Do the Math Update: QuikTrip Replaced Buildings at Chouteau and Jefferson

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QuikTrip_Chouteau and Jefferson

A proposed QuikTrip gas station and convenience store at Jefferson and Chouteau sparked controversy last year. Pushback from many and a petition championed by No Suburbs in the City failed to save the traditional buildings that occupied two parcels along Chouteau at Jefferson. Here at nextSTL I did the math to evaluate the potential productivity of the project.

The city has been turning Chouteau and Jefferson into stroads, that is accommodating large volumes of vehicles at high speeds, yet also maintaining access to adjacent active land uses. The buildings’ affect on sight lines for drivers at the corner was cited as a reason for demolition. Stroads encourage auto-oriented land uses along them. That comes with lower yields compared to traditional development patterns, yet are served by more infrastructure. A widening gap between the economic activity along a stroad and the cost to maintain it is a recipe for insolvency.

For a city unable to add land and striving to enhance services and infrastructure, increasing land productivity should be a priority. Let’s see how we did in this transaction. Let’s do the math!

Jefferson and Chouteau QT with Reaper

Assessed land: $42,480
Assessed improvements: $93,360
Assessed total: $135,840
Land Area: 1.62 acres
Assessed improvements/acre: $57,514
Assessed total/acre: $83,683

Jefferson and Chouteau QT{The box is the QT parcel}

Assessed land: $54,600
Assessed improvements: $396,800
Assessed total: $451,400
Land Area: 1.483 acres
Assessed improvements/acre: $267,565
Assessed total/acre: $304,383

Overall it looks like a win. But most of the site was empty land. The productivity of the two parcels with buildings on them was $468,705 in assessed value per acre, 54% higher than the gas station. The old and obsolete built in 1879 and 1888 beat the shiny and new.

Until 2011, four additional buildings remained facing Chouteau. In various states of use and repair, the structures had value and the potential for reuse. The four buildings in a blighted state had an assessed value per acre of $202k in 2010. Their demolition set in motion the now auto-centric development. With all six buildings standing and occupied, the old and obsolete would far out produce the shiny and new. If the city had a development plan focused on economic productivity, the result at this historically urban corner could have been different.

Chouteau at Jefferson{By making little bets on these buildings, the ROI of cultivating them would likely have been higher than wagering on a single use. }

Of course assessed value isn’t a complete picture given sales, earnings, utility, etc taxes. But are the $3M in predicted sales at the QT mostly new or mostly cannibalized from elsewhere?

The before state of the property provided opportunity to build incrementally. Building on smaller pieces of land reduces risk because there would be more owners and variance and flexibility of uses. More smaller pieces afford more opportunity for local ownership, which comes with more wealth staying local. A strategy of cultivation would lead to a more resilient outcome. Buildings could be enhanced, added to, and replaced, or fail at different times, but taken together smooth out the ups and downs.

Conversely the single use means the swings of its use are felt over the whole area, and if it fails, it fails all at once. Ways to enhance the property are few; it was built in a finished state. In this case the ownership is out of town and worse since it sells gas almost all of the wealth spent on it leaves the region.

After 127 and 136 years those two buildings were still productive. How well will the gas station be doing after that long?

This post is inspired by the Strong Towns tale of the Taco John’s. Have a read

The Cost of Auto Orientation
The Lost Opportunity of Auto Orientation
The Cost of Auto Orientation, Update

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  • Dan

    No surprise, as QT has greased the skids to get its way. STL has more gas stations per capita than any major city I’ve seen, in large part because there’s lots of land available, and it’s cheap. I live a few blocks from here and the gas station was unneeded and unwanted by almost everyone in the immediate area. I continue to give my business to the locally-owned one a few blocks east on Chouteau, as do a number of my LS neighbors.

  • Mike Williams

    My dentist was the dental building. They ended up moving on Olive which was closer to me and I only go to QT for gas so it was a win-win. I am still surprised by all the QT’s popping up in south city. for years QT only had very few locations.

  • The Ghost of H L Mencken

    Exactly, we must take into account the cost of losing walkability, of future local development. At this point this area has become an anti-people pedestrian desert. A QT prevents any kind of pro-pedestrian, pro-people development, like a neighborhood business district with restaurants etc. Also, there is a glut of gas stations. This is a lose-lose for the city. Every QT that opens sets back walkability 1000 percent.

  • QT is just building what is allowable under St. Louis’ zoning ordinance.

