Archive for June, 2010

New boulevard creates great development opportunities and increased revenues for the city

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Over the last decade Downtown St. Louis has seen $4.5 billion invested in a diverse range of projects including the new Busch Stadium, Lumiere Place and over 100 historic renovations. Mixed-use redevelopment has brought new life and vibrancy to the Washington Avenue Loft District and Old Post Office District. This vibrancy will continue to spread when the Mercantile Exchange District opens in a few years.

The creation of the new Memorial Drive and removal of the former Interstate 70 will eliminate the last obstacle to redevelopment along the riverfront. The momentum generated by the redevelopment of the Central Business District will then be free to expand eastward. This would complete the vision of St. Louis civic leader Luther Ely Smith, who over 75 years ago looked at the tired and worn 19th century riverfront and saw the opportunity for renewal. The new Memorial Drive will bring people back to the once bustling riverfront that spawned our now far-reaching metropolis.

Since the early 20th century, attempts have been made to revitalize the historic core of St. Louis. These attempts have included the demolition of aging historic riverfront buildings and the creation of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the first urban national park outside of Washington, D.C. Unfortunately these attempts were undermined by the passage of Interstate 70 through downtown St. Louis. During the 1960s, new developments across from the Arch were designed to face westward, turning their backs on the new national monument. Additionally, the barrier created by the interstate hampered development to the north and south of the Arch. Much of this property remains vacant over 40 years later.

New development opportunities created by the new boulevard

The City to River proposal to remove the now aging highway infrastructure that divorced Downtown from the riverfront and to create a new pedestrian friendly boulevard is the key to attracting redevelopment of both vacant and underutilized properties surrounding the Arch. Additionally, properties that now face away from the Arch will have the opportunity to create new grand entrances fronting the boulevard and our beautiful national monument. According to a recent study conducted by Development Strategies, removal of the former Interstate 70 and its replacement with the new Memorial Drive creates up to 500,000 square feet of new developable land. This includes land facing the Arch as well as land adjacent to the boulevard reclaimed from highway right-of-way. The newly available property will support the creation of nearly $1.2 billion in additional real estate market value over the next 20-25 years. Such an opportunity for new development simply cannot happen with the existing configuration of I-70, nor would this need truly be met by the old lid proposal. The greatest potential for development lies in the areas along the elevated sections of I-70. This massive infusion of ideally located new development property presents the greatest opportunity for economic revival that St. Louis has seen in decades.

Below is a breakdown of the potential value of new development adjacent to the boulevard. These figures do not include the increase in value of properties more than a few blocks away, such as the Ballpark Village site, or existing buildings currently adjacent to the Arch.

Chouteau’s Landing District $133,000,000
Broadway and Spruce Lot developed $126,000,000
New Parcels facing Memorial & the Arch $69,000,000
Surface lots on Broadway near Convention Center $21,000,000
New Parcels east of Jones Dome $22,000,000
Laclede’s Landing Parcels @ Eads Bridge $107,000,000
North Riverfront fronting Memorial $136,000,000
Bottle District & off boulevard North Riverfront $543,000,000

Total Real Estate Value $1,156,000,000

Would Chicago Let A Highway Divide the Windy City from Millennium Park?

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago is the connection between the central business district and Millennium Park.  On the city side there are retail shops facing the street and more than 16,000 daily pedestrians.  On the park side, there’re award winning attractions that draw in more tourists than any site in Chicago save Navy Pier and more than 6,000 daily pedestrians just on the adjacent sidewalk.  The avenue itself carries 46,000 vehicles a day.

Millennium Park connected to CBD by pedestrian friendly Michigan 
Avenue

St. Louis is in the middle of an international design competition that will transform the nation’s only urban national park around the Gateway Arch into something as ambitious as Millennium Park.  These ambitions will only succeed however if the barriers at the edges of the park can be overcome.  The monster that is I-70 currently makes it a very difficult and unpleasant experience for anyone to travel between the city and the park.  The highway also reduces the desirability and inhibits the improvement of adjacent real estate.

I-70 today, preventing access to and from the Arch grounds

Slicing down the middle of Memorial Drive, I-70 creates a physical and psychological barrier dividing Downtown St. Louis from its front door, one of the few urban national parks in the U.S.  Access to the Arch grounds is restricted to a few points by the transitions between the depressed and elevated lanes to the north and the PSB ramps to the south, creating a “Berlin Wall” effect between the disparate points of entry.

