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Monday, April 19, 2010

Conceding Tucker Boulevard to Blandness

St. Louis doesn't have a system of comprehensive planning. Thus it surprises few observers in the urbanist community when an individual developer floats his or her project without regard to its surroundings.

Today comes (overall, great) news that the AFL-CIO Trust will commit $108 million to two downtown development projects--the Laurel Building (also known as the Dillard's Building) and the Park Pacific building at 13th and Olive.

So what's the bad news? Tucker Boulevard--a street whose grandiose size might confuse visitors into thinking it's St. Louis's "Main Street"--is being dedicated as the parking garage elevation for the Park Pacific building's redevelopment. A tiny rendering is shown in the article:

Some might say, in autocentric St. Louis, it's necessary to have dedicated parking (it's probably also tied to financing, in some way). Truthfully, I don't dispute that some parking is needed to redevelop this building. However, the above rendering is unacceptable for Tucker Boulevard if this street is ever to become active, urban, and attractive.

The City of St. Louis recently constructed a monster of a parking garage at the northeast corner of Tucker and Clark. See a Google Streetview capture of the garage, without its retail bays added as of yet, below:

I commend the city for attempting to make a statement with a parking garage rather than constructing a series of bare concrete decks (sort of like the kind shown in the Park Pacific rendering, on the north side of the site). However, parking is in severe oversupply downtown when all off-street spaces are accounted for. And the Tucker garage shown here at Clark Street is not even attached to any one project--it's a municipal garage. If every downtown redevelopment project includes its own dedicated parking garage with more than one space per visitor or resident, not to mention separate municipal garages, opportunity for a true urban environment is squandered. Transit is disincentivized as driving becomes easier. Every new parking space drives the cost of parking down, and as parking becomes cheaper, it becomes the better option. Convenient parking reduces walking times and distances, cutting down the chances that a pedestrian will linger downtown and walk around to discover its retail, restaurant, and entertainment offerings.

But this post is not even really a statement against downtown St. Louis's parking oversupply, primarily. It's about poor urban design on one of St. Louis's major downtown streets. Across from the new municipal garage at Tucker and Clark is a surface parking lot serving City Hall. Just north of the Gateway Mall blocks are the Park Pacific site, a pair of deadening and severe mid-rises, a woefully underused parcel that a one-story US Bank branch sits on, and several other gaps as well. Filling in the Park Pacific site with an unsightly parking garage relegates Tucker to third class status as an urban boulevard.

I wrote on a previous post in agreement with a statement that said people desire to live in cohesive urban environments. That means that few people will be proud of a place that is beautiful in one area (Washington Avenue), while dreary just a block or two over (Tucker Boulevard). We must reposition our downtown so that its dead zones are not so apparent.

Park Pacific developers should include a four-story mixed-use building that wraps Tucker, Pine, and Olive on all sides. Parking could be hidden in the core of this building. Street-level retail is not enough to mitigate the damage of exposed parking decks on a street with as many issues as Tucker has already. Here is an example of what I mean, from Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood.

This new mixed-use building may not be flashy, but it's a nicely scaled urban building. Do you see its attached parking garage? I don't.

Walk too fast and you might even miss the spot to pull in to its large dedicated parking garage. It's located behind the building, on the inside and invisible to the public portion of the block.

Park Pacific should not proceed with plans that would concede Tucker to blandness. It's a visually important street for St. Louis.

Tucker--once 12th Street--has an important legacy that should be respected. 12th Street was once symbolic enough of St. Louis for postcard representation.

Especially as St. Louis bids for the Democratic National Convention and wishes to play host to tens of thousands of visitors from across the nation in 2012, we should be cleaning up the face of our region--downtown St. Louis--not further scarring it.


Kevin Barbeau said...

Great, great news...followed by the same ol' planning failures. I'd say that St. Louis has reached its saturation point for parking garages, but I know the planners/designers/city hall would just look at me confusedly and say 'Saturation point? I don't feel any rain."

Chris said...

I love that building in Fells Point.

Anonymous said...

matt, do you know if this is just a preliminary rendering? who might we contact, i wonder, to put some pressure on the developers...

Matt M. said...

I am trying to get that information myself. If anyone finds it, do post it here, please!

miguelito said...

I would love to put the pressure on Park Pacific and the city to make this plan one that advances the aesthetic appeal of Tucker. This, as it is, does the opposite of that.

Kevin Barbeau said...

miquelito said: I would love to put the pressure on Park Pacific and the city to make this plan one that advances the aesthetic appeal of Tucker. This, as it is, does the opposite of that."

not only the aesthetic of Tucker, but the aesthetic of the Park Pacific. The plan calls for 230 units and, while these tenants will need parking, separating them from the city (rather than making them feel connected) is not the way to get folks to sign the bottom line.

Anonymous said...

I'd guess the new owner of the Jefferson Arms wouldn't be too pleased by this, except that the JA is owned by a flipper/invester and not a developer... :(

john w. said...

For an exemplar on this type of urban building, please see the links below. The second link pertains to the architecture firm that designed the excellent project, and please follow the 'slideshow' link on this page to see how this fantastic urban installation deftly wraps a shared parking garage. Folks, good projects as precedent are not hard to find, but it seems like those interested in seeing appropriate and progressive design projects appear in St. Louis should be taking the initiative in proposing their own solutions to the many problems our city has. Get the conversation started by showing what you feel is appropriate and progressive, instead of waiting for a developer to finally unveil bad projects at which we then hurl rotten tomatoes. Sort of a, 'what's there, and here's what should be' thing.

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