Thursday, October 09, 2008

Demolition On Locust Proposed

The agenda for the October 27 meeting of the Preservation Board confirms that the Roberts Brothers are seeking to demolish 919 and 923 Locust. The buildings will be cleared to provide a driveway and lobby for the Hotel Indigo that the Roberts Brothers will be opening in the St. Louis Design Center building.

To me, this is a bad idea.

The buildings slated for demolition are small, historic, easy to redevelop and are full of character and personality. There has been a substantial amount of redevelopment taking place in the immediate vicinity – the Syndicate Trust and 411 projects, in particular – and demolishing them will disrupt the building wall along Locust and detract from the overall continuity and pedestrian experience of Locust. Downtown needs more density, not less.

The first of the two buildings in question are a small, tudor-style three-story building with a historic cast iron storefront. It once served as a Fatted Calf restaurant and more recently was the site of a proposed restaurant by David Slay which never came to fruition. It would be perfectly suited for a cozy pub, with space for parties and group gatherings above.

The second is a larger, four-story building that could provide first-floor retail with flexible uses on the upper floors. It would be well suited for either office or residential purposes.

And what is to become of the St. Louis Design Center? Space for artists, designers and other creative types is important for downtown’s vitality.

A precedent has already been set for a driveway like this, first at the U.S. Bank Plaza, but more similarly at the Omni Hotel on Pine Street. While the Omni itself is quite nice, it sits as an island surrounded by parking lots and the substantial driveway.

Somehow, hotels in cities like Chicago, San Francisco and New York seem to get by just fine without demolishing adjacent structures to create driveways. It could work here as well, with a little creativity.

And at the same time, perhaps it would be prudent to wait until the economy and credit markets improve before any buildings are knocked down. Here in St. Louis, we have a knack for demolishing historic buildings and building nothing in their place (see the Skyhouse at 14th and Washington).

I’m not even sure if downtown needs another hotel right now, but if it does, a better location can be found just a block west on Locust – the former Alverne Hotel, which currently stands vacant.A


Anonymous said...

incorporate those buildings as part of the entry to the hotel or tear em down

JMedwick said...

In the long run, I am not sold that tearing down these buildings is the wrong move. That said:

A. I don't support tearing down the structures for the design as currently proposed. A far better plan would allow the hotel drive to cut across the property, but would result in the drive nestled between the design center and a new triangular shaped corner building. The current plan fails to anchor the corner, which is a mistake.

B. It makes no sense to tear down the structures without assurances (ideally conditions of approval that would carry steep fines for non-compliance) that the project will be moving forward in a timely manner.