Just Five Urban Intersections Left in Downtown St. Louis

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{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.

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  • JZ71

    Defining / dismissing intersections as “non-urban” simply because they’re on a one-way street(s) reinforces the concept of car dominance and diminishes the reality (and the importance) of experiencing the CBD as an urban pedestrian!

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yes, but that’s not what was done here. An intersection is defined as “urban” if it has a building at each of its four corners, and none are parking garages. Four of the “urban” intersections are located at the intersection of two one-way streets. The fifth is the intersection of one two-way, and one one-way street.

      • Chicagoan

        Sometimes I dream of an American city banning cars from downtown. Make the streets only accessible to public transit (buses/street cars), police cars, service vehicles, emergency vehicles, cab drivers, and Uber drivers.
        Not sure how to regulate Uber drivers (or, all of them) in that scenario, but could you imagine how beautiful a downtown area could be, if only those vehicles were able to use the streets?

  • kjohnson04

    That’s the nasty secret of St. Louis. We hate the urban fabric and find new and increasingly silly ways to destroy it (SLU-Midtown), most of St. Louis County, just to name a couple of areas.

    The first order of business should be the elimination of the multitude of parking garages downtown. They largely aren’t needed. That’s what mass transit was designed for (but that’s another kettle of fish).

    Downtown is still walkable, it’s still dense (but could stand to be more so).

  • dempster holland

    obviously, the existence of suburban shopping centers has taken away the
    brunt of former downtown shoppers. Other factors include the depopulation
    of areas surrounding downtown, and the replacement of daytime office
    dwellers with night time loft dwellers. Finally, the lack of the three major down-
    town department stores is a factor.

  • Don

    “11% of its Central Business District intersections fully occupied by
    buildings other than parking garages. Yet that’s what exists today.”

    Jaw dropping. The parking garage obsession in downtown astonishes even me. A couple years ago I was entertaining friend from Washington DC who stayed in downtown. They brought the topic up with me noticing the number of garages. when I told them most St Louisians would complain there are not enough they didn’t believe me, until I mentioned it to a local friend in their presence.

    • Aaron

      Agreed about parking supply misconceptions. IMO people aren’t used to thinking about parking options that involve walking a couple blocks through the CBD in a non-linear path.On top of that, the garage entrances can be tricky to recognize visually. The one-way streets make navigating for parking without a pre-determined plan pretty challenging even for regulars. You need knowledge of the garages that are 360 degrees around you which you may not be in sight of, and then figure out how to back track and turn around to reach one.

      In addition to two way streets, how about a regulation to color code or sign parking garages uniformly to some extent. A useful parking locator app. could help too. There are a lot of options downtown people can’t easily locate without experience.

      • Don

        While those are all great ideas, I’m not so sure the problem is as complicated as you imagine.

        I think your first suggestion is 90% of the problem: People are mortified to have to walk two blocks to a garage.

        Our support staff has garage parking across the street from our office and in the next (west) block, depending on how early they get to work. When we moved to this location, this was a very big issue for them as they had previously had attached parking. 3 or 4 years in, I haven’t heard any complaints, but the first 6 months? You would have thought their walk to parking was something out of Escape from New York.

        • HolyFrijoles11

          You do realize that Escape from NY was filmed in STL?

          • Don

            I watched the shooting outside what is now the Fabulous Fox and Union Station.

  • Psycho Tim

    “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

    Of course she did all of this. Phyllis Young only cares about keeping Soulard’s historical architecture intact.

  • Mark

    Great article. I’d
    love to buy one of the corner surface parking lots and build on it. Who owns all the surface lots in downtown St.
    Louis, and is it even possible for someone else to purchase and develop a lot? I think the comparison between 5
    intersections in STL vs 10 in Cincinnati might be misleading. At least 3 of those intersections in
    Cincinnati are parking garages.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Good call. It was too quick a survey. Perhaps including parking garages with first level, or maybe multi-level retail, in both places could make sense. The Cincinnati comparison is going away, for now.

      • John R

        Unless there would be a rule of not considering one or two story buildings as non-urban, I think parking garages with contributing retail should be included. So I’d add the intersection of Olive and Ninth to the “urban” list as it includes the very much contributing Culinaria. The city garage on the corner of Olive and Seventh with first-level retail is a lesser contributor imo, but still provides a number of street-facing storefronts.

        Anyway, “urban” is subjective and I could see an argument that one stories of any kind should not be included for a downtown CBD. Also, the intersection of Fourth and St. Charles is an intriguing case as the Federal Reserve Building is more of a fortress than anything else. Urban, perhaps, but not exactly welcoming the public realm.

        • Anon

          I noticed you also didn’t count Cincinnati’s Fountain Square as being an “urban” intersection. I understood your reasoning behind the comparison and still think it’s worth doing, but the criteria need improvement. Cheers.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Right. A good walking survey is really needed. There’s a lot of subjectivity. Fountain Square is a great space, lively throughout the day, and surely “urban”. Other plazas may not be considered urban depending on their programming, design, etc.

  • T-Leb

    City leaders are all dinosaurs, even if their PR guy tries to make them seem engaged and in tune to the concerns of the public. I think city leaders are basically amateur and get fleeced by any snake oil salesman that comes around with dollars to develop. The end result is what this article describes in detail, destruction of the urban/historic built environment. Our city leaders are hardly building broad coalitions that would allow them to move in directions that would improve quality of life for constituents. Rather, you get Phyllis Young rubber stamping anything that puts dollars downtown or helps to sooth sore eyes. You get a sustainability plan that has no teeth that is referred to constantly like it is some kind of living document guiding StL’s future. All of this is a distraction from the fact that our city government is mismanaged to the degree that the parks dept fleeced up to 600K over the last 5 years fixing their communication radios.