The No Build Alternative for Jamestown Mall

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Jamestown Mall - STLReinventing suburbia is sexy somehow. I guess we have a general idea that something's wrong with it. But this reinvisioning never really touches on roads or cul-de-sac neighborhoods, no, when we talk of a new suburbia we're speaking of rebuilding retail. Add in a couple apartments and voila, it's a Live-Work-Play (maybe even Pray) community. It's also a ridiculous and wasteful idea.

No where is this absurdity highlighted more than with the current effort to build a new development on the 142-acre Jamestown Mall site. The North County mall has been the subject of two years of public meetings and planning by urban design firms. The conclusion? A proposal to remake the site as a walkable mixed use community. At first glance, it sounds ok, or at least better than its current state, but it's a mistaken vision. The St. Louis region should pursue a "no build" option for the failing Jamestown Mall.

The Jamestown Mall site is one of the most isolated major retail sites in the region. Agricultural fields sit across the road, extremely low density housing covers the non-farm land and the Missouri River serves as a barrier to development to the north. By any measure, this part of the metro area isn't growing. But the real issue is that at 142 acres, the site is no where near big enough to create a "walkable" community.

Jamestown Mall - STL
{New Town, CWE and French Quarter with Jamestown outline – courtesy of Jamestown Mall Area Plan}

The "walkable" label has been bastardized, losing nearly all meaning. The definition used for the Jamestown Mall proposal appears to be that one could drive to work and then walk from work to get a coffee at lunch. Or maybe one could walk to breakfast within the new neighborhood and then return home and drive to work elsewhere. At the worst, it means a walkable destination. The comparable New Town St. Charles site has failed to retain even basic subsidized retail options. There's no reason to believe the Jamestown Mall site will be any different.

What is at work here is the innate desire to rebuild a failing enterprise. Clearly there is big money behind development (and redevelopment) and there's a community's desire to not lose an amenity. But frankly, the small, isolated "Live, Work, Play" development is a failed idea from early last decade. If something just must be built, why not attempt some mixed-use development? But why build at all?

Jamestown Mall - STL
{population density and Jamestown Mall site (top center) - courtesy of Jamestown Mall Area Plan}

The development plan clearly illustrates that there is a lack of demand for a large retail development at the site. There's also a lack of demand for housing and offices, new urbanism included. Of course the development is far from becoming reality. It's a 15-year plan, the site is currently divided into nine parcels with five separate owners, and there are currently no incentives in place for the development. Let's hope that these do not materialize and the no build option wins out.

Jamestown Mall - STL
{the false dream of a walkable community}

Jamestown Mall - STL
{Jamestown Mall and the surrounding countryside}

Jamestown Mall Area Plan_DRAFT_May 2011

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  • dustinbopp

    I just couldn’t agree more.

  • DavideRose

    This simply makes too much sense to happen. I read where people are talking about downsizing within old urban cities, but the real problem is that we need to stop spending hundreds of millions rebuilding the suburbs. It’s time to shrink the burbs.

    • Douglas Duckworth

      Tell that to voters who live in the suburbs and rely upon sales tax revenue.  

  • Held Over

    After seeing the map from above showing just how far out there the mall really is, what exactly would you have done there?  I mean, I know you say “no build,” but what’s going to happen if nothing happens?

    • Alex Ihnen

      I could have been more explicit with alternatives. First, there should be no public money incentives to redevelop this site. Public money can make sense if the development will likely be sustainable. This will not. If the free market desires to do so, no one can stop them. Why not allow owners to sell for more cul-de-sac residential? Why not demolish the site and turn it into a regional park? Leaving the shell of the mall could even be interesting.

      • Held Over

        Right on.  Based on the location, I think the idea of spending hundreds of millions of dollars in for this project in this location is not cost effective.  For that money, you could renovate a lot of properties.

      • Zun1026

        I 100% agree on the public incentives. With the estimated total being in the $300 million neighborhood, I would wager that there will be a call for heavy use of incentives. 

  • Toby1319

    Wish they’d multi-use it as an organic farm (plants and livestock) w/ farmer’s market and restaurant using those foods. Horse stables with trail- and pony-riding. Leave parts of the mall standing to become a skateboard park (metro StL desperately needs one!). Creates a destination place that also respects what it once was and what still remains around it.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Nice. Could be a nice location for an Eckert’s type attraction?

