Design Evolution Continues With BMO Harris Plan for Southwest Bank

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BMO_Southwest Bank_1

It’s been just a couple weeks since BMO Harris Bank revealed plans to restore the Southwest Bank building at the corner of Southwest Avenue and Kingshighway Boulevard in the city’s Southwest Garden neighborhood. That plan was to demolish the buildings between that corner and the corner building at Botanical, adding a more-or-less standard Walgreens store in between.

That proposal was set to go before the city’s Preservation Review Board, but was pulled after the St. Louis Cultural Resources Office (CRO) recommended the board vote against the plan. The property is within the Reber Place National Historic District. Now, an open house set for Friday, August 12 will present a new design iteration.

Images made available on the Southwest Garden Neighborhood Association website show an increased effort to mimic the existing building street wall along Kingshighway, with access to parking lots at curb cuts passing through a facade wall of sorts. Clearer images of the corner building show a complete restoration, but not to historic standards. The small planned addition is not depicted.

BMO_Southwest Bank_3Walgreens at BMO Harris_Southwest Bank 2

The most significant functional changes are t0 the curb cuts on Kingshighway. What was once a right-in/right-out between BMO Harris and Walgreens now appears as a single right-in. Between the Botanical building and Walgreens is now shown as right-out only instead of a standard entrance-exit, which would have allowed left and right turns onto Kingshighway.

The planned Walgreens appears to be a more contemporary design, very similar to what was shared on the Preservation Board agenda. At Botanical Avenue, the plan shows the corner building remaining and being donated to the Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation. Prior to the last design update, it was feared that the Botanical building could be targeted for demolition. The BMO Harris drive through and small island retail without a drive through remain nearly unchanged.

It’s unclear whether the most recent changes will be enough to assuage opposition to proposed demolition. What the changes do show is that plans can respond to community pressure. While this does not always result in a better project, community input serves an especially important role in the absence of an enforced form based code or proactive city planning.

BMO_Southwest Bank_2Walgreens at BMO Harris_Southwest Bank_site plan

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  • Chris Orlet

    How about a QT instead of a Walgreens? Or maybe both!!!

  • Paul Hohmann

    Please note the location of the Open House this Friday at 7pm regarding plans for SW Bank site has changed: http://www.southwestgarden.org/please-note-open-house-review-plans-southwest-bank-building-changed/
    Map of new location: https://goo.gl/maps/PoXxwVzmyPn

  • Mark S.

    From my experience, it’s not uncommon for neighborhood associations to make closed-door decisions and serve as a barometer for Aldermen. I think this extremely counterproductive at a time when taking an online poll is easily automated, and when involvement in neighborhood associations is at an all time low. Still, none of this answers the question: why is the Alderman driving bulldozer development on an historic structure? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the interested reader. But you might also consider the fact that the old (soon-to-be-abandoned) Walgreens isn’t in the 8th ward boundaries.

    Back to my main point: no matter what the plan is for the Southwest Bank building, if Walgreens want to redevelop this lot, I still think the adjoining neighborhoods (including Ward 10) should ask for a statement on what will become of the vacated Southwest Ave building. That needs to be part of the plan. They built the 1980’s storefront. If they want to stay in the neighborhood, they need to clean up their mess, before creating another. My daughter’s three years old and she understands that. Why can’t Walgreens?

    • Adam

      I think it’s less that they don’t understand and more that they don’t care.

  • AJ

    Many residents are opposed to this plan and SWGNA endorsed without resident input. Alderman Conway stated two weeks ago that he would go with (support or oppose) what the residents/neighbors wanted. Last night he stated he would take his direction from the neighborhood associations. One is the SWGNA (who endorsed without due diligence) and the other is Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation who will be receiving the corner building as a gift.
    Top concerns have been building preservation and safety/traffic. Residents welcome a revised (a truly revised plan, not a minimally edited one) plan that not only include the current buildings, but adds on to them. We’re not opposing development, but we are opposing this plan.

    • Adam

      Good to hear. I hope the residents voices will be heard. The SWGNA endorsement sounds like some shady bullsh*t.

    • John

      Good news. I hope the decision makers can read the valuable comments in this forum to drive toward a high-quality design.

