You can tell there are a lot kids spending time here and there were two young families using the park on my visit, one playing soccer, the other playing on the playground. I try and talk to the young families about where they plan on sending their kids to school and talk up the ones I know about and urge them to give the city schools a try. This particular family wants to stay in St. Louis and are excited about trying the magnets.
Accessibility from the surrounding neighborhoods is pretty rough, as you have to cross 6 traffic lanes and a median if you are walking from the larger Ellendale neighborhood to the west. The park is accessible from the north on the chat easement of the River Des Pares drainage ditches. There are homeless people who've set up shop here under the Arsenal bridge as signs of bon fires and meals and graffiti are everywhere.
As can be seen by the satellite image above, there are sports fields consolidated on the south side of the park and a central walkway and lily pond which you'll see photos of herein and the park is bordered by wide sidewalks which are popular with joggers, dog walkers, stroller pushers and the like.
Francis Park is one of 2 parks serving the beautiful St. Louis Hills neighborhood, along with Willmore Park. The neighborhood that flanks the park includes tree lined streets, a school, churches on every corner and lots and lots of well maintained and cared for homes. You can tell there is a lot of neighborhood pride in this part of the city.
The shutting off of the Thurman underpass had some unintended consequences. One, it became a hangout for the knuckleheads to gather en masse. Broken glass and trash piled up and it became an eye sore and intimidating for the average person to traverse. Two, it separated communities.
However, this part of Shaw/Botanical Heights is prepping for a major transformation. In 2012 the Garden District Commission put together a design competition for improvement in the area. UIC was eventually chosen as the winning design and this will include repaving the street, installing new lighting and a bike path and pedestrian trail.
Fountain Park was designed to be a treasure on St. Louis' near north side. It is an oval shaped park surrounded by beautiful homes, churches and a former business building. It is the one park to servethe Fountain Park Neighborhood.
Fairground Park is the home of the first municipal swimming pool in St. Louis opened in 1912. In 1949 the pool was opened to black folks in a response from a Federal court procedure saying it was against the 14th amendment to disallow people from public pools, golf courses, etc based on race.
Mount Pevely now has plants growing out of it. Nature is going to take over the mound of debris that St. Louis University and, the City of St. Louis and specifically,
has left for the property owners, employees, students, residents, patients, tourists and tax payers to enjoy for over a year.
Remember if the city ever cites you for peeling paint on your porch to remind them that the non tax-paying institutions aren't following the rules either.
This is a giant middle finger raised up high in the air over Tiffany, Midtown and the Gate District. Shameful.
This property has been in this condition since April, 2012. I'm sick of it and feel kind of powerless that this stuff continues to happen.
Thanks a lot SLU. Thanks a lot City of St. Louis. Not only did you guys approve a demolition of a building on the national historic registry, you half tore them down, made huge mounds so everyone can see and then left it to sit for nearly a year and a half.
When is enough enough? Is anyone else disgusted by the arrogance of non-profit institutes and the lame City "leaders" that rubber stamp this kind of thing?
I try to stick to the golden rule and "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all". But sometimes you just have to scratch your head, wonder how this can be allowed to happen and speak out that this just can't continue. Mount Pevely devalues the entire area. It's a black eye on the Near South Side.
Remember when Fr. Biondi threatened the city with moving the medical campus to West County? Here's his quote from February, 2012 addressing the
“What I foresee, if you don’t approve our request, is that we would have to shut down our medical school and find property in west county,” noting that 35 years ago, Maryville offered up land for the university to move west. SOURCE
I wonder if West County would have allowed this stop/start/stop tactic? P
Read more history related to this topic here:
Preservation Research Story:
There is an old hand-laid retaining wall that is still in place on the north side of the park.
Other than that, nothing to see folks...move right along.
There is no signage or otherwise that would identify this as a St. Louis park...nothing. There is nothing here, just a few random trees and mowed weeds.
The park is located between Eads Avenue, California, St. Vincent and where Ohio Avenue would be if the street grid were not dismantled to accommodate the strangely out of place suburban complexes of Eads Square, Lafayette Habilitation Center and the former National/Schnucks/Foodland/Sav-A-Lot property which is undergoing a re-facing as I write this post. Read all about that here.
