Friday, December 11, 2009

Southwest Avenue outdoor dining expansion planned

If you read some of the local St. Louis community affairs blogs, you have probably learned that Favazza's restaurant at the entrance to the Hill is proposing to demolish two buildings on its Southwest Avenue side. The purpose is to create space for an outdoor seating area.

Outdoor seating is a popular amenity at lots of area restaurants. It's available at a grill and bar next to Southwest Bank just a little east of Favazza's. It's wonderful at Bar Italia on Maryland Plaza in the CWE. It's an activity generator in neighborhoods. It's understandable Favazza's would want to do the same.

Some are opposed to the demolition on the basis of historic preservation. The buildings proposed for demo are brick buildings in the neighborhood of 100 years old. Others would say, it's their property, they should be allowed to do with it as they choose. There is no local ordinance prohibiting demolition of these buildings.

I side with those who support expansion of the business and creation of an outdoor seating area. Many of our area's most successful restaurants feature outdoor dining. While some people oppose the loss of these buildings, the business is making a significant investment to improve its offer to the community.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised by your take on this. Favazza's isn't going anywhere and while outdoor dining is a nice amenity, I don't understand how that justified tearing down two historic buildings. Outdoor dining works when there's space for it. Perhaps Favazz's should move to a different nearby location and allow other businesses to use these buildings.

Matt M. said...

To me, it's a puzzling take.

I want city businesses to expand if they are able as well. I also appreciate the urbanity of dining outside.

Therein lies the irony, though. Outdoor dining works best when people watching is involved and when the restaurant is oriented towards the street. Even interior courtyards, with no view of the street, rely on a certain critical mass of activity for people to feel comfortably enclosed.

Demolishing two buildings on a street that already is too wide and fails to have a comfortable street wall just guarantees it will never be anything but a "non-urban" location. Non-urban here means, relative to the places you have sited, visually uninteresting.

It's also ecologically unsound and wasteful. Outdoor dining could be incorporated already within the space of a long-demolished building just to the west of their restaurant. For an example of an intimate and narrow courtyard, see the old Crepes in the City.

Ultimately, land use controls and preservation laws are put in place to ensure individuals' actions do not jeopardize the quality of life for the broader public. It may seem a stretch to say that ridding of these two buildings harms quality of life of the neighborhood, but this is exactly true.

All across St. Louis, the built environment is unnecessarily pockmarked. Visitors to the city can't help but notice that the old, human scale structures that were knocked out for parking, plazas, patios, and other non-structures have simply made the city less appealing to walk through.

Take drive-throughs for an example. They're a surefire way to increase profit if your business model is based on quick service. Most businesses that can have them want them and get them (see Eddie's Southtown Donuts, which recently demolished a fine home for a drive through; or CVS, which took down a half dozen homes in Boulevard Heights to construct a store with a drive-through). We lose buildings (defined space) to drive-throughs (a vacuum of space) and the result is certainly less urban and speaks to the ongoing self-destruction and lack of ambition among our leaders and public servants.

Have you taken a walk down Gravois or Kingshighway? Ultimately, all of these relatively unrestricted individual actions add up to streets that are oppressive to pedestrians and general aesthetic appeal. Gravois could be St. Louis's greatest street, but unwise demolition and suburbanization of its narrow parcels have transformed good portions of Gravois into an unfriendly and unattractive highway that DO NOT appeal to people who like to live in cities (i.e., walkable, visually interesting).

If these demolitions go through, Southwest will be less interesting and less urban. It will not compare to the Central West End at all--a neighborhood that has survived in its most vibrant parts precisely due to a preservation of human scale structures and an urban street wall.

We need to end the constant cycle of making and then accepting the bad land use decisions our city seems inured to.

Anonymous said...

how is this a "significant investment"? it's exactly the opposite. they want outdoor seating, sure, but mainly they don't want to bother with maintenance. two birds... other places, such as Bar Italia, make it work in less space (and without destroying the neighborhood infrastructure that makes the outdoor dining experience enjoyable).


Rick Bonasch said...

For sake of discussion, let's say the restaurant is worth $1,000,000. Now let's say the adjoining real estate is worth $250,000.

Let's say it costs $100,000 to demolish the two buildings and build the new patio dining area.

Given the quality finishes in the current restaurant, there's no reason to think the patio area would be done in any less quality fashion.

So after the patio improvement, the owners have close to $1,400,000 in equity/goodwill in their current location.

Why should they move?

Southwest is the border of the Hill the same way Kingshighway borders the CWE. A patio on Kingsighway might not have the same charm as one on Euclid (or maybe it would), but it should be up to the owner whether or not they have one.

Pueblo Solis on Hampton has a very popular outdoor seating area. Cars are buzzing by within 20 feet of the tables. The owners of Pueblo Solis added the patio to expand the restaurant.

