Mixed-Use Parking Garage Sought to Replace Surface Lot at Convention Center

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America's Center parking - St. Louis, MO

On the surface it’s just a Request for Proposals for yet another parking garage, but in this case it has the potential to be much more. The Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) of the City of St. Louis is seeking redevelopment proposals for a new 778-space parking garage on a surface parking lot at the entrance to the America’s Center convention complex and Edward Jones Dome, home to the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.

Downtown St. Louis may be well prepared for the 100-year parking event, but this new garage could add retail and fewer parking spaces than it is replacing. nextSTL was first to report on the planned expansion of the America’s Center Ballroom. The $50M project will increase the size of the existing 28K sf ballroom to the now industry standard of 5oK sf.

While any scent of the Ram’s next move has gone cold, the Convention Center and Visitor’s Commission, which owns the convention center and Edward Jones Dome, isn’t sitting still. In addition to the ballroom expansion, the entrance at 7th Street and Convention Plaza has long been an unattractive welcome to visitors, as the approach from Lucas Avenue shows above.

America's Center parking - St. Louis, MO{surface lot tabbed for redevelopment in yellow, existing garage to be replaced in red}

The bare concrete decks of the existing 900-space garage will be gone, and the new garage will rise across the street. It should be something better that what it is replacing. The LCRA included the following in its recently released RFP:

  • Urban Design/Architecture including; quality of the proposed structure, compatibility with and contribution to the urban fabric of the neighborhood, and level of architectural features and design elements
  • Inclusion of a mix of ground floor retail space uses; lining, within or atop the proposed structure

Even minimal adherence to these principles could bring a significant positive change to the visitor experience. The garage should be something other than bare concrete, and present a pedestrian oriented ground floor. The mention of mixed-use atop the structure opens the possibility of office or residential additions.

garage at American's Center{the existing 7th Street garage dates from 1964 according to city records}

While past ideas to renovate and expand the current Edward Jones Dome at its current location in order to meet the “top-tier” stadium criteria required by the Ram’s lease did not include this surface lot, plans for a significant project here show that the CVC is looking ahead to a growing convention center, with or without and NFL tenant.

{the existing ballroom will be expanded to the north}

The urban fabric of the area is significant. Immediately to the south of the surface lot is The Laurel, one of the largest adaptive reuse projects in downtown St. Louis. The $160M effort converted a 620K sf former Dillard’s department store building into an Embassy Suites Hotel with apartments above. The building dates to 1902, with the eastern portion being home to Stix Baer & Fuller Dry Goods Co. as early as 1909, while the western bays housed various businesses. Today, street level retail includes Robust Wine Bar & Café and the still under development National Blues Museum.

The Laurel_Embassy Suites{The Laurel apartments and Embassy Suites to the south of the project site}

To the east of the surface lot is the Drury Inn and Suites Convention Center Hotel, which occupies the Union Market building, opened as a public market in 1925 at a cost of $1.35M. That transformation was completed in 1990.

St. Louis City Market/Drury Hotel{the adjacent Drury Inn, once Union Market}

Request for Proposals for New Convention Center Parking Structure – St. Louis, MO by nextSTL.com

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  • jhoff1257

    I have no issue with this whatsoever as long as that awful looking garage across the street is gone.

  • dmbstl

    I know we’re all against more parking garages downtown: however I think this is the right move. The current parking garage is dark, unappealing and needs to go. I’m not a scared little flower that’s afraid of everything but even I get the creeps parking in there.

    • flyover

      Why are “we all” against more parking garages?

      • dmbstl

        Because downtown St. Louis currently has more than enough parking. The city and developers don’t need to be tearing any more buildings down just for parking garages.

        • flyover

          You’ve made that call, that there is too much parking? Parking, the lack and high cost of, is what drove many businesses out of the city. I know parking was one of the big reasons we moved from the city to the county. Every employee who had to pay for parking felt like they got a raise when they could park free right outside the door. If you want the city to recover, you should want as much parking as possible to drive down the cost.

