OPINION: St. Louis CITY SC Disappoints with Downtown Parking Garage despite plans for “District”

The anticipation for the new MLS stadium and team has been profound for St. Louisans across the metro area. A huge construction effort is currently underway in Downtown West, poised to bring significant activity to a neighborhood that has lacked significant investment, retail, or residential additions for decades. The new stadium and team are well positioned to help revitalize the area while also providing residents an incredible new entertainment option.

Still, the immense positives associated with the stadium and team do not immunize the project from criticism when promises and hype falter. The St. Louis CITY SC branding quite obviously leverages city imagery and loyalty for its brand. Their website for the stadium has an entire page dedicated to the “District” they hope to create alongside the stadium. A key note on this page is to “bring vitality and drive inspiration through inspiring architecture and public spaces, and through creative uses of infrastructure and technology”.

Rendering of the MLS Stadium in Downtown West when completed (Does Not Include Parking Garage)
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An ambitious plan is certainly good to have, and creating a true district “home to a diverse selection of restaurants, bars, living spaces and family experiences” has the potential to do wonders for Downtown West. Having a hub of entertainment, retail, and living options near the stadium contributes to a neighborhood that people stay in rather than simply attend for a game and then leave right away. For the City, that means dense, fun neighborhoods that contribute heavily to the tax base. For the stadium and team, it builds a true connection with the community that is longer lasting with higher revenue potential. While the Ballpark Village developments aren’t perfect, they are succeeding at creating a real neighborhood. With a hotel, office, high-rise apartment building, stadium, Starbucks, retail, and bars, the area supports a 24/7 atmosphere that is both convenient and enjoyable for tourists and locals.

A Rendering of the St. Louis City SC Garage

Unfortunately, just-released renderings from St. Louis City SC depict a large parking structure on Olive with no activation whatsoever, save for a gaudy balcony and staircase. In order to build this parking garage, the soccer club demolished nearly an entire block of mixed-use buildings that could have housed bars, residents, and various other uses. If this rendering resembles the final product, then the built environment surrounding the stadium will be less of a district and more of a brief shop for a game and nothing else. The latter would be a loss for an area so central to the city and near many incredible amenities.

While pedestrians and the neighborhood more broadly lose out with this parking garage, the proposal also demonstrates a continued reliance on a mode of transportation that contributes heavily to our climate crisis. That is despite excellent transit proximity and St. Louis City’s ambitious climate goals, especially relating to new construction.

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When developers promise the world and demolish the urban fabric of a city, ultimately underdelivering on their commitments and publicly stated mission, the city and its residents are harmed. This kind of practice is frequently applied, from Drury Hotels with their demolition-by-neglect strategy in Forest Park Southeast to Restoration St. Louis and its bait-and-switch just by The Grove. Until this strategy is reigned in, we are likely to see more developers preach wide ranging benefits and deliver little more than lipstick on a pig, like this very parking garage.

QuikTrip Set to Demolish, Replace Historic Kassebaum Building in South County

QuikTrip, a privately held company with gas stations across the St. Louis metro area and beyond, is looking to expand their holdings in South County with a controversial new location. The company, with nearly 70 separate stations across Greater St. Louis, has its sights set on 5039 Lemay Ferry at Butler Hills Rd.

The location is currently occupied by the Kassebaum Building, a historic, two-story mixed use structure that is #26 on the list of Historical Landmarks in St. Louis County. Built in 1913, the building was just barely spared by a highway widening and was first constructed in what was at the time an unplanned settlement. The full building history is available on the St. Louis County website.

The Kassebaum Building – Google Maps

South County is not known for much urbanist and human-scaled architecture, home to relatively suburban municipalities and neighborhoods that are generally car dependent. The Kassebaum is one of the few remaining commercial structures in South County that was designed for people, not cars – with mixed uses and not overrun with parking. The intersection would lose its last breath of historic character should the demolition occur and upon the construction of new QuikTrip.

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Mehlville, Concord, Sappington, and Green Park residents would have to drive significantly farther to escape the suburbs and experience mixed uses that have been preserved for over a century. Worse yet, residents gain very little with a new gas station. The Kassebaum is located in the highlighted section below, where residents already have easy access to over a dozen other options within just a few miles. That list includes a QuikTrip just North of 255.

The QuikTrip would be constructed within the highlighted zone.

St. Louis has a long history of demolishing historic, urban form for suburban developments that significantly lower tax revenues and preserve a car-centric culture. From the City and its legacy of urban renewal that tore down dense, predominantly Black housing to the County and its municipalities razing entire historic neighborhoods for highways, the region has a poor record of preservation. However, to place the blame entirely on the various local governments would be to ignore the fact that many corporations are primary offenders in this process.

QuikTrip, for example, has contributed significantly to the process. Razing the Kassebaum would not be its first transgression, with other recent stations tearing down historic buildings even closer to the Central Corridor. At its Jefferson and Chouteau location, two mixed-use buildings were torn down – NextSTL.

The Jefferson and Chouteau QuikTrip is perhaps nearly as harmful, if not more, in that it demolished urban form and good 2-3 story density very near to the City’s strongest urban corridor, Just a couple miles from Downtown and near some incredibly dense and thriving neighborhoods, opportunities for retail and residential living were taken away as St. Louis plunged itself even further down the rabbit hole of being unfriendly to pedestrians. Such decisions directly contradict other urban efforts like transit-oriented development, extended Metro access, and even tend to encourage harmful behaviors like driving (both in terms of how it affects the environment and the obvious notion that walking and biking is healthier).

While it is unlikely that the QuikTrip proposed at the Kassebaum site will be stopped or amended, St. Louis residents from the County and City alike should question whether a city is most successful as a suburban, sprawled, and car-oriented landscape versus a more urban, dense, and walkable city. Doubling down on an urban design focused on cars means doubling down on environmentally unsustainable practices instead of one that fosters healthier lifestyles, environmental sustainability, and successful corner shops with mixed residential uses. Change will take time, but St. Louis needs to really consider whether an additional gas station is worth erasing historical architecture and sliding the region backward.

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For now at least, it seems that the Kassebaum QuikTrip will continue modeling the former. In respect of the rich history of the original building, QuilTrip plans to include a small brick “Kassebaum” sign at the corner.

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