Thursday, December 27, 2007

Predictions for 2008

With 2007 drawing to a close, now is a good time to make predictions for the year ahead. What are your predictions for St. Louis in 2008?

Here's a few to get things started:

The Cardinals will finish the year below .500, and worse yet, they will finish below the Cubs.

The Blues will make it to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

A national housing trust fund will be created to promote affordable and green housing development in established communities.

The population of the City of St. Louis will continue to increase.

St. Louis will attract immigrants at an increasing rate.

The St. Louis housing market will see improvement faster than the nation as a whole.

Any others?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What about 270?

During the pre-Christmas rush, we did some freeway driving around the region. Travels took us down the newly restriped Interstate 44 through Webster Groves and along 270 from Highway 55 to Gravois. MODOT has narrowed the lanes and shoulders on Interstate 44 to add one more travel lane in each direction.

Beginning January 2, traffic from eastbound Interstate 64 will be diverted onto Interstate 270. Would it be possible to add lanes to 270? 270 appears to be as wide or wider than 44, with full size shoulders and 12 foot traffic lanes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Highway 40 Closure Protests Rising

Concerned citizen and former St. Louis County transporation engineer, Joe Passanise, trying to mobilize public opposition to prevent the January 2nd shutdown of Highway 40:

Stop Highway 40 Closure.com

Regular guy "Jason"'s perspective, documenting life with 40 under construction, blog-style:

Highway 40 Insight

Monday, December 10, 2007

Brad Pitt is In the House!

CNN is reporting that Missouri's Brad Pitt, the movie star, is working in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. Pitt is spending his own money and taking it upon himself to help rebuild the area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Neighborhood development efforts take lots of money, and charitable support is huge in sustaining work in places like the Lower 9th, where private market forces are weak.

It will be interesting to follow the long term results of Pitt's efforts. Key to the success will be how many other supporters join the work. Star power can't hurt!

More can be learned here

Quiet Transformations

While looking for but not finding the NY-styled pizza place on Morganford named "Mr. X", what I did find was an amazing number of historic storefronts under renovation.

It appears that nearly every original storefront commercial building between Chippewa and Arsenal is being reopened. Which gave me an idea, why not a "Most Enhanced Streets" award for St. Louis?

There are many good ones out there, and more on the way. Which do you think belong on the list, and which are the diamonds in the rough? Oh, and any help in finding the elusive "Mr. X's Pizza" would be welcome too.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

SW City Pizza Vacuum Filled

The Suburban Journal is reporting that a couple from South City is opening a family friendly pizza and beer restaurant in the Southtown Centre at Kingshighway and Chippewa. The restaurant is moving into a 3200 square foot end space across from Starbuck's and Stone Cold Creamery.

The absence of a family friendly pizza place in Southwest City has been a major void in restaurant choices for years. Aside from the semi-new Talayna's franchise at Holly Hills and Gravois, there is no place south of Chippewa and west of Gravois within the city proper where you can buy a beer and a pizza in a primarily pizza house format. That's a huge, underserved market.

Per the Journal story, the new proprietors, noting the clientele frequenting the Starbuck's, see a major untapped market awaiting their new restaurant.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Demonstrating healthy STL regional pride

40-ouncers have their critics. However, the creators of this website, do a nice job of showing the world how locals like life in St. Louis.

Dubliner, Conv Ctr Cabbie, Fogerty Revival

Friday night we had tickets to see the John Fogerty Revival concert at Savvis. We arrived about 6:20 PM for the 8:00 show, and grabbed a parking space on the street in front of City Hall. With the 4:00 - 6:00 no parking restriction lifted, and 40 minutes to go until the 7:00 PM shutdown on meters, the meter was covered for fifty cents loose change and we were good to go.

With time to kill, and appetite for something beyond Savvis fare, we made the few block walk over to Washinton Avenue to try out the Dubliner. The Dubliner is an Irish themed pub, fairly upscale, with good food, drink, atmosphere. Bartenders tap bottles from an upside down system high above the back bar. The bartender holds the glass up under the bottle, a built-in sensor opens the bottle, drink served.

Lots of woodwork, private booths, interesting decor, good food and drink make the Dubliner a positive addition to the burgeoning life downtown. While eating dinner and enjoying a couple of pre-concert beers, it made me think how nice a downtown life might be, with bars, shops and restaurants all available just outside your door.

The night was chilly, so rather than hike all the way back to Savvis, we walked over the taxi stand at the Convention Center. We jumped into the cab, and enjoyed our cab ride through the slalom like bollard gates exiting the Convention Center drive. Whee!

$3.60 cab fare to Savvis rounded up to $5, with a drop off at the front door of Savvis is big city fun on a low cost budget. What's that they say about our ranking on the living well index?

Fogerty rocked. Since his heyday was pre-MTV, I'd never really seen any of his performances. Lead vocalists who are also stellar guitarists are a rare breed, so I had assumed Fogerty was the more typical lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist. Not so.

Rolling Stone magazine rates John Fogerty as 40th all-time greatest guitarist, and at age 62, he hasn't lost a thing. He was in great voice and played lead guitar on every song.

Savvis was set up in it's "Concert Club" seating layout, where they hang giant black curtains from floor to ceiling behind the stage, creating a more intimate atmosphere on one end of the arena. Guessing, there was probably 4,000 people at the show.

Fogerty had no warm up act, and played a solid 2-hour set. He ran through just about every Creedence hit, and was appreciative of the very positive reception he received from St. Louis fans.

With the show over at 10:30, and our car parked a couple of blocks over on Tucker, a zero-traffic hassle departure capped off a great night enjoying life downtown.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rock Church Roof Rising

When driving along Dr. Martin Luther King, you can see a crane and construction underway on the roof of the fire-damaged Rock Church on N. Grand.

Ticket Prices Rising - MO Leg. Legalizes Ticket Scalping

It seems reasonable that ticket scalping should be legal. When I buy something, it should be mine to resell it for whatever price the market will bear.

However, I heard on the news that there is a possible move to repeal the new law since many entertainment venues have been developed with public assistance.

That's an interesting angle. Do you think there should be a legal connection between public subsidies of entertainment venues and ticket scalping?

Monday, November 26, 2007

For better or worse?

While patronizing a popular downtown eating and drinking establishment this weekend, I had a brief conversation with the long time store manager. He was expressing frustration about having to shoo off the homeless from his property. He says the problem with homeless people coming inside his place of business is getting worse every week.

We talked about the growth in the number of downtown businesses, and how the increase in homeless activity might be tied to the overall increase in activity downtown. He didn't look at it that way. He noted that from the business's perspective, it was just an annoyance and bad for business.

There's no doubt that downtown is changing. St. Louis is changing. There is progress all around the city. With change, comes new things. We were on the Hill Saturday night for the Missouri/Kansas game, and there we saw a fresh take on a Hill tradition that was a real surprise.

A couple of doors west from Milo's, someone has added a luxury second floor addition to a single story, brick shotgun home, replete with a walkout front balcony. The balcony provides a view of St. Ambrose church. Some might think reworking a vernacular shotgun house on the Hill is too much messing with tradition. I liked it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Macy's Holiday Windows Drawing Crowds

The downtown Macy's has restored an old St. Louis tradition. For years, the display windows of the old Famous Barr had beautiful scenes during the holidays. Then at some point, many years ago, they stopped putting them up.

This year, Macy's has brought them back, and people are flocking to see the results. Over the summer, Federated installed new glass in all the windows. For the past couple of weeks, the windows were covered while workers prepared the scenes. Then on Thanksgiving Day, the curtains were pulled back, revealing the enchanting results.

Each scene depicts a historic holiday place and time. Some have the look of full streetscapes, others show the interiors of a room. All are done in great detail, some with moving figures.

Since their unveiling, I've been on the block on Friday at noon and last evening around six. Both times, people were headed to the see the windows, with holiday shoppers making their way around the building to see each scene. A long lost downtown tradition has returned. If you get the chance, be sure to make a trip to see them for yourself. Bring a friend!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Newcomers Guide to St. Louis

To encourage people to put St. Louis on their list of places to live or visit, we need to make sure we are sending the right message. If you were in charge of marketing the St. Louis area to potential businesses, college graduate, or relocating households, how would you do it?

We developed the Cool St. Louis list, and it needs to be updated.

We now have an emerging riverfront, the Arch grounds on the mend, and Chouteau's landing.

If you come to St. Louis, you get your choice of slogans. My favorite is St. Louis: A beer town with a baseball problem.

Music halls are on the increase, including the Old Rock House and the Lucas School House.

We are an old city with many traditions. From football to wierd parades.

Alternative media is alive and well. And we have our share of paranormal activities.

From a marketing standpoint, there are lots of angles for good promotion. Maybe outlining things like chapters in a book would be a good place to start?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cost of living driving regional relocations

High costs of living in coastal areas are helping to fuel growth in more affordable regions. From Julia Spezia, Executive Director of Housing California:

"An alarming trend is appearing in California's communities: We are losing our young adults (age 20 to 34). It's not surprising that when young couples decide to start a family and create a home, they look outside the state for an affordable place to live and work."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Poll: Do you rake or blow?

