Nowhere City at Vandeventer and Forest Park

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City of St. Louis - IKEA

Within the next year, the intersection of Forest Park and Vandeventer Avenues – a crossroads between downtown and the Central West End, the Tower Grove neighborhoods and north city – might well look like any intersection anywhere. Anywhere but a hand-built older city, that is. The alluring yellow-and-blue big box of IKEA will join with an anemic cement-board student apartment spread and a potential strip mall.

The visual mess hopefully will draw design-minded citizens to start realizing that St. Louis can retire its low self-esteem mantra of “any development is good development.” Either that, or we can stop mocking Phoenix already.

I am trying to impugn neither the economic benefits of retail sales taxes nor the impact of Saint Louis University students living in private housing near campus in the city. Nor will I lament the loss of the gas station and crackling asphalt dross that the new architecture replaces. In terms of utility, the developments around this intersection are beneficial. In terms of everything else, however, they set an abysmal standard for the new architecture of the central corridor.

City of St. Louis - IKEA{IKEA site plan places 700 parking spaces along Forest Park Avenue}

The IKEA store represents the largest missed opportunity for the city in decades, and its trite and hostile suburban form the most unforgivable design blunder since the St. Louis Centre skybridge occluded the daylight of Washington Avenue. St. Louis is a city that has a penchant for cleaving its better parts through shapeless commercial development along major streets. Here at a major intersection, IKEA and CORTEX are giving us a giant asphalt and concrete wedge that actually will worsen the pedestrian experience along its edges. At least now, undistinguished pedestrian-scaled buildings provide form and context. Soon, a great big nothing is coming.

That nothing is the 700-car parking lot – replete with superfluous “outer roads” that might make St. Charles County groan – that surrounds the generic big box. Should any other retailer import suburban retail architecture to a busy central city intersection, we might hear sanctimonious cries against the design. Not IKEA. IKEA gets a free pass, because it supposedly is a needed cultural icon (now St. Louis is…a real city?) and an economic boon (well, at up to $10 per hour, anyway). IKEA’s signifying anything big-city is offset by the closure of Schnucks at Grand and Kossuth, and the continued lack of even the most basic grocery retailers in huge swaths of the city.

The perverse nature of IKEA’s site is that the supposed symbol of our urbanity becomes a big retail box surrounded by surface parking – the exact image of St. Louis that shamefully embodies our resistance to actual urbanism. While Philadelphia, New Orleans and Buffalo offer walkable, human-scaled urbanism as actual experience and semiotic token of city identity, St. Louis continues to extol its own evisceration as an American city. Perhaps a 21-acre superblock should be St. Louis’ proudest accomplishment, but that is heavily disconnected from a city of Cherokee Streets, Old Norths and Tower Grove Parks.

IKEA - St. Louis by Killeen Studios{a view of IKEA with the building anchoring Forest Park and Vandeventer intersection}

IKEA - St. Louis by Killeen Studios{a flipped site plan would present a more urban design}

The failure of city government to leverage IKEA’s interest in the city for a better design sadly portends worse design may follow. Although the city lacks real tools – such as from-based zoning – to enforce architectural designs that enhance our commercial streets, make walking feel safe, and promote density needed to support mass transit, it has power over incentives. IKEA is entering a tax increment financing (TIF) district, and sharing revenues. City leaders met the request for TIF access with the old myopic scarcity mentality: if we don’t let IKEA do what they want, we’ll lose the store to Chesterfield.

IKEA’s retail sales tax impact is not significant enough to justify non-existent pushback on the form and character of the store. The city could have at least mandated that the site plan comply with the CORTEX master plan, which shows multi-story buildings facing Forest Park Avenue. Instead of worrying what urban design traits make us competitive with Buffalo or Nashville, city leaders capitulated in fear of losing more ground to St. Peters or Fenton. This saga is hardly one of change and progress.

Across from the IKEA crater, we have the built environment equivalent of one step forward, two steps back. At the northeast corner of Forest Park and Vandeventer, Sangita is building the 164-unit apartment building named “The Standard.” A gas station fell to make way for a project offering the applause-worthy ingredients of completely structured parking, an urban form and no use of any public incentives. The free real estate market here seems to be delivering exactly what design the city needs in its burgeoning central corridor.

The Standard - St. Louis{initial rendering of The Standard}

The Standard - St. Louis, MO{rendering of revised facade for The Standard}

The Standard’s first rendering had the affable, bland good nature of a student dormitory at a third-tier state college, but it at least offered a decent street-level interface with storefronts at the corner. At first glance, The Standard seemed the antidote to the suburban retail hells of IKEA and the proposed Midtown Station that hopefully will never besmirch the site across the street from The Standard. Then, the developers added water – the hipped roof went flat, the masonry cladding turned into cheap concrete fiber board, and the retail spaces disappeared.

