St. Louis Cultural Resources Office Recommends Denial of AAA Demolition

AAA demo and CVSAfter surving a first attempt at demolition last summer, the oval AAA building on Lindell Boulevard recently appeard on a preliminary City of St. Louis Preservation Board agenda. Now the final Board agenda for June is posted and the Cultural Resources Office recommends that the preliminary review to demolish the AAA building on Lindell be denied. This is clearly good news, but even better news is found by reading the CRO's comprehensive and well argued narrative.

The Cultural Resources Office concludes that the AAA Building is a particularly fine example of 1970s architecture and a High Merit property. It is eligible for listing as a City Landmark, meeting three criteria, and once it reaches 50 years of age, the property would be eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Further study could conclude that it has exceptional architectural significance and would be eligible for listing in the National Register with that status. In addition, the building, though distinctive in shape and interior arrangements, has high reuse potential. As the merit of the building is so evident, and Architectural Quality ranks second only to a legislated redevelopment plan, it is hard to conclude that any other criteria are significant in this case or that the quality of the proposed subsequent construction would equal or exceed the contribution of the AAA Building to the integrity of the existing streetscape and block face, the ensemble of high‐quality mid‐century Modern design on Lindell, and the built environment of the City.

If you've been following the story closely, you know that we've arrived at this point because 18th Ward Alderman Terry Kennedy opposes demolition of the AAA building for a standard CVS. A community group he organized is also against the demolition. Kennedy has just recently had the 18th Ward placed under preservation review, and thus, the request for demolition is now in front of the city's Preservation Board. The Preservation Board could received Aldermanic and community input and choose to endorse demolition anyway. They could also deny demolition and the applicants could appeal to the Planning Commission. And sadly we know how that can sometimes turns out.

CVS _ site plan and AAA overlay_color{CVS site plan – existing AAA building highlighted in red}

AAA demo and CVS{site plan showing traditional CVS stand alone structure and parking}

AAA demo and CVS{rendering of proposed CVS looking west on Lindell from Vandeventer}

AAA demo and CVS{south elevation of proposed CVS}

In response to concerns about the possible demolition, Kennedy has replied that the matter is not before the Board of Aldermen, but in the hands of the Preservation Board. But the CVS and AAA wish to demolish the AAA building isn't so straightforward. First, a zoning change would need to be approved by the Board of Aldermen.According to the CRO presentation:

In 2011 the AAA and CVS entered into negotiations for the redevelopment of the AAA property on Lindell. One of the first steps towards this goal was the application to rezone the parcel on which the garage stands from “C” Multiple Family Residential to “H” Area Commercial District. The Planning Commission recommended that this change be made at its July 5, 2011 meeting. To date, the Board of Aldermen has not passed a Board Bill that would make this change in zoning.

This highlights just one of the myriad of ways an Alderperson can shape development in his or her ward. Without rezoning, the project cannot move forward. Kennedy has also passed legislation that places a liquor moratorium on new liquor applications for full service liquor sales in the 18th Ward. This has been a sticking point with previous CVS proposals and was an issue of contention with their past proposal in the 17th Ward.

The Preservation Board agenda also includes the proposed CVS and AAA design. It's a bland an cookie-cutter as you can possibly imagine. CVS wants to plop down an anywhere-in-America chain store in the middle of Lindell Boulevard. When they pursued a site just west on Lindell, in the city's 17th Ward, the neighborhood requested several changes and the design had improved before CVS decided to walk away and try another ward. The proposed design here is a terrible regression to the worst they offer.

The point isn't the CVS shouldn't build a store on the site, it's that there are ways to build while preserving the city's unique architectural heritage. nextSTL has presented two viable alternatives to avoid demolition and include a new stand alone CVS store. These proposals would require the same zoning change as mentioned above. Ultimately that change should be made. This corridor is attracting dense residential development and an additional multi-family project should be pursued here, per current zoning. Paul Hohman at Vanishing STL has a great write-up regarding how the proposed development violates the pending adoption of long-sought form based code for this portion of the Central West End.

AAA, CVS on Lindell{development plan for new standard CVS and retention of existing AAA}

Lindell Ave AAA/CVS - St. Louis, MO{concept for new CVS design and retention of existing AAA – What Should Be}

The CRO report makes it clear that the AAA building is an important element of the Lindell streetscape and the city. If demolition can be staved off for this development, the building is likely to remain for many years. Recognition of Mid-Century Modern architecture and the individual architects who mastered the form has increased exponentially in recent years. The City of St. Louis has received a grant for a survey of mid-century modern commercial, institutional and religious buildings as well as the development of a historic context. The AAA building would undoubtedly appear in such a survey.

Is there any chance that CVS will modify its proposal to fit the urban context and the design demands of the alderman, community and mayor? AAA vice president of public affairs Mike Right, recently went on record with The Beacon: "So somebody likes a round building. So what?" he said. "Seriously, if you owned a house and your neighbors liked it but you wanted to sell it to somebody … and your neighbor says 'Oh you can't do that. No, you can't move,' how would you feel about that?" He said he knows some people will be upset over the loss of the building. "People get upset about everything, and you get over it," he said.

It doesn't take much intelligence to recongize the fault with Mr. Right's argument. AAA can sell their building to anyone they like, as you can sell your home to anyone you like, but what is done with that building (or home) isn't entirely up to the owner. Then again, perhaps we should take him at his word. If Mr. Right sold his home to a dog kennel/cell phone store/3am bar, well he would just tell his neighbors to suck it up, right?

{the AAA building – photo by Toby Weiss}

AAA demo and CVS{the CRO recommends that the service garage on site be allowed to be demolished}

City of St. Louis Preservation Board – Preliminary Review to Demolish Existing AAA and Construct a New CVS …