CORTEX Enters Phase II: RFP Explores MetroLink Options, TOD, Sustainable Development Plan

CORTEX, the 240 acre behemoth of a redevelopment zone that occupies a wide swath of land at the heart of the City of St. Louis, may have been quiet over the past several years, but extensive planning continues. The St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for transit-oriented development consulting services. That may sound rather bland, but the result may be very significant.

Under consideration are a number of significant developments, including the construction of a 200,000 sq. ft. office building and the renovation of a 198,000 sq. ft. historic building, development of 2.2 acres for "park-like" area with open green space and bike lanes. A new intermodal transportation center, including a new MetroLink stop at Boyle Avenue, new intermodal car/bus/light rail parking garage with ground level retail and a new bus loop service. Moving the existing Central West End MetroLink station located between Euclid and Taylor to Kingshighway will also be considered, as will "a new east-west elevated people mover" running between Boyle and Euclid.

Central West End neighborhood - STL
{the CORTEX I building at Boyle and Forest Park Avenue}

Central West End neighborhood - STL
{added transit options could lessen the need for parking within the area – CORTEX I shown}

Phase I of CORTEX development resulted in the statutory blighting of the development area and construction of CORTEX I and Solae headquarters buildings. The second phase seeks to develop a sustainable development plan – the RFP is funded by a federal grant that aims to develop a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RSPD).

On paper, or specifically, on a map, CORTEX is an exciting idea. The area is roughly bounded by the medical center to the west, Forest Park Avenue to the north, I-64 to the south and Saint Louis University to the east. With Forest Park, the Central West End, The Grove and Missouri Botanical Garden at its boundaries, CORTEX is uniquely located. Its effective development could tie together several of the region's greatest cultural and economic assets. Not to mention the focus of CORTEX, to create a concentrated life sciences district that could transform the economy of the city and region, adding thousands of high-skilled jobs.

{a new MetroLink station may be added adjacent to Solae's headquarters in CORTEX}

It will be interesting to see specific proposals produced as some ideas appear more beneficial than others. The Central West End station is the busiest on the MetroLink line. Additional capacity is needed, but moving it to Kingshighway would appear to make little sense. A new stop may provide greater access to Forest Park, but this could be accomplished with moving the stop, and other than the Steinberg ice skating rink, there are few attractors that would entice park visitors to use a Kingshighway stop instead of the existing station at DeBaliviere. No to mention that the Kingshighway streetscape would need to be drastically altered to create a tolerable pedestrian experience.

{CORTEX occupies 240 acres in St. Louis at the crossroads of several neighborhoods and anchor institutions}

The benefit of the existing station location is its central location within the medical complex and it's alignment with Euclid Avenue, the main commercial corridor in the Central West End. Similarly, a station at Sarah, instead of Euclid as proposed, would better align with the developing Sarah Avenue retail corridor to the north and The Grove to the south. While the suggestion of ground-level retail in a new park and ride structure may be a step forward, placing retail on Boyle would be a mistake.

{the current CWE MetroLink stop is surrounded by dense development}

A bus circulator and development of bike paths and pedestrian amenities sounds good. On the other hand, the request to consider a three-block long "elevated people mover" is ridiculous. CORTEX is huge and destined to be a relatively low-density development. The main medical campus is largely connected with elevated walkways, which make sense for a dense campus, but for the millions a multi-block structure would cost, one could build the most attractive and inviting pedestrian greenway(s) imaginable – one that just might entice people outside to walk – now that would be a sustainable development plan.

RFP for CEW Cortex/BJC TOD

UPDATE 11/10/2011

Tim Logan at the Post-Dispatch is reporting CORTEX will see the renovation of two industrial buildings and begin construction of a new building as soon as early 2012. The project will total more than $120M and double the current active footprint of CORTEX. The new building will be approximately $150,000 sq ft. CORTEX I is 165,000 sq ft. CORTEX has demolished more than one building (start here and here), it appears that the Brauer building at Forest Park Parkway and Boyle and the Western Electric-Southwestern Bell Telephone Distribution House at 4250 Duncan are the two likely to be repurposed. The latter building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in July 2011 and is likely the largest building remaining within the district. Photos for the NRHP Registration Form show a building imminently reusable:

The Brauer building adjacent to CORTEX I:

CORTEX bauer

4250 Duncan:

CORTEX 4250 Duncan Avenue (Western Electric-Southwestern Bell Telephone Distribution House) National Regist…