The new design of The Standard does not deserve an evaluation of its Vitruvian merits. Its failure draws my attention only to warn future designers who might try harder. The new building is cheap and forgettable – like 3949 Lindell Boulevard, like the buildings being built on West Pine, like the Aventura and like most suburban apartment complexes in the region. The project merely further extends the city’s recent penchant for not attaining excellence in apartment building design. Lou Saur’s 4545 Lindell Boulevard, with its resolute and context-sensitive concrete design, is the exception to a shuffle toward mediocrity.

West Pine Lofts{rendering of West Pine Lofts at Sarah Street and West Pine Avenue}

3949 Lindell - streetview{3949 Lindell}

image{Aventura}

Yet even when the city has the tools to mandate central corridor development bring the city density and good design, we keep getting bad decisions. In April, the city’s Preservation Board approved by a 5-2 vote demolition of a two-story building at 4108 Lindell Boulevard (1948) to create twelve parking spaces serving the adjacent building, the historic Remington-Rand Building (1956; Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum). While the modest modern building at 4108 Lindell is not an exceptionally interesting building, it remains part of the street wall and retains ability to generate taxable business activity.

On Lindell, the Lawrence Group – both developer and architect here – will renovate one building and demolish the other. The developer calls this a trade-off. What is being traded, however, is not just a minor modernist office building. The loss of 4108 Lindell Boulevard negates the entire purpose of the newly-adopted Central West End Form-Based Zoning Code. Preservationists like myself feared that the form-based code would threaten buildings like 4108 Lindell because it would encourage their replacement by sleek, contemporary high-rises. Ironically, we never feared surface parking lots – or the chance that 12 parking spaces could justify demolition under what seemed like a model form-based code.

4100 Lindell - St. Louis, MO{4108 Lindell (right) will be demolished for 12 parking spaces to serve a renovated 4100 Lindell}

The problem with the Central West End zoning overlay is the same problem we have in the city’s planning and preservation ordinances to begin with: there are no standards for variance governing the Preservation Board or Planning Commission. These bodies are allowed to grant arbitrary variances, and that’s that. Any new city zoning code needs to be preceded by an ordinance that creates legal standards for allowable variances from urban design standards. Meantime, we will continue to get the same anarchy in regulated projects as we get in unregulated ones.

For the foreseeable future, then, the developments across Midtown and the Central West End will not add up to a coherent vision for the look of the city’s future. We will get buildings that reflect the ambivalence of our laws toward coherence and our urbanist coalition toward architectural design. Scattershot projects with minimal design regulation cause momentary excitement, but leave lasting reminders of what happens without careful cultivation of good architecture. We cannot suborn considerations of design to purely political or economic terms (development is good, tax revenues are good). St. Louis needs at most a more rigorous citywide zoning code that mandates urban form. At the least, we need a civic architectural consciousness that allows us to be critical of the image of the city built by developers whose bottom lines don’t include great architecture.

We must recognize that even in the era in which we spend more time looking at our smartphones than the exteriors of buildings, good design matters. We aren’t building retail square footage formulas, or convenience for urbanists seeking European furniture. We are building architecture that our eyes will encounter for decades to come. Every new building sets the tone for accepting the next, so each mediocrity begets another.

Ada Louise Huxtable once wrote of Houston that “this is instant city, and it is nowhere city.” Looking over the dreadful revisions of The Standard and the IKEA site plan, this phrase echoed in my mind. While the plastic-looking buildings in the renderings do not grossly offend, visions of these buildings in twenty years do – as do thoughts of the flood of equally cheap buildings to follow, and their collective power to make midtown St. Louis into a sunbelt-style forest of placeless, tasteless buildings smothering more desirable and unique buildings. Weed buildings, like weed trees, are invasive. Yet in genial digital rendering they fool us – they don’t look like ghetto palms, just undernourished oaks or hickories.

Cortex demo{the Welle-Boettler complex, now a vacant lot – image by Paul Hohmann}

Cortex demo{the Gerhart Block adjacent to the Welle-Boettler complex – image by Paul Hohmann}

Saddest of all is that the intersection of Vandeventer and Forest Park had an elegant architectural canopy until three years ago. CORTEX foolishly wrecked the old Welle-Boettler complex at the northwest corner, which set a strong standard for materiality, scale, form and density. That building survived nearly 120 years to be lost to a sea of buildings that might survive 40 years at most. The Gerhardt Block from 1896 to the north remains, poised for rehabilitation, silently setting itself up for a long vigil. Permanence shatters to transience all around the stately old commercial row, which was so clearly built for the pedestrian. A city of Gerhardt blocks turned national eyes and enjoyed great shared local wealth. A city of what comes next ought to do the same, but so far, it has not.

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  • Benjamin Aronov

    excellent write up as always Michael!

  • raccoozie

    I wish TIFs and anything like them didn’t exist. A site should be entertained on its own merit. A company wouldn’t build there if it wasn’t profitable or desireable.

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

    That flipped overlay just makes too much sense. The people Ikea really wants to capture — those zipping by on the highway — would see the bright blue/yellow box AND the entirety of the 700-space parking lot (a comforting representative of “the known” for the big-box/mall set).

    Then, of course, on the street-level side, we get our street-wall and standard for additional development.

