CVS Finally Gets Its Lindell Boulevard Store, Elliptical AAA Building Remains

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Lindell 1

After years of effort to put its stake somewhere on Lindell, CVS Pharmacy has finally broken ground on a new 13,000 square foot store located between the rebuilt 3949 Lindell apartments and the eliptical Mid-Century AAA building. While the neighborhood wasn't lacking a pharmacy, CVS has made a habit of locating as near their primary competition as possible. A Walgreens sits roughly 1/3 mile to the west.

CVS had previously persued the idea of demolishing the former St. Louis Housing Corporation building at Sarah Street and Lindell, but met neighborhood resistance. Other locations were scouted, but CVS settled on the home of AAA and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Enterprise moved out of what was once the AAA garage to a new facility nearer downtown. AAA then agreed to sell to CVS, demolish their building and occupy a storefront in a new building on the site.

AAA demo and CVS
{the initial CVS proposal for the site called for a new building and relocation of AAA to a new building}

site plan guess
{initial AAA site plan shown in black with outline of existing elipitcal AAA building – nextSTL estimation of site plan in yellow}

CVS Lindell dev site
{the CVS site extends from 3949 Lindell to the AAA building}

Opposition to the demolition was quick, if fatalistic. This site assumed that once CVS had set it eyes on the building and had an agreement in place with AAA, the building was a goner. Preservationists had just recently won a victory with the preservation of the Phillips 66 saucer just a few blocks away and round(ish) buildings were getting a lot of attention.

When the news broke of the possible demolition and opposition last June, City of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay quickly weighed in and posted this statement on his blog: I believe that the loss of any distinctive element of our built environment must be justified by a new good at least its equal. It is not my current impression that the amenity of a new chain drugstore within blocks of a couple of existing ones or the very ordinary design of the proposed building is such a good.

18th Ward Alderman Terry Kennedy initially stated only that his "neighborhood review group would push for a more urban-friendly design, similar to the negotiations that led a nearby Walgreens to improve its building design. Holding CVS to the existing Walgreens standard? This was bad news. A neighborhood stakeholder committee was formed, but little was made public and Kennedy admitted that he alone didn't have the power to halt the project. At some point CVS decided to pursue a new design.

Lindell Ave AAA/CVS - St. Louis, MO
{What Should Be quickly offered alternative site plans to accomodate a more urban CVS}

AAA, CVS on Lindell
{other ideas attempted to show how a standard CVS could fit on the site and leave the AAA building standing}

Today the final form of the building remains unclear, but all evidence points to a standard "urban" model store. This model is similar to that used by Walgreens recently near Lafayette Square. The building facade is slightly taller than past CVS designs and additional ornamentation is added. This model has been used extensively in places such as Indianapolis, Columbus, OH and Bloomington, IN. The Lindell store is reported to be aligned with the neighboring 3949 Lindell building, and built to the sidewalk.

CVS - Indianapolis
{"urban" model CVS in Indianapolis}

Bloomington - IN CVS
{"urban" model CVS in Bloomington, IN}

This site has had renderings of the Lindell CVS for several months and has not been able to confirm which model will be built. While the two sets of renderings vary little, there are two important differences. The bottom rendering below shows a corner entrance with doors facing Lindell and east toward Vandeventer. The top rendering shows an entrance centered on the eastern facade, facing away from Lindell. The top rendering also shows windows facing McPherson, while the second does not. A site plan for the building has not yet been made available. With any luck, the corner entrance model will be built. It's difficult to understand the value of a new building built to the sidewalk if the entrance is tucked away on the side of the building. It's as if St. Louis read only half way through an urban design manual.

Vandeventer 1_2

The adjacent 3949 building was designed with a total of 13,000 square feet of retail space. Following the fire necessitating a complete rebuild, it was thought that a CVS might be accomodated in the new structure, however the owners decided to rebuild the apartments in the same form as before.

