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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Favazza's is Tearing Down Hill Commercial Building

 UPDATE (2/3/10 @ 8:35am): I encourage readers to check out the comments on this post. Anthony Favazza has responded and clarified some points and views reflected on this post. The plans for the two commercial buildings referenced below are outdoor dining, not parking, and may result in less parking. Still, the Hill has lost one historic commercial building already and may lose another soon. In my opinion, outdoor dining areas should not take the place of whole buildings. That's what sidewalks are for. 


Also, apparently the Cultural Resources Office can approve a demolition permit in a preservation review ward without sending it to the Preservation Board. So that explains how both Favazza's and Olympia demolished nearby buildings without the public being able to comment. The original post follows:

In a scenario that has become all too common in the City of St. Louis, a restaurant is taking down an adjacent building to provide more parking.

As reported back late last year on this blog, Favazza's on the Hill sought demolition of two commercial properties on Southwest Avenue--5209 and 5211-13 Southwest.

The two buildings are pictured below, courtesy of Michael Allen at Ecology of Absence.


Matt Fernandez is reporting via the Urban St. Louis forums that 5209 Southwest, the white building (on the right) above, is partially demolished already, with its second floor having been removed. Just as a note, this could be an attempt to renovate and stabilize the building, as John Favazza informed this blog that the building suffered a roof collapse at the rear after a storm in 2006. The reason I say this is that Matt Fernandez noted that the second floor facade is still intact.

However, Favazza also informed this blog that he definitely had no intentions at all of saving 5209 Southwest, due to the extent of the damage, and that this site would become additional parking as well as outdoor dining space. Favazza stated that they consulted SPACE Architects, who said the building was not salvageable. So in all likelihood, this building will soon be completely erased.

The fate of 5211-13 is less certain. Again, when I spoke to Favazza, he said they may try to renovate the building and that I should check in for future plans. However, they applied for demolition permits for both buildings last August, indicating that 5211-13 is likely to disappear as well. The result will be a vast stretch of asphalt where urban--and attractive--buildings once stood.

I reported just a few days ago on Olympia in Dogtown demolishing two frame houses to provide more parking for their restaurant as well. What is going on here? Why let sound urban buildings languish in neighborhoods that could sustain more residents and businesses? We know the answer: parking, parking, parking! (And outdoor dining--but that could have been easily accomplished with a simple sidewalk dining permit). Both Olympia and Favazza's seemed to proceed without going before the Preservation Board. Each restaurant and their demolished properties are inside city "Preservation Review" districts. How they bypass measures to see buildings preserved for the public good is a mystery. Perhaps emergency demolition permits?

It's true that we can't completely lash out on the businesses themselves. They're being selfish, sure. They're being anti-urban, yes. But we can only expect exploitation to continue to occur when we have a broken system that encourages such deplorable stewardship of a sensitive built environment.

The City of St. Louis needs a proper 21st century urban zoning ordinance. We also need a Master Plan to direct growth and redevelopment. We need to more sensibly manage our resources and assets, assuring that we don't chip away at our commercial districts and put up unsightly, heat island parking lots where urban buildings and activity should be. It's past the time where urbanists need to get together to write such a code and initiate a Master Plan for this city. We need to comprehensively prevent senseless urban planning and design atrocities.

I would recommend calling and emailing 10th Ward alderman Joseph Vollmer. Please let him know people visit the Hill because of its unique charm and ambiance, not because of its plentiful parking. He should have shown leadership and offered Favazza's advice on how to not only provide its patrons with outdoor dining, but how to put these buildings back into use.

13 comments:

Charlie said...

Hi Matt, I was on Sisyphus with you some years ago. I love your blog; keep up the good fight. I emailed Alderman Vollmer and I hope hope he and the people who love this city are able to find a better solution than to put a big asphalt void in the Hill. We should be encouraging small business development in existing spaces. The last thing this city needs is more parking lots.

-Charlie Hall

Matt M. said...

Thanks Charlie! What are you up to these days?

Thanks for your support!

Anthony said...

Matt,

You should listen more and assume less.

If one of the Favazza owners told you that outdoor dining was part of the renovation plans, why would you write that "the result will be a vast stretch of asphalt"? Do you really think we would spend money with architecture firms to design a parking lot?

Favazza's is not tearing anything down to provide more parking. Your asphalt assumption is inaccurate. The plans are still being finalized, but they will most likely result in LESS parking.

Favazza's arguably has the best preservation record of any business on the Hill. We invite everyone to come to see our restaurant, built over 100 years ago, at 5201 Southwest Ave. We also invite you to visit the Rose of the Hill (also over 100 years old) at 2300 Edwards (site of Ruggeri's Restaurant for over 50 years). Both buildings were in terrible disrepair prior to our purchase.

