Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Navigating Downtown: Why So Many Similar Names?

Navigating Downtown: Why So Many Similar Names?

For some reason, in downtown St. Louis there are two places with such similar names, that it confuses almost everybody:

  • Civic Center

  • Convention Center

    Bus riders get frequently confused by this. Where's the "civic center"? I've never heard of that. You must mean the convention center. I've been guilty of this confusion, just as much as anyone else.

    Part of the blame goes to the management of these institutions. What used to be simply "Kiel Auditorium" on 14th Street is long gone. They built the Kiel Civic Center, which was normally called the Kiel Center for short. I remember this pretty clearly; I even took a tour of the new facility when it opened in, I think, 1994.

    The adjacent MetroLink station - which opened even before that arena itself did - was called Kiel Civic Center Station. But, then, they changed the name of the arena to Savvis Center.

    This is what made things confusing. The MetroLink station was still called Kiel Civic Center. So then, in 2002, Bi-State (now DBA Metro) renamed it.

    From the press release dated February 8, 2002. "The Kiel Center station will be changed to Civic Center. Civic Center reinforces the local destinations which are within walking distance of the station such as City Hall, the Post Office, the Police Station, the Civil Courts Building and the Savvis Center."

    That's all well and good, but what does "Civic Center" really mean? There's no building by that name, really. The very busy MetroBus (transfer) Center adjacent to this MetroLink station was also named Civic Center MetroBus Center, when it opened on September 6, 2004.

    At one time, architects and urban planners referred to that area as the "Public Buildings Group." But, that was in the 1920s; only historians use that terminology today. The problem with that MetroLink station on 14th and Spruce is that you can't call it "Savvis Center Station" because that would be naming it after a for-profit company who happens to have the naming rights for that massive arena next to the station. If they pay for the naming rights for the station, too, it's possible; but otherwise, why would Bi-State give away the name for free? So they picked the generic name "Civic Center."

    Likewise, at the same time Bi-State renamed "Busch Stadium Station" as simply "Stadium Station" because there was the possibility that facility's name could change when the new stadium opened. That probably won't happen soon, but was probably a prudent name change decision.

    However, the potential confusion between "Civic Center" and "Convention Center" remains. Sure, there isn't really a building called the Cervantes Convention Center anymore; in 1991, when the facility was expanded, it was renamed America's Center, to emphasize that St. Louis is a centrally located convention destination.

    I remember taking a tour of that place, too, when it opened, and seeing the ongoing demolition, grading and construction for the Edward Jones Dome, still un-named at that point. (I've still never been inside the Dome, however; when it opened in 1995, I don't recall they had a public grand opening tour day).

    But, then, why is the "Convention Center" MetroLink station not located adjacent to the America's Center? Instead, it's next to Saint Louis Centre, that glass-enclosed behemoth of a largely empty shopping mall opened in August, 1985. While initial plans for the MetroLink called for that station to be named Saint Louis Centre Station, the development of the Convention Center expansion changed that; so that when the line opened in 1993, the name was Convention Center Station.

    Then, there's the matter of the courts. We have so many courthouses, that when somebody says I'm going to the courthouse, I don't know what to tell them. If they are reporting for Jury Duty, it's obvious: go to the Civil Courts Building.

    But if they're going to court - whether as a witness, defendant, or whatever - it's more difficult. Sometimes, they may need to go to the Civil Courts, which is a misnomer, since both civil and criminal trials happen there. Or, they may need to go to the Carnahan Courthouse (sometimes called the Carnahan Government Building) across the street.

    Don't send them to the Municipal Courts at 14th and Market; that's closed. But if they're headed for Federal courts, which used to be in what's now the Carnahan building, they need to go to the Eagleton Courthouse on 10th.

    And if its Traffic Court you need, well, that's at 14th and Olive. Finally, if they're tourists, they probably want the Old Courthouse down by the Arch.

    And don't even ask about Juvenile Court. That's way out on Vandeventer and Enright.

    Anonymous said...

    Any rail station must be located on a tangent, that is straight section of tracks. Thus, the Convention Center station could not be any further west of 6th and Washington, even if desired, since the line curves from Washington to 8th. And given St. Louis Centre's death and helping out-of-town conventioneers, the name is likely for the better.

    Unlike St. Louis Centre, Union Station was long a landmark before its 1980s conversion into a marketplace. But the fact you need to use Civic Center instead for accessing Amtrak's outdated shack or future multi-modal center is confusing to most cities having their principal train station named Union Station.

    The real confusion over Civic Center will come later, if the northside-southside extensions have a station closer to Tucker and Market. That intersection is more so associated as being the heart of our City's "Civic Center," yet any station on or near 14th next to the existing line closer to 14th and Clark would likely use that same name to facilitate transfers between the two stations.

    Joe said...

    Thanks for reminding me about that regarding the location of the Convention Center station. I forgot that the tracks curve quite a bit there; I believe the US Bank parking garage at the SE corner of 8th and Washington even has ventilation for that tunnel. The garage is basically built on air rights.

    That is a valid problem with the Amtrak station vs. Union Station.

    I don't think we'll see those north-south MetroLink lines built in the next ten years. Twenty, maybe. Would there be a stop there at Tucker and Market? I thought the on-street loop would be curving there, preventing a stop location. Who knows whether that will be built as proposed.

    Anonymous said...

    The original one-way counter-clockwise downtown loop was to run on Market, 7th, Washington and 14th. Conceptual stations on the loop were 13th/Market, 10th/Market, 7th/Pine, 8th/Washington, Tucker/Washington, and 14th/Olive.

    With the southside line entering/exiting downtown on or near 14th or 7th, a station just south of the loop would be Civic Center (14th) or Stadium (7th) to provide transfers to the original line. Conceivably on the loop, the 8th/Washington station could be called Convention Center as well for indirect transfers (2 blocks away), and the 7th/Pine would be a block from the existing line's 8th/Pine station.

    The routes identified are the conceptual preferred alignments for the Northside and Southside MetroLink extensions and their shared downtown loop. A conceptual engineering study starting soon will refine which streets in Downtown, how to enter/exit Downtown, station locations and other issues.

    The added confusion with Civic Center comes from whether a downtown loop station like the conceptual 13th/Market location is more in the heart of our City's civic plaza than the current and proposed southside "Kiel" stations.

    Anonymous said...

    As for a timeline on MetroLink extensions within the City, it will depend upon political leadership putting a realistic expansion plan with prioritized extensions before the voters.

    City and County voters may now consider upto a full-cent sales tax, quadrupling the current local funding source needed to leverage federal funding for construction of MetroLink expansion.

    Given current publicity, however, the dust will likely have to settle quite a bit on the 2006 opening of Cross-County before any expansion plan has a chance at the polls.

    a fan said...

    The stadium was built by Civic Center Redevelopment, and that is still the official name for the area. This allowed Anheuser-Busch to use eminent domain to clear the land for the stadium. The area is still Civic Center because the right to use eminent domain is still in place. You may recall when the brewery wanted to use it to clear the warehouses to the west of the stadium. What was there before was Chinatown, which is why St. Louis is the only major city without one.

    Joe said...

    I'm not sure the point regarding the Busch Stadium district. It may be referred to as "Civic Center" on redevelopment docs, but not in common usage. The area around Civic Center - i.e., Kiel - MetroLink is not in that Civic Center Redevelopment Area.

    Michael Allen said...

    I would like to see the named downtown stations renamed for the intersections nearest to them. "Civc Center" would become a very prosaic "14th and Clark" (or is that "15th & Spruce"?) while "Convention Center" would become "6th and Washington." I think such names would be more useful to everyone riding MetroLink.