Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Achieving Balance

Back in 2005, Jack Carl’s 2 Cents Plain delicatessen closed its doors after 40 years in business downtown. In a Post-Dispatch article about the closing, Carl referred to downtown as “done-town” and said, "They keep kicking out the businessman to put up lofts. Now, there's no one around to buy lunch."

At the time, I dismissed his comments as the ramblings of a crotchety old man who was unable or unwilling to keep up with the changes taking place around him. But as I took a walk around downtown the other day, it occurred to me…

He actually had a decent point.

Starting with the demolition of the Ambassador Building at 7th and Locust in 1996, several prominent downtown office buildings have been demolished or decommissioned:

Ambassador Building – Demolished for U.S. Bank’s “driveway”
Arcade Building – Slated for loft conversion, in limbo after Pyramid's demise
Century Building – Demolished for parking garage
Chemical Building – Converted to lofts
Farm & Home Savings Association – Currently vacant, but slated for renovation as office space
Fur Exchange Building – Converted to hotel
General American Building – Vacant
Louderman Building – Converted to lofts
Marquette Building – Converted to lofts
Marquette Annex – Demolished for parking garage
Mercantile Library Building – Attempted conversion to telcom hotel, now vacant
Merchants Exchange Building – Converted to hotel
Paul Brown Building – Converted to lofts
School Board Building – Converted to lofts
Syndicate Trust Building – Converted to lofts
Union Pacific Building – Slated for loft conversion
210 North Tucker – Converted to telcom hotel (few workers)

The majority of these buildings are located in the central and western portions of the CBD. While many new modern office buildings were constructed in the 60s-80s, they have largely been concentrated in the eastern and southern portions of the CBD. And while the loft conversions have breathed new life into so many historic, but functionally obsolete office buildings, there are now relatively few office buildings in the central and western portions. These areas now lack the daytime population needed to sustain a successful mix of businesses. The loft dwellers cannot shoulder the responsibility for the downtown renaissance by themselves; a truly revitalized downtown requires a proper balance of workers and residents.

There is hope for the western portion of the CBD though: its vacant lots. The massive parking lots at 11th and Locust/St. Charles and 11th and Pine/Olive are among the best prospective building sites downtown – new office buildings on either of those sites would go a long way toward balancing out the office/residential mix in the area and give it more stability.

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