    Anyway to convince Ikea that this is the model that will work best?

    • Eric Cooney

      Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but doesn’t the current layout provide an opportunity in a few year to put a mixed-use building over the parking lot with a garage between IKEA and the new building? A parking lot can be relatively cheaply built over. If the store is on the corner we’re stuck with a blank blue and yellow wall forever

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

        Overly-optimistic, sure. I’d (respectfully) lean toward insanely wrong. :)

        Under the current blueprint, if Ikea sold its privately-owned lot for street-adjacent developments, anything over 1.5 floors would obstruct its needed sightlines. So, you’d get your standard single-use out-buildings — an O’Reilley’s or an American Eyeglasses or maybe an Applebees. Add in the need for a multi-level garage on the remaining space and you’d’ve effectively blotted out Ikea’s entrance.

        So yeah, multi-level mixed use is out…for both.

        No, this space (the entirety of this space) will be single-use — half for Ikea’s building and half for its parking — until the distant-future when Ikea pulls up its stake. So the best outcome now is for a configuration in which the cars go where the people aren’t.

      • Alex Ihnen

        Just for kicks, here’s the Atlanta IKEA to scale with apartments shown along Forest Park Avenue. In Atlanta these are just across the street from IKEA.

        • Brianstl

          The Atlanta IKEA looks like crap from the street and doesn’t contribute at all to a walkable neighborhood. I would hope that is the last thing anyone would want for St Louis. It is an awful design.

          Just look at it with google street view. The whole block is soulless.

          • Alex Ihnen

            It’s a different site or course, but in my opinion still better than a surface parking lot. Anyone, the point remains that apartments/mixed-use buildings are FP/Vandeventer would be a huge improvement to the St. Louis site. Examples and ideas often aren’t literal, but rather illustrative of a point being made.

    • CWE STUD

      Your “flipped overlay” idea was presented to IKEA and it was turned down. So then the question is do you want IKEA or should we walk to Nashville? That’s how that works. sir. So, I ask you…did want IKEA in the region or would you have rather they said, “You know what, we already have Kansas City, why put another one this close; when we could just investigate Nashville or Memphis and capture the Mid-South better.”?

      • Alex Ihnen

        The problem is that no one believes that there was any real pressure put on IKEA to create a better plan. Perhaps this idea was presented and they said “no”, and whomever said, “ok, sorry – it was just a thought”. There’s nothing in recent history that makes any of us thinks better site plans are really pushed in an effective manner. We bow to even the slightest hint of a threat. Sometimes these can be real, and those at the controls surely felt that IKEA was simply too a big a risk to push back more than they did (however much that was). The crowing about how big a win IKEA is, and how it’s such a great fit for a world class innovation district only further shows how one-sided the process was.

  • kjohnson04

    I agree Kevin. Even better would be to reduce the parking, and increase mass transit service in the area. Urban density and mass transit are always conveniently overlooked in St. Louis.

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

      Eh, I don’t really begrudge Ikea their parking lot requirements (they’ll also have an additional 300 spaces or so within the building itself), but the trade-off for allowing that should be that its placed on the highway-side of the block, where not even the most rose-eyed urbanist could foresee meaningful development/activity.

      I know the plan has already been approved, but I really wonder if a meaningful push from City leadership NOW (including Killeen Studio’s adjusted footprint) could encourage Ikea to make that change.

      • kjohnson04

        I agree. It’s still early enough in the process to flip the lot around, and put the parking on the highway side of the development. The next question is how Midtown Station a few blocks east will be handled, which incidentally seems be designed like you were suggesting. http://www.paceproperties.com/Files/Midtown%20Brochure_Email.pdf

  • T-Leb

    Good thoughts by Michael Allen, excellent writing.

  • Brian Guy

    You’d think after the failure of the “St. Louis Marketplace” down on Manchester in Dogtown that the City would have left mega-strip-center development patterns for the ‘burbs. At least IKEA is a big enough draw to overcome this poor site planning.

    If having applied those lessons, the City could have set up this corner to be a good neighbor, and thus help surrounding urban reinvestment. But alas, they were likely blinded by securing a tax boost to their coffers, and cared little about anything else.

  • Ashley Diaz

    “Here at a major intersection, IKEA and CORTEX are giving us a giant asphalt and concrete wedge that actually will worsen the pedestrian experience along its edges.” While I’m completely on board with the sentiment of this article, the above quoted sentence is not a valid criticism of the Vandeventer/Forest Park block. I live off Laclede and Sarah and know the area very well. The corner lot where the IKEA is going has never been a “pedestrian experience.” In my three years living on my block, I cannot remember a day where I saw a pedestrian walking under the 40 bridge (near the IKEA site).

