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

“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 that 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]