We rake. There are few things in life more annoying than the sound of a noisy, high-pitched leaf blower running on a beautiful fall day. I wonder if the noise they make is a violation of city noise pollution ordinances?

See also: City of St. Louis Ordinance 64566. See Section 4.9.

Going the route of government control is probably not the best way to reduce noise pollution from leaf blowers. Maybe promoting a healthy lifestyle through exercise would win more leaf raking converts?

One interesting thing about leaf blowers is the psychology involved. We rake once a week. By the time we're done raking, there are usually more leaves on the ground. That's okay, we'll rake 'em up next time. Not so for the leaf blowers...

The antiseptic efficiency of leaf blowing machinery has raised the level of what qualifies as "clean". So the leaf blowers will blow and blow and blow until the last leaf is blown out into the street. Then the leaf blower sees another leaf lying in the middle of the lawn. Back at it until that leaf is cleared. And another. And another.

It's a question. Do leaf blowing machines increase the level of OCD diagnoses during the fall season?

STL Rising: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

St. Louis crime rates are always a favorite topic around water coolers or for Town Talk callers. In recent years, a report published out of Kansas City places St. Louis at or near the top of national crime rates for cities.

This year, the methodology of the report is being called into question by both local criminologists as well as the FBI. They note that due to the tight city-not-in-a- county geograpy of St. Louis, comparing our stats to most other metro areas around the country is not a valid comparison.

For a true comparison, statisticians would need to include places like Brentwood, Clayton, Maplewood, and Creve Couer in with the city proper to see how we stack up to other regions. On such a region-region comparison, St. Louis drops from the near the top to out of the top 50 in terms of crime rates.

But figuring out how to do such an apples to apples comparison isn't as much fun for the Morgan Quintos of the media world. Thanks to our local criminology professors, news reporters, and the FBI for bringing out this important aspect to these statistics.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The New I-64's Rising: Are You Ready?

Here's the home page for all the latest info.

Bank of America names ONSLRG "Neighborhood Builder"

In one of the region's top neighborhood development award competitions, the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group has been selected as a Bank of America Neighborhood Builder for 2007.

Congratulations to ONSLRG President John Burse, ONSRLG Executive Director Sean Thomas, and the rest of the staff and board for this wonderful award recognizing the tremendous progress underway in revitalizing Old North St. Louis!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Midwest Cities Top Forbes' "Living Well" index...

...and St. Louis is No. 4.

Minneapolis is first
Indianapolis is second
Cincinatti is third
St. Louis is fourth

Living near the beach is nice, but who can afford it? living next to movie stars in a high mountain village in Colorado or Wyoming is cool, but who can afford it? Urbanity in New York City or San Francisco is inspiring, but who can afford it?

For a foothold towards a well-lived life, the Midwest is getting noticed. The high numbers of immigrants bypassing the coasts and headed to the midwest is testament to that fact.

Have you notice all the California license plates on the roads around St. Louis? It's getting to the point where living in the midwest, and St. Louis, is even an enviable thing.

10 years ago, while attending my 20 year high school reunion out in the San Francisco Bay Area, I could sense the growing envy from those stuck in the rat race of living in a high cost, crowded region.

10 years later, we're seeing more and more businesspeople and real estate investors taking a serious look at investing here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

STL Rising: Saint Louis outranks Mizzou!

While Mizzou continues to climb in the AP and BCS College football rankings, at No. 6 or 7 depending on the index, Forbes Magazine just ranked St. Louis No. 4 on its "Most Affordable Places to Live Well" index! (They probably figured having a potential national champion college football team playing in our backyard didn't hurt!)

From the Forbes Article:

4. St. Louis

What makes St. Louis a desirable housing market isn't simply the 76% of homes that are available to the median buyer, but its relatively stability; The area isn't as bogged down in risky loans and defaults as other Midwestern cities. The Gateway to the West has a strong ratio of parks and restaurants to citizens, according to Sperling's, and is the 15th cheapest city in which to live, based on rankings of the top 50 cities by the Council on Community and Economic Research.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Authentic Drives - Southwest Avenue

A couple of weeks back we attended a fundraiser for St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in the Central West End. At the silent auction, we came away with two items, one an Italian and the other a Spanish gift basket. The baskets included recipes, CDs, treats, and gift certificates. One of the gift certificates was for Boogaloo's restaurant in Maplewood. We tried it out last night.

The restaurant was good and fun. Check out the signature barstool swings hanging from the ceiling. This is a good people watching place. The hip storefront location is another sign of Maplewood's outstanding revitalization. Next door, check out Eddie's Guitars for one of the country's best music stores. After dinner, we were heading home via South Kingshighway. To get there takes you through some of our region's most interesting urban settings.

Heading east on Manchester to Southwest, takes you by the Tap Room's Maplewood location. Continuing east on Southwest, crossing McCausland, you enter the city, crossing River Des Peres and then under some huge concrete railroad bridges.

Climb the hill on Southwest and you get to the mixed up section of Southwest, one of region's most name-challenged historic roads. Am I on Southwest? Am I on Columbia? Just keep going, but follow the route along Columbia. If you do, you have a great view overlooking beatiful Clifton Park lake and its surrounding homes.

Continuing east on Columbia, you cross Hampton at Bartolino's restaurant, preparing for their upcoming move to their new home down the street at the new Drury Inn at Hampton and 44. Crossing Hampton and heading up the hill along Columbia, you're coming into the Hill. Soon you pass a huge old city public school, travelling along a narrow section of Columbia on the north side of US Bank, and then the theater-turned private residence where Columbia merges back with Southwest. Drive about a block on Southwest, then merge at a narrow angle back onto Columbia toward Kingshighway.

At Kingshighway, turn right heading south on Kingshighway toward Tower Grove Park. Pass the Royalw with its new "crown" headed marquis out in front. Now you're entering the heart of south city, with Courtesy Diner, Uncle Bills, G and W Sausage, auto row, and the neighborhoods of South City all nearby.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Donut Diversions

There's a little place I visit maybe once a week for an early morning guilty pleasure. It's a tiny, family run donut shop that makes what I think are the best donuts in town.

This week I stopped in and a lady in front of me was ordering 9 or 10 dozen donuts. It was the biggest order I've ever seen taken out of the place. I held the door for her as she made her way out, and had to find out where all those donuts were headed.

She said she works for a well known bakery on the Hill. She takes the donuts there, and then they fill them with more goodies (fruit, creams, etc), and then put them up in the bakery case to sell with their famous baked goods. An Italian stuffed donut. Gotta say I've never heard of that, but will have to investigate!

STL Rising honors chef's secret recipes, so we're not mentioning any names.

St. Lou ^ is


New CVC website gives voice to hometown pride.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween Reports



Best little sister slam of her big brother:

We have our dog with us greeting the trick or treaters on the porch. Halloween is one of her favorite days. She loves people, and the younger the better, so she loves trick or treaters.

A brother and a sister come up the walk to trick or treat. The brother is wearing one of those highly realistic wolf masks, the kind with lots of fur, a long snout, and lots of teeth. He's ready to tell his joke for some candy. The sister, on the other hand, isn't much interested in candy; she wants to pet the dog and give her hugs. But the dog is mostly interested in the strange looking boy with the dog face. The little girl looks up and says to her brother, "She's only looking at you 'cause you're another dog!"

Best Halloween joke:

Q: Where's the best place to be during a tornado?
A: Inside the Edward Jones Dome because there are no touchdowns!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

STL Halloween Traditions Invade NPR's Talk of the Nation

One of the nice things about living in an old city like St. Louis is the way old traditions are part of the culture. For some reason, St. Louis has very well established Halloween traditions.

If they indexed cities for the quality of their Halloween celebrations, St. Louis would have to be near the top. Yesterday, Amy Dickinson from the Chicago Sun Times Ask Amy column was NPR's Neal Conan's guest on the Talk of the Nation show. They were talking about Halloween celebrations. St. Louis callers flooded the program. Amy and Neil were noticeably impressed by the St. Louis showing.

One caller (not from St. Louis, but it sure sounded like St. Louis) talked about handing the first adults to come by with their kids a beer. Amy was a little taken aback by that idea. I don't know. We see lots of parents walking with their kids on Halloween. The kids go to the door, and the parents stay on the sidewalk, frequently next to a wagon hauling a cooler loaded cold beers. Maybe Halloweens up in Chi-Town are a little more staid than ours?

Amy and Neil talked about how its good for kids to get a little scared on Halloween, as long as its a safe kind of scared. We should have that covered. We get a block party permit, have kids from a wide area show up, half the houses on our block are decorated, maybe some deep bass from a theatrical sub woofer toning haunting riffs, and from 200-300 + trick or treaters.

The film Meet Me In St. Louis does a wonderful job of showing how our four seasons and holiday celebrations are a big part of life in our town. This online review has some more interesting comments about the film.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

International Institute Blog

As seen on a click-through ad at Urban Review, the International Institute has started a discussion blog.

Join the conversation at: International Institute Blog.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Subdivision Trustees Blog

St. Louis is a city of neighborhoods, and for parts of our region a "subdivision" is the legal construct for neighborhood. For most of the city, the lines for "subdivisions" were blurred years ago, showing up now only in arcane legal descriptions on abstracts of title. Old farm tracts were subdivided into lots, and neighborhoods were built. Today, neighborhood organizations are the active community groups for many of these areas.

