Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Baseball gods shone through the pouring rain

I'm rooting for the Phillies to win this World Series. I remember, as a boy, watching Philly games with my grandfather, in the small family room/bedroom, located just behind the living-room-converted-into-a-neighborhood confectionary, in their suburban Philadelphia, South Jersey home. During games, when someone came in the store, a bell would ring, and he or I would go out to wait on the customers.

Most of the time, we would sell a few pieces of penny candy to neighborhood kids. You could get a lot of candy for ten or fifteen cents. Grandma, grandpa and their store were beloved institutions in their neighborhood for well over over fifty years. It was a treat for me to work in the store on the trips we would make to visit from California every few years. With sales complete, grandpa and I would resume watching the game.

I like the National League and can't stand the DH rule. Tampa Bay is a good, young team. They will have more chances, and they're not through in this Series yet. If Philly does win, Tampa Bay will be back, and with an exciting, young team, maybe they'll draw more than a few thousand fans per regular season game.

The Phillies on the other hand are one of baseball's most storied franchises. With only one championship in their 125 year history, their futility is as bad as the Cubs. Up in the series 3 games to 1, the Phillies are one win away from their second world championship. But this has been a strange World Series, made stranger by the events Monday night. With rain threatening to end the game, it would have been bad for baseball and marred a Phillies championship. A small miracle was needed to right the situation.

The officiating in this series has been awful. In Game One, there was the "no balk" call. In Game Four there was the the "Strike Three, You Walk" call. And then in the first inning of Game Five, the home plate umpire was squeezing the strike zone on Rays' pitcher, leading to a walk and two first inning runs, giving Philadelphia a lead. Then the rain came, and the umpires made their worst decision of the Series yet - they let the teams play.

Radar showed Philly socked in for hours of rain, but the game continued, with field conditions deteriorating. By the fourth inning, things had really gotten bad, with large puddles covering the infield, and the groundscrew having to repair the mound between every half inning. The umpires should have called the players off the field, raining out the game, but instead, they allowed the game to continue. The Rays failed to score in their half of the fifth inning, making this an "official game". If the umpires were to call the game now, the Phillies would have won the game by rain.

At this point in the contest, my loyalty changed. I was no longer thinking of the fair weather fans in Florida, but rather the players on the field and all they had worked for to get to this point in their careers. Now I am rooting for the Rays to tie the game. A rain shortened game is no way for a World Series to be decided. The game continued.

Philadelphia batted in the bottom of the fifth, and did not score. Now the rain is really coming down, and the Rays are batting in the top of the 6th. Down in the series three games to one, if they were to lose this game, there would be "no tomorrow". On a grounder the Philly shorstop could not handle, a speedy Rays player makes first base. Then he gingerly steals second, careful not to slip and fall in the mud on the way. Now with two out, and a runner on second, playing in a driving rain, the Rays have a chance to tie the game.

The Rays batter lifts a line drive over the shortstop's outstretched glove into shallow left field. The runner is rounding third, trying to score. There would be a play at the plate. The throw is slightly up the first base line, the runner slides around the tag, and scores the tying run. The third out is recorded, and the umpires instruct the grounds crew to cover the infield with the tarp.

Under normal rules, in a rain shortened game, the score reverts to the previous inning, and the Phillies would have been declared the winner. However, in this case, in a new rule just recently adopted, the game was suspended. The game will be resumed in the bottom of the 6th inning, tied at 2-2.

Some locals aren't happy about the way things turned out, and I agree with them that Bud Selig is a lousy commissioner. His handling of the steroid scandal in baseball has been atrocius. Nonetheless, ending the World Series because of rain is not how a championship should be decided. With the resumption of play, possibly tonight, the game will be decided as it should be - on the field.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Arch Plans for Memorial Drive and the Depressed Lanes


The content of this post has been updated to reflect clarifications about the Arch design process as described at the Platform editorial page of STL Today.