My family has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in preservation efforts on the Hill. We are very proud of our preservation record, the jobs we have created and maintained for 35 years, and the food we serve everyday.

Sincerely,

Anthony Favazza

ps to Charlie - Favazza's is a small business.

Matt M. said...

Mr. Favazza:

Thank you for your reply and comments.

I believe that I was told that the plans would include both parking and outdoor dining. Though I might have spent too much time in the post lamenting parking, that's not really even the main point.

Outdoor dining is not, for me, a worthy use of land containing two urban buildings. Businesses across the city have gotten sidewalk dining permits. Why not go down this avenue?

Secondly, as far as the asphalt comment, if the outdoor dining area will be at all visible from the street, then we'll see what most of the rear lots of these buildings contain--which is asphalt.

Regarding a "parking lot architect": if you followed this blog you'd know that the Archdiocese hired an architect to build a parking lot atop the San Luis Apartments in the Central West End. It does happen sometimes!

As far as your preservation track record, your past actions are appreciated. Note that this blog post's subject was not Favazza's history of poor stewardship of the Hill, but my lamenting that the city does not have a comprehensive plan with a proper zoning code that preserves our sensitive commercial districts. The city is better for your investment...period. I just ate at your restaurant when I was back in town over holiday break. It was great.

That said, your current actions do blot your preservation record. I'm still unsure whether you plan to take down the other building, but, regardless, you have taken an attractive building that has been around as long or longer than the building that houses your current restaurant and are turning it into something less. Why could you not have used the surface lot currently present just west of your building for dining purposes?

I apologize if I misquoted you guys over your intentions regarding parking. But the effects of your actions are detrimental in my eyes whether we see striped spaces or patio tables in place of 5209 and 5211-13 Southwest.

Again, I appreciate your previous contributions to the Hill, but you know where I stand as a preservationist. This particular action has made the Hill a (slightly) less attractive place in my book.

I wholeheartedly support small businesses--in nearly every case. They (you) enrich our city by their presence. But when small businesses start to chip away at the commercial districts that host them, we start to lose our unique, urban identity that separates us from our suburbs as well as other cities.

I would love it if you would write a guest piece on your contributions to the Hill and your take on this particular situation. I would be happy to publish it.

Jasper said...

Matt
People who write blogs are just that people who sit at home and write blogs. People who run restaurants Family owned restaurants at that are the Lifeblood of our cities. The Favazzas get up every morning and bust their ass to serve a quality product to the people of St Louis, and they don't deserve the slander that is written here they like myself have enough to worry about every morning when they wake up. Whether it be who is going to show up for work, what equipment is going to break down, what new city health department codes they must follow, believe me they change daily and surviving in a tough economy so they can keep their historic business running. That's how you preserve something you get up everyday and do whatever it takes. Try walking in their shoes before you write something misinformed and inaccurate, because believe me I have and its a very tough business and the last thing they need is something written about their business like this. Leave the Favazzas alone so they can preserve the Hill and run their restaurant.

Jasper Mirabile III

Jaspers Restaurant

Kansas City, Missouri

Matt M. said...

Jasper,

I'm not seeing the part of my post that said running a restaurant is easy. I also agree that restaurants and shops are the lifeblood of cities. If you read this blog regularly you'd know I stump for local businesses all the time. No matter what city I'm in, I'm supporting--almost exclusively--local, small, independent businesses.

That said, running a restaurant doesn't offer you some sort of immunity to criticism. I think tearing down a set of buildings for an outdoor dining area that could have been constructed without doing so is a regressive action for the built environment. My blog covers the built environment. It's not surprising that I'm disappointed.

Again, though, the fault is less Favazza's and more the City of St. Louis--because zoning should prohibit Favazza's from doing so.

Let's take an example of another city-owned business that has become a landmark--Hodak's on Gravois. Their website brags about what they've torn down to create parking lots (not outdoor dining). I still support them--but their surrounding area has becomes something less than "urban". This is a common problem in St. Louis. Restaurants become institutions that draw A LOT of people from outside the neighborhood. They then go about dismantling the neighborhood's commercial district, making it uglier, less walkable, more paved, and less urban. As a result, St. Louis has very few remaining business districts that are intact and of decent size. Again--this is a problem of city government, who should be ENSURING that the city is a unique URBAN destination and not a parking lot.

As for the "bloggers sit at home" comment, that one's getting extremely old. I could point you to several restaurant owners that blog, for one. Many urban bloggers are completely gainfully employed and, beyond that, do great things for our cities. People are using blogs in St. Louis to establish networks that would have otherwise been impossible. These networks are floating around great ideas to make our city a better place. The whole "blogger in their underwear" image needs to go; people can be good, active citizens and maintain a blog.

