Near North Riverfront Neighborhood

St. Louis' Florist Row

Some industries tend to consolidate within a city.  Look no further than Produce Row in the Near North Riverfront Neighborhood where you can find fresh fruit and vegetables making their first stop in the city before getting re-purchased and distributed throughout Missouri and Illinois.

The long loading docks are abuzz with activity on most days and the scene is good.  Produce Row has been located near the intersection of North Broadway and North Market Street since 1953:

According to a 2011 story from one of the fresh produce industry's oldest trade publications, "

The Packer":  

"...21 companies inhabited Produce Row’s 98 stalls, ranging from wholesalers, to foodservice companies, to brokerages. That’s less than half of what it was just 10 years ago, when 57 companies operated along “The Row.” Still, those 21 companies simply occupy more stalls, making Produce Row a busy place most days — and nights.

“I think we’re 100% occupied,” said Vince Mantia, president of William Mantia Fruit Co. “There are opportunities down here to stay in business.”

Most of the hustle and bustle around the row takes place at night or in the early mornings, when most of the 18,000 tractor-trailers that visit the place annually come and go, leaving before the crack of dawn to deliver a shipment of goods to near or distant retailers or foodservice companies.

“This is one of the most competitive markets around down here,” said Jeff Moore, vice president-sales for the Midwest region for Tom Lange Co. Inc., Springfield, Ill. “But it’s a friendly competitiveness. It all boils down to service, relationships and quality.”

The space between the two rows of buildings, which also serves as a parking lot, is known simply as “the street.”

“Our guys walk the street at 6:30 every morning to see product, what everyone else is bringing in,” Moore said. “We’re seeing what we’re selling. That’s an advantage of being on Produce Row.”

Other industries are clustered as well, like Florist Row in the Gate District Neighborhood, but you might not know it.

Just south of Chouteau Avenue between Jefferson and Grand, you will find this charming cluster of wholesale and retail nurseries, greenhouses and florists.  Unlike the St. Louis Produce Market, Florist Row is largely open to the public, even offering weekend hours.  This is another one of St. Louis' more hidden gems that make city living so much fun.  But, why does it have to be hidden?  It wasn't completely obvious to me that this strip of businesses, creating a little clustered industry row, is right along LaSalle Street between Ewing Street to the west and Jefferson to the east.  Driving by on Chouteau Avenue, it is not "sold" to passers by.  I'd like to see a big metal and neon sign with an arrow pointing you to the strip...forgive my ham-handed computer skills, but something like this:

This could be a destination place for plant, flower, nursery enthusiasts (see Bowood Farms in the Central West End).  I've lived in a neighborhood just south of here for nearly five years, and never knew this was open to the public.  I assumed it was wholesale only.  Not the case.  There is a real opportunity for Florist Row to advertise and sell the strip a bit more to the hoi polloi...it could only help.  And the Gate District would benefit from a little place making.

This is a great spot to get your gardening supplies in a relaxed, laid back setting. 

Walter Knoll alone has a great selection of indoor and outdoor annuals, perennials and tropicals.  The staff is very kind and the place has the locally owned, slower paced vibe that you don't get at Home Depot or Lowes.

Walk east from there, where greenhouses dot the streetscape and stop into one of the florists where you will find a small army of floral arrangers diligently creating delightful offerings for festive occasions or get out of jail cards for generations of desperate men :)

Ever wonder where those pre-arranged floral bouquets and arrangements come from?  Right here.

Upon our visit, we looked around and couldn't help but notice the fact that the diversity of the staff nicely reflected the diversity within this part of the city.  We overheard conversations about the Cardinals game, weekend plans, kids and the best flowers to work with this week.  It was a relaxed and homey feel yet abuzz with activity of ten or so folks clipping, arranging and packaging flowers for their final retail destination.  A great, locally owned, city scene.

You'll see young women shopping for wedding flowers, hobbyists and creative types gathering supplies for their work and moms and daughters picking out craft supplies.

Florist row is yet another reason to love St. Louis city living.

But, back to the "industry row" concept...when thinking about critical mass, as defined as t

he minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a venture, what are some 

other industries that could benefit from "a row"?  A cluster of businesses that all of a sudden become a place, a destination.

I am thinking a strip of our awesome local chocolatiers such as Bissingers, Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate, Merbs, Kakao, etc all setting up shop nearest Bissinger's new (awesome) location just north of downtown on Broadway occupying historic warehouses and factories.  How about a "coffee row" including all the local roasters.  A tasting room showcasing all the local brews would be fantastic.  Just think of the local flavor that could come from such a consolidation...not to mention the supply chain efficiencies...

