South Grand

South Grand Named 1 of 15 "Great Places in America" by American Planning Association

The stretch of South Grand Boulevard between Arsenal and Utah was named one of the country's "Great Places in America" by the American Planning Association.

It's always good to get recogintion on the national level for things every St. Louisan knows. Our city can compete with the best and we are a hidden treasure.

Here's a list of the winners including streets, neighborhoods and public places that represent the gold standard of thoughtful and deliberate planning:

  1. Heart of Missoula, Missoula, Montana
  2. Over the Rhine, Cincinnati, Ohio
  3. Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  4. Peal, San Antonio, Texas
  5. Uptown Greenwood, Greenwood, North Carolina
  6. Congress Street, Tucson, Arizona
  7. Lincoln Avenue and Giddings Plaza, Chicago, Illinois
  8. Mainstreet, Waterloo, New York
  9. Park Lane, Kirkland, Washington
  10. South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri
  11. County Home Complex, Pitt County, North Carolina
  12. Market Square, Knoxville, Tennessee
  13. Mill Creek Linear Park, Bakersfield, California
  14. Rosa Park Circle, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  15. San Angelo Concho River Walk, San Angelo, Texas

Here's a short video from the APA showing snippets of each winner, South Grand used Ritz Park as the visual:

The reason we got this designation was due to the lane reduction, sidewalk widening, environmental easing in the form of runoff management/landscaping and the remaking of Ritz Park. It really does look nice.

But, the thing that makes this stretch of Grand a great place is that it is functional. It serves people who live here over just people who visit here. Residents benefit from this street. It is walkable in every way. You can enter businesses from the front, the alley and side streets.

There is much more here than just restaurants, but those that are here aren't just high-end regional draws, they serve the neighborhoods surrounding Grand with with excellent, affordable food (in most cases).

Tourists and visitor from the burbs feel welcome here which is great. But, residents see neighbors here too. It's a place that serves all.

Our family optometrist is here. If you haven't used locally owned Lucas Optometry, then you are missing the boat. This place is great and the people that have worked here for years are familiar, like warm acquaintances. I get into a conversation about fishing in Willmore Park and kids going to school in the city and urban issues. It's fun. 

There is a legitimate international market, Jay International, that has everything you can't get at the supermarkets. It is real, priced right and serves the immigrant population well.

Ice cream is a reward for kids. The Tower Grove Creamery is manned by many local kids and owners that talk to you and care. 

You can mail a package at the post office, you can fill up your tank at a cool looking gas station, you can get your hair cut fancy or barber shop style. You can find a home away from home workspace at the Gelateria, you can bank here, you can get Xmas trees here.

It is a functioning, neighborhood corridor and street that serves people with diversity. It is worthy of all praises and it looks better than ever.

It truly is a great city street. We need to focus on smart design and development so more of these corridors can pop up in other parts of the city where lots of people live, including Morgan Ford, Martin Luther King, St. Louis Avenue, Page, Chippewa, Broadway you name it. 

Pelican Building in Compton Heights - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

Continuing on with my top twenty development proposals and under-construction projects from 2016, I'm moving to the Compton Heights Neighborhood to discuss another proposal for the Pelican Building and the shuttered YMCA building on the adjacent property.

Something has to be done with this property. It is in one of the most stable neighborhoods in the city, yet it has sat vacant for as long as I can remember.

The various property owners throughout the years have done nothing to preserve the buildings while they lie in wait for a plan. A hole formed in the roof of the YMCA; zero efforts were made to mitigate water damage and you knew it was a just a matter of time. The owner did not fix it or block access to the interior, just let it sit and rot so it'd get "eyesore status" and easier to tear down. The Pelican too. The owner doesn't even call or take responsibility to remove the 4th grade level "art" that trespassers have done to this building. Again, all part of the process of getting what you want (tax breaks or demo permits). Brick is falling all over from both buildings.

I was really worried that the elements and firebugs would take the Pelican out once and for all.