The original STL Rising post discussed language in the National Park Service's "Alternative 5 - Park in the City". In Alternative 5, there is reference to rerouting Memorial Drive, and in its place developing urban plazas. With the new sculpture park on the Gateway Mall, the plaza on the north side of the Old Post Office, and the Arch itself, downtown already has significant areas dedicated to plazas and open space.

Hence, the idea of developing more urban plazas and open space downtown is a rallying point for opposition among urbanists. Many downtown advocates are calling for increased density in the form of more residential, employment, and retail uses.

STL Rising has been an advocate for exploring the potential of vacating the depressed lanes in front of the Arch and improving Memorial Drive as a grand urban street. The west side of a new Memorial Drive might be an area to provide sidewalk cafes and storefront space with views of the Arch.

At STL Today's Platform blog, the National Park Service provides clarification regarding design options possible under the proposed design competition for the future of the Arch.

The Platform is reporting that according to official statements released by the National Park Service, vacating the I-70 depressed lanes and rebuilding Memorial Drive are possible alternatives for consideration in the design competition.

To read the full Platform editorial click here.

Thanks to the Platform for helping to clarify this issue.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Day Old Arch Plan Draws Fire

National Park Service retirees oppose preliminary Arch plans.

And so it begins. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) is concerned about changes to the Arch site. Their press release also raises questions about possible private management.

However, in reading the NPS preferred alternative, the opposite appears to be the case. Rather than narrowing the alternatives, by their selection, the Park Service appears to be broadening the planning framework, seeking additional public input and engaging a wide open design competition.

Nothing is out or in at this point. Better connectivity and expanded programming seem to be the main goals. How it happens is far from decided. Given the strong feelings people have for the Arch, getting any change approved will take a lot of work.

I'm happy to read that the retired Park Service employees do like the idea of improving access. Here's what the press release says:

"CNPSR officials said they have no concern with minor changes that are consistent with the original look and feel of the National Historic Site. One possible change would be to improve connections with the surrounding community, including the addition of covered crossings over Interstate 55."

They like the lid idea, but I wonder if any of them have heard about the idea of replacing the depressed lanes with a new Memorial Drive?

Leaf talk

With fall upon us, leaves are dropping all over St. Louis. Note to seasonal yard display enthusiasts: those fallen leaves make your scary Halloween decorations look more authentic!

So the other day, two ladies were taking an exercise walk down the hall and they were talking about leaf pickup around St. Louis.

The first lady mentioned how in Kirkwood, residents have to put their leaves into a specific type of bag for pickup. Everyone has to use the same, government approved leaf bags. She said Kirkwood is very particular about this.

The second lady mentioned how in Wildwood, they let you use the kind of bags they sell at Home Depot. She was thankful for that.

And they both were amazed, and not totally convinced, that in the City of St. Louis, all you have to do is rake your leaves into the street, and the city picks them up.

Thank you and yes, I can attest, this is absolutely true. Those giant leaf sucking trucks are indeed an amazing and welcome sight!

Planning for the future of the Arch and downtown

Preferred alternative for Arch seeks program expansion, better downtown connections

"Preliminary Alternative 3 - Program Expansion" is the National Park Service's preferred alternative for the General Management Plan for the Arch. Highlights of the Alternative 3 include the possibility of expanded programming at the Arch and increasing the connectivity between the downtown, Laclede's Landing, and Chouteau's Landing neighborhood.

An open design competition will be held to determine the best solution to accomplishing the priorities set out in the preferred alternative. The area targeted for the design competition is bounded by Memorial Drive, Washington Avenue, Poplar Street, Luther Ely Smith Square (the small park between the Old Court House and Memorial Drive), and the north and south reflecting ponds on the Arch ground.

By selecting Alternative 3 as the preferred alternative, the National Park Service has created flexibility in the planning process. A wide range of possibilities exist, and will ultimately be decided through a(n) (international) design competition. Given the stature of the Arch, we can expect the best designers from around the world to enter the competition.