However, in lots of places througout our region, subdivision developers created their own neighborhood governing bodies. Subdivision covenants, or rules, were established, and are operated through locally elected subdivision trustees. These trustees are responsible for maintaining the standards as set out in the original subdivision codes.

A new blog is up discussing neighborhood issues from the trustee and subdivision resident perspective. Check it out at: subdivisiontrustees.blogpsot.com.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pick One Project?

If you had to pick just one volunteer project to work on for the next three years to improve the St. Louis area, what would it be?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

At last some rain!

Man, this rain feels good. How long has it been? It seems like its been dry forever!

I just went through a drive through, and had to pull away from the speaker because the rain was blowing in the window in sheets. So I pulled right up to the takeout window to place my order. The cashier opened the window and says, smiling, "It's been three months since I moved down here, and this is the hardest I've ever seen it rain!" Three months he said! We should get rain like this every week or two.

"This is how it usually is around here", I said to him. The water was gushing across the parking lot in little rivers. It was flowing down into the drainage inlet like a waterfall. All the rain and rushing water was making a lot of noise.

The rain was pounding down. You could hear it on the roof of the car. What a welcome sight. Finally, a big drink of rainwater for the garden!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chouteau's Landing

Not deja vu, but rather another old riverfront neighborhood on the rise:

Chouteau's Landing

Monday, October 15, 2007

Holy Trinity MCU Meeting Set

Holy Trinity, the historic, twin-steepled, stone church facing I-70 and the Mississippi River in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood, Third Ward, will be the setting for a Metropolitan Congregations United ("MCU") meeting to discuss northside redevelopment efforts, including the ongoing activities of developer Paul McKee.

MCU has a history engaging civic issues in St. Louis. They started the "Holy Ground" movement, and worked to set a regional agenda on such issues as urban sprawl, economic development, and urban community development.

MCU's Holy Trinity meeting is set for 6:30 PM, October 25. From the intersection of Salisbury and Interstate 70, look southwest for the towering stone church. You can't miss it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Blight for Eminent Domain?



The building above is an example of a vacant building some would consider appropriate for blighting and eminent domain.

If the property in the picture above was privately owned, with its property taxes paid, and no plans on the part of the current owner for its rehab, would you support the use of blighting and eminent domain for its redevelopment?

Should neighbors or local neighborhood organizations have a say?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

STL Book Club

A couple of reading recommendations for St. Louis enthusiasts:

New book by local historian, Nini Harris, Unyielding Spirit: The History of Polish people in St. Louis

Website with lots of books about St. Louis: Books on St. Louis.com

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Bump: Statewide Eminent Domain Coalition Leader Comments on ED Petition

Ron Calzone, the the Chairman for the Missouri Citizens for Property Rights, commented on the STL Rising Eminent Domain petition thread. His comments are linked here:

STL Rising eminent domain petition thread

The website for the group is:

www.mo-cpr.org

In his comment, Mr. Calzone discusses the concerns of residents living near problem properties.

Thanks to Mr. Calzone for contributing to this conversation.

Monday, October 08, 2007

STL Chronograph

Over 200 years of STL history in electronic form, courtesy of the STL Community Information Network.

Riverfront Reset

The editorial page of the Sunday Post Dispatch presented three very different concepts for remaking the riverfront and Arch grounds.

One plan suggested by a prominent local architect suggested creating a terrace facing the river just above the flood plain, where pedestrians could stroll, shop, and expand their experience of the riverfront. The terrace could be connected to the underground museum beneath the Arch.

The second proposal was for the floating island plan developed by an out of town architect and planner. The designer mentioned comparisons to a highly successful waterfront development in Spain.

The third concept was suggested by the president of the Downtown Resident's Association. This plan was less about redesigning the Arch grounds or the riverfront and more about reworking the road system around the area.

With plans for a new Mississippi River bridge still in the works, the writer suggested moving Highway 70 away from the Arch entirely, somewhere north of Laclede's Landing.

Next, dispose of the moat around the Arch created by the depressed lanes by simply filling it in. This approach would remove the connection of Highways 44, 55 and 70 in downtown and eliminate the need for a "lid" over the depressed lanes. The writer pointed out that such a concept would open up prime downtown real estate for new development and also better connect downtown to Laclede's Landing.

The three plans are all very different. What's your favorite option? Or perhaps a different suggestion?

The reworking of the Arch and riverfront connections to downtown is something we'll only get one shot at in our lifetimes. What is our best shot?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Delmar Loop Named one of Ten Best Streets

The revitalization of the Delmar Loop in UCity and the City of St. Louis is a good example of neighbors, developers, and government all working together.

The work has paid off. This year, the APA has named the Delmar Loop one of the nation's ten best streets. The links below show how some of the pieces have come together over the years.

Neighbors had a plan.

Private developers responded.

Local anchors stepped up.

Neighbors found partners in government.

Community organization provides a vehicle to leverage efforts.

Community development does work.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

STL Trash Rising - New Dumpster and Alley Blog

With leaf raking season upon us, dumpster wars are about to get going, with neighbors vying for space in their yard waste dumpster. So today, in honor of our city's storied alley and dumpster tradition, STL Rising unveils a new blog: STL Trash Rising.

STL Trash Rising will take a light-hearted look at alley life and dumpsters. Got a funny alley or dumpster story? Tell it at STL Trash Rising!

Monday, October 01, 2007

STL Rising: Unfiltered FYI

Since reader comments on the Market at McKnight development in Rock Hill are continuing, STL Rising is bumping this post to the top of the page.

Missouri Eminent Domain Petition Question

Petition gatherers are circulating throughout the community seeking signers for a proposed referendum regarding the future of eminent domain in Missouri.

However, after speaking with two of the signature gatherers, it was unclear exactly what the petitioners seeks to change.

The gatherers were mentioning that the petition would give Missouri voters a chance to vote on eminent domain. However, they could not answer the question of whether that meant every time government wanted to use eminent domain, there would need to be a public vote.

Does anyone know the purpose of the eminent domain petition?

Friday, September 28, 2007

STL Rising: Resurrecting St. Bonafice



When the St. Louis Arch Diocese decided to consolidate some parishes, and close and sell some of their old city churches, historic St. Boniface church in Carondelet was on the surplus list. Apparently, the sale of the church carried with it some form of morals clause as a deed restriction.

St. Boniface Church is an anchor building in the recently created St. Boniface National Register historic district in Carondelet. Visit the area today, and there are a growing number of quality historic rehabs both completed and underway. Old St. Boniface, built in the 1850s, has been rehabbed and is re-opening as the "Ivory Theater". It's first show, "Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll", is set to open this week.

However, today's news is reporting that the Arch Diocese is suing to block the opening of the show. The use restriction placed on the property prohibits activity in the building which would be deemed harmful to the community, including adult-oriented entertainment.

The developer agreed to the deed restriction, but was under the impression that the Arch Diocese was aiming primarily to prohibit strip clubs and other adult businesses from operating in the building. There is disagreement over whether the restriction applies to live performances such as the grand opening show, which some have described as barely "PG-13" in content.

The PD story is here.

UPDATE

An 11th hour meeting with top officials from the Arch Diocese averted a shutdown of the play, and observers noted that for its grand opening, the new Ivory Theater could have never afforded to pay for so much publicity.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"This city is on a roll!"

"Howard" commented yesterday that "this city is on a roll". While Centene prepares to spend hundreds of millions at Ballpark Village, Howard is getting a new dumpster for his alley. Today, the expanded St. Louis Centre "Mercantile Exchange" redevelopment is announced, adding another $600,000,000 downtown investment to the city's progress.

Ten years ago, no one would have imagined the things happening today in St. Louis. Downtown development has far outpaced the goals set in the Downtown Now plan. Taken together, the revitalization of the city is reaching astronomical proportions. Major out of town developers are adding muscle to the growth.

The turnaround has been nothing less than phenomenal. Projects are jumping off the drawing board and being brought to life. These are exciting times to be a St. Louisan. How far will the rebound go?

Even with all the growth taking place in St. Louis, as a region, we are still very affordable. Compared to the high-growth markets of the Sunbelt States, we are still a bargain. The housing crunch that is hitting hard in other parts of the country is relatively mild in St. Louis. We are one of the few markets actually recording price increases. Could it be that tough times in other regions will continue pushing growth in St. Louis for years to come? Why not? Growth is a magnet for more growth.

We met a young couple last weekend newly relocated to St. Louis from the San Francisco Bay Area. In California, they were paying $1,200 per month for a 750 square foot apartment. Housing costs in their San Francisco suburb averaged over $700,000. They accepted a relocation offer to St. Louis, where the husband manages an upscale retail operation. Sales per square foot at the St. Louis location are on par or higher than the California store where the man worked.

The couple purchased an Art Deco brick home in the City's Lindenwood neighborhood. Their house payment is less than what they were paying in rent in California. Meanwhile, the same home in California would have been priced around $1,000,000. They could never have dreamed of owning such a home on the west coast.

