Despite owing its existence to the river that runs along its eastern edge, St. Louis has severely underutilized this powerful resource as both a natural destination for tourists and locals alike and also as a place for merchants, art and innovation. Of course, due to the untameable nature of the Mississippi River, development of this area will need to be approached with a cautious and inventive mindset.
A new ‘Mississippi Mile’ – actually 1.2 miles – would stretch from Chouteau Ave. to Laclede’s Landing Blvd. — a fitting tribute to St. Louis’ founding fathers Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau. The area for consideration contains the soon-to-be-developed Chouteau’s Landing at the south edge, a rejuvenated Laclede’s Landing to the north, and the riverfront itself.
Let’s start with the south edge, shall we? Chouteau’s Landing, you’re up:
Currently, Chouteau’s Landing exists as a vision. Chivvis Development hopes to transform it into ‘an energetic arts district’ including lofts, nightlife and merchants. The oft-discussed Arts Center in Powell Square may be the true catalyst for the project as the large-scale renovation represents a very visible (and financial) commitment to the district. It will definitely be exciting to watch as this area grows its identity.
While development has already started on Broadway and 4th street, the picture from Wharf Street seems bleak:
Keeping in mind that this road is susceptible to flooding, it’s no wonder that riverfront development has been light to nonexistent. Currently, Downtown’s south riverfront is home to a barge landing on the river side of the flood wall and industrial lots to its west. The entire length of Wharf St. is paralleled by a 20(ish) foot high flood wall. This wall isn’t going away, and with good reason too — it’s protection for any developer or business that tries their hand at revitalizing the area. So rather than treat it as an obstacle, I say embrace it as a vital part of the south riverfront’s new identity. Imagine something like this…
Now imagine that one of those row houses is home to an art gallery. Another houses a Cajun-style restaurant. Perhaps that second blue one is an antique shop or a blues bar. Now imagine that each of these buildings (and others built between the Poplar Street Bridge and the MacArthur Bridge) have second floor patios or doorways rather than windows, and crank-down iron staircases hugging the flood wall and leading down to a busy south riverfront. Maybe some of those antique dealers (antiquers? antiquists? antiquistadors?) are hawking their wares at the base of their steps too. Tourists and locals alike file in and out, enticed by the sights, sounds and smells escaping onto Wharf St.
Behind the flood walls, between Wharf St. and 1st St., the buildings’ main entrances will be on a new, well-tended street (we can call it Barbeau Blvd.! No? Oh, okay…), protected from the waters and always accessible, even if Wharf St. is submerged. Honestly, it’d be just as intriguing if it were, as the back decks would then be suspended over the river!
as I returned home from Chicago via Amtrak.
The city looks entirely different when you come home via train…
The pictures above show that the area between the bridges is mostly vacant. The area is ideally suited for development, as the land is (mostly) already graded for and it already has interesting borders to the east and west in the forms of the flood wall and the elevated rail line, respectively. It seems the area is now used as a pass-through for barge shipments – but a slight southern adjustment of the port and a new truck route could alleviate any issues there.
This development plan makes the most sense for the eastern edge of Chouteau’s Landing, as it provides protection against any pesky rising river water. It will form a unique and functional identity and encourage exploration on the new Mississippi Mile.
The riverfront itself is a discussion for another day [The Mississippi (1.2) Mile — Part 3], but let’s just say there will be riverboats. And street performers. And a trolley! (They go Clang! Clang! Clang! in St. Louis, you know…)
Coming up in ‘Part 2,’ I’ll discuss opportunities to reconnect Laclede’s Landing to the riverfront and the Archgrounds. Whereas the south riverfront and Chouteau’s Landing is a blank canvas right now and, consequently, easier to build up, Laclede’s Landing is a much more difficult task. It’s already been built – and demolished – and for better or worse, new development will be limited and any that there is must be sensitive to the historic structures already there.