Jeffrey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey said...

Matt,
I encourage you to spend more time on the Hill and in the community to truly understand the “unique charm and ambiance”. It isn’t found in its vacant buildings (of which there are plenty), but in its people.

The Hill, as you may or may not know, has a deep history rooted in its Italian food industry. All of these establishments are small businesses that have been synonymous with the community for well over 50 years. As the St. Louis population has pushed farther and farther away from the City of St. Louis, these restaurants remained keeping a local employment base and viability for the neighborhood that would otherwise be nonexistent.

The City of St. Louis is blessed to have private development and private interest in the City. Just because a building is made of brick doesn’t mean it is historical nor does it mean it has some significance in the St. Louis community. Please don’t misconstrue the brick on the Hill for the people that ARE the Hill.

Without these restaurants you would have a lot more vacant buildings to save. Be grateful.

Jeff Rombach
St. Louis City Resident

p.s. sidewalks are for pedestrians.

Matt M. said...

Jeffrey--

I agree with you that PART of the charm of the Hill is its people and the history associated with the people who have resided and done business within the hill past and present.

But CITIES succeed by being cities, not by creating lots of dead space and clearing buildings. St. Louis has declined in part because the city was so quick to wipe out historic fabric that almost certainly would have been reclaimed by now and could have kept people within the city.

You're presenting the issue to be a dichotomy, a tradeoff, which it's not. Favazza's success does not depend on leveling two buildings and creating outdoor dining. If it did (somehow), I'd be all for it because I appreciate the effects of small, local, family-owned businesses on our city. We need them; they're a great asset.

However, the built environment DOES matter. If the Hill were full of strip malls, parking lots, and cars, it would without a doubt not have the same charm it does today. It's the people, yes, that keep the activity in the neighborhood, but that charm and ambiance is owed to a unique built environment. The city has all too often delivered this built environment into the arms of oblivion in the name of ill-defined progress. Our city's unique architecture is our asset to bring people back to the city. The more we lose, the harder a case it is to make that we're a viable city.

I'll say once again: this post is NOT an attack on Favazza's, and I've added a disclaimer at the beginning to express that. This post is an attack on the city for not solidifying its built environment to the point that we don't even allow these types of decisions. In a commercial district, you shouldn't be allowed to take down buildings for outdoor dining.

Re: Sidewalks--they are indeed for pedestrians. That's why businesses must apply for permits to create sidewalk dining, and they must leave room for pedestrians to pass. I'd suggest you visit the Central West End to see how urban-oriented sidewalk dining occurs. I'll also note that there is an existing paved lot just to the west of Favazza's right now. That too could have been used for outdoor dining.

I agree that occupied and active buildings are crucial to the Hill, but you're not going to convince me that this wasn't a senseless action and that the city should ultimately strong discourage such actions if not make them illegal outright.

Charlie said...

Hey Matt,

In 2008 I graduated from Bard College with a BA in experimental music, which is more of a hobby than something I wanted to pursue professionally. I'm currently studying Nutrition, Dietetics and Culinary Arts at SLU. I hope to work in public health with an emphasis on local produce (which will hopefully involve my family's small farm in Eureka, where I grew up.) I'm living just up Kingshighway from SLUH, and I'm happy to finally be added to St. Louis City's population.

This was a pretty good dialogue, but it's unfortunate that some people don't appreciate your efforts, as an involved and interested citizen, to preserve the tenuous urban fabric in our city and bring attention to these hyper-local issues. I think everyone here agrees that preservation and progress are in the best interests of the city of St. Louis, but unfortunately the interest of business (small and large) often collides with the interests of concerned citizens or past citizens - no one really leaves this place - such as yourself.

Keep up the good work.

P.S. If you happen to be a Reddit.com user, check out the small but growing St. Louis page: http://www.reddit.com/r/StLouis/

Jeff said...

Matt-

It appears from a previous email that you are a SLUH grad (one of previous commenting bloggers stated that he worked with you at Sisyphus)- I wonder if you are proud of what SLUH has done in the neighborhood in St. Louis. Very easily, SLUH could have made a choice to move to the suburbs (sorry to all of the CBC (or CB) grads), but instead, they decided to make an investment in the city and remain at home within the city limits (however, this decision did require the destruction of homes and a neighborhood). This neighborhood possessed a number of unique facades and architecture, but this area was in a state of despair. Had SLUH left, these homes may have remained as they were, but with very little chance of renovation (the price to fix far outweighs the price to demolish). Because these homes were not being renovated, they were not adding value. By removing the structures and adding new state-of-the-art facilities for current and future high schoolers, SLUH brings a very active approach to developing community and rebirth to an area that was in despair. This decision has aided in the revitalization of the surrounding community- Forest Park, Highway 40 (Interstate 64) and a neighborhood that was in clear and utter decline.