    The notion that “[t]he perverse nature of IKEA’s site is that the supposed symbol of our urbanity becomes a big retail box surrounded by surface parking” is not rational. While it’s a nice idea that we should be out walking around more, the fact of the matter is that the shoppers of IKEA are not going to want and/or will not be able to walk their boxes of do-it-yourself furniture home. A parking lot is a necessity here. I know we’re a city that hinges on the availability of parking, but that needy criticism is not valid in this case. I can understand why we should scoff at the idea of a parking lot near Busch Stadium because it’s not necessary to park next to a ball game when you could ride public transportation and get there just as well. But it is necessary to park close to a building where a customer plans to spend $350 on a new couch, complete with its 3 large boxes needed to put it together. Imagine the scenario of a customer carrying their purchases to the CWE Metrolink stop and then trying to board with those boxes. It just doesn’t make sense.

    Furthermore, IKEA’s design as a concrete structure is consistent with its other stores. And I’m not convinced that its design is going to ruin any future “pedestrian experience.” I’m also not convinced that the future CORTEX sites will undermine the “pedestrian experience” that actually do exist a few blocks west of the IKEA site. I simply cannot support the criticism that bland buildings are going to be the demise of the renaissance that St. Louis is currently experiencing.

    • CWE DUDE

      Go own GURL! I wish that many people posting on here were just 1/2 as intelligent and rational as you. Thanks for stepping forward and breathing some much need truth into this endless chatter.

    • Alex Ihnen

      There are a few straw man arguments here: no one has even suggested that there be less than the planned 1,250 parking spaces, let alone no parking – no one thinks anyone is going to take their IKEA couch anywhere on MetroLink. Everyone recognizes that parking, and a lot of it, is a necessity here.

      I realize the author uses IKEA as an illustration of how the city is changing, but that’s really all it is, if one reads the piece as an observation and not a finite statement of absolute truth and singular conclusion.

      Is a 750 car surface parking lot with outer roads worse for pedestrians than buildings built up to Vandeventer and Forest Park? Should St. Louis think long and hard about when and where to allow buildings like this to be inserted into the city? I think this matters because these discussions are virtually absent in St. Louis.

      As witnessed here, most believe that those with the specialized or insider knowledge of the project simply made the best, or perhaps only, decision they could make. In short, this are just how they’re going to be. Are we to believe this? I hope not.

      There is no development plan for the City of St. Louis. There’s no predictable outcome for a developer hoping to build in the city. The vagaries of blighted districts, wards, neighborhoods, and more leave developers and residents alike not knowing why type of development may be next. As mentioned in the article, the new form based codes hold promise, but clearly shouldn’t be treated as predictive either.

      In the end, there’s a lot of room for discussion that isn’t at all about whether IKEA belongs in the city, the degree to which it isn’t urban, and the extent to which the city should have demanded more. The (largely online, but really everywhere) demand for absolute answers and positions directed only at discrete actions in every discussion is crippling to learning and knowledge.

    • Adam

      “While it’s a nice idea that we should be out walking around more, the fact of the matter is that the shoppers of IKEA are not going to want and/or will not be able to walk their boxes of do-it-yourself furniture home.”

      Ashley, this suggests that you’re kind-of missing the larger picture here. It’s not just a nice idea, it’s absolutely crucial for the future of the city that development patterns change. Part of that means planning and seeking out developments that make unwalkable parts of the city walkable. It’s not just a question of “can we persuade IKEA to build up to the sidewalk”. It’s a question of “how will a massive strip mall between two adjacent urban neighborhoods (CWE and midtown) effect the connectivity of those neighborhoods into the future, and shouldn’t we be planning in such a way that in the not-too-distant future a person might walk comfortably from one to the other rather than drive.” Unfortunately such a plan is rarely ever discussed, much less implemented, in St. Louis. Nobody expects people to take their IKEA sofas on Metrolink, and given that maybe this isn’t the best location for an IKEA. Suggesting that better developments shouldn’t be suggested or discussed because they’re not “realistic” (i.e. don’t propagate the status quo) is settling for an ever-disconnected city in which car-free living is impossible.

  • matimal

    St. Louis needs carrots AND sticks. It has to have something to offer in return for urbanist changes. Tax reductions, variances on use, etc., in return for more urbanist design.

  • Mathew Chandler

    Ikea is a big box store which includes a big parking lot. Did you really expect Ikea to come in to stl and not include its design which is used at almost every location? Google search Ikea and hit images, you will see the same design huge warehouse huge parking lot. While i agree with every comment i have read about the design flaws i also find it funny that when one post states Ikea is coming to stl every comment is positive and everyone is ecstatic; then this one points out the flaws and everyone jumps ship and hates the stl Ikea. re read all the comments on the post by Alex about it coming to stl every one is so excited http://nextstl.com/2013/11/ikea-coming-to-city-of-st-louis/ you all knew exactly what to expect; everyone i have seen looks the same. it should be about common knowledge that Ikea is better fit for a suburb unless you want this type of development, hence why they are in suburban communities focused around strip malls and big box stores all around america emeryville, Chicagoland,etc. before i get bashed i would like to emphasize that i am on your side, this is only worsening the contextualism, human scale, walkability which we all want to achieve, while catering to the car culture. This post is not to defend the design of ikea or start an argument, but just to make the point of people being contradictory.