Contemporary suburban designs typically don't inspire me. Nor do they tend to add vibrancy or help form a sense of "place" that defines an area. Yet, if the tenants of these boring contemporary strip malls bring convenience and respectable, clean stores that cater to the needs of the MIX of people living in the area (read: highest and lowest demographics in an area), then they can serve a purpose that benefits the surrounding neighborhoods and just might add to the property values within the area.
The sea of strip malls and surface parking lots in the suburbs is part of the reason I live in St. Louis. It is fun to live in a city that has character, and St. Louis has that in spades. However, the city is not immune to succumbing to lazy, auto-centric planning that is so common in the 'burbs. You'll see it rear its ugly head in nearly all part of the city. One such auto-centric development that I've been following is the former National/Schnucks/Foodland building just north of I-44 at 1605 S. Jefferson in the Gate District Neighborhood. This suburban property complete with a huge setback and sea of surface parking sits directly across from Lafayette Square, one of St. Louis' nicest neighborhoods.
This used to be a ~45,000 square foot grocery store opened by Kroger. National bought it out and then Schnuck's who divested it in March, 1996. It was sold to Family Co. of America and became a Foodland. Folks I've spoken to who've lived in this part of the city much longer than I said the grocery store got pretty ghetto and was eventually destined for closure. The store finally closed in 2004 when it failed to get neighborhood support for a liquor license.
The property was no doubt an eyesore. The only thing uglier than suburban set backs, massive surface parking lots and cheap-as-possible contemporary building materials and no-design standards is empty said structures of such low quality. Steve Patterson did 2 excellent posts on the properties in this area. Read them
Here's what the site looked like, courtesy of UrbanReviewSTL.com:
the old National/Schnucks/Foodland
massive surface parking lot
view of the thoughtless design and weird/dark entrance
So, when news that the property was purchased and would be re-developed by
and designed by local firm
...people in the area got excited.
The Post-Dispatch reported on this property back in November, 2011:
A grocery is high on the list of potential tenants, said Green Street's Phil Hulse, though the neighborhood likely can't support a full-size, stand-alone supermarket there. Hulse said he expects to split the building among tenants, and plans to put up a second retail building of 5,000 to 8,000 square feet. He said he's in discussion with a variety of retailers, but wouldn't name specific tenants yet. "There's certainly a lot of voids in that market," he said. "We're out speaking to a fairly diverse group that would play well to surrounding community and would do well there."
To help fund the $6.6 million project, Green Street is asking the City of St. Louis for $1.36 million in tax increment financing, and to establish a Community Improvement District on the site, which would levy an extra 1 percent sales tax and raise $340,000. The TIF was set for a public hearing in January and will need approval by the Board of Alderman. Hulse hopes to start construction in the spring, and finish in late summer.
A second phase would involve buying an existing retail building next door and rehabbing it - though Hulse said he doesn't yet have that building under contract.
Read the full story
So we subsidized this developer to the tune of >$1M...lucky them. Let's see what became of the property and what Green Street was able to land for us to improve this vitally important part of the city.
Keep in mind this part of the city is a major sway area that can swing the pendulum toward quality contributors to the city such as Lafayette Square and Compton Heights, parts of Fox Park, McKinley Heights, the burgeoning Lafayette Avenue corridor between Jefferson and Grand. This area is brimming with potential and needs to start aiming higher on all future developments than what the 1970s-1990s ushered in.
Additionally, this part of the city was deemed a "food desert" by the USDA, so obviously food options were needed to serve the many residents that live in these parts.
Hopes were high. Let's aim for a development that will elevate the city, right?
Fast forward to a public meeting organized by then Alderman Kacie Starr-Triplett to engage the neighbors on Green Street's proposal. There was a short presentation by UIC. The building was going to be largely reused, yet stylistically re-fashioned. I'm sure they'll do good work based on their
in the city. OK, I'm listening, hoping for the best when the tenants were announced.
Then Green Street unveiled what we had all been waiting for. A fitness club (Blast), okay, that's nice...a stand alone sandwich shop (Subway...interest fading) and then the bomb was dropped....Sav-A-Lot was to be the "anchor tenant".