Is it possible that the national economy, and outrageous housing prices in the traditionally hot growth areas of the country will work to the long term advantage of St. Louis? Could it be that our well kept secret of a high quality of life at an affordable price is starting to get out?

How far might we go in our renaissance, and how should we keep building our momentum? Maybe we shouldn't change a thing. Right now, like Howard says, this city is on a roll!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lists

Today's news is reporting that while FBI crime statistics still show St. Louis at the top of the list of US cities for major crimes per capita, crime is nonetheless way down in the City, with August crime the lowest since 1990. When you consider our city's skewed crime statistics due to our odd city not in a county status, it's hard to get too excited about the city's crime ranking.

The list I'm waiting for is Steve Wilke Shapiro's 50 things he'll miss most about St. Louis. That should be an interesting list. Given that we are twice relocated to St. Louis (we came, we left, and came back again), we know first hand how it feels to miss St. Louis.

When we moved away, we felt that pang of missing St. Louis every day. In fact, we missed it so much, we eventually moved back. Of the things we missed, most of all, it was the people. Next was the quality of life.

Monday, September 24, 2007

DT Rising: Ballpark Village Scores Centene!

They say "timing is everything", and for downtown's Ballpark Village, it appears the timing of the project is a perfect fit for the major expansion plans of Centene Corporation. Centene's planned 1,000,000 + square foot office, hotel and retail development will bring over 1,000 new jobs to downtown, and will be the anchor tenant of Ballpark Village.

It is difficult for mere words to communicate the magnitude of this announcement. For those seeking increased urban density, the Centene deal is a 1,000,000 square foot project to be located on less than one third of the overall Ballpark Village site.

In only two years, the impact of keeping the Cardinals downtown has been huge for St. Louis. In 2006, the Cardinals won their first world championship in over 20 years. Now in 2007, downtown St. Louis is announcing a major office relocation connected to Ballpark Village. Vision and dreams are becoming reality in the City.

With downtown St. Louis securing Centene over dozens of other potential sites across the country, could this deal represent the "tipping point", when local and national observers agree: The City of St. Louis is back!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Site Acquisitions Stall Webster Redevelopment Plan

Efforts to redevelop a 7.5 acre site on the west end of Webster Groves have stalled due to a lack of site control. The city had established a redevelopment plan for the area and issued an RFP for developers.

One development group offered a proposal for a $51 million mixed use project, however the redevelopment has been put on hold with landowners and developers unable to reach terms on land sales. The developer does not want to use condemnation for acquisition, and would prefer site control be established by the city.

The developer's plan was responsive to the city's desire for a high quality, mixed use project. More information about the effort is available online in a this story from today's Post Dispatch.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kirkwood Historic Preservation Efforts

Some Kirkwood residents are organizing around the issue of historic preservation. Lately, more and more of Kirkwood's historic building stock is being demolished in favor of building expensive new replacement or "infill" homes.

The situation is similar to what the St. Louis region has witnessed transpire recently in Clayton, another historic St. Louis suburb. Just a few years ago, old town Clayton was a highly intact, historic residential area. Visit the old town section today, and you see more and more of the original homes being replaced with large, very high-end, new infill construction.

In response to this same tear-down-and-build-new trend, some in Kirkwood are working to establish local historic preservation codes. These new codes could place strict limitations on the demolition of historic buildings.

The issue is controversial. Not everyone believes such government restrictions are reasonable. On a personal level, we love visiting the historic sections of Kirkwood. However, is it reasonable for government to prevent a private property owner from selling a historic home so that a developer might tear it down to build a larger, more expensive home on the same site?

There are no signs pointing to an end to the controversy. To the contrary, this past weekend, outside Kirkwood's wonderful Greentree Festival, "Save Historic Kirkwood" signs could be seen in the front yards of historic homes all around Kirkwood Park.

One of the most appealing features of the St. Louis region is our historic neighborhoods, with parts of Kirkwood certainly among our best examples.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Youtube Extra: Free Music Lessons from the All-Time Greats

A long time ago, when I started playing guitar, we didn't have much sound equipment at home. My dad took our heavy old Magnavox hi-fi to an electronics shop and had it converted to play as a loudspeaker for the Yamaha box guitar we had mounted with a portable DeArmond pickup. The net result was an amp'd acoustic and that was about it. There was no stereo in the room, and cheap boom boxes weren't on the market yet.

My parents paid for me to take guitar lessons from 5th through 12th grade, studying jazz and popular music. It was all formal training, reading music, and working from one song to the next, with increasing difficulty over the years.

It wasn't until I went off to college that there was a stereo in the same room where I practiced. My roommate had the stereo and this would be the first time I ever played along with records. It changed everything. After 8 years of playing, it would be the first time I ever tried playing by ear.

At the beginning, it felt like I didn't know how to play. What note should follow what? All those years of practicing wasted, and I'm feeling like a total beginner again! Talk about frustrating! But then, after about a month of practice, it started coming together, and a whole new world was opening up for me.

Lots of formally trained musicians never learn to play by ear. They can be masterful classical performers, but have no trained ear for improvising. It's sort of a left brain/right brain sort of thing. Ear playing is all intuition and feel.

When you play by ear, you start instinctively recognizing various chord patterns and style. Good ear players can play most popular music on a "casual" (sitting in) basis, without rehearsals, fitting in with other players on their first set.

Which gets to the point of this post. Our son Matt has had formal music training since first grade on piano and trombone. However, his growing passion is the guitar. And he can't read a lick of music on one. For guitar, he is a pure ear player. Ask him what chord he's playing, and half the time he has no idea. But it's the right one.

He's been playing guitar for a few years now, and recently, his improvement has been incredible. Almost on a daily basis he is playing some new classic hit song. I'm asking myself, where is he getting all this material? Now I know.

He's getting free lessons from the all-time greats right off the internet. You can too. All courtesy of Youtube. Check it out. It's all out there.

Wanna learn from John and Paul? Click here.

Velvet Revolver and Slash more your style? Then try this.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Another one bites the dust

Having spent a fair amount of time in timber country, the whine of chainsaws is a familiar sound. With it usually comes the smell of freshly chewed wood, tiny wood dust particles in the air, noise, and heat. The smells, the crunching sound of falling tree limbs, it's all very familiar in timber country.

It's not a good sound in our urban neighborhoods. Today, there it was. That loud, screaming of 2-stroke motor and the crunching and snapping of tree limbs. And the roar of a wood chipping/grinding machine at work. A tree service was removing one of the behemoth trees from the rear yard of a 2-family across the alley from us.

The tree guys are amazing. They work like high-wire artists. The way they can bring down these giant trees, with little if any disturbance to the yard or neighbors nearby, is great talent. And it's an expensive proposition. We once passed on buying a new old home because of the humongous oak tree in the middle of the back yard.

Not only do those big dudes get scary when bending over in high winds, they can cost a fortune to have removed, easy over $5,000 apiece.

As sad as it is to see a big tree removed, in most places around here, given the hundreds of thousands of trees shading our St. Louis region, the occasional loss of one or two is hardly noticeable. And it cuts down on raking! Just don't let the situation get too far out of hand. We once sold a house and moved because the block we were on had too few street trees and not enough shade.

For an interesting discussion about what others think of the "look" of St. Louis, check out this forum thread.

Odds and Ends

This time of year, as leaves on the trees start their color change, I look forward to getting out the wool clothing and pleated fall jackets. Leaf raking, fall lawn prep, and other outside projects are enjoyable in the mild weather. Halloween is fast approaching, and neighborhood block parties are a common occurence, featuring outdoor fire pits, lawn chairs, "jumpies" for kids, lots of barbequed meat, good red wine, and comfortable nightime temperatures.

The 7th ward must be one of the places where you're allowed to bring your dog to sidewalk cafes. For the past two mornings, a woman has been accompanied by her two dogs while sitting at a sidewalk table at the corner of 6th and Olive. One of the dogs looks exactly like a long-haired version of our humane society adoptee. Seeing people with friendly dogs makes downtown feel friendly, welcoming, and safe.

The Hilton (nee ballpark Mariott) is showing some of the multiplier benefits of downtown ballpark expansion. The hotel is going through a major remodel of its Broadway and Market corner entrance with an expanded steel and glass-framed conference facility facing the street.

97.1 FM talk show host Dave Glover, in an interview with STL Police Chief Joe Mokwa yesterday, characterized himself as a long time skeptic of efforts to revitalize the city. For years, he was not a believer. On the air with Mokwa, he conceded that efforts to improve St. Louis "are working".

The St. George police stop video going round the world on YouTube is causing some in the St. Louis area to take a fresh look at our many repetitive layers of government and public services. On KMOX this morning, Debbie Monterey explained that the reason St. George exists in the first place is because two moms some years ago wanted to work out a local school bus arrangement for their kids. Monterey and co-host Doug McKelvin went on to suggest that it might make more sense for St. George to consolidate their police services under a contract with St. Louis County.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Good for Another 9 Months

We just finished another summer in our paid for, low mileage, '96 mini-van, the one without air conditioning. Yeah, there were some hot times driving in July and August, but we survived.