    • Held Over

      Toby, I’ve been thinking the city needed a skateboard park for a while now.  I’m not a skateboarder, but I realize that kids need an outdoor location for this.  The South City region could also use one.  But I also like the organic farm idea….

  • Zun1026

    My biggest complaint is not whether this is walkable, but wether it its smart growth. More or less this is just going to shuffle people from other parts of the metro area and send them further out, if this was in response to housing deficiencies in the metro area then it could make sense. BUT, that is not a current problem IMO. Then there is always the question whether people will actually move out there. The first thing that should be asked is in regards to the school district out there. Is it good enough to draw in relocating families? I could go on about how weak I view their market study, but we could go on all day about that. 

  • john w.

    This mall is so incredibly far away from anything that I calculate to really matter, when considering building anything with a residential or retail component, that I’m left asking “who cares?” Of course it would not be sustainable- that’s a non-starter, and the rendered street life scene with sidewalk cafe seating and 3-4 story building lining the public zone by hugging the zero lot line is URBAN. To sustain urban conditions, an environment DEMANDS the connective systems that feed what is essentialy urban. Urbanity is intrinsically about connectivity and overlay, and this site is about disconnectivity and singularity. If built with no public assistance (outside of what would be expected to augment existing infrastructure to serve the footprint), then I don’t really care.

    Perhaps the ‘Ekherd’s’ proposal is workable as a regional amenity, then make it truly regional and place a major BRT hub there, which would connect Alton to the metro west, as well as other more rural peripherals like anywhere shown on the colorful study maps on the north side of the central metro area.

    Otherwise… I suppose I don’t really care. I’m not even sure I’ve ever set my own eyes on this place.

  • Donielleq

    Your wrong why should we be made to go out to west county and give you guys property tax when we have a mall in our community. I bet most of you have never even been to jamestown

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Don-Kaiser/100000021006927 Don Kaiser

    There are few things more depressing than shopping centers with empty storefronts.  As much as I love modern history, it’s time to level Jamestown, Northwest Plaza and Crestwood.  Do what they’re doing at the Chrysler plant in Fenton; leave it alone and eventually a use will surface.  This pipe dream of mixed use developments never pans out.  I’m taking pics of as many malls as possible because in 20 years they will be like phone booths today.

  • Saltearth

    I have perhaps a different perspective here.  We moved to just around the bend from Jamestown Mall from the CWE 6 years ago.  The mall was sad then, but Sears, Dillards, etc were all open when we moved, and we have watched it all slowly close.  You actually don’t have to go across Lindbergh to get to corn fields, they planted the grounds around the mall with corn last year.  When we first looked at our home I had visions of hauling water, etc., as coming to our house from 367 there are no visible amenities other than the mall.  However as one travels west (at least to me it is west) one comes upon a relatively busy Cross Keys Shopping Center.  At or around that area are a Lowes, Home Depot, Schnucks, Shop & Save, Marshalls, Barnes and Noble, etc.  There is even an independent coffee shop! 

    Providing some other desirable residential options in an area that is actually not that far out, with some services, such as a department store, and a movie theater, is too me, not that crazy an idea.  It also helps to stabilize the neighboring property values.  Beats St. Charles County, and here one is not bulldozing farmland, but re-using developed property.  I, too, love the idea of an organic exhibition farm.  There is land across the road perfectly suited for this.  Because of the re-work of 367 – there is easy access to Illinois, both Alton to the north, and everything connected to I-270 to the south.  Clayton is 20-ish minutes away. I have envisioned just that myself on a number of occasions.  Clearly there needs to be demand to support any project, but in 10-15 years it is conceivable that folks might actually enjoy living in a planned community (can you say New Towne) that has proximity to both of the rivers, some decent parks nearby, Fast Eddies a 10 minute drive, and the associated traditional and historic towns of Florissant and Alton. 

    I grew up in Webster and compared moving to North County as moving to South America.  I love driving by the old farm houses, horses, and fields, such a short distance from the mall to get home.  The sink holes and other geological formations in the area are cool, and we have a killer view from our house – the setting is why we moved.  For me having something like a town center ersatz or not so near by, assuming it is populated and thriving would just be icing on the cake!