The Crestwood Mall Neighborhood

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The Crestwood TIF commission recommended approval of a $15M TIF, $5M CID, and $5M TDD for UrbanStreet’s plan for the Crestwood Mall site. It moves on to the city council for likely passage. Let’s consider a more traditional development pattern. One more likely to be productive enough to support the infrastructure and services that support it. One that provides more opportunity for individuals to grow wealth. One more likely to hold value over time. Before you ask, no, I don’t have the money to do this myself. I call it CresMaNoWa.

Crestwood Mall Neighborhood{A productive neighborhood for the Crestwood Mall site.}

Two years ago I outlined what should be for the Crestwood Mall site. The principals remain the same. By subdividing the site into a fine-grained pattern it can be built out incrementally, and meet the market over time. The result is more like the places built in the past that have endured and are loved today. It’s also more resilient. Fine-grained neighborhoods can stand an empty store front or two whereas if a place is composed of a few big boxes, failure can come quickly and dramatically.

Whereas UrbanStreet would own the whole development, a fined-grained approach offers a dispersed ownership model. Not only would the homes and townhomes be owned by individuals, some of the apartment buildings and mixed-use buildings are within reach of individuals. Also apartment buildings could be condos. Numerous owners buttress the neighborhood’s resiliency- more people have skin in the game. The neighborhood’s walkability also enhances wealth accumulation as every forgone car trip keeps more wealth in the community.

Crestwood2{the Maplewood business district overlayed on Crestwood mall site}

The neighborhood is focused on residential due to high demand to live in Crestwood and the Lindbergh School District. Retail is over-supplied in the area so commercial is at a neighborhood scale, mostly surrounding a town square offering a public gathering place; a role the mall used to play.

The single family lots are at least 135 feet deep and 35 to 50 feet wide. That’s less than half the size of most lots in Crestwood, but remember we’re trying to build a productive place. Places built on a 20th-century model ignored long-term infrastructure liabilities. Homeowner’s on wide lots would gasp if sent a bill to rebuild the streets, etc.

The townhome lots are meant for sets of four. Add in apartments in apartment buildings and mixed-use buildings and the neighborhood population could reach 1000. In order to rely less on visitors from outside the town to support businesses, more residents are needed. Crestwood’s 2013 population was just under 12,000.

Given the strength of the area, reaching a productivity level of downtown Kirkwood at $550k in assessed value per acre should be no problem. $550,000 x 47 acres = $26M, which is close to what the mall was assessed at in 2006.

Avg Market Value Assessed Value
Single family 98 375000 6982500
Townhomes 52 275000 2717000
Apartment Buildings 7 750000 997500
Mixed-use Res 120 125000 2850000
Mixed-use Com 30 1000000 9600000
Office 1 10000000 3200000

Crestwood5{current assessed values per acre on Watson Road in Crestwood}

These are just estimates, but are they outlandish given what we’ve seen in downtown Kirkwood and Maplewood? Feel free to play the game at home.

The cost to transition the site from its current condition to one ready for redevelopment is considerable. UrbanStreet figures $21M for environmental remediation, demolition, and site work. Unwinding the growth Ponzi scheme is going to be painful.

It is too big for a town the size of Crestwood to handle. That’s why it takes a TIF to take money from the school district et al to cover those costs. This is an example of how fragmentation and spreading out are synergizing. If as a region devoting resources to making the site developable were given priority over building new infrastructure to serve greenfield development on the edges, the resources could be mustered.

Supporting this neighborhood wouldn’t require a new road or running utilities to a farm field, nor new city halls, fire stations, etc saving the entire region money. And in the end Crestwood would have a more resilient and productive neighborhood.

Crestwood3{the current mall site redevelopment plan}

Crestwood1{the vacant mall site is located very near the center of Crestwood}

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  • Alex Ihnen

    Adding examples of dead malls and vacant land being redeveloped in a more urban pattern:

    Belmar in Lakewood, CO (old mall)
    Oakridge in Vancouver, Canada (old mall)
    Stapleton, CO (old airport)

    • tbatts666

      This really makes me hopeful for the future. I would be really nice if these big bad investments can be effectively converted to something sustainable.

