Aventura at Forest Park II: Revenge of the Parking Lot

Aventura phase I and II

202 units. 431 parking spaces.

The corner of Chouteau and Taylor Avenues is less than a half-mile from the busiest MetroLink station, and a major MetroBus transfer station. Developers of the Aventura are counting on a significant proportion of residents to be employed or studying at the medical campus less than one-third of a mile away. This is where transit-oriented development can happen. It's too early to know if residents of the development will request more parking, only the sewer pipes of phase I can be seen rising from the dirt, yet the developer is expecting more cars than residents.

As argued here on nextSTL, Aventura at Forest Park disappoints with its design, but remains an important development for the neighborhood. While the first phase is emerging from the ground, phase II of the Aventura has won support from the neighborhood development corporation. The first phase features 101 living units and 142 parking spaces. Like a bad sequel, phase II will add another 101 units and 229 parking spaces. Assume several two bedroom apartments will have a single occupant, and it's fair to estimate the development will have no more than 325 residents (and 431 parking spaces including 60 onstreet spaces). Even assuming every bedroom is full and not counting on-street parking, there will be 371 dedicated parking spaces for 358 beds.

So why so much parking?

Aventure aerial_site
{Aventura Phase I in yellow, Phase II in blue, MetroLink and Bus hub at red pin}

Having lived in the neighborhood from 2006-2011, I can tell you that the north side of FPSE effectively serves as a parking lot for medical center employees. To some extent, this isn't a bad thing. I'd rather see some foot traffic, people coming and going, instead of an empty street next to a vacant lot. But with the development of the Aventura, this should change. Residents succcessfully lobbied for parking permits for 4500 Chouteau several years ago, but resident requests for similar help on Gibson Avenue and elsewhere have not found support. The priority, they're told, is to play nice and provide free parking for medical center employees.

The issue isn't a trivial one. Given there's space for extensive parking, perhaps the developer should simply be able to choose how much to spend on asphalt? Not to mention that the lot is quite a maze, the curbcut on Taylor being exit only. The cost of a single surface parking space can exceed $5,000. Should that money go into a higher quality development? A little more design work? How about a contribution to the neighboring vacant park? How about more housing units?

Parking continues to dominate developments in St. Louis and elsewhere. In Cincinnati, the Business Courier is questioning if a $56M development that includes 154 residential units and 26,000 square feet of commercial space, is building wasteful parking with 359 spaces. And this is in a vibrant commercial corridor. The Aventura is a garden apartment development with no retail or office space. That city is also well on its way to eliminating parking minimums for developers in the urban environment. The minimum parking requirement in the City of St. Louis is one space per unit. For the Aventura this means 202 parking spaces. 

{Phase II will be the same design as Phase I, above}

The development is good for FPSE and St. Louis, but it's not very often that a massive, 200+ unit, whole block-spanning development comes along, and we're going to be stuck with a highway-side suburban garden apartment interior-facing superblock in a sea parking in a neighborhood that's being sold as one of the city's most dynamic. What FPSE is getting is the same development as Hanley Station, but in a dense, urban environment next to a major center of employment and education and a significant transit hub.

Why not try something different? The Bicycle Apartments in Bloomington, Indiana are self-described as "A new kind of apartment concept, The Bicycle Apartments are specially designed to accommodate people who do not own a motorized vehicle." That development was completed more than a decade ago and has a wait list. This would work in FPSE. Why not use a corner of the Aventura for this type of development? Build 100 car-free units nearest the Central West End transit hub and offer the 1.8 parking spots per unit for the rest. Doing so could save $1M in development costs.

Believe it or not, there are students at the medical school, college of nursuing, College of Pharmacy, etc. who do not own a car. There are 15,000 people (and growing) employed within the medical campus, not all own a car. And while the Aventura apartments are not cheap, living there could mean that one doesn't need a car, making them affordable to more people. Somehow this is lost on the developer, on the neighborhood development corporation and on the ward's elected representative.

A number of examples of more appropriate urban infill with better site plans and less parking were shared in the Phase I story. Many examples from St. Louis and elsewhere have been shared on the nextSTL Forum as well. And with three progessive and accomplished architecture firms within a mile of The Grove (H3 Studio, SPACE, and UIC+CDO), nextSTL is planning to co-sponsor an event discussing quality urban infill and opportunities for the neighborhood and city moving forward.

Plenty of people will continue to call this development a victory, but it's the type of victory where you win the game, but lose your ace pitcher, leading hitter and best fielder to season-ending injuries – effectively forclosing on future opportunities.

{Aventura at Forest Park most closely resembles Hanley Station by the same developer}

{looking northwest from Chouteau Avenue illustrates proximity to medical campus}