    • The Ghost of H L Mencken

      Obviously. But I think we all agree this is sort of development is terribly detrimental to a sustainable, walkable urban landscape and must be resisted at all costs. Electing progressive leadership is one place to start. I was hoping for something more substantial from our Landmarks Director.

    • gmichaud

      Does that make it right, that it is allowable? I talked about process over at the Grand Center Parking Garage. The same comment applies, and the reason it applies is that St. Louis City has a dysfunctional planning process which figures heavily into the many missteps that occur with projects like this.
      The final result is that the City is not doing what is best for Lafayette Square, nor the people of the city as a whole. I would be happy to argue those points. It is merely a continuation of the same failed policies that has gotten St. Louis to this point. But yeah, more than happy to debate those failures.

      • rgbose

        I think that’s his point. The rules we’ve laid out allow for this outcome.

  • David Hoffman

    People in the neighborhood need to get used to it. Jefferson is what should be an interstate highway connection (although elsewhere.) The volume of traffic is from those trying to connect from 64 to 44.

    • The Ghost of H L Mencken

      This is the type of 1950s thinking that destroyed our urban landscapes. That suburbanized our cities.

    • gmichaud

      Get used to what? Norway just said they will ban gas powered cars by 2025. What everyone has to get used to is that the gas engine is a dodo bird in terms of survival. Truthfully with the amount glaciers are melting I would be surprised if this QT survives its’ useful life.
      In any case St. Louis needs another gas station like it needs a whole in the head .Other cities somehow manage to make urban corridors friendly to pedestrians, autos, bikes and transit. the question is why the failure in St Louis?

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  • gmichaud

    You wonder if the gas station is a net gain. I don’t see how it could be, someone from Florissant isn’t going to ride down to the new QT on Jefferson like they would to Ikea.
    I would bet a very high percentage of people that get gas there used to get it in the general area. In addition if it caused another station to close, there goes any imagined gains. This station is just displacing something else. The city was far better off with going with what was there
    The city has no strategy in the area. If St. Louis had a process like other successful cities to engage the public other, more people friendly outcomes would be more likely.
    Finally I went to a public hearing last night organized by citizens on TIF and tax abatements. Surely this project did not get either one, do you know?

    • rgbose

      No, it didn’t get either

  • JZ71

    You answer your own question: “For a city unable to add land and striving to enhance services and infrastructure, increasing land productivity should be a priority. Let’s see how we did in this transaction. Let’s do the math!” As you make clear, before, both the aggregate assessed values and the actual tax collections were low; now they’re both significantly higher. You can parse it all you want, but there’s a very real difference between what “could” have happened with both the existing structures and the adjacent vacant parcels (for multiple years) and what actually happened in the last two years. Playing statistical games with assessed values, on a parcel-by-parcel basis, while essentially ignoring the low values of adjoining parcels, doesn’t pay the bills – it’s the totals that count!

    And should QT fail (highly unlikely), we’ll just be back to where we were a couple of years ago – primarily vacant land, with an aging structure, waiting for someone else with money in their pocket willing to gamble on serving the American consumer. If we want to “save” structures like the ones that were torn down, it’s going to take more than talk, it’s going to take actual tenants and actual owners willing to pay the price and willing to make the old buildings “work” for whatever they’re trying to do or sell. And there’s no reason (at least in your world) why the remaing parcels can’t be redeveloped / rebuilt with the “right” kind of urban structure – all it’s going to take is one person willing to make the same gamble that QT did . . .

    • Adam

      All the buildings that were there were occupied by businesses. In that sense they already “worked”. Now the potential to maximize the value of this land is gone until QT abandons yet another location to move two block down the road. More musical chairs. People never seem to learn here.

      • kjohnson04

        Exactly. Like at Kingshighway and Fyler. How long will we have to stare at the old QuickTrip two blocks away remain fallow land?

    • rgbose

      The question I want policy makers and stakeholders to ask is not “Is it better than empty lots?” It probably is, though we should consider the added burden to infrastructure and services of the proposed land use, the question should be “Is this enough to at least cover the costs of the infrastructure and services?” Since there’s little hope of enhancing this type of development, we are sure it can’t cross the break even line if its starting point is below it until it’s entirely replaced.

      As far as likelihood of failure, I probably should have said fail or abandoned. We’ve seen that many times including by QT.

      All it takes is one person to come along? That’s where there’s yet another added risk in this transaction. It’s less likely one person can summon the capital to redo the whole thing all at once vs several people fixing up/building and occupying several buildings at different times for an area looking for the first increment of development.