  • geoffksu

    Not to be the bearer of bad news, but as much of an improvement this plan is over the redevelopment plan – this plan completely disregards the site’s change in topography across the site. As anyone who has ever visited the site knows – to access the site from Watson, you descend a sloped entry road and the site perimeter adjacent to Watson is either a slope condition or a retaining wall. As well, the back portion of the site (opposite of Watson Road perimeter) has a steep drop off, and much the reason the parking structure is located there to take up grade and act as a ‘podium’ for the mall structure to be at same final floor elevation.

    An insane amount of site engineering would have to take place to turn the plan into something resembling an urban pattern, but would most likely constitute retaining walls, homes built into grade, or open spaces between lots solely used to slope between adjacent lots. All of which would eat up a good portion of the developable land and would in the end result in something looking less than ideal.

    Much of the topography change is apparent in the redevelopment plan by the long entry roads that don’t connect to the parking/access lanes for a long run, and the large open space around the perimeter.

    Time to be realistic.

    • rgbose

      I talked about the topological challenges in my post from two years ago. Part of the point of this is to get ideas like this in mind when future redevelopment opportunities arise. What’s unrealistic is expecting auto-oriented development patterns to pay the bills.

      Regardless, somehow our ancestors conquered similar and much tougher challenges.

  • Devin in South City

    Is there an example out there of a mall site (or any other big development) being rehabilitated into a fine-grained street grid? This is such a great idea, and if it hasn’t really been done before, what a great opportunity for St. Louis to innovate!

    • Alex P

      Belmar in Lakewood, Colorado. You won’t be disappointed. They even saved one of the department stores and reused it in the new plan.

  • HawkSTL

    This issue right now is less about the design (which does not appear to be final). The issue is about schools and funding. Lindbergh School District is growing exponentially because of the blue ribbons, etc. it is winning. UrbanStreet is proposing 225 apartments. Lindbergh is opposed, arguing that the TIF will draw money away from school resources while the apartments will draw more children into the district. In other words, Lindbergh views this as less money for more kids. The developer argues that the 225 apartments will not draw children. However, there are not many vacant apartments currently in the district because of the demand for the schools. And, real estate agents are calling to ask folks if they are willing to sell when there is no for sale sign out in the yard. That is how high demand for the schools is right now. We’ll see how this plays out. The district carries a lot of weight there.

    • rgbose

      That’s why I put in a lot of single family homes and townhomes and pointed out how because Crestwood is such a small part of the region it cannot muster the money to prep the site for development on its own. It must use taxes from the school district and other gov’ts

      • HawkSTL

        You’re right, and that is why Lindbergh is opposing. Geoffksu is also correct that the site is basically in a bowl, with steep drop-offs from the main roads in and out.

  • SnakeSadskin

    Great article. The folks of Crestwood have a phenomenal opportunity to truly create a groundbreaking development. Unfortunately this is St. Louis, where “groundbreaking” died shortly after 1930.

  • RyleyinSTL

    This is wonderful, which is why it will never happen.

  • STLEnginerd

    I really like your concept overall. A couple hopefully well received critiques of the article layout…
    – I would show the street connection to
    the neighborhood just north of the mall site to make it clear that
    neighborhood would be connected.
    – I would not make the “Mixed Use” areas Green as Green is almost universally interpreted as park.
    – The presentation of the article is a little deceiving. Your title and
    lead picture show a development that should support but the text
    explains that Crestwood has no intention to follow through on that plan
    and in fact have green-lit an entirely different plan. That’s factually correct, but
    a casual reader may well miss interpret the article to be saying the
    image you display is a better alternative to the plan. This site used
    to prefice article like this with a “What Should Be:” to make that
    clear. I think that was a good practice, to avoid confusing people who
    happen to stumble onto the article and jump to conclusions without
    reading the text.

    I had to go back a couple to times to get the content right in my head because the visual ques threw me off.

    • rgbose

      It doesn’t connect tot he neighborhood to the north. I don’t see an opportunity to do that, at least without tearing down a house.

