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 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 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:

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.