    • brickhugger

      Having seen this fight over and over and over, a couple of thoughts:
      1) get organized; really, really organized.
      2) in your discussions, be sure you have design and development finance professionals in the meeting, so that you know what is and isn’t physically and/or economically feasible.
      3) pick the top 3 or 4 biggest issues, and stick with them, and nothing else. Maybe 5, but no more. If you ask for everything and the kitchen sink chances are you’ll get little or nothing, plus the other side won’t respect you. If however, you say “we’ve researched and discussed this at length, and these are our requirements, and we know they are economically and physically feasible, and we are prepared to go to the wall to fight for them if necessary”, that carries a whole lot more weight, especially if they know you will support them fully if they meet your demands.
      4) follow up with everyone involved on a regular basis, regardless of whether they said they will get back to you; sometimes they won’t, and if they know you’re going to be following up once or twice a week with all the parties involved, they can’t ignore you.
      5) if you have your 3-5 researched demands, and you know they can be met with the retailer still making money, don’t back down. If they can make a profit and meet your demands chances are they will, because they want to be on that site in the first place, and it’s a whole lot easier for them to meet your demands than walk away or face a community firestorm. Plus, if they can make it work, so can their competition, and you might casually mention that if it comes to it.
      Sorry for the long post.

  • brickhugger

    Why not rotate Walgreens 90 degrees and eliminate the north curb cut altogether? Make the south cut two-way, and have entry doors for walgreens on sidewalk and parking lot; problems (mostly) solved.

    But definitely keep fighting for better design; I’ve seen this fight at Gravois and River des peres, arsenal and kingshighway, Hampton and Chippewa, lindell boulevard, clayton and big bend, and I’m sure there are others I’ve missed. It doesn’t have to be a palace, but it should DEFINITELY be more pedestrian friendly than what ended up in those locations.

  • John

    it is strange and peculiar that Walgreens would propose a modern, contemporary exterior store design when keystone of the development is the traditional, historic bank building. I understand the juxtaposition of modern and old can work well in some settings, but the odd combination does not work in this proposal at all. The Walgreens building has ZERO character and looks very suburban.

    This proposal needs to go back to the drawing board until they can get it right and incorporate some quality, high-end aesthetic details to match the character and integrity of the neighborhood. I would like to see a detailed, extensive landscaping plan as well. Sad for Walgreens and the developer/architect. This could be SO much better than status quo. Fail.

  • Chris

    Something that shouldn’t be that hard for the developer to do, and would make a big difference, is to move the new retail building that’s in the middle of the parking lot up onto Southwest Ave. It would add to the (somewhat choppy) street wall along Southwest and make it feel a little less like a suburban thoroughfare.

  • Dave

    Is this going to replace the Walgreens just down the road at Kingshighway/Arsenal? If so, what is to happen to that corner?

    • John R

      Don’t know for sure, but I believe it is to replace the Walgreen’s that already is across the street on Southwest. My ideal would be for Walgreen’s to buy the adjoining BP parcel which is for sale and to do a decent re-do on that corner.

  • jhoff1257

    Really don’t understand why they can’t put an entrance to both the Walgreens and the bank on Kingshighway. Especially the historical corner entrance to Southwest Bank.

    Also, wouldn’t be cool to have the big neon Southwest Bank sign back on top of the building?

  • Tim E

    I would favor the plan if they would kill the separate bank drive thru and out lot building. Instead, extend the street parallel and to the west Kings highway all the way through to Southwest Ave. Put residential back in or some multi unit residential. Anything to fill the expanse of surface lot.

    My argument is that most of these stores and square footage is empty, no continuous block of store fronts anywhere near it to feed or build upon, a lot of single residential on the south side of Southwest Ave. Simply requiring the same doesn’t resolve the fact that this block of storefronts/commercial space won’t be supported as it was in the past and the expanse of surface parking lot only made the whole thing worse. Putting a street back in place and reclaiming some of the surface back lot for residential, multi unit construction is a fair trade to letting some of the middle buildings go IMO .
    .

    • Steve Kluth

      I don’t understand this. There already is a separate bank drive-thru in that spot. It looks like they’re just tearing down the old one to replace it. Why do you expect the bank to give up an feature its customers use? The dry cleaners’ customers park next to their building on the SW corner at Botanical. Are you proposing getting rid of that – which hurts the only small business here – or do you want two separate streets intersecting Kingshighway within 50 feet? Neither makes sense.

      • Tim E

        Yep, axe the drive thru even though I doubt that would ever happen as you correctly note. So move the handicap parking spots over to the three spots along Kingshighway & rebuild drive thru closer to the bank itself. Giving up some of the parking next to the bank
        ..
        As far as dry cleaner you could get rid of the curb cut proposed between Walgreens and the other corner builing. Infill with another store front for the dry cleaners, add diagonally parking on kingshighway and back entrance (like you see in a lot of business in downtown Maplewood on Manchester with parking in rear)

        Or another option on dry is new mixed used by building a larger footprint up to sidewalk on Southwest Ave and add 1-2 stories of apartments.