The new building managed to just avoid coming under the purview of the new form-based code now covering this part of the Central West End (map below). The CVS sight is located in the upper-right corner on a dark purple parcel. Any future building on these lots would need to be 3-12 stories in height. The code took more than four years to be implemented from concept to completion. The CVS is the last development being allowed before the new zoning is in place.

CWE form-based dev map
{the CWE form-based code overlay – read more regarding form-based code here}

* medium & dark yellow = 3-8 stories, red = 3-12 stories, orange = 3-5 stories, blue = 6-unlimited stories, light purple = 3-16 stories, dark purple = 3-12 stories

{3949 Lindell, being rebuilt from a 2012 fire raised expectations for urban massing along Lindell}

In short, the AAA site came under preservation review in 2012, meaning demolition of the building would have to be approved by the city's Cultrual Resources Office. Failing to gain approval from the city (the Mayor, Alderman and neighborhood committee), CVS never applied for a demolition permit. Instead, they went back to the drawing board and found a way to accommodate a new building and retain the existing AAA.


{in the end, CVS appeared to be "Ward-shopping", attempting to find a less restrictive site for the store}

There's little be excited about with the CVS building. However, the AAA building remains as another importnat win for those who value the built environment of St. Louis. It may feel like a hollow victory in some ways, and it remains unclear exactly what happened to turn the corner toward preservation, the turnabout is remarkable and should be celebrated. The City of St. Louis has now embarked on a survey of its mid-century buildings.

Here's what the AAA spokesperson said when learning of opposition to demolition last year: 

So somebody likes a round building. So what? 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? People get upset about everything, and you get over it.

We'll let that speak for itself.

Lindell CVS rendering

Lindell CVS rendering

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  • John

    You know what else should be part of the form-based codes? Building up to the sidewalk.

    • Alex Ihnen

      It is.

  • Don

    CVS has a history of occupying unconventional existing buildings. They have a store in an old bank in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago (http://www.yelp.com/biz/cvs-chicago-18 ) and the Chelsey neighborhood of NYC (http://www.yelp.com/biz/cvs-pharmacy-manhattan-3 ). And while I couldn’t find an example in D.C, I’m certain I was in a CVS in an historic bank building in NW D.C (but maybe the upper West Side of NYC) a few years ago.

    But St Louis just doesn’t have the building density of the above cities to provide a lot square footage to be re-purposed, at least outside of downtown. And we don’t have the population density to make a company like CVS so desperate for a location that the city and neighborhood can dictate terms.

    So to get a CVS, we inevitably get a faux-urban 15 to 20 year building. No, it’s far from perfect but we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The AAA elliptical building was saved and CVS is still building. CVS makes that neighborhood more livable and stable and that’s good.

  • Presbyterian

    Thanks, Alex. What are the dates at the bottom right of the two sets of renderings? I can’t quite make them out on my phone.

    If I had to guess, the corner entrance, rear windows facing McPherson and loss of that silly exposed truss over the entrance were probably last-minute changes to secure approval.

    If this is the version built, and if it is built at the sidewalk line, then I won’t complain. Our new zoning should make for better development in the future. Compared to the Walgreens across the street (and McDonalds and Jack in the Box and Arby’s), we’ve come a long way in the past decade.

    • Alex Ihnen

      September 2012. I agree…we’re likely pointed in the right direction for the first time in decades.

      • Don

        Exactly! When I first lived in the CWE 30 years ago, I never dreamed the neighborhood would be where it is today or that City Hall would show the kind of leadership we now enjoy. It was unthinkable.

  • RyleyinSTL

    By the Mayor’s “good” metric we still aren’t there yet.

    • Alex Ihnen

      To be fair, the only thing lost here is a parking lot of very undistinguished maintenance garage. By that measure, perhaps it’s OK. I think the Mayor’s statement really referred to the AAA building being replaced by a CVS.

      • RyleyinSTL

        I don’t disagree with that.

        I guess the “loss” I’m feeling here is the addition of another styrofoam/stucco building to the City and what constructing a 15-20yr building, in the CWE (or anywhere in the city for that matter), says about the interests involved.