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.
Okay, where did we leave off?
In Part One, I discussed the area of our riverfront directly south of the Archgrounds — Chouteau’s Landing. This is an area that is unique in that it has a strong presence of existing, historical structures, while also offering plenty of space for the district to grow. Ideas have been bandied about for the past 5-10 years, with the Chouteau’s Landing Art Center at Powell Square as the centerpiece and a move toward apartment/condo redevelopment in many of its industrial buildings. In Part Two, Laclede’s Landing was discussed. The question there is a tough one — how do you preserve the history of our city’s oldest district while also adding density by way of new development? Click over to those stories and share your thoughts.
It’s time now to tackle the most important question: How do we re-engage the river itself, and make it active and viable to the north, south and all points in between
It’s an encouraging first step to see that the riverfront has received a lot of coverage lately.
- First was the City+Arch+River redesign competition, which awarded the $300 million project to Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates. We are now a mere week away from seeing what MVVA has in store for us, but early design concepts are discouraging – with a cobblestone riverwalk closed to public transportation.
- In November, the now-defunct Admiral riverboat was put up on auction with the disclaimer that the vessel will need to be removed. This article from the Post-Dispatch hints toward a potential buyer, but no announcements have been made public.
- Finally, the riverfront has received some press due to illegal drag racing, joyriding and “ghost riding” — an idiotic pastime that involves getting out of a still moving car and riding its roof. Stupid? Immeasurably so. But hey! – these kids (?) are at least using the riverfront (Kidding…).
So what do you do with the St. Louis riverfront? Is it for tourists or locals? Do you have seasonal entertainment or full-time activity? Should pedestrians take precedence? Should cars be allowed or only approved shuttles, carriages, and bikes? And what about the river? Should we create opportunities for folks to go on it or encourage them to sit on its banks and take in the sights and sounds?
These are the questions facing St. Louisans and the designers at MVVA. To sum up my answer to all these questions, I say, resoundingly “Yes!”
Logic would dictate we start off with the area of our riverfront directly in front of the Archgrounds. It’s the main section, the one people come to to take pictures, board the tour boats and attend the big festivals. However, I think the most important piece of the downtown riverfront is further north…mainly, the proposed Laclede Power Center.
Here on the Near North Riverfront is a diamond-in-the-rough park (complete with Cassilly sculptures), a trailhead to the St. Louis Riverfront Trail and an historic building to anchor it. The building itself was originally going to house Trailnet’s new offices – a move that would have solidified the area as a destination for bicyclists and pedestrians. Unfortunately, Trailnet has announced a move to the Farm & Home Loan building at 10th and Locust where the new Downtown Bike Center will be developed, but that shouldn’t stop the work they’ve already done to revitalize the Laclede Power Center.
If Trailnet (or Metro or the Jefferson National Park Service) were to get approval for the development of a Bike Sharing Center, the area could successfully serve to connect the north riverfront and its river’s edge trail system to the Archgrounds and Wharf Street to the south. As both an alternative look-out point for tourists and a personal hub for trail riders, it could help stretch the “downtown riverfront” definition.
Moving further south through Laclede’s Landing the task is to find businesses and developers who want to embrace (and face) the riverfront — be that through apartments, offices or retail/dining/nightlife. As of now, the only points of interest for anyone moving along Leonor K. Sullivan are the Admiral Riverboat (which made the news today) and vast tracts of parking. Speaking of parking, it’s time to stop the use of the river’s edge as a parking lot. Instead, I would prefer just one or two dedicated areas (both north and south of the Archgrounds) from which boaters can drop in their trailer-hitched vessels), leaving the rest of the cobblestone riverfront to river-watchers, picnics, strolling/biking, etc.
Through the Archgrounds, Leonor K. Sullivan should be parsed down to just two lanes – one north, one south. Despite ‘No Parking’ signs scattered throughout, people still use the street for that purpose. With two shoulder-less lanes, this would no longer be possible as it would block traffic. In much the same way as the cast-off points for boats, the eastern sidewalks should be widened and fitted with designated cut-outs for quick pick-ups/drop-offs from carriages, school/tour buses and the trolley (we’ll get to that in a moment). This would make the stretch both safer for pedestrians and slower for drivers, allowing more sidewalk space for pedestrians (as well as vendors and entertainment on either side of Leonor K.).
To the south on Chouteau’s Landing, I’ve already discussed the idea of development directly behind the flood wall, with patios and verandas extending out and over it so that visitors can climb one of many wrought-iron staircases up and over the flood wall and into the second-stories of new restaurants, shops and galleries.
To this point, I’ve talked about stretching out our definition of “the riverfront” to once again include the areas to the north and south. Through educational/physical programming at the Laclede Power Center and trailhead, east-facing multi-use developments on Laclede’s Landing and a unique flood wall district in Chouteau’s Landing, St. Louisans and tourists are no longer content to stop their experience at the Archgrounds itself. Capping this off are two projects – one of which uses existing features.
To finish off the “stretching” of the riverfront, I would love to see Metro separate our lone riverboats – the Becky Thatcher and the Tom Sawyer. As one of the main attractions of the St. Louis riverfront, these vessels can – just through their placement – make the riverfront from Chouteau Avenue to Laclede’s Landing Boulevard a complete package. Moving one slightly south and one north to the current location of the Admiral – at least during the busy season – would immediately offer different experiences (and, more importantly, choices) for visitors. If Metro desired, they could program the separate tours to include different educational information, activities and sights.
Finally, as the final thread that connects a renewed St. Louis riverfront (north, south and center) — a trolley. It need not be big and it need not be expensive. It is, however, VITAL that it have that classic, trolley bell that goes clang-clang-clang in St. Louis. Just a straight line north from the Laclede Power Center, south to Chouteau’s Landing, and reverse. In an ideal world, the south terminus might even have a roundabout within the Flood Wall district, entering it either through the existing rail-line opening in the wall, or through a newly-activated Poplar Street. Traveling slowly along Leonor K. Sullivan’s western edge, where its shoulder will have been, the Riverfront Trolley will provide river views and guided tours. More importantly, it signifies a destination. Visitors to the Archgrounds will see this trolley moving along to parts of the riverfront they never would have visited in the past. And as the Riverfront experience grows to the north and to Wharf Street or Broadway in the south, so too can the trolley.
So there you have another take (in three parts) for the future of St. Louis’ riverfront. The reason, I feel, that the riverfront is so underutilized is that all of its attractions are located in the center. By spreading these out, building or programming points-of-interest to the north/south and actually giving visitors multiple options for getting to them and interacting with them, I believe the riverfront as a whole can achieve better standing and greater meaning.
I haven’t addressed many individual features of the riverfront, but instead proposed ideas on how to give it recognition. With the changes mentioned here or from those being vetted for the City+Arch+River redesign, maybe another riverboat soon calls St. Louis its port. Maybe a farmer’s market or a marina proves successful. Maybe a pedestrian-only approach works and maybe it leaves our river more barren than before. I don’t believe, as MVVA seems to, that the riverfront experience would be better as a pedestrian realm. I don’t believe that Leonor K. Sullivan should be closed to traffic. Nor should Washington Avenue. And nor should Memorial Drive! Instead, by limiting its presence through a narrower route, and removing river’s edge parking, you create a new area for pedestrians, bikes, carriages, cars and yes, trolleys.
And who knows — maybe a few of these!