Little Bosnia, Little Saigon, Little Sierra Leone...the possibilities are endless...concentrating businesses into a single, walk-able spot creates density and supports place-making.  Look no further than the Hill as a prime example.  Strength comes in numbers.  I like to make "a day of it" hitting all my faves on the Hill...it's so easy to just park the car and walk to all the markets and restaurants.

What "rows" have you seen in other cities that you think would work in St. Louis?

The New Mississippi River Bridge and Tucker Boulevard

The new Mississippi River bridge, ramps and surface roads are taking shape just north of Downtown in the

Near North Riverfront

neighborhood.  With my curiosity piqued by a recent

blog post

on UrbanReviewSTL related to the insane amounts of surface parking lots lining Tucker Blvd. where traffic from the new bridge will be routed south into the city, I decided to take a quick ride over there to check on the progress myself.

This is a historic project for our region and even our country.  You don't get many opportunities to witness construction of a bridge of this magnitude during a lifetime, so it seemed like more photos are in order to help document this work for future generations to look back on.  For more great info and photos of this project, click

here

 for a NextSTL story by Herbie Markwort.  I am fascinated by photos of bridge construction, especially the elegant

national treasure that is the Eads bridge:

A trip to the riverfront will provide you with excellent views of the massive, soon to be, cable-stayed bridge currently under construction.  This beauty will consist of two towers, with cables supporting the bridge deck.  The main span of the bridge will be 1,500 feet in length, with a total span of 2,803 feet.  Cables will stretch from the bridge deck to the tops of two A-shaped towers, which will reach 435 feet above I-70. According to the Illinois and Missouri Departments of Transportation, the new bridge’s main span will consist of 1,000 miles of 0.6-inch-diameter stay-cable strand, enough for nearly two round trips from St. Louis to Chicago. Nearly 15,000 tons of structural steel will be used, along with 8,600 tons of reinforcing steel. Some 90,600 cubic yards of concrete will be used in the foundation, deck slab, and towers. Upon completion, the bridge will be the third longest in the United States. (

sources

This bridge is no joke and it should look fantastic, especially if lit up at night.  The towers are visible from many different vantage points within the city and the cables are being installed now.  I'm glad we'll have something special here as opposed to another Poplar Street Bridge clone which is as ho-hum and utilitarian as a bridge can be.

So what are we going to name this new modern marvel?  How about the Mound Cities Bridge?  I love the connection to the Cahokians who erected mounds on both sides of the river.  And, Mound Street runs parallel to the ramps that enter St. Louis.

It seems like it would be a missed opportunity if we didn't honor modern-day St. Louis' and Cahokia's connection to the remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico circa A.D. 700 - 1400.

Another great call would be something to do with Lewis and Clark or the Louisiana Purchase.  You can't really call it the Lewis & Clark Bridge though, because the other cable-stayed beauty to the north in Alton, Illinois is named the Clark Bridge.

I read of someone else who suggested the Mary Meachum Freedom Bridge which would be another great call for memorializing our rich local history.

In the early morning hours of May 21, 1855 a small group of runaway slaves and their guides crossed the Mississippi River at St. Louis, attempting to reach a route to freedom through Illinois. Accompanying them was Mary Meachum, a free woman of color and the widow of a prominent African American clergyman. Even today, the activities of the Underground Railroad remain largely shrouded in mystery. This event is remarkably different because the group was apprehended and, since the slaves belonged to the prominent St. Louisan Henry Shaw, a detailed story of the escape was covered in local newspapers. Thus was preserved for posterity a rare example, with exact location, of an Underground Railroad event in Missouri – in fact, the first documented site in the state. In December 2001, the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing was dedicated as part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. (source

Anything unique to the area would please me.  However no such luck to date.  So far politician-supported names thrown out include "Veteran's Memorial Bridge" (which the MLK bridge used to be called), Ronald Reagan Bridge (he was from Dixon, Illinois...albeit > 250 miles from STL), "Jerry F. Costello-William Lacy 'Bill' Clay Sr. Veterans Memorial Bridge" (which just rolls off the tongue) was recently shot down or "Women Veterans Memorial Bridge".  Seems like we can do better, no?.  But at the end of the day, people will call it whatever they want.  You know the PSB is officially named the Bernard F. Dickmann bridge...but no one calls it that.