    • Alex Ihnen

      This isn’t really true. The Atlanta IKEA is in a very similar location. If Cortex had left 60ft of lots along FP Ave and built office/residential there, then it would be a much better plan. IKEA’s aren’t quite as homogenous as many think.

      The excitement is because people like the brand/products, AND this is legitimately a big economic boost for the city. My take is that the city needs more shopping options (all the money and tax revenue currently leaves the city), and we need to push for the best plans. Midtown Station could be like University Square in Cleveland (basically an urban footprint with hidden parking garage).

      • Mathew Chandler

        Not familiar with that location but it seems to include similar outer roads which would make even st.Charles County groan, and seems to be on a tighter lot and surrounded by student housing as well. All speculation from Google images. Im excited about ikea and their products, and the speculation of money it will bring within the city limits is fantastic i think. I am right along everyone’s side when it comes to pushing for the best plans, my question is how do we get them to do it? what actions can we take to get them to change their design,

  • Joe R

    Here’s the problem. If you force IKEA to redesign from it’s typical plan of store, they’re just going to move to the ‘burbs where they don’t have to do it. You can’t always have your cake (retail sales taxes) and eat it too (pretty buildings). Compromises are made.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Why not ask them to build a story like they did in Atlanta? Not all IKEAs are the same.

    • matimal

      It’s not so simple.

    • opendorz

      They obviously wanted to be in the urban location, which I believe will be their first inner city store. They could have been made to see more clearly the option of revising their façade to reflect that.

      • JZ71

        Ikea Tampa is located in a similar urban location.

    • Adam

      I would really like to know IKEA’s reason for refusing to flip the site plan. Is it a sight-lines issue? Ease of car access? Did anybody bother to ask them, Joe?

      • dempster holland

        I would assume the reason is that when people drive they immediately
        see where to park and can easily get there. If parking is at the rear
        a certain percent of potential customers will drive on, thinking there
        is no easily available place to park. The obvious goal is to maximize
        the number of customers, not to keep the spirit of Jane Jacobs happy

      • Presbyterian

        I’ve been told that there is a lot of regional utility infrastructure under the northern half of the site. Relocation would have driven the price up a great deal. Ikea hit the cap of what it was willing to spend, and the city couldn’t increase.incentives enough to make it work. The final site plan was the best they could do within the present financial constraints.

        • John R

          yes, that’s what I thought about the utilities issue…. what is good to know is that IKEA did value the property as they paid a pretty penney for it and I can see how infrastructure costs would weigh in on feasibility.
          By the way, does anyone know where Laclede Gas will relocate the operations that were at the site?

        • Adam

          makes sense. thanks, Presby.

  • opendorz

    Let me add my 2 cents worth. First, this city needs more ardent champions of good design (preferably with political clout) like Mr. Allen. We also need more everyman residents like me to do the same championing. Second, we need IKEA. We need them to be a “big class” city, just like we need a pro football team, Six Flags, and Forest Park. IKEA, like the other examples is not just a store, but a destination experience. We have no lakes, mountains or oceanfront to offer, so our attractions must be man-made.
    Having said all that, I agree that our developers, architects and government entities have almost never put forth any degree of imagination when it comes to our signature structures, the Arch notwithstanding. We have not a single post-modern high-rise building that inspires anything but a yawn. Mediocrity extends to civic structures, including the Dome (whatever we’re calling it these days) and the hapless attempt at adding some measure of distinction to the new Highway 40/64 overpasses. The dull HOK, function over form imprint is all over this town.
    Fortunately, this city does something quite well. We know how to rehab the (still) abundant stock of 19th and early 20th century structures that defined a better era in these parts. I am grateful I live in a place that has such a supply of these remnants to restore into often greater glory than their original stature. Washington Avenue downtown is a perfect example of this, and one which simply cannot be found anywhere outside of a mere handful of other cities.
    Yes, it would have been a worthwhile and valiant effort to show the IKEA people our Wash Ave, tell them that this is how we respect our classic architecture, and politely demand they alter their blue box design to better reflect the surroundings of their ONLY inner city store location. I can’t help but believe we did not do this, and that’s a shame, which Mr. Allen points out will be staring us in the face for a long time to come.

  • John R

    Wasn’t there an issue with substantially higher costs for an FPP-fronting site plan due to utility relocation costs? Also, it should be acknowledged that the stretch of the southern parcels on FPP from Sarah to Grand had been a horrendous, auto-centric industrial/semi-industrial wasteland that saw very few pedestrians…. same with Vandeventer from FPP to the Grove. So while it would have been nice if the IKEA site would have had a better design, I’m more concerned with some of the other examples cited in the piece where there is loss of quality urban fabric.

    Hopefully Cortex can do a good job with the neighboring Silo Lofts project and put in a good structure across the street. Anyway, landing these high-profile projects should give city leaders some confidence moving forward that they can insist on better design. I don’t have my hopes up for solid design at Midtown Station (another project that will replace tremendous post-industrial blight) but hopefully it will be a step in the right direction…. maybe the Trestle and GRG Midtown Loop can help.