The Arch is beautiful geometry, as is the overall Jefferson National Memorial site. Likewise, the Old Courthouse has beautiful lines. The planning process for its future has been taken in a new, exciting direction, with the National Park Service inviting participation from the best minds on earth to rethink the future of the Arch for the next 50-100 years.

The Arch site is located at the original settlement of St. Louis. The city expanded from this site. Given the opportunity to rethink the way the Arch connects to downtown, should St. Louis match this opportunity to think about the way the city connects to the riverfront? Is their a synergy possible at this once in a lifetime planning process for our downtown and riverfront?

By selecting Alternative 3 as the preferred alternative, the National Park Service appears to be seeking a broader perspective in the planning approach for the future of the Arch and the adjacent downtown area. That is a very encouraging sign.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Preferred Alternative" for Arch Grounds Announced

The General Management Plan "Preferred Alternative" for the future of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was released online today.

Click here to view the results.

The document sets the stage for the planning process moving forward, including future programming and improving connections between downtown, the Arch grounds, and the riverfront.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Award winning waterfront roadway design - Memorial Drive next?

The South Lakeshore Drive project in Chicago won a Federal Highway Administration "Award of Excellence" for balancing a variety of community priorities with a beautiful, neighborhood enhancing, scenic road project, capable of carrying 100,000 cars per day.

Chicago's Lakeshore Drive 2002/2003 Rebuild - Comparable to Memorial Drive?

The $162 MM, 6-mile project, runs from Chicago's 22nd Street near the McCormick Place Convention Center south to 67th Street.

Traffic volumes through this section of Lakeshore Drive range from 110,000 cars per day on the north end to 24,000 cars per day on south end. Lakeshore Drive is built as an eight lane boulevard.

By comparison, Memorial Drive and the I-70 depressed and elevated lanes combined carry approximately 90,000 cars per day through downtown St. Louis.

The six mile rebuild of Lakeshore Drive cost $162,000,000, or about $27,000,000 per mile. The section of the depressed and elevated lanes of I-70 for possible replacement with a new Memorial Drive runs about one mile - from the Poplar Street Bridge on the south to Cole on the north.

The considerations of the two situations are similar - improving waterfront/cultural/recreational access, civic beautification, maintaining traffic flow and enhancing pedestrian access.

Chicago developed a landscaped boulevard to enhance its waterfront area. St. Louis has the same opportunity.

Hidden Valley: Luxury Homesites or Ski Resort?

There's a showdown unfolding in the upscale West County suburb of Wildwood. The owner of the Hidden Valley ski area is threatening to close down the resort if he is unable to work out some issue with local government.

I'm not familiar with all the facts of the case, but from news reports, the owner doesn't like something going on in Wildwood, whether its high taxes or other local regulation, so he's talking about shutting the resort down altogether.

I've never skied at Hidden Valley, and have heard mixed reviews of the place. So one time, I checked it out, just to see it in person. The ski area is in the middle of a high priced housing development, more like a private golf and country club than a ski resort. In fact, during the summers, Hidden Valley is a golf course.

The homes around Hidden Valley must approach a million dollars in sales prices. They are large, estate-styled homes, with large wooded lots and lots of stone and brick. Narrow roads lead through the development, until you reach the entrance to the ski area. The ski area feels authentic, with a cozy lodge, and lots of people bundled up in ski wear. From inside the lodge, you don't feel like you're in St. Louis at all. A ski lodge in St. Louis? Yes, indeed.

But maybe not much longer? Wildwood officials do not want the popular attraction to close, so it appears the owner has some room for negotiation with the city. However, if Wildwood offers an incentive to Hidden Valley, will other Wildwood businesses seek the same assistance?

The owner has another option. The land under Hidden Valley is valuable. Presumably the site could be developed with more luxury homes. Luxury homes or a local ski resort? If you're a West County resident, which is you're preference?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Protecting housing in foreclosure

While national headlines report on bank rescues, people at the local level are dealing firsthand with the aftermath of foreclosure.