What? We subsidized a Sav-A-Lot?
This low-end discount grocer aims at the lowest demographic in the area. They cater to cheap junk food, processed dry foods, discounted canned and frozen prepared foods and their fresh selections at the Loughborough and Jefferson location (just down the street) are days away from rotting. This place is not good. Trust me, I used to frequent the Loughborough location when I had little ones who drank 2 + gallons of milk a week (they had the cheapest milk in town).
The places smell horrible upon entry and they don't exactly add to the city in any meaningful way. They are not pleasant places to shop. They don't say: "wow, I want to live around this place".
I was not alone in my disappointment at the meeting, the neighbors: white and black, young and old, Gate District/Fox Park/Lafayette/McKinley Heights, you name it everyone was pissed at worst, disappointed at best. You could see it in the eyes of everyone in the room, maybe even the developers. Try and think of a lower-end grocer...what would it be? Aldi's is a step up for Pete's sake.
I can see subsidizing a Culinaria, Trader Joes, a
type concept (which is going in on Bohemian Hill, opening this winter, just east of here on Lafayette Ave). But subsidizing a freakin' Sav-A-Lot? The rug was pulled out from under the room. The public comments ranged from anger to utter disappointment to the usual, hey its better than nothing lackeys. But it appeared too late. The deal was done.
Why, do we make these decisions over and over? We aim to appease the lowest common denominator in the equation. Just say no until something that will elevate the area comes to the table.
I realize Trader Joe's doesn't like St. Louis' numbers, but it would have been PACKED. It would have done great, and the ghetto potential would be MUCH lower than a Sav-A-Lot. It would have brought in people from all over the city, Downtown, South Grand, you name it. THAT would have been worth subsidizing with our tax dollars. That would have elevated property values. That would have gotten the eye of potential new home owners...not a Sav-A-Lot.
Again, I'm all for subsiding quality development that will elevate the options and property values. Stuff that'll draw home owners and quality renters to the area...not crap. I get doing this for IKEA, not Sav-A-Lot.
This will not elevate the area by any means. But, now that the building renovation is complete, I've got to say it looks pretty darn good. And that alone will allow many to tout this as a success.
There was also talk of a hardware story (Ace); that would have been awesome too. Nothing yet. Back in May, 2012
There are also plans for a hardware store, coffee shop, fitness gym and bank.
No hardware store, no coffee shop, no bank (or is HR Block the "bank"?).
The other stand alone building is now a Family Dollar store which has saturated the STL market of late. There is a brand new, way more urban-designed one just down the street from this one in the McKinley Heights neighborhood which replace a shuttered Burger King (a step up) across from Trader Bob's Tattoo and the Way Out Club.
Sav-A-Lot is the lowest end discount grocer in our market. They will be the "anchor tenant". The Blast fitness is nice, we are members, it is okay. There is an HR Block (who uses these things) that is largely vacant most of the time (except income tax season) and other vacant storefronts.
Now again, UIC did a respectable job. It has good pedestrian access from Jefferson, decent from Lafayette. Heck, it might be the coolest, sleekest suburban styled strip mall in the city...but the end result is still a Subway (which already existed in the now Family Dollar building). A Wing Stop...check out their menu
. Take that food desert....more junk food...a discount fitness club, HR Block and a damn Sav-A-Lot. Thanks a lot...here's $1M Mr. Developer...we can't have nice things. Thanks so much for considering the city of St. Louis where anything is better than nothing. Damn shame.
But as I said, the building looks pretty damn sharp for new construction. Here's the Subway/Wing Stop:
fast food complete with a drive-thru window
small outdoor seating areas
And here's the Sav-A-Lot, HR Block and Blast! Fitness building:
The various colors and building materials bring added life and interest to a formerly awful building.
The dark, hulking National front entrance was opened up and looks much better from the street and close-up; lots of windows along the front open up the building.
They also cut windows into the north wall allowing a lot of natural light into the gym. There are treadmills on the inside facing out through the windows and they planted new trees along the north wall.
My hope is that the area continues to improve, the Sav-A-Lot eventually goes out of business and we get a new, better tenant.