The cost to repair the A/C would run somewhere north of $1,000, and I doubt we could even sell the car for that much, so why put the money into it? Better to suffer the heat, driving a car that doesn't attract much attention.

Out of towners often wonder how people can stand living in the heat and humidity of a St. Louis summer. Hey, it's only three months, and in exchange, we get lots of beautiful weather in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.

Last weekend we overseeded the front lawn, and, thanks to the milder weather and rains over the past week, the new seedlings are already up over an inch tall.

The van is ready for the winter, with a heater that blasts warm air. Come next June, hopefully she'll still be running strong, and we'll hit summer ready to go at it again with 4 x 60 A/C (that's four windowns down, 60 MPH...).

Friday, September 07, 2007

Old St. Louis Shoppe

On the mantle in my parent's California home there is a commemorative beer stein sold as a souvenier at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The memento has been passed down through our family over the years and looks like new. I didn't even know we had it until a couple of years ago. It's pretty cool. I love old St. Louis stuff.

A few years ago a guy showed up at a community meeting. We were talking about something, maybe Forest Park or charter reform. He brought along a fascinating conversation piece. Over the years, he had amassed a huge collection of historic St. Louis post cards. Some of the buildings in the cards were still standing, but many had been long since demolished. Viewing the collection was like taking a trip through St. Louis history.

Which makes me wonder, has anyone taken the idea of Old St. Louis and tried to make it into a commercial venture? I'm not talking about historic tours or bed and breakfast inns, but rather a store specializing in historic St. Louis collectibles?

The store could carry old photographs, maps, sports items, furniture, clothing, advertisements, anything from Old St. Louis. Is there such a place? We have tons of great antique stores, but have any of them made St. Louis history the main attraction? Maybe in these days of the internet, bricks and mortar stores just can't compete?

Sure enough, you can actually buy historic St. Louis bricks on ebay. However, wouldn't you rather be able to browze through a real store, perhaps in a historic building, and see the items in natural light?

The inventory could be expanded by offering reproductions as well as originals. There have got to be some long-time St. Louis families with great collections of historic St. Louis stuff.

On the public/museum side, the Mercantile Library, now at UMSL, is a good place to view lots of St. Louis history. Personally, I haven't been to the UMSL site. For years, the museum was housed in the top floor of a Boatmen's Bank branch location across from St. Louis Centre. Visits to the museum were free, with guests having to sign a register prior to entry. This fall we'll have to plan a trip to the UMSL Mercantile Library. We're overdue.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Mellanby Effect

Scott Mellanby, NHL bruiser who played a couple of his seasons right here in St. Louis, is retiring from the NHL. He closed out his NHL career playing in Atlanta. Like many NHL players, Mellanby comes from a Canadian hockey family. His dad is a legendary Canadian hockey TV announcer who received Emmy awards for his work on hockey broadcasts.

Pro hockey players make good money. The current minimum salary is something like $500,000 per year. Mellanby had a long career, so he must have made millions. So what is he doing now that he's retiring from the pro game? He's moving his family back to St. Louis to make this their permanent home.

And Mellanby's not alone. Didn't retired MLB stars Andy Van Slyke and Ozzie Smith do the same thing? These professional athletes have fame and fortune and the freedom of choice. They could live wherever they want. And where do they choose to make their homes? St. Louis. Maybe its the water. It's got to be something.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Labor Day Weekend Travels

One of the comments in the "Unique St. Louis" thread noted how St. Louis is like a "big small town". You know what they say about small towns: everyone knows everyone. In St. Louis, it's sort of the same thing. Even though our metro are has around 2.5 million people, we're always bumping into people we know out in public. I wonder if the closer you live to downtown, the more likely your path is to cross with people you know?

We checked out the new Lindewood School lofts, and while visiting these very nice and moderately priced historic rehab condos, there were two of our old neighbors, the ones who kept the nicest yard on the block.

We attended the Blues Festival at Laclede's Landing (packed with lots of fans from the Mizzou/Illinois game), and there, walking through the narrow streets of the Landing, was one of our neighbors and fellow car pool patrons.

Watching the main stage, there was fellow side man Matt D playing bass. From down the alley, there walked up two more of our car pool friends, and standing beside them, a couple of long-time co-supporters of youth baseball here in town. Up the hillside a little, checking out the music, there was KSDK morning host, Art Holiday.

Yesterday we hit the CWE for the annual Greek Festival at St. Nicholas. The young man shucking corn comes from a family we've known for over ten years, and we saw two of his sisters up on stage performing traditional Greek dances. Enjoying the dance performance from a table in the audience was my former music director with his wife and child. And then as we were standing in the food line (the place was packed), two teenage girls from our parish, who had arrived to the festival via Metrolink, walked up for a visit.

We walked over to see a movie at the Chase, where we bumped into the theater director, someone we've just met recently, who just so happens to also be one of this town's greatest built environment advocates.

Then taking a seat behind us at the show was another long time acquaintance, Shaw neighborhood resident, and professional collegue working in St. Louis County.

Out of all the places we've ever lived, we've never experienced anywhere near the number of random, on the street, meetups with friends and acquaintances like we have here in St. Louis. These chance meetings are among the things we like to think of as "St. Louis moments".

They say St. Louis has a good sense a community. For a big city, it's a pretty tight knit community. Unplanned visits with your friends and neighbors around town are another of those things that make this city a fun and more interesting place to live.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Rethinking the Riverfront



While we think about the future of the Arch, we really need to be thinking about the future of the riverfront at the same time. The picture of above shows Portland's skyline and its riverfront (click on the image for an awesome super-sized view).

Notice the view across the water isn't much different than ours, with a maze of highways. Notice also how Portland's buildings are much closer to the river than ours. And notice the condo development and sheltered marina next to downtown.

Size wise, Portland's river looks about as wide as ours, with just as many river crossings. Now if we could photoshop the Arch into the middle of the Portland riverfront, and see how it looks!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Public Meeting Tonight: The Future of Near Northside Development

Stemming from the pending "Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit" in Jefferson City, there will be a public meeting tonight at 6:00 p.m. in the auditorium of Vashon High School at 3035 Cass Avenue in the City's Jeff Vanderlou neighborhood.

The meeting will provide a forum for elected officials, residents, and other interested parties to dialogue on the future of the area. Given the wide range of possibilities and opinions on redevelopment options, this promises to be the start of a very interesting discussion about the future of a key area of the City of St. Louis.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rethinking the Arch

Yesterday's post highlighting "Unique St. Louis" included the idea of how we like our changes to happen more incrementally.

City leaders have put on the table a proposal for a potentially very significant incremental change to downtown St. Louis-the idea of placing sizable areas of the Arch grounds under local control.

Mayor Slay and Senator Danforth are working together to advance the effort to improve our riverfront, and they are convinced that local control over sections of the Arch grounds is an essential element of any major riverfront development plan.

They haven't announced any specific development strategies yet, however, the long-standing effort to better link the Arch grounds to the rest of downtown is a major component of the overall vision.

Historically, any intrusion onto the Arch grounds has been strictly verboten by federal authorities. The Arch is a National Park in downtown St. Louis and any changes to the status of a National Park require congressional approval. So, in order for our local effort to happen, we will have to build a pro-local control coalition all the way up to the halls of Congress. Senator McCaskill has already indicated her support.

Times change. Priorities change. Saarinen's original plan for Arch did include more active uses. Imagine the Arch more like the Eifel Tower, as a centerpoint of our community, rather than being set aside as a passive memorial.

Do you think strengthening the linkage between the Arch and downtown St. Louis might diminish its significance as a national landmark? Or would it be increased?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Is your cheese a laughing matter?

Personally, I'm not much into "St. Louis style pizza". Other than South County's "That's-A-Nice-A-Pizza", I haven't found a St. Louis style pizza that does much for me. I much prefer Round Table Pizza's "King Arthur Supreme" from the area where I grew up. I don't get St. Louis style pizza, and I especially don't get the local fascination with "Provel" cheese. Provel is a St. Louis thing.

They even package it that way at Schnucks. In the cheese section, you can buy packages of Imo's brand Provel cheese. "The original St. Louis Pizza Cheese" they call it. We joke about it. People from outside the St. Louis area probably have no idea what's so funny. It's just cheese. What's funny about cheese? To appreciate it, you need to understand St. Louis. It's a St. Louis thing.

Which gets to the point of this post. After more than 250 years, St. Louis has established its very own, unique local culture. It is manifested throughout our daily lives. And it's a wonderful thing. With the leapfrogging growth of many places, there are lots of areas without much "local" culture at all. They're pretty generic. Not us. We're steeped in it, and it's one of the things that makes St. Louis unique.

The list below are some of the examples of what I like to refer to as "Unique St. Louis". Yes, not everything on the list is exclusively found in St. Louis. However, taken together, they make up the features of our community that provide a unique St. Louis experience, a lifestyle unlike anywhere else.

Granted, St. Louis may not be for everyone, but there's no doubt about it: we are an American original. How so? Well consider the following list. After reading it, perhaps you'll disagree and think we're not so unique. Or, maybe, you'll have some more things to add of your own...

