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.
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