In some places, once the former owner moves out, the property is stripped of all valuables, especially copper gutters, downspouts, plumbing and wiring. In no time, the lender's security in the loan, the house, loses a huge percentage of its value.

Given the challenges of managing and maintaining vacant houses, maybe lenders would be better off allowing former owners to stay in their houses? This could be worked out on a lease/purchase or straight rental basis. The lender becomes landlord; the former owner becomes tenant, and pays rent instead of a mortgage payment.

Maybe it's a starting point for compromise? Foreclosed homeowners need a place to live. Vacant buildings are problematic. Rental income to the bank is better than zero income from a vacant house. And protecting the house from being stripped is better for the neighborhood.

Friday fare

In the "commerce imitates life" department, there was a strange sight this morning at Starbuck's downtown. Some of you may have seen the TV commercial where a worker in a sandwich shop orders a sandwich for delivery from one of their competitors. He meets the delivery person at the front door, feigns surprise, pays the driver and then has the sandwiched dropped on the side of the store.

In a similar vein, this morning at the corner Starbuck's, behind me in line stood a man wearing a crisp, black, corporate oxford dress shirt, emblazoned with the logo, "Seattle's Best Coffee". Their coffee is sold across the street. Maybe he was there to borrow some filters?

Back outside, walking down Olive past Macy's, lying on the sidewalk in front of one of the store's main entrances, I see a fresh copy of the Wall Street Journal. It looked like a home delivery, but instead was on a downtown sidewalk, in front of high rise department store. Okay, so maybe I'm a little strange, but these sorts of things make me wonder.

On the one hand, I guess it makes perfect sense that someone working in the store has a subscription to the WSJ. However, on the other hand, I'm a little surprised that not one person had simply bent down and picked the paper up off the sidewalk. The store doesn't open till around 10. The paper just sits there, with hundreds of people walking by, for a few hours in the morning. I'd say that's pretty cool.

We St. Louisans are an honest bunch! Or maybe no one reads the paper anymore?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fright Night

St. Louis is one of the most haunted regions in the country. We have more haunted house attractions than anywhere, and since we're over 200 years old, there are plenty of historic cemeteries around to add to the mystique. We do Halloween right.

In keeping with scary things, last night I had a sort of strange nightmare. I dreamt that I was checking into a potential new office. It was all clean and bright, with lots of fake laminated wood furniture, ceiling tiles and flourescent lighting. It reminded me of the kinds of places people worked all through the 1980s.

Then it occurred to me: this office was located out away somewhere, so the only way to get to it was to drive. No Metrolink option and getting there by bus would take forever. Panic setting in.

In real life, we've downsized our personal auto inventory to one car. Whenever possible, I ride Metrolink. It's much cheaper than driving - and more relaxing. Plus, being a one car household, we save money on gas, oil changes, insurance, repairs and maintenance. Another plus: we only take up one parking space on the street.

So here I am, back in the dream, looking at the potted plant sitting on the receptionist's fake wood, laminate desk. The floors are carpeted in a low nap, neutral beige tone, and there are a couple of nondescript prints hanging on the wall. There are no people in the room. Just outside the door, there's a parking lot, with everyone's cars parked in a row by the sidewalk.

That's when I woke up. What a relief!!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Suburban Journal Subscriptions

Starting in November, home delivery of the Suburban Journal will require a subscription. The once a week newspaper (twice if you count the mostly ad-based weekend version), will be offered at $19.99 for a one-year subscription.

We will be subscribing. The Journal is an excellent source of neighborhood news. Unforturnately, as a cost cutting measure, over this past year, the Journal has ceased delivery to some areas of St. Louis City and County.

Will the new subscription only option make delivery available again to these formerly served areas? Yes, according to the Journal's customer service department.

To subscribe, please call 1-888-755-2879.

STL City - One Call Customer Service

Calls for service in the city of St. Louis are streamlined to the CSB - Citizen's Service Bureau. This morning, I phoned the City Street Department to report a missing street sign at a busy north city intersection. The Street Department phone system automatically transferred the call to the CSB.