We're a “city not in a county”
Our changes happen incrementally, not in rapid fashion
The Arch
Parish Culture
Ward Culture
Block party scene
2nd highest rate of parochial/private school enrollments
Near or at the top of the highest number of Catholic high schools per capita in the country
Affordable housing
Low cost of living
Long list of “oldest _____ west of the Mississippi River” things
Identity as a "Neighborhood City"
Historic neighborhoods and architecture
The confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers
Rich in Native American historic sites
2nd largest US inland port
Biggest concentration of Bosnian immigrants in US
Major presence of independent grocery stores
High number of pro-sports franchises in a smaller-sized market
High percentage participation in amateur sports
Gay friendly
Flyover Country
Forested neighborhoods
4 equal seasons
Hot summer nights and cold beer
Chilly winter nights around bonfires, sledding at neighborhood parks
Outdoor ice skating under CWE/BJC highrises
Winning MLB tradition/Best Fans in Baseball/Home of "Cardinal Nation"
Community-driven effort to renew Forest Park
Parades, parades, parades,
Especially, the Veiled Profit Parade
Proximity to Missouri Wine Country
Mardis Gras week,
Especially, the 5,000 decorated dogs in a dog parade with 50,000 spectators
Ethnic festivals
Emerging arts scene
Excellent local symphony and theater groups
Beautiful, diverse performance venues
Clayton Art Fair
Neighborhood butchers and bakeries
Neighborhood tavern culture
Active blog scene
Rich music history
Emerging new music scene
New Cathedral mosaics
Old downtowns, such as Florissant and St. Charles
Central US location, 2/3 of population within a day’s drive
"Gateway To The West"
Route 66 landmarks
Local language and pronunciations
Discouragement of privacy fences
Lush greenery
Missouri Botanical Garden
Forest Park
Vestiges of Civil War-no local control of police
Beer Town USA
Halloween culture, haunted houses, Alton
Decorated neighborhoods, holiday and year-round yard decorations
Salvaged broken glass and ceramic interior decorating displays
Strong union town
Brick streets
Stable local economy, not subject to wild swings like Sunbelt states
Best tasting tap water
Wide range of world class attractions offering free admission, a tradition which dates back to our European working class roots...
Especially, the St. Louis Zoo, free to all, historic and scientific
The St. Louis Science Center
Boeing's Prologue Room
The City Museum
Significant civil rights history
Loft District transformation
Local foods including Pietkowksi Krakow, G and W Grant’s Farm Bratwurst, Manzo’s Salciccia, Provel cheese and St. Louis Style pizza, Frozen Custard, and brain sandwiches
Italian products from the Hill

As a community, we are a work in progress. We acknowledge our weaknesses, and we work together to improve them. Suffering for so long has made us humble, and we welcome others to join us in our effort of community renewal. Given our humility, sometimes we are the last to recognize the progress we have made.

So while I may not be a big fan of Provel cheese, I think the rest of the stuff that makes us unique is pretty cool.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Downtown Weekend

We had two discounted tickets to the Cards/Braves game Saturday night, so we headed downtown for the game. We had other things to do, so, if the game was a dud, we were planning an early exit. By the end of three innings, it didn't look like tonight would be the Cardinal's night, so we headed for the exit.

On the way to the stadium, we had taken a detour over to the new "Old Rock House" music club. They said that under-21s were welcome, and there was no cover charge, so when we left the Cardinal's game, we walked south the few blocks to the Old Rock House.

Exiting the stadium, we walked through the smoking area gauntlet. Busch Stadium doesn't allow smoking in the stadium. Instead, they designate a place on the sidewalk outside the entrance for smokers. When we walked through, there must have been over 100 smokers puffing away. Not a nice setting.

Leaving the stadium area, we walked south under the many trestles and bridges next to the stadium, into an area that is rapidly turning into its own version of Ballpark Village. Nearly every old building, weigh station, and otherwise non-descript odd brick building has become a Cardinal-themed sports bar. Many with outside patios, big tents, quality sound systems, barbeques, etc. Rothschild is converting the long vacant loft building directly across Highway 40 from Busch Stadium into loft apartments.

Seeing the acres of surface parking lots on the south side of the ballpark made me wonder: would St. Louis support TIF or other public/private financial structures to redevelop some of these parcels into new mixed-use, parking underground, housing/office developments?

Continuing south, Matt had the urge to climb one of the abandoned bridge abutments near the Ralston Purina campus. During the week, downtown workers park their cars on the closed brige. Today, it appeared an urban relic. Matt expressed an interest in hiking across the old steel bridge someday, and an overall desire to move to the area.

We passed the 1940-vintage, Eat Rite Diner, and then the 1911-built Monroe School (not sure if the name is right). A couple more minutes, we arrived at the Old Rock House. The Post ran a nice feature this weekend on the Rock House, so we wanted to give the place a try. They have a huge sidewalk cafe area, which was packed with customers.

Inside, the music hall is first rate, with live acts performing daily. They are encouraging local bands to appear. Combined with Lucas School House, there are now two new classy music halls opened in the past 12-months on the near-near South Side.

We ordered a shrimp appetizer. At a little over $10 for 5 "jumbo" shrimp, I thought we might have been getting a little skewered on the price. Not at all. These shrimp were big and heavy, and if served as a main course would be more than filling for one person. Highly recommended. The seasoning tasted like a Baltimore/New Orleans crossover. Excellent, and worth a return trip to try more of the menu.

Inside the Old Rock House, there are huge flat screen TVs, and we could see that the Cardinals were getting back in the game. We walked outside to the patio, and from there you have an unobstructed view of the Arch and neighborhood kids playing hoops on the playground in back of Monroe School. We made a note about this being a good spot for future firework watching, and Matt made a note about possible future pickup b-ball games on the school yard.

We left the Old Rock House, with plans to get the car and drive over to the Lucas School House. We walked backed to our car in the Kiener Plaza garage. Twisting the key in the ignition, the car wouldn't start. The game was now in about the 7th inning, with the Cardinals clinging to a 1-run lead. Downtown was buzzing with pedestrians. We called one of our friends still at the game to line up a ride home.

With an inning's worth of time to kill, and Hooter's on the corner, we figured it was as good a place as any to wait out the end of the ballgame. Our Hooter's girl gave new meaning to the term ditzy, but she was very nice. She asked us if the Braves got a base hit, did that mean that the Cardinals would get to bat again? She told us she was a veteran of the Iraq War. When Matt asked her if she'd killed anybody in Iraq, she got a puzzled look on her face said she couldn't answer that question. She was sitting on the bar stool next to him, leaning closer, and asked, "do you have a girlfriend?".

He smiled, and said, "no".

She leaned a little closer and asked, "Do you want one?"

About this time, the game was in its final moments. Then Jason Isringhausen recorded a strikeout to seal the victory for the Cardinals. We headed outside to wait by the naked-running-man statue in the Kiener Plaza fountain for our friends and our ride home.

The next morning, Sunday around 9:00 AM, I arrived back downtown to retrieve the car. Hardee's, home to the "Thickburger" and one of the garage tenants, has installed nice new tables and umbrellas on the 6th street side of the garage. Along with Joseph's, and across the street at TGI Fridays, there are now three sidewalk cafes lining 6th Street at Kiener Plaza.

A tow truck driver appeared, and I hailed him over. He helped me get the car out of the garage, but when he quoted me $85 for the tow, I said, "hey, this is supposed to be AAA". He was the wrong tow truck driver. He said he saw the AAA driver headed down the road.

So he loaned me his cel phone, and I called AAA back to send another driver. I gave him ten bucks for his trouble, and proceeded to wait for driver number 2.

It's now about 9:30 AM on a Sunday morning, and there are more people on the sidewalks than during a typical weekday morning. 30 minutes later, and still no tow truck. So I flag down one of the CID Downtown Guides, and he loans me his cel phone. (Note to self: if you're gonna drive two old cars, better get a cel phone for emergency use...).

Standing by the car on Chestnut, on the sidewalk between Hooters and Hardee's, a nice looking young woman with done up hair and nails, chatting on her cel phone comes walking by. She was wearing short-shorts and a tank top. As she got closer, I could see that the shorts she was wearing were actually Sponge Bob boxer shorts, the same kind my six year old nephew wears. She had underwear showing under her boxers, so I guess this qualifies for acceptable dress in public?

About now, driver number two arrived, hitched up the dead car, and we caravaned our way to down South Kingshighway.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lumiere to transform the Landing



This morning's drive from East St. Louis took me past the rapidly completing Lumiere Casino on Laclede's Landing.

For months drivers on Highway 70 have seen Lumiere's highrise tower under construction. Now, entering Laclede's Landing via the MLK Bridge, you see a whole Lumiere "village" emerging, filling in the entire northwest corner of the Landing's entertainment district.

With months of pre-opening promotions, major efforts to recruit high-quality employees, a huge dry land casino located between the river and downtown, will Lumiere become the major casino attraction of the Midwest?

Personally, I'm not much into casino gambling, but I'm definitely looking forward to a visit to this exciting new addition to the St. Louis riverfront. Who knows, maybe we'll lose a roll of quarters or two into some of their slots.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ballpark Village Design Questions


Ballpark Village is ready to start construction, with completion scheduled for 2009. The model shown on TV this week makes the project look very upscale, and our son is already pushing for us to sell our house in favor of a BV condo. No doubt about it...new construction has its advantages. We are tempted, but where would we walk the dog?

