Design for Grand Center Garage is Unacceptable

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Grand Center garage

There’s a Tadao Ando building in St. Louis. That’s a big deal. There’s a Brad Cloepfil building too. That’s a big deal. They’re on the same block in the city’s arts and entertainment district, Grand Center. If you spend any time there you will see people from all over the world taking pictures, standing in awe, amazed that such notable architectural landmarks are seemingly tucked away in a little corner of St. Louis.

Pulitzerfoundation{The Pulitzer Arts Foundation by Tadao Ando}

CAM day{Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis by Brad Cloepfil}

Of course Grand Center isn’t exactly hidden. The Fox Theatre is a remarkable architectural landmark itself, the kitschy Siamese Byzantine the perfect mark of another era, if not a singular architect. Powell Hall, the Grand Center Arts Academy and Sun Theatre, the Grandel Theatre, the Metropolitan and Continental Buildings, all landmarks.

The proposed parking garage planned by Fox Associates (no connection with Fox Architects), owners of the Fox Theatre, on Washington Boulevard, the same street as Ando’s Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Cloepfil’s Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and the Sheldon Concert Hall, should not be allowed to be built. Not only would it be a terrible blight on the district, the developer is requesting a 10-year tax abatement.

Grand Center_Fox garage{location of the planned parking garage}

The St. Louis Public Radio building brought a new asset to the district, as did the award-winning adjacent Public Media Commons. Plans for the Arts Academy Plaza is also of well-thought out design. The rooftop addition to the Big Brothers Big Sisters building next to the Continental, is a nice contemporary addition. The KDHX space and nearby Jazz at the Bistro and Jazz St. Louis were high quality historic renovations.

Millions more are planned for streetscape improvements, and Art Walk, and significant developments east of Grand. The value of these investments are lessened if this garage project is allowed to be built. Sparkly sidewalks and LED lights simply will not and can not make up for the introduction of a facade as proposed.

As huge investments have introduced contemporary architecture and quality public space to the district, this garage would do significant harm. Anyone who supported these investments should oppose the introduction of this garage on Washington.

The Sheldon Concert Hall{The Sheldon Concert Hall}

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.48.13 PM{historic home and Pulitzer Arts Foundation offices}

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 6.30.09 PMIf structured parking is a necessity, and as more development is planned, it likely is, structures need to be required to be wrapped with office, retail, or residential space (concept to right). Grand Center is, or should be, our region’s most valued cultural destination. This garage shouts to everyone that we don’t care, that any old garage will do.

The 3700 block of Washington is home to internationally known, significant works of contemporary architecture. It’s an asset to Grand Center and to the larger St. Louis community. The proposed garage is a blight, it’s terrible, it’s no good, it’s awful, it shouldn’t be built.

Previously, we’ve called for an investment in parking garages. St. Louis is going to continue building them, but they need not be awful. Grand Center deserves something akin to 1111 Lincoln Road by Herzog & de Meuron. Miami’s “living garage” creates interest and is something of an attraction itself. But nearer to home, Kansas City public library receives regular praise for it’s facade of books, and the Centene garage in Clayton implemented real design thinking to at least minimize the deadening facade. If Clayton demands something better than the minimum, can’t our region’s home to arts and culture?

Big Brothers Big Sisters rooftop{Big Brothers Big Sisters rooftop bistro}

KWMU{St. Louis Public Radio in Grand Center}

public media commons{Public Media Commons}

Bull Moose{image by Lawrence Group of development vision east of Grand}

Art Walk{rendering of Art Walk facing Public Media Commons}

{Arts Academy Plaza}

Parking garages that aren’t awful:

1111 Herzog de Meuron{1111 Lincoln Road by Herzog & de Meuron}

{the “living” garage in Miami}

{Kansas City public library garage}

Centene garage_Clayton{Centene garage – Clayton}

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  • Paul Hohmann

    This thing is farther along than I imaged. Board Bill #77, which approve a redevelopment plan for the parcels where the garage is to be built gets a first read at this mornings BOA meeting and on 5/25 a building permit application was filed by BSI for a $9,100,000.00 per plans. The Board Bill includes 10 yr tax abatement:

    • jkf1220

      While I wouldn’t argue against a garage in that location, I agree with all comments that development there should be mixed-use or built for conversion to mixed use. Perhaps even more critical, as a large scale building in a prominent location in an arts district, it must minimally be held to a contextural design standard reflecting the purpose of the district and the quality of surrounding architecture. Rather than seeing this as just a utilitarian building that responds to a need, it should be seen as an opportunity to advance the mission and strategic vision of the neighborhood. Every development should be seen through that filter. I would hope that Fox Associates and the city will re-think this project and any city support to enable something better and more compelling to occur in that location.