Southwest is much quieter than Hampton.

Matt said...

Matt's irony could be taken another way. The patio will create a more active street environment along Southwest, yet some want to preserve two vacant buildings that would very likely deter street activity for a long time.

Outdoor dining is not contingent on street activity. Rick mentioned Pueblo Solis. Matt mentioned Kinghighway, what about The Royale's packed backyard? I enjoy many outdoor dining venues even if the street is not much to look at, and I am more inclined to go to Favazza's if it had a nice patio, no matter what is going on along Southwest.

Matt M. said...

There is such an unbelievable lust for ripping out perfectly good buildings in this city!

It's as if we are more keen on trying to justify selfish decisions regarding the built environment than to encourage creative ones.

Matt: it's hard to have activity with buildings that are owned by people who wish to leave them empty and to ultimately demolish them. I think it's presumptuous to say that, were the sold, nothing would happen with them in the long run. Southwest has markets, a hardware store, bank, laundromat, cigarettes, etc. The Hill likely has some of the lowest rates of commercial vacancy in St. Louis City.

I'm all for Favazza's having outdoor dining. Use the EXISTING space between the buildings and the SIDEWALK. It's not rocket science.

GMichaud said...

There is a lack of thinking about how to use the buildings to enhance Favazza's plans.
Interior courts, multiple spaces, two story spaces and many other configurations are possible.

Can the existing architecture be used to enhance value and achieve the goals of Favazza's? Yes certainly.

I find it hard to believe a satisfying design utilizing the buildings cannot be achieved.

I agree with some of the above comments that it is hurting density and ultimately Favazzas business. Certainly an aspect of an outdoor garden is activity on the surrounding streets.

I would hope the Favazzas are good enough business people to take a close look at destroying these assets. Assets that could be valuable to them financially if used in more creative ways.

But I fault city governance the most. It is their job to supply guidance and a cohesive framework on the surrounding streets to help make businesses and neighborhoods in St. Louis successful.

Anonymous said...

Favazza's and the Hill are successful.

GMichaud said...

Of course they are successful but there are obvious flaws.

Look at the failure of government policy more closely. You have a route down Southwest Ave, turn at either Edwards or Macklind, down Shaw and down Marconi (with a sub route of Wilson Ave) and you end up back at Favazza's.
It should be a priority transit route for walking, bicycles, buses and even pedicabs and carriages. In that context Favazza’s may opt for make a connection with their parking lot across Marconi, by adding shallow commercial buildings with parking behind, or more realistically an arbor, trellis, maybe a series of columns; something to enhance the connections along this route and take advantage of them. In this context Favazza's may want to look again at demolishing the structures.

Sure the Hill is successful, there are times you can't find a place to park or even pass another car on the narrow streets.
An emphasis on transit and physical connections is a natural solution to help Favazza's and the Hill continue their success.

Only the city government can supply this framework. A more comprehensive understanding of the big picture would influence Favazza's business decisions.

Thus the failure of government planning blocks successful business from becoming more successful or unsuccessful neighborhoods from achieving a modicum of success.

Look at how the leadership is floundering and flaying around with the Northside Paul McKee project.

They have no clue on how to build the city of the future. There is no idea of what the role sustainability, transit, density, energy usage and other factors have on St. Louis as a livable and desirable urban area.

Anonymous said...

By your thinking, Rick, McKee should be allowed to do anything he wants to in North St. Louis, since he owns the land. In fact, I don't think McKee cares anything about existing structures - despite posturing to the contrary. He is in the same boat as Favazza's: do what you will without concern for thought and community contribution.

Rick Bonasch said...

McKee's project will be governed by redevelopment plans and ordinances and conditions placed on public financing.

Favazza's project involves no public financing or tax incentives.

Anonymous said...

rick, let's say instead that they put 80 grand into renovating the buildings and 20 grand into outdoor seating in the current space. there you go; same equity, but now they can rent the renovated space for extra income. how much outdoor space do they need? the combined outdoor space after demo would be greater than their total indoor space. unless of course they just leave half of it as an asphalt slab. nothing like dining in a parking lot.


Rick Bonasch said...

I have no idea what condition these buildings are in, but $80,000 is a very minimal amount of money for a rehab budget. The thing is, whose decision is this?

The owner's of the establishment have a plan for their business and it's their business. Similar situation to the Bowood nursery expansion.

Anonymous said...

i understand that it's their decision, as saint louis lacks any effective, comprehensive preservation review or urban zoning policies. (and you're correct - this demo and the bowood demo are similarly selfish and lazy.) i'm simply offering an alternative scenario. perhaps they would have to put more than 80 grand into the rehabs, but it's money they could recoup on rent. and i dare say neighboring businesses would do more to increase their patronage than twice the patio space overlooking a parking lot.