Friday, March 17, 2006

The Long Tension Between BJC and Forest Park

The Long Tension Between BJC and Forest Park

KSDK Channel 5 reports - for the second time - that Barnes-Jewish Hospital wants to expand with high-rise construction on the site of the Richard Hudlin Tennis Courts and a small playground located technically in Forest Park, but east of Kingshighway.

Since 1975, Barnes has held a long-term lease on this portion of the park. (KSDK says 1985, but that's incorrect. The city's official history of the Central West End, written by the late Norbury Wayman in 1980 or so, says 1975.) They have a large underground parking garage underneath, and a number of intrusions at-grade including ventilation shafts, a glass-enclosed skywalk, and for a few years a helicopter landing pad.

This was a compromise solution, anyway. Earlier in the 1970s, St. Louis Children's Hospital had proposed expanding its former location with a skywalk across Kingshighway and into Forest Park near Steinberg Skating Rink. That proposal was widely disliked by the public, so eventually they decided to build a new facility at the NE corner of Kingshighway and Audubon Ave. -- known today as Children's Place.

The garage was also a compromise in the sense that it removed a lot of cars belonging to Barnes employees from parking on roads inside Forest Park. At least, that was the idea. Around that same time, the St. Louis Blues (then located at the late great St. Louis Arena) proposed construction of a large surface parking lot inside Forest Park, near the Parks Department greenhouses and main offices off Clayton Road north of Highway 40. That proposal, too, was shot down.

Prior to the 1950s construction of the Kingshighway cloverleaf interchange at I-64 and rerouting of the thoroughfare, the now-orphaned area was truly part of Forest Park, housing rose gardens and walkways. Once it became isolated from the rest of the park, its fate was sealed. Eventually, the orphaned sections of old Kingshighway were re-named and redesigned largely for hospital parking purposes. Barnes-Jewish Hospital Plaza was once part of Kingshighway, as was the until recently ultra-wide section of Euclid Avenue from Barnes Plaza south to Clayton Road.

South of Clayton Road, the current parking area for Central Institute for the Deaf was once part of Kingshighway. And across I-64 in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, you'll still find a few buildings facing what remains of old Kingshighway between Chouteau and Arco, most notably the Lambskin Temple Apartments.

KSDK says that the Forest Park Advisory Board can approve this proposal, then forward it to the Board of Aldermen. This site is located in the 17th Ward.

I don't expect too much serious opposition to this proposal. Sure, the Forest Park Master Plan says there cannot be any "net loss of green space" from the 1996 baseline. I participated in most of the public meetings related to the development of the master plan, so I remember that was a major sticking point mostly because of the proposed parking lot expansion at the St. Louis Art Museum.

But very little of the space near Barnes is green at this point anyway. The tennis courts, racquetball courts, walkways and the playground all constitute hardscapes, not landscapes. This is arguably one of the more 'urban' parts of Forest Park, being conveniently located to several bus routes, MetroLink, and the hospital complex itself.

And BJC is the largest employer in the City of St. Louis.

I regularly used the Hudlin tennis courts during my high school years, during PE classes as well as my abortive attempts at playing tennis in the PHL. I wasn't very good at it. In fact, I was terrible. And one time a homeless man tried to steal my tennis racket out of my backpack on the #95 Kingshighway bus. So, I guess I have mixed feelings about the place.

I hope the recreational facilities in this location can be replaced somewhere else in the park, without significant loss of greenspace. Perhaps it could be offset by the greenspace possibly gained by redesigning the Hampton and Kingshighway interchanges as part of The New I-64.

The Kingshighway interchange, in particular, currently takes up many acres of parkland but still is pretty dangerous. Perhaps the playground and tennis courts could be reconstructed near the SW corner of the reconstructed interchange, just east of the underground bunker housing City TV 10. (The bunker, by the way, was built during the 1950s as a Cold War attempt to protect the city's fire dispatching center.

For more about the history of Forest Park, including the many loony proposals for development of parts of it during the 1970s, see Forest Park by Caroline Loughlin and Catherine Anderson, 1986, Junior League of St. Louis; Columbia: University of Missouri Press.


Urban Review - St. Louis said...

That is all we need, more of the horrible BJC complex.

Anonymous said...

Horrible? Look at the link to top employers within the City provided by Joe in his post. A-B, AG Edwards, Ameren, SLU and even SLPS (Downtown HQ) all have buildings better suited for the suburbs or less urban campuses than BJC. And though not having superblock campuses, SBC and US Bank still have skywalks, just like BJC.

As a rule, the largest employers within the City disrupt the urban grid. But I'd say BJC is better than most. Granted, BJC has room for improvement, but its CWE complex is far less suburban looking than other major hospitals, and even other mayor City employers.

Michael Allen said...

Anonymous has a point about the density and design of the BJC campus being better than most. However, I would not say that street closures, lack of ground-floor retail and huge swaths of mono-use buildings are "urban" in any meaningful sense.

The plan to take the parkland is offensive, given how many surface parking lots BJC or Washington University own. And Forest Park Southeast residents hardly need to lose the only amenities in Forest Park within an easy walk! Besides this part of Forest Park, FPSE only has two pocket parks and the field behind Adams School for recreation. Clearly residents cannot afford to lose this park space.