowed for the kindling of small-scale development on the near north side. Many leaders, however, continued to bemoan the lack of a large scale plan for the area around Pruitt Igoe. Bosley, Jr. himself is now a backer of the McEagle project, seen occasionally accompanying Paul J. McKee, Jr. at meetings.

One of the problems with the Gateway Village debacle and the resulting Fifth Ward Master Plan is that there was no strong legislative result. The threat of a large-scale plan in the Fifth Ward remained because there were no basic protections against that mode of development. Zoning and land use recommendations were never implemented as law, historic districts and sites were not identified and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and redevelopment zones that would have broken the ward into smaller pieces were not created. The Fifth Ward’s biggest problem in recent years is the large amount of vacant city-owned land — quite a big prize to lure developers. Without safeguards against large scale projects, the ward has been left vulnerable to the supersized visions that Gateway Village illustrated.

Downtown Green Space I-70 Removal JNEM Planning

Landmarks Association Comment on JNEM Management Plan Calls for Better Connections

Landmarks Association of St. Louis submitted the following comment on the draft General Management Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial to the National Park Service:

Landmarks Association of St. Louis, Inc. was founded in 1959 with a mission to “promote, preserve and enhance St. Louis’ architectural heritage and encourage sound planning and good contemporary design.” Both facets of our mission statement compel our comment on the draft General Management Plan (GMP) for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (JNEM).

Generally, we find that the GMP includes many strong and useful ideas for a future design program that would preserve the unique modern landscape of the Arch grounds while transforming the connections between the landscape and surrounding urban fabric. Landmarks Association commends the National Park Service (NPS) on recognizing the extent to which the condition of the existing connections are a hindrance to both JNEM and downtown St. Louis. We are supportive of many of the ideas common to all of the Alternatives under consideration, including streetscape unification plans, improvements to interpretive programming and museum exhibits, increased visitor activities, improved pedestrian access and encouragement of development of the east riverfront.

True to our mission, Landmarks Association makes the following recommendations for the final GMP to clarify preservation of the Arch grounds and expand the range of possible options for improving connectivity:

1. The NPS should allow removal of I-70 in the GMP. The presence of I-70 at the western edge of the Arch grounds is the biggest obstacle to pedestrian access, at the Old Courthouse, Washington Avenue and other major entrance points. With the projected opening in 2012 of a new Mississippi River Bridge carrying I-70, the elevated and depressed lanes that sever the Arch grounds from downtown will no longer be necessary interstate lanes. One possibility at that time would be exploring a merger of I-70 and Memorial Drive into an attractive at-grade boulevard that would carry through traffic while creating a softer, pedestrian-friendly western edge to the Arch grounds. This idea could be explored through a design competition and traffic study. The current GMP alternatives would not allow exploration of this idea. The final GMP should include removal of I-70 within the parameters of a design competition.

2. The GMP should contain other options for a design competition. The NPS has included in the GMP alternatives a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the problems and opportunities of improved access to the Arch grounds. The preferred alternative calls for a major design competition for resolution of these issues, but we think that NPS has already created a framework for practical, incremental solutions. We think that a major design competition has the potential to generate design ideas incompatible with a landscape designated as a National Historic Landmark containing an iconic work of modern architecture. Division of the competition into phases based on specific areas where there are access problems could allow for an incremental implementation that resolves design problems faster and preserves the integrity of the JNEM landscape. An incremental approach would also allow time to build needed alliances with public and private entities that control infrastructure crucial to improved access but not contained within JNEM. The GMP should not bind the process to a single major design competition.

3. Site history must be part of program expansion. The St. Louis riverfront was the entry point into the city for nearly 200 years. The riverfront’s architectural, commercial and cultural history is key to understanding the significance of the JNEM site, and current interpretive program could be expanded to better tell that story. Architectural elements and artifacts from the riverfront could be prominently displayed in existing or new JNEM cultural facilities or made part of new construction.

4. The GMP should improve access and connections at all sides of the Arch grounds. The current GMP alternatives are weighted toward improvement of access at the western side of the grounds. Improved access at both the south and north ends of the grounds could forge connections between JNEM and the Chouteau’s Landing and Laclede’s Landing areas, both of whose development have suffered from circulation problems. The north end of the Arch grounds are adjacent to the historic Eads Bridge and its MetroLink station, but currently access and visibility of those resources from JNEM is impaired. The central riverfront is unattractive and lacks adequate pedestrian access. We strongly feel that preservation of the cobblestone levee is crucial to the integrity of the riverfront, but feel that parking is an inappropriate use of that levee. While not directly under NPS control, the riverfront offers possibilities for destination-type activity ranging from heritage education to restaurants or other venues on boats and moored structures. Improving activity on the levee itself is key to drawing JNEM visitors to the river itself.

Downtown Historic Preservation Planning Urbanism

A Different Washington Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

This photograph from the collection of Landmarks Association of St. Louis shows a section of Washington Avenue in 1978. Obviously, the photographer was intrigued by the Fire Department’s activity, but ended up documenting more than just a one-alarm call. This view shows the north side of Washington from the mid-point of the 700 block east through the 500 block.

From the left, one sees Loews Theatre still in business with its marquee advertising “Greased Lightning.” Then there is Unique Jeans ‘n Shirts, Stan and Julio’s Spaghetti House, H.R. Perlstein Furs, Amitin’s Books, the Big Men’s Shop and Lane Bryant. On the next block east is the Stix, Baer and Fuller Department Store, later Dillard’s, long before any skybridge marred its lovely commercial facade. Beyond the department store is the old May Company Building, now 555 Washington and then home of the Dollar Store.

This retail environment was dense with stores and small-scale buildings. The 700 block, with the exception of the theater, was occupied by narrow four-to-six-story buildings. These small buildings were the lifeblood of downtown retail in the 20th century, offering low rents and lower operating costs to owners. The buildings and the shops also imprinted streets like Washington, Locust, Olive and others with architectural variety and commercial abundance.

Alas, this photograph captures that downtown street life in end times. By the time this photograph was taken, city planners had decided to smother the retail environment here with the colossal failure that was St. Louis Centre. Opened in 1985, St. Louis Centre stands diagonally across from the Lane Bryant Store here. To build St. Louis Centre, two blocks of modestly-scaled historic downtown buildings — all with ground-floor retail — were leveled. St. Charles Street was closed. The two giant department stores, Stix and Famous-Barr, were joined to the mall rather than being separated by a diverse array of urban retail accessed on the sidewalks.

Retailers like Lane Bryant moved into St. Louis Centre and failed. Establishments like Stan and Julio’s lingered until city planners again decided to stamp unitary order onto functional, if messy, urban life. In 1989, the 700 block of Washington was seized for construction of an addition to the convention center. Some retailers, like Amitin’s, moved westward on Washington, but many closed their doors forever. The buildings fell. Today, the view captured in 1978 is depressing. Where delightful urban life thrived sits the giant convention center, with its sidewalks a pedestrian danger zone of taxi-dodging. The Stix building is empty, with a giant skybridge fused onto its facade that blocks sunlight and site lines.

Fortune may lead to rehabilitation of the Stix buidling, demolition of the skybridge and reconstruction of St. Louis Centre. However, the very urban architectural and commercial character of this stretch of Washington is lost.