    • Charlie

      I would assume there is also great gains in phasing and speed to open based on it’s siting. With the currently proposed location, you don’t have to vacate and demo all those utility buildings along FPP. This way, similarly to the ball park, you can develop a substantial amount of the site before the buildings along FPP need to come down. It is fairly feasible that relocating the building to FPP corner could add 6-8 months to the schedule which means big money.

  • Imran

    I was initially very disappointed to hear that Ikea would be floating in a sea of parking facing FPP. The more I thought about it though, if we had a 3 story blank blue wall abutting Vandeventer or FPP, it would not be that much more pleasant to walk by as a pedestrian. As larger-than-life the Ikea box is, it is appropriate to be able to regard
    it at a distance. Plus it might partially hide from view I-64.
    I, too, would love to have an active, mixed use building with windows/entrances facing every major intersection but in this case will have to setting for a row of trees, and maybe greenery,

    • John R

      Good point. A huge retail super power center will have its own issues if anchored at the corner…. hard to get around. Good landscaping can soften the pedestrian experience and again it will be better than the current hell-scape. Having a “green” parking lot like MoBotGarden would be nice and supplement the solar and other environmentally-friendly features of the store.

  • Daniel S. Leritz

    Michael Allen has posed a great point here that the Central West End, and the City itself, needs to abide by the standards set in the CWE’s new Form-Based Zoning Code. To this, I agree strongly, especially where the presence of retail at the Standard (and like developments) should be expected.

    However, there’s a flip side to this coin, and I disagree that the IKEA going in as-is will be a missed opportunity. Instead, I think the design will provide everyone who drives by their new site the advantage of seeing just what this massive store will bring to the City:

    People.

    Going forward, it is expected that the IKEA will feature hundreds of people regularly shopping at their store, with these shoppers fully visible to drivers along Forest Park Parkway and Vandeventer. Visible foot traffic near this site, let alone at expected levels, hasn’t existed in decades. The very presence of so many people walking around will greatly encourage the public at large that this part of the City is what we already know it to be: part of a larger cosmopolitan urban area worthy of new residents, new retailers, and new businesses. This large influx of IKEA shoppers, including multiple visitors to the City for the sole purpose of shopping there, is reasonably expected by all of us, furthering confidence, which alone will further other future proximate developments, like Midtown Station.

    The sight of so many people will spur a tangible shift in the psychological perceptions of the City, especially Midtown and the Central West End. This change in perception is worth the near-term effect of having a parking lot abutting a corner of an urban “parkway” and a major arterial roadway (all proximate to an interstate highway). This shift will foster strong senses of goodwill and positive change for what had been written off the map for a generation. Even as so many self-described urbanists loathe people from the Suburbs and Exurbs visiting the City just for shopping, we cannot deny that the influx of capital from them will have anything but a positive effect on the City, including their changed perceptions of what the City is. And, the sight of people at this corner of the City, walking with full shopping carts, sure beats staring at a
    blank blue & yellow wall, which we would have if the IKEA was (cost-prohibitively) built right at the corner. It may not be great design, but it is part of a change greater than that of just having an IKEA in the City.

    The fight must be on the next developments. Whatever goes in on the NW corner of FPP & Vandeventer must adhere to the design standards set forth in the Form-Based Zoning Code, as well as all other projects being planned nearby and throughout the CWE. Post-IKEA demand for this area by developers will be much stronger very soon, and we who care about urban design will be in a much better position to dictate compliance as to what types of designs we expect in our neighborhoods. And while we can’t reasonably expect everything to look like the uber-luxurious 4545 Lindell condominiums, we can fight to make sure no Aventuras ever spring up again.

    And let’s not forget that IKEA originally planned on building at the NE corner of Hanley & Dale in Richmond Heights. Even with a non-perfect design, we’d all lament the opportunity lost if the City had never won rights to this development in the first place. IKEA’s parking lot sure beats that BP station.

  • STLEnginerd

    Wonder if the city could have pushed for an easement on the land where by if a developer came along willing to build garage parking to replace the current spaces and signage at the intersection that they would be allowed to build there. They would get their parking and visibility from the corner and the developer would get the remainder of the land. I had heard they were amenable to a garage but only if hey did’t have to pay for it.
    In my imaginings its a large garage wrapped in Blue and Yellow mesh roughly 4 stories and taking up roughly 1/3 of the lot, built to the corner with a small retail presence on the grond floor at the corner (7/11?). One level of parking would be reserved for adjacent Mixed use space built on the remaining lot. Its not Ideal urban solution but it’d be a massive improvement and would still satisfy IKEA’s parking needs. Call it Swedish Lofts ;)

  • fulltimemonti

    I lament the same thoughts here in Maplewood. Am I glad QT and CVS now live at ghe corner of Big Bend and Manchester? Yes. Could Maplewood have forced both companied to come up with more pedestrian friendly designs? Yes. Did they? No. For a city that brags about their walkability score, they dont work that hard on trying to keep it.

  • Staley

    Wow, I almost always agree with the posts here, but I could not disagree more with this one.