      • STLEnginerd

        Ah, so just a connector to the alley behind then. Probably the most realistic plan in a fantasy world.

  • miguel2586

    Cool plan!! It’s kinda like Ballwin in reverse. Tear down a mall to build a town!

  • matimal

    So, no new-urbanist competition for the CWE or U City ,then. Whew……..what a relief!

    • Alex Ihnen

      I don’t understand your comment.

      • matimal

        Your proposal would create an urban place in Crestwood that could appeal to those looking for urban neighborhoods and therefore might lure some to crestwood who otherwise currently have to look to the CWE, U City, or Tower Grove, etc. to find such urban neighborhoods. New urbanist suburbs could learn from the success of urban neighborhoods and steal some of their thunder by offering new urbanist neighborhoods without the ‘unpleasantness’ of actually being in St. Louis city. Crestwood could have done that, but it didn’t. What crestwood is doing won’t offer any competition for St. Louis city.

        • Guest

          Lol…good one, Matimal. (I wonder how many see the satire?)

          • matimal

            I wouldn’t call my comments “satire.” That’s just how I see it. Some suburban locations MUST lose so that parts of St. Louis city can gain. Without the suburban industrial complex, much of St. Louis’ decline would have never happened. For example, north county’s fall is St. Louis city’s gain. If St. Louis city can offload some share of the enormously expensive costs that come from poverty and crime onto north county, it necessarily creates financial and physical space for st. Louis city to reorganize its finances and administration in ways that benefit the internal fiscal and physical circumstances of the city. A rising tide has NOT, and won’t, lift all boats in St. Louis.

          • Chicagoan

            Perhaps the union of city/county isn’t what’s best for the city of St. Louis. The city is relatively dense (very much in some places) and walkable. By bolstering the transit network of the city, it becomes a full-on urban environment, while most of the county (and the suburban area as a whole) continues to build acres of surface parking and embrace sprawl.

            Should St. Louis abandon the county that has rode its coat tails for as long as we can remember?

            It could be better for the city and in the future, the county (along with the whole suburban area) could come limping back to an invigorated city in a more cooperative state.

          • rgbose

            Definitely don’t want to saddle the city with the spread out infrastructure liabilities more than it already is. That’s why I’m a fan of putting the city in the county but still as a city. County functions are taken over, which don’t have anything to do with transit or density. The city could annex dense bits if both sides want to. Meanwhile the downside (from the county’s perspective) of a N’S Metrolink line not being primarily in the county goes away. Would the city lose its place on EW Gateway exec board? Need to figure that out.

          • matimal

            Exactly. He who has lived by the suburban industrial complex will die by the suburban industrial complex. The same forces that undermined St. Louis city will undermine suburban areas beyond its borders. This could destroy metro St. Louis utterly as happened in Detroit, or it could provide an opportunity to provide an alternative that suburban areas CAN’T provide. I think the latter will happen in St. Louis. I think it’s already begun.

        • Alex Ihnen

          I care less about competition than I do building economically sustainable places everywhere.

          • matimal

            I don’t think St. Louis CAN build economically sustainable places everywhere. There is only so much demand for anything in metro St. Louis in any given period of time. Clayton does take demand from downtown and crestwood could take demand from Tower Grove. I’m saying this doesn’t appear to be happening and this is ironically good for St. Louis city. Better crestwood than Dallas, but better still Tower Grove or the CWE than Crestwood.

          • rgbose

            Putting brakes on developments and infrastructure building on the edges is more important. Like the neighborhood proposed in Eureka, Maryland Heights TIF in floodplain, NGA in cornfield, etc

        • Riggle

          That competition already exists, its called clayton, maplewood, ucity etc

          • matimal

            …and the CWE, Tower Grove, Shaw, and Soulard, too. Crestwood could have jointed those ranks if it took Alex’s plan. It didn’t.

          • Riggle

            Those places are in the City, I thought you were talking about urban suburban competition from the County

          • matimal

            No, I’m talking about competition among urban developments wherever they may be. The urbanism is the point, not local government boundaries.

          • Riggle

            Its not about boundaries, its about building up an urban core, and the urban core of st louis is wholly within the City limits.