There was little downsizing of the massive surface parking lots surrounding 3/4 of the main building. But, they planted quality trees (many oaks and birch) and the lot is designed to minimize run off. This breaks things up a bit from just a solid lot as it was before.
Trees planted along the property between the fast food shops and the filling station
The pluses are many and the building went from an eyesore with zero design to the the interesting re-skinning of the building and other contemporary touches that now exist. Nice work.
While Green Street and UIC continue to do great work in the city (See Sheet Metal Workers/Dyna Labs building at Chouteau & Jefferson) and the amazing UIC investments in Botanical Heights and awesome designs and plans for
, the tenants will be the thing most people will use to judge whether this is good or bad for the area.
What do you think? Worth the tax subsidy? A plus, minus or neutral for folks in the Lafayette Square, Gate District, Fox Park, Compton Heights and McKinley Heights?
Now's your chance to comment and tell me how anything is better than nothing and I'm just a whiny yuppie :)
Whatever, these tenants suck...but maybe, just maybe we'll get a better use to a decent looking re-skinned strip mall in the future. If Sav-A-Lot goes down the tubes, maybe a better grocer will step up and add to the charm of city living vs. shilling low end crap that we need like a hole in the head.
***Update December 15, 2015***
So I wanted to check in and provide an update on this strip mall after a couple year's have passed. The Blast Fitness closed which is a bummer, I really liked that place. It has remained vacant since it's closing.
The Sav-A-Lot is awesome and I go there all the time. I was too quick to judge based on my experiences at the Jefferson/Cherokee and Loughborough/Morgan Ford locations. Their fresh food is sometimes better than the higher-end, more expensive place down the way.
The HR Block is not even open/staffed unless during tax season, or by appointment.
There is now an African-American hair supply store, and they had to install bollards in front of it to prevent cars from driving though the front to steal merchandise. There are also metal gates that are pulled down over the front windows when the business is closed.
So after giving it a couple years, was this worth the tax subsidy?
The coolest thing I learned today was from talking to some guys who just got back from the Real Madrid-Inter Milan match Downtown. They were kicking the ball around. I struck up a conversation and it turns out DeSoto Park is the site of a long-running adult semi-pro soccer league. It is played on Sunday's and it is an International scene with players from Mexico, Central and South America, Bosnia, Croatia, Poland, of course old time St. Louis guys, etc. These guys described an awesome scene where the families of the players cook out and socialize while watch the games. The fields are in good condition as are the goals.
The park was placed into ordinance in 1867. It takes up 35.8 acres of land near in the neighborhood of Compton Heights.
The homes that surround the park are nothing short of amazing. There are high rise apartments, condos, single and multi-family homes...all typical St. Louis beauties.
This park has arguably the most unique topography in all of the city. It is in low lying land that looks up to the surrounding homes. The unconventional winding streets are not common for St. Louis where the recti-linear street grid rules in most of the city.
This neighborhood with its mix of larger frame Victorian style houses is quite unique for St. Louis. In fact, it reminds me of the small suburban city of Webster Groves, MO (pop. 22,989). The Victorian stylings seem to flow down through the park from the surrounding neighborhood creating winding walkways that all seem to lead toward the lake that is really the heart of the park.
Christy Park, according to the city website, is comprised of 16.1 acres of park land, established in 1910. There are no official boundaries listed on that website, so I can only assume that Christy Park and Joseph Leisure Parks are one in the same. There is actually a band of parks that start at Kingshighway and Christy and head south and east toward the River Des Peres, following the Great Rivers Greenway Trail starting near Christy and Holly Hills Boulevards.
Chouteau Park is just largely a graded empty lot right now, awaiting funds to become a fully realized park space. The design was done by H3 studios in 2009 who seem to be the firm that does all the park designs/master plans (Fox Park, Carondelet, etc).
The full plan can be found here. An update was provided by Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corp. back in November, 2011...
The vast majority of this park is really just grass from the outfields of both fields.
The exception is the southeastern section which is quite shaded with nice large and newly planted trees. This section of the park has swings and a playground and a building with storage and bathrooms. It was locked