    As an ardent urbanist, I’m convinced that the key to great cities is “walkability.” When people walk through cities, they meet their neighbors, shop at local businesses, are less likely to be victims of crime, and generally live better lives. That seems to be something this site generally agrees with.

    I’ve lived in the Central West End for three years now. I don’t own a car. It’s always struck me how there are a ton of people who walk in the CWE, a fair amount of people who walk in Midtown, but almost nobody who walks between the CWE and Midtown. The two neighborhoods are right next to each other. They should build off each other like neighborhoods in great cities do. But they don’t.

    I’m convinced the block between Sarah and Vandeventer is the major reason why. It’s industrial and empty in most places. There is zero foot traffic on weekends. The housing is boarded up or, frankly, looks like scary housing projects. It’s not a pleasant walk, and it is borderline scary.

    Maybe these new projects look “plain” or “suburban.” Certainly, they don’t look “sketchy.” I agree that the Ikea lot would be better served facing the highway. I agree the previous rendering of The Standard is nicer. But at the end of the day, it is bringing residents to the area. And while people won’t walk to Ikea to buy furniture, it also won’t be desolate, and it will make the area seem safer and more walkable.

    I look at 3949 Lindell as a perfect example. Is it a beautiful urban building? No. But the restaurants in the interior actually see many walkers from both Midtown and the CWE! The two neighborhoods actually are starting to mold together. So while the building itself might be imperfect, it opens up more people to the beautiful architecture of the CWE and Midtown, instead of segregating them or making people drive their cars two miles to the neighborhoods. These new buildings are helping to create a more walkable central corridor, instead of just having little walkable islands of neighborhoods. Any architectural complaints seem petty compared to such a big development.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I think the focus on architecture and better planning are incredibly important. More people need to be aware of the choices being made and their long term consequences. But yes, I agree with pretty much everything you say – I believe that STL’s first challenge is attracting development. The one long block between the CWE and SLU might as well have been a mile. And it’s likely too much to expect a developer, and the market, the support anything today we would consider great. I see two issues that this article highlights – when should we start demanding more (why couldn’t West Pine Lofts be required to include space that could easily be converted to retail in the future? Why couldn’t the Standard just be told “no, you can’t change to cheaper materials”?), and second, is it worth subsidizing better design? With more subsidy, perhaps IKEA would have built structured parking. With any subsidy, the material choice for The Standard would have been better. With any subsidy, the Optimist building would be on its way to being the site of a modernist 200 apt building.

      • John Doe

        Why couldn’t the Standard just be told “no, you can’t change to cheaper materials”?

        That comment speaks to the content of this entire site; dreams vs. reality. It is easy to sit back and and write about how everything could have been, instead of analyzing decisions in the context of economic realities.

        • Alex Ihnen

          I’m not sure why you choose to visit this site and comment if that’s your take. In this case, the building was already under construction. A similar thing happened with Aventura. The already under construction project asked for tax abatement and received it, basically a couple million dollar subsidy. It’s designed with a “but for” test – that “but for” incentive x, the project wouldn’t be built.

          Anyway, on the larger topic – this site is based in large part on challenging the status quo, understanding our past, today, and possibilities for the future. The partial premise being that the status quo hasn’t worked so well for STL. We/I could probably do more to celebrate our successes – actually they’re here, people tend to notice and comment on the critiques though. Fair enough.

          Most people here, the writers, readers, and lurkers, are realists. We have a good handle on what’s possible. Many have worked or do work in local government or development. We’re also aspirational and don’t necessarily believe that we as a community are making the best decisions to create a better future. 

          Questions like the one I asked about The Standard, are meant to provoke a conversation. What would have happened? Who the developer have walked away? Would they have made less money and so not been able to start another nearby project soon? There are often practical, common sense answers to these questions, but you have to ask them first, and questions like this haven’t been, and are generally not asked in St. Louis. 

  • guest

    Frankly, I don’t see any benefit to the “flipped” version of the IKEA store.

    First, It wouldn’t make the area more walkable, as there would still be the same sidewalks, traffic-entrances, and pedestrian opportunities.

    Second, maintaining the urban curtain/corridor is useless when the curtain is a flat wall with no entrances. A flipped Ikea would have been just that. Take a look at the bus depot on delmar and debaliviere for a good example of how a flat urban curtain does nothing to increase walkability and urban growth.

    I do agree that underground-level parking would have been beneficial, as it would have increased the density of the area, but if the inclusion of it was outcome-determinative for IKEA’s presence, then we didn’t need sub-surface parking that badly.

  • pat63105

    Several alternatives were reviewed for this site including outparcels with a sidewalk presence on Forest Park and Sarah. IKEA was more than willing, but as in most if the city picked up the additional price. In this case the expense would have taken an
    even more significant chunk out of the TIF—money that was needed to make other
    parts of Cortex more pedestrian friendly and lure CIC to St. Louis. Cortex hasn’t even secured funding for its Metro stop. Of course they could have just told them to go away.