          • Alex Ihnen

            There’s a lot of literature on this subject. I’ve stated that there is too much parking downtown. It’s an opinion, not a fact, and I’ve called for a parking audit because no one really knows how much parking there is, what it costs, or how much it is used. It’s a dense book, but Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking is an important read. Other than that, one way to quickly think about the issue is to think of a city that’s economically vibrant, exciting and busy, where there’s a ton of really cheap parking downtown. It seems that all the places succeeding economically have a parking “problem”.

          • flyover

            I agree, however, I think a parking problem is a symptom of success, not a precipitator of it. Parking was not the only reason I moved my company out of the city. The earnings tax was one, crime was another. It has been a while back and maybe they’ve improved customer care, but the treatment we received from the city was horrible. We’d get audited every year trying to prove we didn’t deduct the earnings tax even though we we used a professional payroll system that did it automatically. Then there were other inspectors. The one I will never forget was the “standpipe” inspector. I didn’t know what a standpipe was, but this guy demanded to know why I hadn’t paid my standpipe fee, even though we were renters. Throw in not clearing the snow and leaving was a no-brainer.

          • dmbstl

            You’ve left the city for green pastures where parking is free and plentiful, there isn’t and earnings tax along with other city regulations. Why do you care?

          • flyover

            So, that means I am not entitled to an opinion?

          • Nathan Bookhout

            You are more than welcome to your opinion. I don’t know where your business was located but walking down chestnut or 7th and there is plenty of parking. The consensus here is, and correct me if I am wrong, that we have plenty of parking and not enough residents and businesses to fill the current parking spaces. That constructing more parking will make downtown even less dense and therein less vibrant as a neighborhood… so in your estimation if the city built more parking or reduced the cost
            you would not have relocated to the county barring all things else?

          • flyover

            It is hard to compete with free, understanding we were paying for parking in the CAM part of the lease when we moved. Back then we were paying around fifty bucks a month each. I could afford it, but it was tough on my clerks. Parking was not the number one reason we moved, that was the city earnings tax. The disrespectful way we were treated by the City back then really only affected me, but if you asked my employees, I’ll bet free parking would have been number one. We were more on the western end of downtown near Midtown.

          • dmbstl

            Attached are pictures of the western side of downtown at 1pm on a Wednesday showing plenty of street parking. (And the garages are maybe half full.)

          • dmbstl

            Can you name any other downtown where parking is free?

          • flyover

            I can only name ours which ought to be free.

  • pat

    So the proposed garage will cross the street but not block it? Cars/People will still be able to use 6th st?

  • DanieljSTL

    Good move by the City. The ugly (and decaying) garage and big empty lot need to do a little more to welcome out of town visitors.

  • http://donspoliticalblog.blogspot.com Don

    From 1999 to about 2002, I had to park in that garage and I can tell you it is truly awful, so I’m glad to see it go. I appreciate the desire for retail at the base of the new garage, but I can’t imagine any retail surviving at that location for the foreseeable future. There is just not enough pedestrian traffic.

  • Sean McElligott

    So if I am reading this right they are planing to expand the convention center by demoing the existing garage and then build a replacement garage?

  • mathew chandler

    Awesome St. Louis! mixed use to replace surface parking and a 60’s parking garage. increased activities and jobs for downtown.

  • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

    Verrrry interesting. When Geoff wrote his piece here in February (i’ll admit — I did some gentle jabbing at its “newsworthiness”) it didn’t mention that the ballroom expansion would directly lead to the removal of the 7th street garage!

    Hopefully, the new ballroom space isn’t just a blank wall along 7th, but instead opens up to the street via a well-lit, high height window-walled lobby. That’s the only way I can see first floor commercial potentially working on the 778-er. The intersections around the lot currently feel mostly like back alleys — even during game days or big conventions.

  • John R

    Is there retail potential in the Convention Center space just north of the CVB welcome center or are those just faux window spaces on 7th? A couple storefronts could help make the experience a bit more inviting as well. Same, too, if something could be done with the Drury first floor on 6th.

    • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

      Faux-ish windows, I guess. That space is connected to the back offices/storage at the Visitors Center.

      • RyanAlan

        I heard originally those were supposed to be retail areas for the Rams and were just never developed

        • John R

          Rams Village! Maybe a mechanical bull and dueling piano bar! More seriously, anyone think this area may be good for a ESPN Zone sports bar? It would go against BPV of course, but you never know. Not sports-related, but other large entertainment venue/attractors that come to mind that possibly could work in the area are House of Blues & Hofbrau House.

  • Alex Ihnen

    This won’t be Main Street retail, but we shouldn’t think of it as such. The space could be an office, restaurant, pop-up space – and evolve over time. The more intriguing possibility that’s not getting attention is what could be proposed for on top of the garage.

    • John

      If Drury Tower and a BPV Tower are successful after the current lot coming up (Chemical, Arcade, Alverne etc.) then I would love to see a signature tower go up here. It can fill in that hole in the skyline left by the Dome and Convention Center and add life to a part of DT that’s pretty empty when there’s not a game or convention. My guess is that they’re hoping for residential, but maybe offices could be included. I hope a part of the ground level is entertainment.

  • tpekren

    Another intriguing thought, could you see three blocks be redeveloped in the long term as follows.
    1) The existing parking garage is demolished and CVC uses the space to expand the ballroom. It makes a lot of sense and what seems to be implied in the post. I Love the idea of high walled windows.
    2) A new structured parking garage replaces a surface lot. Can we say green roof!! Talk about a great place to take a break and grab a few of the Arch while at it Rooftop coffee stand? Maybe some rooftop exhibition space??
    3) Finally, could CVC and Drury be in talks for a long term play on their existing property next to the surface parking lot? Especially if Drury is entertaining a new Lacledes Landing tower that might be a residential tower, or a hotel/residential tower, or maybe just a hotel
    Getting the impression that the Drury family is going to make a substantial investment on this end of Wash Ave in the next year or two. I also got the running thought that Stifel Nichols will be one of the main backers of any financing for any private investment near the convention center now that they have a stake in the area when they purchased their office building nearby.

    • John R

      WRT point 3, I certainly hope there is a major move on the eastern end of Washington. I think it would be great if a developer partnered with the Missouri Athletic Club or whomever owns that surface lot to build a mixed-use mid-rise or larger tower and the vacant 3 story Mid Century Modern across the street is just waiting to host something cool.

      • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

        Was actually hoping the Blues Museum would land in the MCM. Imagined secondary space on the upper floors for classrooms, performance space, etc. Maybe even landing a notable recording studio to build our national notoriety back up in the music world.

        • John R

          Modern STL move in ground floor with nextstl on the second floor. Exclusive game-theme bar on the third…. hula hoops, twister and whatever else floats boats from the 50s and 60s.

  • Presbyterian

    I’ll be glad to see them plug another whole in the downtown streetscape.

  • moe

    This whole entrance and parking garage to the Center needs to be re-worked. This has got to be the most dis-inviting entrance in the entire City. It’s like walking down an alley to enter. The garage needs to go, the parking lot needs to go…they need retail at street level…even on the convention building itself.

  • http://www.preservationresearch.com Michael R. Allen

    What goes around comes around? I remember when the city wrecked the Art Moderne-influenced parking garage (designed by noted local firm Russell, Mullgardt, Schwarz & Van Hoefen) on that block.

  • cardinalstl

    Anybody else wish they wouldn’t stop at the current “industry standard” of 50k? Eventually the industry standard will be 60-70-80k and we will have to expand again. Why not use this opportunity to get ahead.

    • Nathan Bookhout

      The CVC would have to look at its current and prospective events and see if a space that size would work. The ultimate problem in conventions, too much space it looks empty and the planners don’t want it; too little space and it feels cramped… the planners don’t want it. The St. Louis market could pull a lot more of the national conventions being in the middle of the country, and should be able to consistantly fill 50k.