    • gmichaud

      It is so discouraging to hear this. Who is representing the interests of the citizens, who is insuring St. Louis has a future of vitality and economic success? It certainly is no one in city government.
      If anyone asks what’s wrong with St. Louis, why businessman Stan Kroenke considers St. Louis a loser, why it has become a 3rd or 4th class city after being near the top, why the city keeps losing population. One only has to look at this project to explain the decline of St Louis.

    • gmichaud

      It is hard to understand an incentive to build this garage. Using your information, I guess the amount of incentive is about 100 grand a year or about a million over 10 years, I have no idea about a Tif, but that amount alone should be enough to consider alternative designs.
      The first question probably should be why St. Louis needs incentives to begin with and this project partially answers that question. It is unlikely a developer is going to come along and do a pedestrian orientated development in the remaining open space with the huge automobile dead zone this garage creates. The city is trapped in the cycle of incentives in part by poor urban design choices.
      What is really upsetting though is the way this project has been shoved down the throats of the people of St. Louis. The recommendation of mixed use garages on top of a theme of supporting pedestrian activity in the publicly funded Great Streets Report should have been enough for public debate. That, on top of public investment of least a tenth of the value of the project Illustrates how incentives have become little more than handouts to wealthy insiders and have nothing to do with meeting the needs of St. Louis.

  • gmichaud

    I would think that if you talked to numerous outside design professionals and developers a vast majority would say this central undeveloped land on Washington between Grand and Spring is key to economic development and the success of the Grand Center Arts District.
    It is hard to believe that the leadership in St. Louis doesn’t acknowledge this fact. As has been noted there was a Great Street Master Plan only a few years old that made recommendations to put retail and apartments on the street as you show in the profile drawing above. They also strongly suggested pedestrian environments, and shrinking the streets and widening the sidewalks.
    The city of St. Louis should have built on this process. I have looked at Helsinki and they have a four step process (Helsinki City Planing Review 2016, page 39), three steps, the draft plan, the plan proposal and the final approval all call for citizen to voice their objections at each step.
    Here it is just the opposite. The strategy that is being used is to give as little input to the citizens as possible by announcing the project and a quick start up date a month or so away.
    If Fox Associates does not have the creativity or the money to do what is needed then the city should take it by eminent domain and offer it to developers nationwide and see what happens.
    This butt ugly garage that looks like it is already 20 years out of date, is, as Alex says unacceptable. (Although no garage only design should be in this location, unless it is completely revolutionary from a pedestrian standpoint)
    The incoherent planning process of St. Louis that purposely excludes citizens has to change. I don’t know if that falls on an Alderperson to offer a bill, but just going off of Helsinki, they could completely change the approval process with one page of verbiage.
    Either way there is absolutely no excuse for the continual poor results that has decimated the city environment and population. This parking garage being the latest, most egregious example.

  • Adam BT
  • Brian

    This is wronger than the dress Aunt Sophie wore to my cousin’s wedding. Private money or not, the City needs to demand a better design.

  • DCWind

    Amazing that aesthetic and urban design can be totally and completely scrapped for something, that while necessary, has so much potential to be a developmental instigator. A little retail, at a minimum, could make this so much more viable and approachable. Given this is Grand Center, the Art & Culture center of the city, it should look more like this…

  • The Ghost of H L Mencken

    That garage could be twice as tall and half as wide. Taking up an entire city block of valuable real estate? Really. That’s St. Louis for you. We do not value our land.

  • Tim E

    Matt B, nice post. Going back to RJ comments below about this design reflects its budget and brings up a huge point to what your getting is the reality that it is being privately financed. I get that part. But the part should be leveraged is the tax incentives and or looking at a public private partnership as Grand Center is clearly spending some money on streetscape and green spaces. Question, structured parking is coming if Grand Center is going to be infilled, so do help right the ship on the design or go forward with green space? I

    • RJ

      If there are limited resources, I would go with right the ship for design as that is more permanent and expensive, green space can be done later but quite honestly there is more money in St. Louis than people realize and good design and green space should both be attainable.

      • Tim E

        Agree, right the ship on the design and take a breather on the green space, multimedia spaces. The argument for even minimal retail in this garage goes back to the fact that you also need infill as proposed by Lawrence Group/Bull Moose phase II in order to add residents and worker on top of the periodic event crowds that would provide the essential foot traffic.

