U-City Set to Snatch Parking Defeat from Jaws of Planning Victory

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on RedditEmail this to someone

The sign for the surface parking lot behind Cicero's- image by Flickr user Allison Light

{sign for The Loop parking garage on Delmar – image by Flickr user Allison Light}

We’ve been watching how the aging suburbs of St Louis County have been dealing with 21st century challenges and trends. We’ve quipped that the first to truly embrace a traditional development pattern based around a human scale rather than an auto scale would win. Just when you think one is taking the ring they take a step back. Maplewood has come a long way with its downtown, however is further devolving the intersection of Big Bend and Manchester preventing the walkable experience from extending west to the Metrolink station, and it mowed down a neighborhood for a car dealership next to the Sunnen station. Kirkwood is doing well, but recently razed downtown buildings because someone mentioned once that there was too little parking. Creve Coeur has a plan for a traditional downtown. Clayton may develop dense residential towers near its Metrolink station, but NIMBY’s may prevent redevelopment of the long empty Maryland school building. Crestwood is contemplating what to do with its dead mall.

Parkview Gardens Draft Plan. From H3 Studios presentation

{Parkview Gardens Draft Plan- H3 Studio}

The suburb with the biggest lead is University City thanks to its portion of the Delmar Loop. The Parkview Gardens neighborhood, which contains the Loop, has been working on a plan for the last few years. The vision for its future contains all the hallmarks of good urban design such as greater density, better connections, etc. After a long hiatus of public meetings, one was held on December 12th. Parking was anticipated to be a hot topic. Six of ten questions in the FAQ handout concerned parking.

Previous presentations showed a condo development with 210 units and structured parking. From Draft Executive Summary by  H3 Studios

{Previous presentations showed a condo development with 210 units and structured parking. From Draft Executive Summary- H3 Studio}

amount of parking required by code if all envisioned developments are realized with surface parking - H3 Studios presentation

amount of parking required by code if all envisioned developments are realized with surface parking – H3 Studio

Conspicuously missing was the development of the surface parking behind Cicero’s was . Apparently the Loop Special Business District let it be known that the free (U City subsidized) surface parking was critical to their success, and that structured parking is too scary. The U City staff said there wasn’t much comment in support of development of the lots. Well that’s probably because the planning up until that meeting already showed what they wanted! U City’s best chance at growth is in this neighborhood. It should take advantage of the value of this land to add to its population and tax base rather than pay to maintain the lots.

{the city-maintained free surface parking lot in The Loop}

The reason the Loop draws people is in part because it was built not with the intention of drawing people in by car. It draws people in because it is a place, not because it’s a parking lot. The neighborhood has less than half the parking required by code yet somehow succeeds, and probably wouldn’t if it met the code. Large free surface parking is available at Northwest Plaza, Crestwood Mall, Jamestown Mall, West Port, etc; how are they doing? Walking the Loop is comfortable so parking lots immediately by each location is not necessary. Also the forthcoming Loop Trolley will allow parking to be spread out.

The University City-owned parking garage.  From Google Streetview.

{the University City-owned parking garage}

The use of the structured parking above Good Works indicates that garages are indeed not too scary for everyone. What if the garage was gone and made up for by surface parking? Good Works, Phoenix Rising, FroYo, El Maguey, Blue Ocean, and Al-Tarboush Deli would have to go, better?

{rendering of a surface lot in place of the Delmar garage and neighboring businesses}

I suggest reconfiguring New Enright and Loop North streets into one street with on street parking (~70 spaces, more if angled parking). Then plan for constructing a building along Kingsland and Enright to the present parking entrance (~250 people perhaps a commercial space on Kingsland). Put a garage behind with the entrance off of Kingsland that has enough spaces for residents and replace the surface spaces that were lost. Leave the rest as is for now and see what happens. Add “Spaces Available” signs to the garages too. Nothing in the plan is going to happen overnight so if there are unbearable negatives from one step there’s still opportunity to change course.

The Loop Special Business District has a good thing going and is fearful any change might upset that success. Fear of customers’ fear of structured parking shouldn’t outweigh the positives of fully leveraging the value of the site the surface parking occupies. The residents of a new development will be of greater value to Loop businesses than the few who refuse to park in a garage. The occasional shooting and other trouble do orders of magnitude more damage than the perception of a lack of easy parking and should be the focus of all concerned. By taking an incremental approach it isn’t necessary to know beforehand who is wholly right. The option to reevaluate and change course remains. There will be an opportunity to comment at a public hearing on the draft neighborhood plan at the University City Council Jan 13, 6:30 pm in City Hall.

A Vision for Parkview Gardens – Plan Commission Final Public Meeting by nextSTL.com

A Vision for Parkview Gardens – FAQ Handout, Draft Plan Final by nextSTL.com

Pin It
  • John

    People who live in this neighborhood can walk to the Loop, so they don’t need to worry if they have somewhere to park. Most people who visit the loop who live elsewhere are young people, many of whom don’t even own a car anyway. Young people prefer the dense, walkable, urban feel of the Loop more than their West County strip malls for a reason. It’s not just a parking lot.

