The Mississippi (1.2) Mile — Part 2

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. A new “Mississippi Mile” would stretch from Chouteau Ave. to (and through) Laclede’s Landing Blvd. — a fitting tribute to St. Louis’ founding fathers and a much-needed reintroduction and reconnection to the riverfront.

Way back when I started Yet Another St. Louis Blog, I shared the first of the three-part series, covering the potential future of Chouteau’s Landing and the south riverfront — I’d highly recommend checking that out and sharing your thoughts.

Part Two covers Laclede’s Landing, which is an entirely different beast than its sister Landing to the south. Whereas Chouteau Landing is – from a development standpoint – a blank slate, Laclede’s Landing is mostly developed and therefore much of its future is dependent on filling up the existing century-old buildings with residents, businesses and attractions while creating historically-sensitive developments on the few developable lots.

My instinct is to re-evaluate these ideas based on the winning Arch+City+River design team’s plan, but the grumpy contrarian in me refuses to recognize that plan as the future of our riverfront and Archgrounds. With the official announcement a day away, this whole series might be moot anyway, but nevertheless I’ll continue offering my ideas for the riverfront – filed under “Given my d’ruthers.”
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Laclede’s Landing is, as most people know, St. Louis’ oldest district. What once was a sprawling riverfront industry center – with textiles, manufacturing, and storehouses – spanning the current Archgrounds, now exists as a 3×3 block entertainment and dining destination. For all intents and purposes, it exists between the Eads Bridge and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge, and from the riverfront to the elevated lanes of I-70.

Ideally, with the future removal of I-70 and a re-activated riverfront, some properties (mainly parking lots) will be bought up and built out as new office buildings and residential lofts. In particular, the southwest lot, which encompasses nearly a quarter of the Landing and serves as a divide between the Landing and the city, would be the first to be developed. There are also some vacant lots that can and should be activated if the riverfront is revitalized.

The Switzer lot has sat vacant ever since the top portion of it tumbled onto Eads Bridge during a particularly gusty mid-decade storm. As the closest developable space to the Archgrounds, there is an opportunity to build here, and welcome those traveling north on Leonor K. Sullivan Blvd. with a street level. I envision a visitors center and industrial museum, highlighting the hustle and bustle of St. Louis’ riverfront in the past and directing visitors to the various restaurants, shops and attractions in and around Laclede’s Landing.

This overgrown and fenced off lot is the first Laclede’s Landing sight when arriving from the Archgrounds. It’s important to develop it, not only to fill in the blanks, but to strengthen the Laclede’s Landing brand/image.

Heading north, the next property is the block-wide parking garage between Lucas and Morgan. It was primarily used for visitors to the now-defunct President casino, but is still used regularly for events on Laclede’s Landing and the Archgrounds. While I’d like to see a new structure in its place, it does serve a purpose as is (again, especially with a revitalized riverfront). The one alteration I would like to see is a redesign of its street-level portion. It would be great if this walk-up level were given over to small riverfront shops – cafes, sandwich shops, etc. – and within this block I could envision as many as 6 side-by-side establishments. By keeping a dedicated parking entrance at its south edge and building an exit at its northside, you allow the structure to continue providing parking on its upper levels while opening up the base for some much-needed river’s edge activity.

It’s important to note that there are a couple of harsh realities of this plan. If you’ve ever been down to the Landing during the summer, you’ll realize that this section fo Leonor K. Sullivan regularly floods, sometimes to the extent that water is flowing into the parking garage. There are building materials that are water-resistant and any development would need to be self-contained at street-level and sealable against encroaching flood waters. The other issue is that the elevated train tracks extend the length of Laclede’s Landing. While it would be interesting to see development under these tracks, it’s not only an insurance issue, but a maintenance issue for future work on the tracks. Still, where there’s a will there’s a way.

West of the garage is an undeveloped (yet well-manicured) lawn, affectionately known as ‘the grassy knoll’ by some Laclede’s Landing workers. The first impression is that this property too should be developed for one purpose or another but this scene…

…and this one…

That’s from the 2010 Big Muddy Blues Festival, which was held just three weeks ago on Laclede’s Landing. An estimated 60,000 attendees showed up for the free two-day festival and the grassy knoll was packed for pretty much its entirety to watch Blues legends like Booker T, Magic Slim and, locally, Kim Massie and Roland Johnson, perform at the main stage. This location is perfect for an event of this size and energy, and I can only hope that the property owners continue to offer it up as the main focus of the annual Labor Day event.

Heading further along Leonor K. Sullivan you encounter an area which is vital to extending the appeal of St. Louis’ riverfront north toward the new Mississippi River Bridge and Trailnet’s proposed Trailhead bike center at a rehabbed Laclede Power Company. Say what you will about the President Casino – express the importance of grand riverboats or remember fondly its days as the Admiral – but the boat, as it is right now, is a decidely negative mark on the riverfront. Art and architecture enthusiasts are fond of its art deco style, but the ship had its hey-day already and, personally, I would prefer it removed and replaced with an actual river-ready vessel. Just west of that is, again, a vacant lot and another parking lot. And another. Pinnacle, Lumiere Place’s ownership company, owns this property and recently was brought to court by the City of St. Louis for having failed to develop some of that land for restaurant/retail/business use, as was stated in the agreement when they received their license. With the sole riverfront attraction adjacent to that location now closed, it is important that Lumiere Place honor its contract and develop worthwhile points-of-interests for Archgoers, Laclede’s Landing patrons and river enthusiasts. There are, of course, naysayers about having a “land-locked casino in downtown St. Louis, but if Pinnacle were to move forward on even some of this proposed development, I expect the goodwill and praise directed toward them would be torrential.

Laclede’s Landing is an important piece of the city’s riverfront and, more importantly, its history. While it was revived in the late-70s and continues today as a preferred nightlife destination and restaurant district, its future relies on more. As downtown St. Louis’ only active district east of the I-70 divide, it serves not only as a connection to the Archgrounds, but to the city itself, proving that barriers need not exist between active business centers and passive greenspace. But much like the city as a whole, Laclede’s Landing doesn’t yet fully (if at all!) take advantage of the major difference it has from the rest of St. Louis’ districts — its location along and proximity to the banks of the Mississippi River. One thing that can be said about the Arch redesign competition is that its purpose is to build a better riverfront experience on the Archgrounds. Laclede’s Landing can do the same, and in so doing, strengthen that experience and serve as an example of what the rest of the city misses through its I-70 disconnect.

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That’s Part Two of The Mississippi Mile. Stay tuned as I hope to bring you the final segment in a signifcantly shorter time than it’s taken me to post this one. The third section, dealing with the riverfront itself, south from Chouteau’s Landing and north past Laclede’s Landing is the rug that really ties the room together, so to speak. By improving the riverfront experience throughout, development and growth can begin at its edges, hopefully signalling a renewed interest in the Mississippi River, and new opportunites for business, activity and residency along its banks.

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One comment

  1. Laclede's Landing is a tough issue. There are really so few surviving buildings that my first priority would be really taking advantage of what is already there. Reconnecting the Landing to the river would be wonderful though and I agree with you when you say that when there's a will there's a way.

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