  • Matt B

    I think we need to commission some Korean designers to come here and give us some vision.

  • kjohnson04

    Despite the popular myth, we don’t need more parking in the City of St. Louis. What we need is a transportation system that renders driving unnecessary or “unpleasant.” A parking garage that wouldn’t add anything to the neighborhood. If it was wrapped with a functional building (library, apartment building, retail, that would minimize the ridiculousness of a project like this. No. Try again.

    • RJ

      Unfortunately most of the patrons that go to the Fox Theatre will not use public transit and prefer to drive. What is not needed is surface parking lots and better land management by building a mixed-use garage to provide some parking for those who will only drive. I’m all for better public transportation but there will still be a need for some parking and I would rather have it in a garage than surface parking, just make the garage look more appealing instead of a concrete fortress.

      • kjohnson04

        Good points. Structured parking reduces the need for surface lots. So, in that vein, build the garage, but eliminate the surface parking everywhere else in Grand Center. Turn those lots into usable space. This a better idea?

        • Chicagoan

          The problem with structured parking is that it costs a lot of money to build. The Center for Neighborhood Technology says that a covered, underground parking space costs over $37,000 to build, while a surface parking space costs over $4,000 to build. Make of that what you will, but I thought those numbers were interesting and worth sharing.

          • kjohnson04

            Thanks for sharing. It’s enlightening.

          • Steve S.

            That makes the arbitrage much more interesting. Say you decided to consolidate all the offstreet parking spaces in Grand Center into a single structure, and also decided to satisfy the parking requirements for every parcel of land so freed up with this structure as well. Would the arbitrage from the development of those sites be able to subsidize the construction of the parking garage?

      • Tom Michaels

        The FOX is too far from the Metrolink station to use then walk. Most patrons are older and that is a long walk. We need a more integrated/able system like SkyTran. Something that can get a person to every key destination in the city and with 1/8th of a mile of most other off beat places. Trains take up too much green space and are too costly to build and maintain. Americans want to go when they want, by themselves or their group, directly to their destination. Skytran can offer than, trains cannot.

        I should also note, this design is terrible and once built, several generations will have to suffer through its’ presence. No need for abatements to build parking. If it cannot generate enough revenue to fund it’s self and provide return to the owners, it is not a viable business. Make money and pay your property taxes. Government should stop subsidizing bad business decisions.

        • rgbose

          Or more people living closer so walking, biking, bus, taxi is viable for a greater portion of patrons.

          Subsidizing living farther away with a tax abatement isn’t helping.

          • Tom Michaels

            Don’t think they should subsidize living farther away either but everyone cannot live when walking distance to the FOX and all the other venues in the city. When you have someone disable in you home, you aren’t going to use any of these options except a taxi but why pay for a taxi when you can drive it much easier – arrive when you want and leave when you want? Skytran would solve these issues.

          • rgbose

            Indeed. That’s why I said greater portion and not everyone. That’s the problem with our current approach. It assumes, expects, encourages, subsidizes, mandates everyeveryone uses one mode for every trip.

            I don’t see the problem as one needing the next innovation rather the problem is orienting to one mode. Working around its terms stifles innovation.

  • STLEnginerd

    Does it make me a bad urbanist if I’m mostly OK with this? I would like to see some changes yes.

    I would push for some minor changes to make the property more adaptable to street retail in the furture. Basically i would like to see the concept mirrored in place so that the ramps ramp up toward Grand rather than away. It the lower level is (in 5-10 years) converted to retail. The tuck under side toward Grand would be ideal to lease to the residential building in Grand Center.

    I don’t see the purpose of the central elevator. One on each corner should suffice and would place people in more ideal locations to reach their respective destinations. SE corner for the FOX, SW corner for the Sheldon, NE corner for Powell, and NW corner for whatever they are calling the Sun these days.

    I would like to see a more innovative decorative fascade fronting Olive. Something that speaks to the arts district. I have had trouble conceptualizing something. I am super jealous of KCs library garage facade but i realize you can’t just copy that idea.

    I would like to see a little more set back from the Art Walk (or shift the art walk west) so that residential could be built there eventually. It could actually become a pleasant pedestrian corridor instead of a blank wall.

    I wouldn’t mind a few more levels of garage capacity, especially since I’d envision half the lower level converted to retail and the other half to leased spaces eventually, but i realize the higher you go the more it costs.

    I understand the disappointment but this was going to happen somewhere in Grand Center, and this is the right location for it to serve all the major venues.