        As onecity noted, the key in all this add the parking on Kingshigway. Once you do that the back side of this development can get a new vision

  • onecity

    Kingshighway is more than wide enough to accomodate angled parking, which would completely eliminate the “need” for curb cuts, and also allow for an uninterrupted, urban facade. The curb cuts are just…dumb. Questionable and destructive choices all around.

    • Imran

      I agree. This is what
      should be done. Parking would help humanize the sidewalk by providing a buffer for
      pedestrians and may actually tame some of the drivers on Kingshighway
      who take the ‘highway’ part quite literally.

      • john w.

        This would unfortunately cause a bottleneck right at the intersection. The southbound cars in the westernmost lane would need to immediately merge once through the intersection, and at 35 mpg (assume the typical long green light for thoroughfare traffic) this is not a reasonable proposition. The fact that this block is virtually unapproachable via private auto makes it a tough sell as a business venture. All of the appeal is the east-facing street wall, which is difficult to access without walking a great distance. The width of Kingshighway is a psychological barrier to crosswalk as well, and without any contiguous pedestrian-friendly business activity to the north or south blocks, or directly across the street, I believe the city would need to intervene and CREATE a safe parallel parking lane by capturing half the depth of the 20-foot-wide sidewalk here. Cafe seating could still work with 10′-0″ of sidewalk width, but this is something the city would have to offer the developer. The street trees would be lost, but this is easily replaced. The two-story building in the middle should be a restaurant, with a tavern in the single-story space to its south and maybe a coffee shop or bar on the corner. The single-story space between the restaurant and bank could be office lease space. Without parallel parking here, I’m afraid this will be very difficult stretch of commercial buildings to rehab without city commitment.

        • onecity

          Angled parking, not parallel parking. At least 2x as many spots. Also, a bottleneck approaching this area would help to calm traffic, making it a lot more hospitable to businesses in the first place. Those are positives. Add in some speed bumps at Magnolia, Reber, Southwest, the western park entrance, etc. You’ll see a major reduction in 35mph traffic overnight.

          • john w.

            Noted on angled parking, however those departing the block would still need to back into oncoming traffic, and that close to the intersection with oncoming traffic at 35mgh+ is a bit concerning. There’s no way a bottleneck would be tolerable immediately across the intersection in the southbound lanes, and you’d also need to add those making a left turn left onto KHWY from Vandeventer, favored by the traffic signal. Instead, a dedicated right turn lane in southbound KHWY traffic that would begin about 200 to 300 feet north of the intersection could be manageable. This would allow for access to the corner gas station and to right turn onto SW Avenue. Then, you’d have fluid through-traffic in the two unaffected lanes that would only need to contend with parallel parking a certain distance past the corner radius at the bank (a bulb that would both allow for safe intersection separation and a bus stop). Even 30 degree in parking will need 16+ feet of orthogonal dimension that is perpendicular to the sidewalk curb. That’s already wider than the 10′ wide 3rd traffic lane on southbound KHWY. In the CWE angled parking works GREAT because those streets are not thoroughfares like KHWY. Like Jefferson, Grand and Hampton, Kingshighway is a critical N-S thoroughfare, and the speed and volume of traffic must be part of the solution.

    • Sam

      Thank you! I’m not even sure why this section of Kingshighway is three lanes each way. Delete one lane each way. Add a middle dual turn lane(optional) and parking on the west side by the storefronts. Once you get to Arsenal it goes down to two lanes each way with a turn lane in the middle and it seems to work fine there. Not to mention on Sundays Kingshighway is essentially two lanes each way between Magnolia and Arsenal because of The Journey parking. Lastly, look at Kingshighway and Chippewa for a good example of what could be. Two lanes each way with a turn lane and street parking on the west in front of actual storefronts(Bonus:the Walgreens on the opposite corner doesn’t have curb cuts on Kingshighway…how does it stay in business??)

  • Adam

    There simply does not need to be 2 curb cuts along Kingshighway—and therefore no reason to demolish the entire wing along K’way. The southernmost cut should be more than sufficient, allowing access directly to the BMO drive-through. I’m sure patrons will be able to navigate their way to the other side of Walgreens without a second cut.

  • rgbose

    The Walgreens on Clayton near Big Bend has about 50 spaces. Are they ever all full?

    • moorlander

      No but 30 filled Is not uncommon. Don’t forget the additional employee parking lot with 19 more spaces located along Concordia.