Just Five Urban Intersections Left in Downtown St. Louis

{the five intact urban intersections of the St. Louis CBD – image by Paul Hohmann}

We can’t see the forest for the trees. Or perhaps we should say, we can’t see the city for the buildings. Yes, Cupples 7 is falling down, yes, the developer would prefer to demo 923-921 Locust, sure, US Bank wanted a plaza… One can’t escape the realities of owner rights, financing and the market, but with zoning regulations, building and demolition permits, and most of all, various subsidies offered, a city wields vast power over the built environment. That being the case, shouldn’t a city have a vision for the outcome of such decisions? Presumably St. Louis didn’t set out to have 11% of its Central Business District intersections fully occupied by buildings other than parking garages. Yet that’s what exists today.

Paul Hohmann produced a great write-up of the state of downtown urban intersections on his Vanishing STL site. That piece is reposted in full below, but be sure to check out his site to keep up with what St. Louis is losing, or may soon lose. Paul found that just 5 of 45 intersections in the CBD had buildings other than a parking garage occupying each of the four corners. This goes a long way toward quantifying why downtown can sometimes feel not so urban. On most corners, one is faced with a vacant lot, surface parking, a plaza, or maybe a garage (or three).

In St. Louis (any many other places), in addition to the dearth of intact urban intersections, the near universality of one-way streets pushes drivers along prescribed courses. This means that four of the five intact intersections in the St. Louis CBD can only be approached in a vehicle from two directions. The fifth can be approached by three. Nothing about this status or experience is urban at all. Nothing about it serves pedestrians, cyclists, or increases economic vitality for businesses. In practice, it also doesn’t serve motorists. Trips are lengthened as one-ways are navigated and drivers circle for parking (read: The Case Against One-Way Streets and Two-Way Street Networks: More Efficient than Previously Thought?).

STL CBD street grid
{one-way streets of St. Louis CBD in red, two-way streets in green}

Of course, one of the five intact St. Louis CBD intersections is under threat. Developer UrbanStreet (no sense of irony?) plans to demolish the two buildings nearest the northeast corner of Tenth Street and Locust. UrbanStreet purchased the buildings, along with others from the Roberts Brothers who had also planned demolition at this corner. Although no building permit has been issued and no redevelopment plan filed, Alderwoman Phyllis Young supports the demolition. She even went so far as to introduce Board Bill 2, a measure that would approve a blighting study and redevelopment plan, purposely evading any public input on the issue. This is particularly egregious considering the considerable history of the corner building outlined here: When the Art World Came to St. Louis: the Noonan-Kocian Art Company at Tenth & Locust.

{923 Locust in 1955 – even though the gallery had moved across the street and a modern storefront added, framed paintings can still be seen in the second story window}

So when might St. Louis see a vision that ensures consideration is given to having downtown feel like an urban environment? Is there a solution in the city’s 260-page sustainability plan? When might we see an effort to address the stultifying, but fixable conditions? Ultimately the issue resides at the feet of the alderperson. Get her, or get rid of her, and something can change. If downtown residents and business owners can consider the issue clearly and understand the faults of the status quo and the opportunities ahead, perhaps it can happen sooner than later.

The Disappearance of Intact Intersections in Downtown STL–by Paul Hohmann

How many fully intact urban intersections are there in Downtown St. Louis east of Tucker? By fully intact urban intersections, I mean all four corners are defined by a building that is built out to the corner (or close to it). This means no parking lots, no parking garages, no buildings set far off the street by a plaza, no driveways, etc. This definition of what makes an intersection fully intact and urban is admittedly subjective. While parking garages are found in urban settings, with the exception of ground floor uses other than cars, they don't contribute much to a thriving urban environment.

Looking at a map of the Central Business District, bound by Chestnut, 4th Street, Washington and Tucker, there are only 5 intact urban intersections.

Intersection 1: 9th & Washington bound by the Bankers Lofts, The former Lennox Hotel (most recently the Renaissance Suites), the Renaissance Grand Hotel and the Renaissance ballroom building

Intersection 2: 8th & Olive, bound by the Laclede Gas Building, the soon to be renovated Arcade Building, the Old Post Office and the also soon to be renovated Chemical Building.

Intersection 3: Broadway & Olive, bound by the St. Louis Place building, Metropolitan Square, The currently empty but very attractive Lasalle Building and the Marquette Building.

Intersection 4: 8th & Pine, bound by the Wright Building portion of the Arcade, the Laclede Gas Building, the Wainwright Building annex, and the AT&T data building. The AT&T building is admittedly not the most urban building, but the corner includes a Metrolink station entrance and a small convenience store.

This intersection at 4th & St. Charles almost made the list, but the Gentys Landing building is fronted on the first floor by a covered drive.

The last on the list is 10th & Locust, which in its present state is perhaps the only intersection in the CBD with the potential to have active retail or restaurant uses on all four corners. If plans by Urban Street Group proceed as rumored (since no real plan has been made public), the former Noonan Kocian Art Company (later Fatted Calf) building and at the northeast corner of the intersection and the adjacent 4-story building at 919 Locust will be demolished and could be replaced with an entry drive for development in the former Scruggs annex near the middle of the block. This would bring the number of intact urban intersections in the CBD to four.

Not surprisingly with many surface parking lots, Downtown south of Market has none, and Laclede's Landing also has none. West of Tucker there are a few with 13th & Washington being one of the best Downtown and one at 17th & Locust.