    • RJ

      The four corner idea is a good one but will this just be for stairwells or does it include elevators for the handicapped/disabled? This entire garage is a disaster and the garage/facade along Washington is the most visible and the section along Olive could use some help but there are some buildings that cover that section of the garage/façade from view. I believe there apparently is a limited budget and this is the result. If you can’t do it right Fox Associates don’t do until you can, Alex is right this design is unacceptable for Grand Center.

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  • gmichaud

    It’s how St. Louis rolls, one piece of garbage after another. The process of building and developing in St. Louis needs to be radically changed. These projects keep on rolling out as done deals. Successful cities have far more competent and transparent procedures that includes the public in the process.
    You would think after 60 years of decline and almost 20 years of failed incentives city government would figure out they need to do something different. But no, the loss of population continues, along with the bankrupt decision making that got St Louis to this point.
    And then the supposed leaders of art in St. Louis demonstrate they know absolutely nothing about the arts of urban design and architecture.
    I have to agree with Don’s comment, leave it a parking lot. From reading the Post article it looks like it is going to start construction in July. They have not made a place for citizens in the process. I guess they think they know better than everyone else. The Fox Associates doesn’t mention the architect anywhere, why is that?
    In other words if you were going to build a successful Grand Center would you put an ugly parking garage as the centerpiece? Thats what is going on here.
    Basically they have handed over most of this part of Washington Avenue to autocentric development. It is the most desirable and significant open space within the Grand Center boundaries.
    And these people are supposed to be the experts? Something is way wrong here. It is insane, it is like they want St. Louis to fail.

  • jhoff1257

    The Kansas City garage looks great, but I wouldn’t even be pushing for that down here. That one is still just a garage, albeit with a nicer facade, with no retail or other mixed uses.

    As others have pointed out, someone needs to remind Grand Center of their own master planning documents.

  • Don

    I’d rather have the surface lot and hope,…..

  • Tim E

    PD has follow up article on Grand Center happenings. Karin sounds like she is really proud of a non descript, most likely cheap tilt up garage.

  • Nova463

    Detroit is making St. Louis look bad.

  • Paul Hohmann

    Graduating from surface parking to garage parking is good and the next logical step in Grand Center, but throwing up (and I mean literally throwing up, as one would do after too many Jagermeister shots) the cheapest crap available to only store cars in completely unacceptable. As NextSTL refers to graphically above, this car-only garage goes agains the Grand Center Master Plan page 72, that call for these garages to be built with mixed used wrapping the street perimeters:

    I understand retail in Grand Center is tough, but it has to planned for in any new structure built in the core of the district. The ground floor space could be a gallery, artist studios or even office space for one of the many arts organizations until true retail is sustainable. Likewise, if developing the upper floors with perimeter apartments or condos is not currently marketable, the structure needs to be built with appropriate floor to floor heights to accommodate future conversion. and finally, the exterior design needs to reflect that this is an ARTS district, not a state college. Something like this would be more appropriate:

    • RJ

      How do you stop this atrocity? Is there hope the City will make them revisit the drawing board? The two Kiener garages downtown are a disaster but they at least offer some retail. The retail segment will not survive until more residents are living in Grand Center. You are absolutely correct this needs to be a mixed-use development and this current plan is a lost opportunity. The examples above show what can be done especially in an arts district. Some other examples are the Community Bookshelf at the Kansas City Central Library and a garage in Cincinnati that had artist Julian Stanczak add screens to give an old garage a much better visual. There are many options to make this look better but this disaster is a cheap insult and this community deserves better.

  • Presbyterian

    I really don’t know how they could have done worse. I admit I am shocked. Such lack of concern for the built environment.

    Grand Center deserves better.

  • Bryan Castille

    Give me a break. Why does every other project in this city have to be a disappointment? This looks like a hospital parking garage.

  • ParallelParker

    Next STL may have overlooked the fact that the garage as pictured may have a crime prevention function. The design is so brutal it may scare anyone with ill intent off the street.

    • Adam

      it does kinda resemble a prison.

  • RJ

    I couldn’t agree more and please notify Mary Strauss this is unacceptable. This is nothing more than a concrete albatross that adds nothing to Grand Center from an architectural or aesthetic perspective.. I have seen garages built that don’t look like a concrete barricade at the very least add some exterior modifications to the Washington Avenue façade and build some residential units on top of this horror show. Grand Center will never realize its potential until more residential is developed. Just when you think you have see rock bottom this comes along.

  • rgbose

    Are they still seeking a 10-year tax abatement?

  • Framer