What Should Be: Pevely + SLU Healthcare

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Pevely + SLUCare

Much has been said about the need to construct a new healthcare facility in midtown. And much has been said about the need to preserve the Pevely and the urban character it provides to the city and the pedestrian realm. It’s absolutely critical to point out that the two needs are not mutually opposed. The urbanist and preservation communities have no issue with SLU building a medical facility, in fact quite the opposite. The issue is not whether the facility should be built, but where.
The neighborhood needs more density and activity, especially at this critical intersection. A new healthcare facility, if designed with sensitivity to the now dwindling urban context, would also heavily contribute to connecting South Grand with Grand Center and creating a unified corridor. Saint Louis University owns large amounts of land in the surrounding neighborhood and could- should be a part of the solution to this fragmentation.
In a neighborhood that desperately needs so much investment, why would anyone spend $890,500 to destroy a historic register building? Especially when they own a massive vacant lot directly across the street. Entire blocks have been demolished as recently as last year. Others have a holdout or two, saving the block from complete vacancy.
SLU’s argument for demolition of the Pevely is that “there is no discernible neighborhood within which the property contributes”, that the buildings don’t “contribute to the neighborhood or streetscape”. This is because SLU has already dismantled and what streetscape once existed. St. Louis needs to put its foot down. No institution is more important than the city, no matter how much of an area they control:
Pevely + SLUCare
{A map of SLU's real estate holdings in the neighborhood. The four 'X's represent the various buildings on the Pevely complex. The "?" sits on the now vacant and already graded lot across the street. What SLU's plans are for the lot is unknown.}
For all the talk about SLU’s vast real estate holdings, one particular collection of parcels has not been discussed much, if at all. It’s larger than the Pevely site, has recently been cleared of buildings (that nobody will miss), and happens to be located directly across the street from the Pevely. In other words, it has precisely the same geographical benefits as the Pevely site, and is bigger.
Pevely + SLUCare
{SLU's currently proposed site plan showing future expansion of the facility. Image includes Lawrence Group's site plan within its context.}
Above is the proposed construction of this much needed Ambulatory Surgical and Healthcare Center, as currently designed by Lawrence Group. Below is how, without hardship, SLU can use the design that’s already been devised, saving themselves almost a million dollars in demolition costs, while simultaneously saving the Pevely and the numerous other buildings in the planned complex’s destructive path. All it takes is simply mirroring the design across Chouteau.
Pevely + SLUCare
{Site plan that mirrors Lawrence Group's design across Chouteau, saving the Pevely complex and filling in huge gaps in the neighborhood.}
The adjustment needed to save a neighborhood’s worth of historic buildings while still creating a healthcare complex is frustratingly small and simple. By simply mirroring the design across the street, the medical complex would have even more parking and could still utilize the massive parking lots that surround the Pevely. Furthermore, since the all glass entry façade would face south instead of north, this new building orientation would be more energy efficiency, cutting down on long–term operating costs for the facility. When the time is right, the Pevely could be then be rehabbed with a use that actually suits it. Perhaps SLU could address the concerns of their students, who have complained in places as formal as the student newspaper of a student housing crisis, Saving almost a million dollars in demolition costs would go a long way towards converting the Pevely into something that contributes to the neighborhood, and to the new healthcare facility located across the street.
Unfortunately, SLU has not released what they have planned for the massive, recently purchased parcel, and to my knowledge, nobody has asked them. Therefore, we are left only to speculate. There are countless productive possibilities for such a high profile corner lot. And yet, imagine the travesty of this empty site becoming a parking lot for the medical building that would replace the Pevely. Until SLU releases something resembling a master plan for the area, we won’t know.
At the moment, the plan appears to be centered on creating a neighborhood-wide blank slate through systematic demolition. The demolition of various buildings at the southeast corner of Grand and Chouteau preceded the Pevely debate by a few years. In addition to the Pevely complex, the proposed plan would eventually result in the demolition of at least three more historic buildings- that SLU doesn’t presently own. The parking lot to the south of the proposed facility was recently a residential neighborhood. When does it stop?
This is not an example of city building, but rather the deliberate dismantling of one.
This would be hyperbole, but it’s difficult to overlook the fact that the landowner chooses, even fights for the demolition of a landmark building while they own an equal, if not better parcel, literally across the street. The term landmark is defined here by the fact that the Pevely is simultaneously highly recognizable, visible from a distance, and on the historic registry. The Pevely is a landmark in every sense of the word, and SLU should embrace it. That anyone would consider a “museum” on the ground floor of the new medical building an adequate “preservation of St. Louis heritage” is laughable at best, offensive at worst.
We need to start thinking differently about our city. Cliché as it is, St. Louis really can have its cake and eat it too. This is not difficult. The city has the problem of too much vacant land. Let’s try building on some of it. St. Louis has a beautiful smile; we’re just missing a few teeth. Let’s take care of the teeth we have left and find a way to fill in the gaps, perhaps with some nice bling to really make our smile shine.

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  • FU Hippies

    the reason people/businesses leave st. louis is because of government regulation, high taxes, and hippies like you.  no big business wants to work in shit-hole buildings like pevely.  if you want st. louis to be great, start encouraging growth by lowering taxes and letting businesses make their own decisions. 

    • john w.