Sometimes it is hard not to be pessimistic with the system here when some property owners are allowed to run amuck while others are held to the codes and standards. This happens all over the city, north to south.  

Doing a little research, none of the plans I came across included the YMCA in future plans, so it's days are numbered. As a pragmatic compromiser, I can live with the demo of the YMCA if the Pelican is carefully restored and an urban building replaces the current views of the surface parking lot along Grand and Shenandoah.

For interior photos of the YMCA from 2014, check here for a piece on NextSTL.

Slacker owners aside, I was happy to once again read that something just might happen with this property in 2017. The most recent proposal includes rehab of the Pelican and demo of the YMCA with apartments and commercial/retail.

The Pelican Building is really something special. You might not think that if you are just seeing it for the first time in its current state.  Many probably remember the grand metal and neon sign that once graced the building. It was removed and is in storage in the Lemp Brewery. 

One of the best write-ups I've seen on this restaurant is at Lost Tables:

The core of the building was constructed sometime prior to 1875, enlarged in 1878 and completely overhauled in 1895 when the Griesedieck family of brewers purchased it for a restaurant and bar, managed by Carl Anschuetz as Anschuetz’s Restaurant.

In 1938, James Pelican bought the restaurant and gave it his name. Pelican converted the establishment into a highly popular family restaurant, where the menu offered fish and a wide variety of American cuisine.

The sign above the Michelob sign is the one I remember. I don't recall the long horizontal metal and neon and the Bud sign. The Falstaff sign that preceded the Bud sign can be seen in the photo with the streetcar.

The Pelican Building is a historic reminder of our brewing history; it can and should be saved.

Secondly, the potential for new construction could bring a building that hugs the street along Grand and Shenandoah to relieve Tower Grove East neighbor's views of the surface parking lot.

So let's take a look at the various site plans proposed by the owners/developers over the years and see what could be in store in 2017.

Back in 2009, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on a proposal that would have brought a Snap Fitness and 37,000 total sq ft of space to the YMCA site, which was slated for demo, and a steak restaurant to the Pelican. This plan never materialized. 

Later, another proposal called Pelican Court surfaced from First & Main Properties that would have brought >18K square feet of office space and >16K square feet of retail/restaurant space.

view facing South Grand

The site plan looked nice along Grand, but it did not address the lack of a street wall along Shenandoah. This was a missed opportunity to improve the site. 

No improvement along Shenandoah Avenue

This one never materialized either, which brings us to the 2016 proposal.

In 2016 the St. Louis Business Journal reported a new plan being floated:

MBR Management and Altus Properties plan to demolish the old South City YMCA and replace it with an $18.6 million apartment project.

About 110 apartments would go up at the old YMCA site. Retail space and apartments would go into the Pelican Building, and the projects would share a parking lot.

The rudimentary site plan had the same lost opportunity to improve the Shenandoah street view.

The neighbors across the street would be stuck with the view of the parking lot. It seems easy to remove the curb cut, add part of the new construction on Shenandoah and Grand, with access to ample parking from Vandenbergh Avenue (and on-street Shenandoah parking).

If I were living here, I'd rather overlook other similarly-scaled buildings and the street front vs. somebody's backyard on Longfellow Boulevard.

In November, NexSTL reported that the likely tenant of the Pelican would be Domino's Pizza:

MBR Management Corporation is the owner of 72 Dominos Pizza franchises in the Missouri area. It’s long been rumored at the the South Grand Dominoes would relocated to this development, though that has not been confirmed. Josh Udelhofen, previously of Koman Group and now with Altus Properties, is listed as co-developer on LCRA documents.

So while the site plan is less than perfect, hopefully the neighbors and leaders in the area can demand a better layout and demand the best construction materials in trade for the tax breaks they will certainly seek. And before you get on your national chain high horse, I would bet a Domino's Pizza would be used by more people in TGE and the rest of the delivery radius than a higher-priced local option. This neighborhood deserves something nice and we don't want to miss this opportunity to improve the city.

I'm once again hopeful for this site and the Pelican Building. This will be a fun one to watch in 2017.