    The Loop isn’t a place you go to, it’s a place you experience. A dead sea of parking isn’t somewhere you go to hang out. With the trolley coming soon, there will be very little reason at all for parking lots. I want to see every single lot from Fubar to Debaliviere gone. Build a large garage over that massive lot by the Pageant and another one here, where the article says.

    • John Warren

      I’d love to see this lot developed eventually, but I’m afraid I agree with their decision. Face it, a lot of St. Louis suburban visitors might be afraid of parking in a large urban garage in u city. Most people going to the stores and restaurants get there in their car whether we like it or not. I would lean towards keeping this free lot, at least for now.

      • rgbose

        That’s why I propose an incremental approach wherein half the surface lot is developed and the streets of Loop North and Enright are reconfigured so as to provide on-street parking. The net loss of surface spaces would be ~100 and there could be a net gain in total spaces depending how big the new garage is.

        • Mike F

          I saw a picture the other day of the original configuration of Enright, and the street car turnaround which ran there. It’s amazing that a city would demolish an entire block of buildings for parking. Though I suppose the demolition of 14 square blocks of the St. Louis riverfront was a nice little precedent to point to as a “success”.

          • rgbose

            Here’s the street wall on Kingsland before the parking lot.

          • John

            What an incredibly awful decision. Imagine if those were still there and the Loop Trolley looped around them. It would be such an ideal neighborhood.

            I saw build a U-shaped building around it with hidden surface parking in the middle and a below-ground garage. Reconfigure the streets and add on-street parking just like you said. Middle-aged, middle-class suburbanites are just going to have to get past their fear of parking garages. It’s their kids who care about visiting the Loop, anyway. My mom is 49 and the only time they ever go down there is to see something at the Pageant, so they aren’t parking in this lot anyway.

          • dempster holland

            after all, what do we care about the hangups of middle class,
            middle aged people. They probably don;t even ride bikes
            and I know a lot of them probably eat at McDonalds. Anyway,
            they are the past and we millennials are the future

          • John

            I mean, parking lots are quickly becoming a thing of the past. They just aren’t as relevant anymore. They’re auto-centric and suburban. I.e., they’re for boomers and what have you. Millennials don’t want parking lots. They want buildings, streetcars and MetroLink stations.

            This is a part of the reason why Denver is beating us, people…

          • Mike F

            Kingsland. Thank you.

  • Jon

    Where does the fear of a parking garage come from. At West County mall people are fighting to park in the garage rather than the surface lots.

    • John R

      Good point. There are also popular garages at The Galleria & The Boulevard, so this isn’t a foreign concept. The question is whether structured parking could be free or mimimal… might that be the real concern here?.

  • Presbyterian

    I don’t think the various demographics that frequent the loop are afraid of structured parking… unless they plan on putting in lots of new knitting stores.

  • matimal

    This means that UCity is less of a threat and urbanism in the central west end and downtown is relatively more appealing. UCity’s lose will be the west end’s gain.

    • wump

      Do you mean the central west end, or west end, where the city’s portion of the loop is?

  • STLEnginerd

    So I Would argue strongly that “suburbanites” are not “afraid” of parking garages. They are afraid of PAYING for parking. Many would drive around for 20 mins spending a couple bucks in gas, searching for a free space instead of just paying a few bucks to park. It may not be logical but it is reality. I may have missed it but are they proposing to charge for parking? Its a legitimate concern for the bussinesses but shouldn’t be a reason to kill the project.

  • rgbose

    Here’s something to consider for Loop N/Eniright replacement. Center double angled parking. There might be enough room to add regular parallel parking too.

  • rgbose

    My proposal. Plan this for now and keep building east as it is discovered that structured parking isn’t scary or stop if it is truly a negative. I figure there’s a net loss of ~40 surface spaces.

  • Guy Vils

    We go to the Loop often, invited by the plentiful free parking. Apparently so are all those other folks whose cars are most often filling those “unnecessary” parking spaces. The business people in the very successful Loop are quite right to keep you predominantly unsuccessful urban planners in check.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Right. More dense development would likely change the demographic of those who visit the Loop, but more residents and less free parking would be more economically sustainable and create a more walkable place to live.

  • Patrick Williams

    Preventing the rezone of a district would not be a “step back” for Clayton. It would actually be a strong statement of the city’s commitment to its master plan. Especially when there is an equally viable option for another tenant to move into the school which would open up space elsewhere more suited for this type of a development. The Crossing site discussed in Geoff Whittington’s article fits within Clayton’s master city plan. That’s why you are not seeing protests from neighborhood residents (NIMBYs as you call them) about the Crossing site.