      The usual garbage from right-wing dolts. Trying to explain matters of physical form to right-wing dolts is a fruitless exercise. Thanks, “FU Hippies”, for demonstrating why our once-greater city has suffered so much loss of vital urban fabric in the recent past, and continuing.

    • Muia

      A free for all approach lends to even larger disparities and other ills. Alberici building on I-70 was an old warehouse which they refurbished into a LEED certified building. The best building is the one you already have standing, any good planner will tell you that. We need to work together, not independently. 

  • This is a fine article with clear maps and even clearer argumentation.  I go to SLU-Care for chemo so I have been watching the demolition of the housing just to the south of Pevely.  Very Sad.  I’m writing Mayor Slay to plead for his help when I finish writing this.
    Gerry Kleba

  • John

    Where is Mayor Slay, the steward of Saint Louis’ architectural heritage? To what extent does our steward appreciate the importance of historic preservation in contributing to the quality of life for his constituents or in making Saint Louis a tourist destination city? Of course, the Pevely Building won’t bring in tourists by itself, but a well preserved fabric of historic architecture will. When will the Mayor ever “get it”?

    • Alex Ihnen

      The Preservation Board, with mayoral appointees upheld the staff denial of SLU’s demolition permits.

  • Michael A. Thomas

    SLU seems determined to make its urban medical campus into a faux-suburban one.  They don’t want to tear down Pevely for a medical building, they want to tear it down for a driveway; the proposed building would be set a hundred feet or so back from Chouteau — not so bad as the Doisy building, but in the same anti-urban spirit.  The University has a video on their website promoting the health sciences program — the portion that’s shot outside the Doisy building looks like a commercial for Chem-Lawn.  What’s needed is not only a flipped site plan but a flipped mind-set at the University.

  • Georgevirgil

    st.louis has allowed the unversity to demolish buidings along  grand.for far too long. SLU  demolished a beautiful building on the corner of grand and lindell,just to place a dog park? with a few few modern things thrown in.it is time the city put the brakes on SLU..the medical center is  ran by  tenet.. a for profit company..not by SLU..enough is enough

  • Steve Kluth

    This is really poorly thought out from the initial concept. Why would any planner put something that is supposed to add to the hospital complex on the far side of a major street? Are you in a wheelchair or otherwise handicapped? While this center will be geared for elective care, that doesn’t mean they want to place it on the other side of Chouteau. Also, mirroring the blocks places the drive-up entrance from Grand, encouraging a dangerous left turn to access the facility.

    A far more reasonable alternative would be to gut the Pevely Building and the adjacent buildings. One or two of the smaller mid-block buildings may need to come down along with the warehouse in back, but this would reinvigorate the Pevely Building by giving it a new purpose. The glass and metal facade could still be attached to the building along Grand Avenue. The drive-up entrance could still come off Chouteau, going around the building but still having the same general traffic flow. 

    An even crazier idea would be to move the Pevely Building back against the Pevely smokestack. This way, the building could also be placed on a new, earthquake-resistant base, and SLU Hospital could still put their concept on the corner. 

    Frankly, I’m not a big fan of the Pevely Building. But there are better ideas to save it than to prevent the care center from being built on the site. 

  • Ihanaf

    They might be looking to build closer to the hospital so the staff/docs can easily walk across a walkway or corridor without having to, godforbid, encounter a homeless person on the side walk. I don’t know if many people know but there is an a tunnel under grand avenue to connect the hospital with the medical school across the street. Pedestrian activity and eyes on the street etc r definitely not their priorities.

    • Alex Ihnen

      To be fair, proximity is king in healthcare. I was surprised that they would even plan the new clinic building at Grand/Chouteau. Instead, they should build adjacent to existing buildings and use structured parking. You can see this development pattern at many medical campuses.

      • rbeedee

        I agree that “proximity is king” is generally true in healthcare, but if it’s strictly an ambulatory care facility that’s less important, and the distance is hardly any greater than at the original proposed site–too far and disconnected for an elevated walkway or tunnel already.

  • GMichaud

     I have to agree with Douglas,. The underlying problem is that the design is decidedly auto orientated and anti urban. Given the considerable investment the public has made in the adjacent light rail, the city government is falling down on job, The fact SLU is a leading University and not simply some money orientated developer makes their lack of civic leadership reprehensible, but still it is the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen who have the ultimate responsibility to insure there is responsible city planning.
    The time is coming, probably sooner that we realize when a compact, efficient city is going to be a more desirable location than far flung suburbs. This has already happened in many parts of the world.
    But if a walking, transit orientated city that is balanced with the automobile is abandoned, there will be nothing to differate from the sprawl that currently surrounds St. Louis City. Even now, pretty well all the successful parts of the city are the ones with a historic fabric.
    There is an absence of Civic Leadership: that much is clear.

  • Adam

    and you know, with the Pevely still there to frame it, the mirrored version of that strip of grass with the fountain could even be sold as a “plaza”. it might even make a nice little space.

  • Douglas Duckworth

    While I  get the point of this post, their site plan and renderings are horrible and have no place in an urban environment.   But yes this facility could be located on one of their many other properties which they have assembled after decades of demolition.  

  • Rgbose

    What should be is that Doisy should be moved South a bit and this new facility next to it.

  • Heldover

    That colored map really demonstrates how badly SLU is handling this situation.