Anyhow, I'm wondering about a couple of things on the design. First, how does BV incorporate into the rest of downtown? Will there be a sense of being "inside" versus "outside" a Ballpark Village "district"?

I'm rooting for pursuing the most seamless connection possible between Ballpark Village and downtown. Perhaps there are a few key design measures we might implement to strengthen the connection between the new and the old? Which brings me to the second question. Will there still be a good view of the Old Courthouse from inside Busch Stadium once Ballpark Village is built?

From the updated rendering of the project above, it appears most of the view of the Old Court House would be blocked by new high rise construction. If so, could these buildings be moved to the other end of the site, essentially reversing the site plan, thus highlighting a historic St. Louis building among further stunning proof of downtown's continuing renaissance?

Another way of looking at this would be, what sorts of outcomes would we want to avoid in the final development of Ballpark Village, and are we making sure we are taking the right steps to ensure the best final result?

Keeping the residential component in the project is one such proactive step. Are there any others? Would blocking the view of the Old Courthouse be a mistake?


Maybe it doesn't really matter. The project looks awesome.

Here are more views of the project:

Ballpark Village

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Land Assembly Tax Credit Moves Toward Approval

For years, local leaders have called for a program to assist with land assemblage in distressed communities. Yesterday, the state of Missouri moved one step closer to making that concept reality.

The current version of the plan calls for local control over approval of development plans. How should the city maximize its potential with this opportunity?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Historic STL Area Route Map - Revisted


Picking up on a topic from yesterday, here's a historic map of the St. Louis area, Missouri side only. The idea I'm thinking of is to create a new map today, combining Missouri and Illinois, designed with the historic explorer in mind, offering interesting day trips starting from St. Louis city.

Key routes might be 159 through the Metro East, Spoede Road through STL County, W. Florissant and S. Broadway through STL City. The final product would be something that would serve locals and visitors alike interested in visiting the many historic settings of the STL area.

Landmark destinations could be highlighted, including places operating businesses in original settings, such as Marx Hardware in Old North St. Louis, the White Cottage Ice Cream restaurant in Belleville, interesting hole in the wall taverns, etc.

The map should include historic neighborhoods, parks, and cemetaries; and old roads such as West Main in Belleville, the Old River Road in Illinois, Manchester Road in St. Louis, etc.

If you started with a modern day Missouri and Illinois road map, and then highlighted the main roads in use around 1900, you'd have a good base map.

If you were planning such a map, what landmarks would you include, especially looking outside of STL City?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Serious Starter


If you know someone looking for a good quality, solid body, electric guitar for the serious student, we have one available, as pictured above. Ten percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Historic Mullanphy Alliance. For more information, please contact me at rbonasch@sbcglobal.net. Thanks.

Historic STL Area Maps?

With the STL area so rich in history, there are countless possibilities to enjoy scenic, historic drives through our region.

A great resource for planning such road trips would be a map of historic St. Louis, one showing the old roads still in use connecting the settlements of early St. Louis, say dating back from 1910 or so.

Has anyone ever seen such a map? I'm thinking of something that would provide roughly a fifty mile radius from the Arch.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Free Reverse Phone Directory Website

Reverse directories are a key resource when trying to track down property owners, neighbors, contacts, etc.

Go to: whitepages.com

One More Jewel in the Crown?

St. Louis is already a major league city, but the prospects of bringing Major League Soccer to the STL area are exciting and real.


For full details, click here.

Be sure to read the blog section, where the promoters talk about how "STL Soccer United" has the potential to unify the STL region:

"As the name suggests, we truly believe this project has the potential to unite us as a community. Not that we are divided here in St. Louis, by the river or anything else. But as World Cup and other international soccer competitions have proven for decades, soccer has more of a galvanizing effect on a nation, state or community than virtually any other sport on the planet. That's what we envision unfolding here in our community. A St. Louis team will call Illinois its home, and the benefits to the entire region will be too many to count."

No Way!

He didn't do that, did he?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sister Marie Charles to Retire

Longtime friend and neighborhood advocate, Sister Marie Charles, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, is retiring. For more than two decades, Sister Marie Charles has served as Executive Director of the Carondelet Community Betterment Federation.

CCBF provides a wide variety of community and neighborhood development services. Under Sister's tenure, CCBF was instrumental in the historic rehabilitation of the Virginia Manor Apartments, the preservation of Stein Rown, and the establishment and further expansion of the St. Boniface National Register Historic District.

Sister Marie Charles is a sister at the Sisters of St. Joseph's of Carondelet convent. The Sisters of St. Joseph came to St. Louis from France in the very early 1800s, establishing their Mother House in St. Louis at Carondelet. The convent offers guided tours of the historic site which give visitors a fascinating look into early St. Louis.

Sister Marie Charles has been a tireless community servant, coordinating countless projects and thousands of volunteer hours. Thanks to her for many years of service to the City of St. Louis and the Carondelet community!

DT Rising: Too Fast, Too Slow, or About Right?

The other night on the KMOX "Two Johns, No Waiting" program, the hosts had two downtown restaurant owners in the studio discussing an upcoming restaurant promotion. The conversation turned to the subject of the pace of downtown's revitalization.

One of the Johns said that he felt the pace was too slow, and that it's taking too long a time to reach the point of downtown Chicago's hustle and bustle. He acknowledged that we won't be "another Chicago", but maybe a smaller version.

Then he asked if there was "enough housing" downtown, and that the development along Washington Avenue was good, but what about on the KMOX side of downtown (south of Market Street). (paraphrased)

I don't know about you, but my impression is that the pace of downtown's revitalization is amazing. Neal Pierce agrees. The restaurant owners were staunchly defending downtown's progress. In the past ten years, property values, housing growth, and investment have soared.

It's frustrating to hear the "Voice of St. Louis" question the pace of downtown's recovery, while experts around the country consider it a remarkable achievement.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Coming Soon: Prime Downtown Block Party Site


Outdoor movie nights. Concerts. Simulcasts of sold out Cardinal games. This could be fun!

That's A Lot of Concretes!


Ted Drewes GM Pays $820,000 for STL County Estate

Downtown's Corner Sandwich Stops


10 months or so out of the year, at downtown's corner of 6th and Olive, there's a vendor who sets up a stainless steel, hot dog cart, and barbeques brats, chicken etc.

The food smells good, and customers line up sometimes ten deep. Sidewalk vendors add buzz to downtown's street life. Downtown should have more small business operators like this.

Does the city lease these sidewalk locations? How much? Do businesses get grandfathered in? Anyone know how this works?

What about starting one up in the CWE or South Grand?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

STL: Dead Last on the "Weirdness Index"

Survey Says! (Scroll to slide 27 of the link)

Hmmm...there's got to be some catchy marketing angle here...

Monday, August 06, 2007

Welcome humidity and a smiling face

Saturday evening we returned from a two-week west coast trip, half spent in Southern California, half in the far north end of the state. As the doors of the plane opened at Lambert, I could hear a man in the front of the exit line moan and exclaim, "ahh, there's that humidity". I smiled inside.

A friend met us at the airport, and on the drive home she got lost, trying to avoid Inner Belt construction. We wound up on the west side of the 270 at McKelvey! Nonetheless, we still managed to make it home to our South City address in about 30 minutes.

Upon arriving home, stepping onto our sidewalk, we looked up at the giant street trees lining our block. Huge, ancient, trunks soaring straight up fifty or sixty feet, leading to a massive shady canopy. By comparison, few of the places we visited out west had trees between the sidewalk and the curb, and the natural vegetation there was usually less than 25 feet tall. Returning home to our forested, all-brick, city neighborhood was like walking in a medieval village.

We shopped a Safeway store in California's Redwood country. They had two prices on all the products. "Safeway Club" members received the lower price; non-club members paid a 40% premium. Asking a store employee about the two-tier pricing policy, all the man said was "Welcome to California!"

While visiting family in the far north end of the state, California is in its mid-summer heat. Day time temps routinely hit the 100 + degree mark. Since, homes are built from wood frame construction, stepping into the garage is just like being inside a wood sauna. You can feel the dry heat burning the lining of your sinuses.

Travelling counter-commute saved us from sitting in the miles and miles of backed up traffic we saw heading the opposite direction on most the metropolitan area freeways we drove.

Yet the strangest part of our trip was the noticeable lack of interpersonal communication between people in public. There was minimal eye contact or words spoken. And most of the outside streets were deserted. People live in their cars. Downtown LA after 5 PM is empty.

Back home, while buying a few things Sunday morning to restock our empty fridge at our neighborhood Schnucks, a lady cut me off from an aisle walkway. Immediately she looked up, smiled a friendly smile, and apologized. I assured her it was nothing, thanked her for her kindness, and was reminded once more how much the little things add up to make St. Louis such a great place to live.

Returning from the store, our A/C was blowing warm air. By the end of the day, it would warm to near 90 degrees in the house. According to the weather report, there's a week of high heat and humidity to come. Not to worry. We wouldn't trade it for a "dry heat" any day.