Today as you drive down Oakland Avenue, you get the strong (present day) sense of community. As McMillan & Chavis (1986) define Sense of Community as "a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members' needs will be met through their commitment to be together.” Prior to renovations, the sense of community was lost for the region surrounding SLUH- today it flourishes. As a graduate, I am proud of the accomplishments that SLUH has brought to the city of St. Louis. Without their commitment and forward thinking, and their willingness to allow the capitalistic result- creative destruction (Shumpeter- 1942) to bring success to this region, I fear what would be in place now if SLUH had vacated the community.

Similarly, I applaud Favazza’s Restaurant (and the ownership) for actively maintaining a strong and growing presence in the city of St. Louis. They too, could have easily decided to walk out of the city and locate their business in the suburbs, but instead they have an active sense of pride for St. Louis (and in particular “The Hill”). Instead of just talking about how great the neighborhood is and how it “used to be”, they are working to make “The Hill” a place, for residents of the area and for the entire St. Louis metropolitan community, where they can have that “sense of community” within a historically valuable region. Their decision to continue to bring wonderful dining experiences for guests (and to attract guests to visit the city) is truly a strength of the Favazza’s organization. They have purchased and renovated several vacant buildings in the region in order to remain true and add value to a region and a community.

I would much rather drive/walk down a street and see people enthusiastically enjoying St. Louis, and sharing experiences and having “a feeling that their needs are met through a commitment to being together” instead of just driving/walking down a street and seeing vacant “beautiful” facades.

Thank you Favazza’s (and the many businesses/residents) in the city of St. Louis for renovating, building, and improving the region!

Jeff Varrone
NKY Resident
St. Louisan for life

Matt M. said...

Jeff--

Thank you for your comments.

I am indeed a SLUH Grad. I am familiar with SLUH's handling of the surrounding Kings Oak neighborhood. I was actually planning a post on that very topic a couple weeks back.

I think this is a great point in the discussion to introduce the distinction between "good investment" and "good planning" or "sound urban design". The former category is much more broad than the latter. "Good investment"--to some an oxymoron--brings jobs, keeps an area viable, and attracts other investment. Sound urban planning and design is something much more specific. In that regard, SLUH has brought welcome investment to a neighborhood, but has truly dismantled that "neighborhood" and turned it into a stranded wedge of the city.

I disagree that the neighborhood was ever in "despair", to quote you. Disrepair, perhaps. But Kings Oak was never a shade as depressed as Forest Park Southeast, which is rebounding quite well, much against odds, and with little demolition.

We can't give institutions like SLUH and SLU credit for reviving "neighborhoods". Sure their investment is good for the city, but they have effectively dismantled surrounding neighborhoods in the sense of removing places to live and shop within them. What we need are institutions that recognize the value of a diverse, active, walkable city (which equals rows of homes and shops) and complement it with their investment--not replace it.

St. Louisans are so used to thinking in terms of dichotomies. "SLUH could have moved, but instead they remained and demolished the neighborhood around them." Perhaps some of the housing needed to go for athletic fields and such--but the first thing I think of is "how do other cities handle these tensions?" It's not uncommon to see a conspicuously demolished area of a neighborhood next to a school--but not several blocks. SLUH could have built a well-designed parking garage instead of large surface parking lots. Forest Park seems like a fitting place for athletic fields. There are, of course, ways to invest in a community without removing that community. It takes creativity and an awareness of what makes cities tick. Unfortunately, institutions don't often have this goal in mind; that's why the city of St. Louis has the responsibility to implement proper urban zoning to ensure that institutions know their place in an urban setting.

We in St. Louis need to quit bolstering false dichotomies. We can both have an intact built environment AND strong institutions. An intact built environment leaves the potential for real community--which to me means a dense network of people, businesses, AND institutions all in the thick of things together.

The reason Favazza's earned a whole post for just two buildings--and not several blocks like SLUH--is because commercial districts are neighborhood centers and are increasingly threatened. Throughout the city, we have seen a degradation of formerly walkable business districts because some business on the stretch "invested" in it and in the process removed several buildings for something less, something worse--usually parking. This is a pattern that must be reversed.

St. Louis needs to be able to compete with its peers in order to attract people to live there. St. Louis needs a competitor to New Orleans' seven-mile Magazine Street. It needs to have several districts that can compare to Baltimore's Fells Point or Federal Hill. The more we surrender unconditionally to these institutions, the less "city" we have to even promote. That's true whether the buildings in question are occupied or vacant.

Michael R. Allen said...

Anthony and any Hill residents reading:

To what extent were Favazza's plans discussed at community meetings and what were some of the reactions? I'm genuinely curious.

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