Anyhow, at an estimated cost of $667M, the new bridge was designed to reroute I-70 off of the Poplar Street Bridge which currently carries I-44, I-55, I-64, I-70 and U.S. 40.  The deck will carry 4 lanes of traffic and will be able to support another lane in each direction.  The bridge should be open to traffic as early as 2014 and full completion is slated for 2015.  The new bridge will forever change the skyline of our great city; and could be one of the most photographed/iconic structures in the region.

The bridge enters St. Louis near Cass Avenue and will take you northwest on the existing I-70 lanes or southeast through the city eventually spilling onto Tucker Boulevard.

Tucker Boulevard or Twelfth Street has been closed north of Washington Blvd. as long as I can remember.  The former Illinois Terminal rail tunnel that went under Tucker was filled in with huge styrofoam blocks and is still under construction.

This high profile stretch of road that divides

Downtown

from

Downtown West

has been an official city street since 1844.

Its name was changed from Twelfth Street to Twelfth Boulevard in 1932. It became Tucker Boulevard in 1979 in honor of former mayor Raymond R. Tucker.

(

source

)

I agree with Steve Patterson's conclusion that the glut of surface parking lots on both sides of Tucker is less than an inviting stretch of road and infill is greatly needed to make this look like a functioning urban street.  This used to be a vibrant section of the city and has been whittled away over the years to make way for get in/get out auto commuters, especially the Post Dispatch employees. 

Anyhow, projects this big don't come around very often, so the following is my attempt at capturing some photos of the work while still under construction and adding to the many others who are interested enough to photo document this historic project.

For many first time STL visitors, the trip down Tucker will be their first impression. The massive surface parking lots and dead zones are part of the true picture of Downtown St. Louis in its current state...until you get toward Washington Boulevard when things start to look like a real city.  However, if commuters and visitors choose to look up beyond the dead asphalt expanses, you are afforded some nice views of the city skyline. 

And if you are a pedestrian, there are plenty of careful details within the new infrastructure to catch your eye.

From granite curbs to island/median plantings:

To many new street trees and easement plantings, curb bump outs, drop off lanes for buses/taxis/cars and creative/non-standard paver stone patterns in the sidewalks:

To new pedestrian crossings, streetlights and signage:

The bridges are getting new fencing and the street lights are varied with a mix of modern and faux classic.  I like it, you?

Anyhow, take a walk or ride north of Washington Boulevard and witness for yourself this transformational project.  Hopefully investors too will note the opportunities of many, many more commuters and visitors entering the city on Tucker and will scoop up some vacant or under-utilized property to make this part of St. Louis part of St. Louis again!  Instead of some fast food row or other suburban ho-hum generica.

Yet, this project is by no means complete, so we can still hope for more sustainable investment in this part of St. Louis.  We have another example of the "clean slate" mentality that so many developers think is the ultimate necessity for new projects, only time will tell if it anything transformational really happens.

So far only McDonalds has ponied up with a typical suburban drive thru junk food restaurant.

The North Riverfront Neighborhood

The North Riverfront Neighborhood

The vast majority of structures are surface lots for trucking distribution and other operations.  Metal scrap yards, recycling facilities, salvage yards and contemporary metal sheds housing businesses of all kinds.  I tried to point out the areas with a little more character, so you won't get a real feel for what the neighborhood looks like...which is frankly quite bland.  For instance the Dial Corporation has a huge facility that makes detergents; but it's really nothing special to look at.  Another thing to point out is that much of the property in North Riverfront is private and access is a challenge.  The best way to take in this "neighborhood" (really an industrial area) is from atop the hills of Calvary Cemetery or from the Riverfront Trail.  If you haven't checked out the 10 mile asphalt Riverfront Trail, you must.  It takes you right along the Mississippi River in some spots and and also skirts some impressive industrial operations allowing you sight access to some otherwise unattainable areas.  A ride north of Downtown will serve as an important reminder that St. Louis is still a working river town.

Near North Riverfront Neighborhood

Near North Riverfront Neighborhood

There is a lot of open space for future industrial expansions.  There is quite a lot of activity here with truckers everywhere and smoke rising out of factories.  Workers are scurrying about....always a good thing.    Several of the restaurants and bars seems well patronized.   I get the sense that this neighborhood employs many, many people.  I actually pine for the days where America made stuff.  I mean not everyone wants or can go to college or trade school. We need factory and manufacturing jobs.  I like the days when my Levi's, Dickie's and Chuck Taylor's were US made.