      I’d encourage you to watch this lecture by Joe Minicozzi of Urban3

      • Nat76

        The challenge of this particular corridor is that the northern edge is dominated by a heavy rail corridor and large scale commercial and industrial uses. By default it isn’t particularly conversion-friendly for walkability. Further, there is a large backlog of existing building stock in areas better situated for the type of incremental, organic redevelopment that most of us would like to see. The area reminds me a lot of The Elston corridor in Chicago, which despite far greater development pressures, still retains the same qualities.

        I’m not a fan of QT site planning, but if this indirectly preserves another corner in a more development friendly area from meeting the same fate, then that’s a good thing. I have a much bigger problem with things like the drug store across the street from city hospital. A big opportunity to link Lafayette Square to LaSalle/PDW/Soulard was missed. The Jefferson/Chouteau QT was just another poorly planned site along a street full of poorly planned sites from Grand to about Missouri.

        • Adam

          It’s also on the edge of a neighborhood. And every time you erode the edge of a neighborhood you endanger that neighborhood. Property values drop and buildings become abandoned. We’ve seen it play out over and over where highways sliced through the city.

          • Nat76

            Highways are only a semi-apt comparison because they divide areas for miles. Edge is the key word here. Freeways did the most damage where they cut residential areas in two, with the side with fewer amenities/critical residential mass suffering worse. Tiffany and McRee were once part of Shaw. Benton Park and Soulard. Lafayette Square and McKinley. Bohemian Hill. And so on. We should be so lucky to have 55 running along the industrial area at the eastern edge of Soulard or 44 running on 40 until Grand when it could take a southwesterly route out of the city along the freight rail belt.

            As long as we have cars, we will have freeways, gas stations, scrapyards, mechanic shops, etc. It is much better to place those things on the edge near other things that have already reduced land value/desirability. That corridor contains ugly parking lots from Purina, the MVC and the state, a concrete monstrosity of a building facade at the lighting company, parking lots full of construction equipment, fast food joints, a suburban style SLU research campus, and a lot full of aircraft carcasses. There is some awfully designed 80s style affordable housing just south. The area north of Chouteau is brownfield central with God knows what in the ground from over 100 years of all sorts of use. Considering the mess on Chouteau, a QT doesn’t even register on nearby parcels.

            This isn’t to say I’m in love with the site plan and size of QTs. I’m only suggesting that gas stations will continue to be constructed and it’s better to have a new one on a street like Chouteau or adjacent to some other monstrosity like a freeway than it is to place one at a location that stands a better chance of developing into another vibrant commercial corridor. That’s not Chouteau.

          • Adam

            Do you want a gas station in your back yard? Neither does anyone else. Similarly, they don’t want a highway in their back yard. Thus the real estate next to the gas station (or highway) becomes undesirable and difficult to develop into something that’s not auto-centric. And the cancer spreads. Chouteau wasn’t always parking lots, fast food joints, and gas stations. How do you think it got that way? And how do you think it’s going to heal if we continue the same practices? I don’t know how many times it needs to be said, but it’s not a given that we’re just going to keep building gas stations. St. Louis is already over served by them to the point that they’re just cannibalizing one another. QT just happens to be on the top of the food chain. If we don’t stop taking these types of developments as fate and start regulating them the way other cities do, then we’re just gonna get the same shit environment we’ve been building for the last half century.

          • The Ghost of H L Mencken

            Thank you Adam. I would just add that Indianapolis did a gas station/convenience store moratorium and before it went into effect QT built like 200 gas stations. They are evil.

          • Adam

            Agreed. I stopped patronizing them a while ago.

          • Dan

            Absolutely in agreement. Many people moved to or live in the city for its historic neighborhoods and unique built environment.

    • The Ghost of H L Mencken

      QT will fail eventually. I mean, cars are going electric, etc. You can only sell so much bad coffee and tacquitos. Then the city will be left with a superfund site. Great.

  • Andy

    It is a great location. I can’t blame QT for wanting to be there. I agree that the city/alderman should have prevented it from happening. It would have forced QT to get more creative, buck up and acquire the nearby Phillips 66, or give commerce bank an offer to get a location there. The vacant parking lot to the immediate north would have been an option as well. If you want to be near that intersection and be on the SW side of the street, there aren’t too many options.

  • Adam

    still infuriating a year later. this is the gas station that broke the camel’s back. i haven’t patronized a QT since those buildings came down and will never again give them my business. that transaction also soured me on Alderman Ingrassia.

    • Dan

      She did “hearings” in the Gate District but nothing in Lafayette Square, which is just as close it closer than much of the GD. A few donations to her campaign is all it takes.