    Retailing in the city is a catch 22. It helps attract people. The more people you have the less parking you need, but you can’t get the retailing in the first place without parking. Mike’s dream world is wonderful—oh if money didn’t matter.

    • STLEnginerd

      So would they be willing to revisit it at a later time to build the outparcels in say 5 years or so, or has the ship sailed?
      If the IKEA store brings as much value as many think it will and CORTEX drives a lot more demand. There should be money, in time to improve the situation a bit.

  • JZ71

    West and north of the site are walkable, traditional mixed-use neighborhoods and architecture. East and south of the site are non-pedestrian-friendly freeways, rail yards and industrial uses. The site sits at the juxtaposition of two traditional “urban” archetypes, both with their own “histories”. Ikea is much more of an industrial-scale use than a small-scale-retail use, so expecting them to adapt a building form that simply doesn’t work for their business model is truly a stretch. They’re not going in and knocking down dozens of existing small-scale structures, they’re pretty much replacing old scale with similar new scale, including surface parking.

    The real challenge here is that the grand “plan” ignores economic realities – just because any group “wants” something, the only way that “thing” is going to happen is if someone or some entity agrees and puts their money on the table. Businesses and investors don’t want to spend money on ideas that don’t work for them or their business models. And here, as others have alluded to, utility relocation costs likely played a bigger role than anything else in siting and orientation. Like any other Ikea location, this is a destination and shoppers will follow the signs to the parking – they could care less whether they can “see” the parking from FPP, I-64 or Vandevetter – it’s much more important that the big blue and yellow box, itself, be visible. And given that basic fact, it doesn’t matter if the substrate is metal, concrete or hand-laid brick, it’s going to be big and bright.

  • Bryan Kirchoff

    Do I wish every new building in the City would have attractive architecture? Sure. But why are we always insisting that other people spend money so that we can have our preferred aesthetic?
    Bryan Kirchoff
    St. Louis

    • Adam

      When they ask for tax abatement we have every right to ask for things.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Surely you (and all of us) would feel differently if it were the home next to our own. Well, many feel that there’s shared ownership to a city. Neighborhoods, wards, blocks and buildings don’t exist in a vacuum. In my opinion, it’s incredibly important that a community express its values – be that in architecture, social services, etc. I’m always a bit mystified by people who don’t like people who have opinions. In the end, every vote we make, every action, every opinion is telling other people how to spend their money.

  • ehecker

    It would be mu9ch better if small retail could be put right on the streetfront on both Forest Park and Vandeventer. That would keep both streets inviting for pedestrians. A garage could be built between the Ikea and the streets to make up for the lost horizontal parking space and provide parking for the streetfront stores, too. Otherwise we’re just putting a suburban asphault wasteland in a prime urban location with a lot of pedestrian potential.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Hey, Ed gets it, why can’t everyone else?! :)

      • John R

        I think we all get it, but 1) the piece presented the Killeen Studio concept to flip the site plan and 2) pat63105 aaddressed the streetfront retail below. The ultimate question again is how firmly the city should have insisted on adding millions of $$ and complexity to this huge retail development.

        • John R

          oops… forgot to add :)

      • tbatts666

        I did send IKEA an email asking to develop this into something a little bit more like what Ed said, a better place for peds.

        Let’s hope IKEA entertains modifying their plans!

  • Steve Kluth

    It’s been a busy week or I have posted sooner. I normally agree with this sentiment, but I’m not so sure this time. I think are big market draw at the current time will draw more people to the area, even if they are in cars. The big box will also buffer the north side of Forest Park from the interstate, and the interstate is far more an impediment than Ikea will be. I probably wouldn’t feel this about every big box. Ikea is different than a Bed Bath and Beyond or (heaven forbid) a WalMart, and will draw significant suburban and out-of-town interest. Plus, if the property becomes valuable enough in 10-15 years, it will be in Ikea’s interest build a parking structure and an urban-oriented outlot that could cater to a couple small shops like a pizza parlors or some new tech that hasn’t been invented yet.

    • STLEnginerd

      Yeah I think the main thing is the city needs to stay engaged to make sure that happens. The IKEA won’t really be worse for pedestrians than what is there currently, it just won’t be much better. If in 5 years the city approaches IKEA with a plan to finance a garage and additional development in place of their current parking, this project will have been unquestionably positive development. If the surface lots remain for 30 years it will be a much more mixed picture.

      They should least have the decency to publish some phase II render porn for the urban crowd even if they don’t know if it will every happen. What is the completion rate on “phase II” plans anyway.

  • Alicia

    can someone talk about the roads on vandeventer. they are terrible, when will they be replaced? Michael do you know? Ive heard they will fix it when the Ikea is built but when

  • tbatts666

    My main beef with IKEA is the massive parking crater it would put in this area…..

    Smaller retail, with less parking, would be preferable.

    Or maybe we could still build an IKEA, but change the outer parking lots to smaller retail, apartments, and inviting pocket parks with a (smaller) parking lot on the inside of the property.

    That would atleast retain the aura of a nice, walkable place.

  • Yojimbo

    Just getting to this piece now. Great work, Mr. Allen.