At CSB, the service request was noted, service number assigned, and deadline for response scheduled for attention by the appropriate city department. The telephone number for the street department is 647-3111. For the Citizen's Service Bureau, dial 622-4800.

Great staycation opportunity?

With the economy in less that great shape, more folks are looking for ways to enjoy their home town. Thanks to Confluence City, here's info on an upcoming guitar project in town. Aspiring guitarists, take note, the St. Louis Symphony has put out a call for your services the week of November 10:

Glenn Branca guitar symphony

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

City Policy Regarding Near Northside Development

Much has been written in the blogs about unannounced development activity pending for the near north side. To date, there has been little information forthcoming about possible project(s).

Over at the St. Louis Patina blog, there is information posted about the city's approach to redevelopment of the area. It is a positive update.

New Dutchtown Neighborhood Group Rising?

Picked up this item in the comments section at Urban Review. There was also an item about this effort in the October 1 edition of the Suburban Journal.

Dutchtown is a large area in South City. It has formal boundaries, but many locals extend the area even beyond it's official boundaries. A new group is trying to establish itself. It's in the western part of Dutchtown, west of S. Grand, in the area of Resurrection church.

The site references a name: Dutchtown Amberg. At the site, the group's full name is "Dutchtown West Neighborhood - Amberg Park Neighborhood. They are open to suggestions for different names. Amberg Park is a smallish city park in the 25th ward, near Gustine and Dunnica.

Over the years, we've attended many youth baseball games there. The park is small and at the time could have benefitted from some volunteer TLC. Maybe a new neighhborhood group will mean good things for Amberg Park?

The area around the park is built up with beautiful 1920s-vintage smaller brick homes, 2, 4-and-up multi-family buildings, generally well maintained, with multiples colors of brick and lots of terra cotta ornamentation.

The area would seem a natural addition to the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood's stock of owner occupied and income producing properties would be assisted in their preservation if historic tax credits were available.

The startup neighborhood group is advertising a meeting tonight, 7:00 PM, October 7, in the basement of Resurrection Church, 3880 Meramec.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Yin, Meet Yang!

One of the most unsightly features of our downtown are the old, 1960s-vintage, elevated sections of interstate highway. One section lines the southern edge of downtown (alongside the new ballpark and Sheraton hotel). The other separates Laclede's Landing and the north riverfront area from the north side of downtown. These hulking structures block sunlight, surface access, and obstruct views.

One of the ideas we've looked at is how downtown, the Arch grounds, the riverfront and Laclede's Landing could all become better connected. The connectivity issue is a major question under consideration in the ongoing National Park Service planning for the future of the Arch site. To improve these connections, one idea is to build a three block lid over the I-70 depressed lanes. The estimated cost of the lid project is north of $100,000,000.

An alterntative approach to improve connectivity is the idea of replacing Interstate 70 from the Poplar Street Bridge north to the new I-70 Mississippi River Bridge with a new Memorial Drive. This concept involves filling in the I-70 depressed lanes in front of the Arch and removing the elevated lanes between Laclede's Landing and the north side of downtown. That requires heavy construction - demolishing the elevated lanes and filling in the depressed lanes.

Question...if demolishing the elevated section of I-70, we need a place to haul away the debris. fill the depressed lanes we need a source of good, clean, fill. Is there a possible marriage here?

What if the debris from the demolition of the elevated section of Interstate 70 could be used to fill in the depressed lanes? What would that do to the cost of the proposed rebuilding of Memorial Drive?

Having an immediate source of fill right next to a fill site, and having a place to use debris from demolition right next to a demolition site means major cost savings. This is a cost saving opportunity seldom seen. Usually projects pay high costs to import fill or haul away debris. In this case, we reuse all rubble from demolition right on site.

Could the case be made that not only is the New Memorial Drive alternative the most affordable way to reconnect downtown, the riverfront, and the Arch, but also the greenest?