Self-inflicted Suburbanism: Kirkwood Looks to Demo Downtown Stores for Parking

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“It’s not that (more parking) is a bad idea…” Actually, yes, it is that more parking is a bad idea, because there is always a cost. A plan to acquire two commercial storefronts for demolition and conversion to surface parking has met some resistance, but the cited issue is mistakenly only cost. At $1.43M, the addition of 46 spots would cost $31K per parking space. The Kirkwood City Council will take up the matter tonight at 7pm at Kirkwood City Hall (PDF agenda).

The concern in Kirkwood is highlighted by the claim that an upscale restaurant decided against locating downtown, citing lack of parking as one reason. According to the Post-Dispatch story, the city claims a restaurant can add $29,000 per year to city revenue in taxes. Great, it will only take 49 years and 4 months to pay off the new parking lot. And if every restaurant wanted its own parking lot? You get the idea. But all of this argues the wrong point anyway.

Kirkwood is seriously considering destroying the reason people go there in the first place. In a very suburban metro area, downtown Kirkwood actually is a downtown. One can walk the streets past a largely intact street wall of storefronts. It’s an appealing place. Along with that appeal comes pressure to accommodate those attracted.

Does Kirkwood have a parking problem? No one really knows. No evidence, other than the restaurant anecdote and the primary parking lot supporter citing businesses moving to Webster Groves, has been offered. Wouldn’t Webster Groves be experiencing similar pressures? Are our inner-ring suburbs in a demolition-for-parking race? If so, everyone loses.

A quick glance of downtown Kirkwood shows a significant amount of land dedicated to parking. Is it enough? Who knows? And that’s the point. Clearly the community should be allowed to fully weigh in on what kind of downtown they want. And the city should provide thorough and competent information regarding need and options.

kirkwood parking_demo
{orange = existing parking, green = proposed demolition for parking, blue = possible location of parking garage}

The real tragedy is that Kirkwood has done a better than average job of adding density to its downtown. While the effort hasn’t produced architectural gems, several projects should be applauded. But the urban/suburban battle for places like Kirkwood (and Clayton, where a church would like to demolish homes for parking) is starting a next phase.

Kirkwood, MO
{Kirkwood Road at Monroe Avenue}

Kirkwood, MO
{Kirkwood Road at Adams Avenue}

As the baby boom generation ages and begins to deal with increased personal mobility issues, their old haunts will be pressed to add ever more and ever nearer parking. This will be especially true for churches as the “customers” are quite loyal and not very replaceable. In the process, we may kill the very thing we’re trying to preserve. Will spots of added density lead to more demolition?

Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Maplewood and other small towns turned historic inner-ring suburbs hold the promise of being the walkable, livable, pedestrian-friendly communities in the St. Louis area that are increasingly in demand. Building new such communities (think New Town at St. Charles) doesn’t really work. The chance to demolish two storefronts is not, as has been said, a “fortunate” opportunity which the city cannot pass up. It is however, unfortunate the Kirkwood appears eager to destroy itself in an uninformed race for ever-more parking.

Want your opinion to be heard? Contact the Kirkwood Mayor’s Office and City Council:
[email protected]

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  • Khood

    I work/live in the Kirkwood area and have for several years now.  There are a few lessons you learn after spending some time in this area.  1) Never drive down Kirkwood Rd. between the hours of 7am-7pm, instead take a side road (or God forbid walk/bike) and 2) Kirkwoodians do not fully comprehend the definition of ‘Stop’.  Parking can be an issue during lunch time hours, especially in the area of Mel Bay, PJ’s..etc. but I don’t think it is necessary to add additional parking.  There is always ample parking on side streets and as one poster said, there is a garage behind Bar Louie that could accommodate all Kirkwood visitors at a high traffic point on any day.  If they do want to build more parking, go up, don’t spread out.  Baby boomers have been scaring me more and more lately, but I think we’re only seeing the tip of this iceberg.  What a waste.

  • Jack

    Equally as criminal are the churches that buy homes surrounding them, then let the houses rot till they tear them down for parking.

    Look at the Lutheran Church there on Kirkwood rd, there’s enough parking for a convention center around that church because of all the homes they’ve torn down in that area. The parking lots have to be big enough to accommodate all the people who drive in on Sunday in their monstro SUVs I guess; and residents of Kirkwood be damned. I don’t think churches are good neighbors anymore.

  • Paul Hohmann

    If Kirkwood is really concerned about a lack of parking, they should take one of their existing public parking lots and add a deck. This would nearly double the capacity of the lot and would cost between $15-20,000 per space instead of $31,000 per space while preserving tax generating retail space. If street facing walls of the structure are attractively designed, this would enhance the area and make what is not a hole in the streetscape blend better with its somewhat urban surroundings. Replacing retail with surface parking is absolutely the last thing any community with a downtown district should do!

  • For this very reason, there is a precedence for developers and the city of St. Louis to take the opposite approach — stop building lots and garages. And fill in the existing ones (even if they have higher-than-desired vacancy rates).

    As more of the ring cities create individual isolated buildings surrounded by a sea of parking, even the suburban zealots will start to see the flaws in their home-to-attached-garage-to-location-to-attached-garage-to-home ideals. As their eyes open to what’s happening, and those who already see it and despise it become more numerous, the city can’t be a polly-come-lately. It needs to be ready for the tide change from the get-go.

  • tge-atw

    I also took my music lessons there as a kid.  Mel Bay is an internationally known figure, and he was based in one of these storefronts in Kirkwood. Talk about tearing down your town’s unique heritage for nothing. First Brownhurst, now this.  Wake up Kirkwood.

  • Theresia

    That’s why you go for underground parking. All parking should be underground. That’s what we do in Europe. It works, it’s might be more expensive, but everything’s much prettier and in the end it always pays off. America needs less cars anyway and much more BIKES!!!!!

  • stev0205

    I took my first guitar lessons in that building. It would be a shame to see it go.

  • I have never not gone to Kirkwood because of the lack of parking. Kirkwood does not have a parking problem. Even the commenters on the article agree!

  • brettd

    There’s absolutely no reason for government entities such as Kirkwood or the city of St Louis to be demolishing buildings and building parking lots.

    The private sector is perfectly capable of building them to meet parking demand without putting tax payers on the hook to subsidize other people’s car usage.

    In the city the problem is even more concerning because we lose large historic buildings. When the new parking garages are built they are staffed by overpaid, under- worked city employees at a huge cost to taxpayers. At my garage the employees are often playing solitaire, sleep, or walk around listening to ipods.