Millennium Park imagined with an elevated Interstate dividing it 
from downtown Chicago
Millennium Park imagined with an elevated Interstate dividing it 
from downtown Chicago

Michigan Avenue at Millennium Park on the other hand is a vibrant street with streetside retail, and 23,000 pedestrians a day, but what if Michigan Avenue looked like Memorial Drive in St. Louis, with a highway running down the middle?  If this was reality, Michigan Avenue would be a dark desolate place to walk and adjacent real estate would not be as valuable due to the noise and visual pollution of the highway.

Pedestrians crossing Michigan Avenue to and from the park

Michigan Avenue as a boulevard doesn’t divide the city and the park, but connects and holds them together in a way that I-70 in the middle of Memorial Drive in St. Louis absolutely does not.  If there was a giant elevated interstate above Michigan Avenue, would fewer people would bother to cross under to get to amenities of Millennium Park?

An Interstate presents a barrier that discourages pedestrian activity

Conversely, if the highway remains between the city and our new improved Arch grounds and riverfront, will people bother to subject themselves to crossing through an inhospitable environment to got there?  St. Louis has seen failures such as this before.  If they build it, people may not necessarily come if getting there is an unpleasant experience.

A highway transition cutting through a view of Millennium Park from the Chicago Cultural Center

St. Louis and the City+Arch+River Design Competition teams should learn from Chicago’s success and choose to build a vibrant boulevard that becomes an attractive place in itself, just like Michigan Avenue, and reconnects the City to the Arch and to the River.

Addressing I-70 downtown sets the stage for Arch grounds success

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

If you didn’t know, St. Louis City Mayor Francis Slay (@mayorslay) is quite the prolific Twitterer with nearly 4,000 tweets to-date. But one recent message caught our eye:

“Addressing I-70 downtown should be part of a plan, not the plan. #fgs”

We couldn’t agree more! We are excited and anxious to see what the five world-class design firms remaining in the competition envision for the Arch grounds itself, the Poplar Street Bridge, the Eads Bridge, the west riverfront and the east side. All are within the Arch+City+River design competition area.


City to River formed before the Arch grounds competition was announced and our mission has remained focused on advocating for improved connections between our city, the Arch grounds and the Mississippi River.

Why?

Because we believe that the convergence of efforts to redesign this iconic American space and the construction of a new Mississippi River bridge just north of downtown offers St. Louis a once-in-a-century opportunity to reclaim its urban core by removing the elevated and depressed Interstate highway. I-70 downtown is an aging roadway and will either be rebuilt or removed in the coming years. We must make
the right decision today.

While there may be many ways to “address” I-70, a proposal such as adding a lid over the Interstate is horribly insufficient. A three-block lid would not add a single new access point to downtown and Arch visitors, either walking or driving. The “divisive moat of transportation” cited in the design competition manual is only bypassed, not addressed by a three-block drawbridge. A three-block solution to a 20-block problem doesn’t weave the park back into the city.

Other design features will certainly be critical to successfully realizing the project’s goals.  However, replacing the 1.4-mile stretch of Interstate 70 between the Poplar Street Bridge and the new Mississippi River Bridge is necessary both to maximize the benefit of any added amenities and to achieve the competition’s stated objectives.

Our focus is the same as that of the sponsors of the competition, including Mayor Slay, the National Park Service and the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation. We advocate for the realization of the high aspirations set forth by the Framing a Modern Masterpiece Competition Manual:

“The challenge is to take one of our country’s first urban park sites, weave it into the city fabric, explore the role of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial as an active part of the downtown and a contributor to economic growth, celebrate the riverfront and mitigate the divisive “moat” of transportation around the site.”

“A new Interstate Highway System, burgeoning railroads and bustling barge traffic on the river, all signaled prosperity and dynamism for the area and for the nation. Today, those transportation corridors sever the memorial site from the river and the city, making the Arch grounds an “island,” isolating the Memorial from the activity and diversity of the evolving downtown and compromising public access and use of the historic area and separating the waterfront from the city. This Competition is about connections and weaving an urban park into the city fabric of St. Louis.”