Friday, July 20, 2007

STL People and Places

St. Louis has lots of cool places, but what makes STL such a great city is our people. People make the place. Visitors love our architecture, but they come back for the people. Lots of places have interesting architecture. We have the people to make it special.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ask 100 St. Louisans...

How do you think most St. Louis area residents would respond to these questions?

1) Do you favor the plan for a sculpture garden for downtown's Gateway Mall?
2) Should public schools in neighboring districts accept students from St. Louis City?
3) Are you pleased with the remaking of the St. Louis University campus in midtown St. Louis?
4) Do you favor the BJC lease of Forest Park lands east of Kingshighway?
5) Do you support Paul McKee's efforts for large scale redevelopment in North St. Louis?
6) Are you happy with the Cardinals decision to build their new ballpark downtown?
7) Do you want Metrolink to expand near your neighborhood?
8) Do you actively follow blogs discussing community renewal efforts in St. Louis?
9) Do you know what is planned next to improve the St. Louis riverfront?
10) Do you favor MoDOT's total shut down plan to rebuild Highway 40 between 270 and the City of St. Louis?
11) Would you patronize a restaurant on the East St. Louis riverfront with panoramic views of downtown St. Louis?
12) Would you move to a riverfront condo on the East St. Louis riverfront with panoramic views of downtown St. Louis?
13) Should pro-choice politicians receive the sacrament of Holy Communion?
14) Should Missouri pay half the cost of a new Mississippi River bridge at downtown St. Louis?
15) Will your next home in the St. Louis area be closer to downtown?

Do you prefer...

16) KMOX or KTRS?
17) Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken?
18) State or local control of the St. Louis City police department?
19) Residency requirements for city employees?
20) The appointed or elected city school board?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Southside Sunset Brings New Beginning

For a long time I've preferred kid baseball to watching the pros. Starting from the time they're just learning to play, all the way up to when they get to play on a major league-sized field, it's always been more enjoyable watching these young people learn to play and improve. This year the changes have been dramatic. The finer points of the game stand out. Last night, I finally figured out why I prefer watching these young players so much: it's a far more precious thing.

When they're seven and eight years old, their young baseball lives seem like they'll last forever. But they don't. Each year, more and more of them drop out. Some of them stay with it, but by the time they reach high school, most of the players are done with the competitive track of the game.

Last night our guys played their final league game of the season. For a lot of them, it will likely be the last competitive baseball game of their lives. This fall, as they enter high school, some will try to make their high school teams. Some will make them, but many won't. Of the ones who do, plenty will spend most of the season riding the bench. Only the top players will see much playing time.

A few years from now, when these young people enter the working world, some will probably play adult softball. St. Louis is among the top recreational softball towns in the country. But you usually don't see many parents cheering their kids at beer-league games. We're fading out of the picture.

So as last night's game wound down, it was a sentimental time for some of us. We enjoyed a few beers at the grand stand, looking out over the manicured diamond, watching as many of these young ballplayers - our sons - stood in the batter's box, taking the last competitive at-bats they'd ever see.

The outcome of the game was never in much doubt, and ended a rather uninspiring 8-2 loss. As the game ended, there was a beautiful sunset in St. Louis. I wonder if any of the boys realized that, for most of them, faroff dreams of playing professional baseball, if they ever had them, were now fading as fast as the setting sun over that outfield fence? Hopefully the thought never entered their minds.

Afterwards, a group of us went over to Gino's restaurant on Hampton. The group "Presentations" performs there on Thursday nights, and Rich Guzman, drummer for the band, invited some of the boys to sit in. They've got a rock band now, and they're doing pretty good. For the young band, this would be their first time playing a public performance. They played three songs, and received a good reponse from the crowd. The boys still need to come up with a name for the band.

We struggled for a long time trying to think of a name for the ballclub. Kerri was the one to think of "South Sox", since the team brought together players from neighborhoods all across South St. Louis. That was the perfect name. For the band, it's their turn. They'll have to come up with a name of their own.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Zip Codes, Parishes and School Districts


Besides our 100-something local municipalities, countless individual wards, neighborhood boundaries, and police districts, in St. Louis, we also identify by school district, zip code, and parish boundaries. Some people even get down to the X-hundred block of a street. When you're an old city, you develop a lot of layers. It's a lot to learn.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Districts or Wards?

After seventeen years in St. Louis, fourteen of them in the city , I still don't know the number for our police district. When people cite different police districts around town, I'm lost. It's the one time I feel like a real out-of-towner.

I know the location of the city's 79 neighborhoods and her 28 wards, but have no idea how many police districts we have, let alone their boundaries. Some folks are just the opposite. They'll use their police district and neighborhood name interchangeably.

There are people who say St. Louis is "subtle". Identifying with a police district is something I've never understood. It's another of those nuanced things like the "where'd you go to high school" question. Maybe the practice dates back to our loss of local control of the police department? Or maybe it's just another example of our strong sense of community and neighborhood identity.

Northside Acquisition Effort Sign of the Times

Large scale purchases of land on the near north side by private interests are another sign of the city's turnaround. For decades, most of St. Louis had written off the north side. Then the city started its turnaround.

Neighborhoods rebounded. The state created the historic rehab tax credit. Momentum grew. Targeted investments drew more interest. Property values around the entire city increased. The city's population started growing again. The northside started showing more and more signs of life.

With her momentum swing to the plus side, the city was in a new position: it could start lowering the amounts of incentives being offered to attract investment. No longer would the city be the first money in on projects or land acquisition. Developers would have to risk their funds on the front-end of projects. The city would lower its participation and seek more leveraging.

Meanwhile, familiar themes remained: Assembling buildable sites for redevelopment continued to be a challenge. A statewide incentive for land assembly was needed.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Venture capital seeks opportunity. The near northside provides a solution to both.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Must See TV

Channel 5, KSDK in St. Louis, reports on the improvements to the Macklind Avenue business district in the City's Southampton ("SOHA") neighborhood.

Doggie Diners

New legislation in the city permits dogs to be with their owners at outside tables at restaurants. However, the permission is only granted in certain wards.

Personally, I enjoy seeing friendly dogs in public and have no problem with well-behaved dogs joining their owners at sidewalk cafes. The concept fits with our inherited French culture.

The question I have is why the permission is only granted in certain wards? Like deciding whether to operate a smoking or non-smoking restaurant, shouldn't it be up to the owner of the restaurant whether dogs are allowed?

Then, as customers, we can decide whether we want to patronize the establishment or not. If my customers don't want dogs at the restaurant, then I probably won't be inviting them to dinner.

However, if my customers want to share their space with doggie diners, then why should the city tell me "no", if they tell my competitors across the street in a different ward they may do so?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Neighbors Debate Creating Local Historic District

The Journal has the story. McKinley Heights is the neighborhood. Both sides of the debate are well represented in the article.

Car Walk

Saturday morning about 7:15 I drove our '96 Plymouth minivan to Don Brown Dodge on South Kingshighway for its annual safety inspection. The weather was pleasant, so I decided to make the three mile walk home from the dealership.

South Kingshighway is auto dealer row, so for the first few blocks, I was able to stroll through dealership lots, checking out lots of new car models. On the Dodge lot there were sporty new models, the Toyota lot had some of those boxy Scions, and looking into the windows of one of my favorite places, Charles Schmitt, there were rows of classic cars.

I crossed Kingsighway about a block north of Chippewa to get a closer look at the Holy Ghost church. Holy Ghost sits behind the row of 1930s vintage commercial buildings fronting Kingsighway. You can see its steeple from Chippewa, many blocks to the east.

The alley on the south side of Holy Ghost backs up to some of the four-families off of Chippewa. Conditions vary on the backs of the buildings and the garages, some showing new rehab, others showing their years. One garage had no doors and the interior was filled with cast off junk.

I walked through one of those easement paths between buildings towards Chippewa, and on the other side, there was a police lady writing up a parked car for some ordinance violation. I approached her and asked the officer about open garages with loads of junk visible from the alley. She informed me that police have no jurisdiction in such cases.

You can't legislate common sense, so we're free to keep our garage doors open, and filled with junk and visible to the street if we want. This sounds like one of those delicate situations where some friendly neighbor to neighbor contact, perhaps through an NSO, might help convince the property owner to take better care of the property. Let's hope no one hears that tired "I can't control my tenants" line.

Around 7:45, crossing Chippewa, I bumped into an old friend pulling weeds in her bath robe. We talked about ten minutes, and she told me it was about another two miles from her place to ours. She said that her area had some problem tenants in recent years, but lately things have been good. The homes were being well maintained, and she said most of the 2-family properties had owner occupants.

The rest of the way was good, with the walked well-shaded by abundant street trees. Its nice walking past all the brick homes on their 25-30 foot lots. It's fascinating to see the little details in people's landscapes and years' of home improvement from block to block.

In our gridded-street neighborhood layout, there were thousands of alternate routes of commercial and residential blocks, streets and alleys, for that three mile walk home. Just guessing here, but I've heard that our city has some three or four thousand total miles of streets and alleys. And believe it or not, there are St. Louisans in the middle of quests to walk every block of it during their lifetime.