Monday, May 08, 2006

Reviving and Reconnecting Cherokee Street

Reviving and Reconnecting Cherokee Street

After church yesterday, I stopped by Cinco de Mayo briefly. The place was really hopping! I ran into Craig Schmid, and talked to him and other folks who came along, for a little while.

It seemed like the majority of the crowd was Hispanic. And that's great... was that true of the Kiener Plaza version on Friday? Also, there was much more pedestrian traffic by my house two blocks away (later in the afternoon I was pulling weeds out front; ugh!) than on a typical Sunday. Nice weather probably helped.

Special events downtown are great, but do they really contribute that much life to the core of downtown - the so-called Old Post Office district - when they're held in Memorial Plaza or Kiener Plaza along the Gateway Mall / Market Street corridor? I'm skeptical.

Special events held in neighborhood commercial districts like Bevo Day, Cinco de Mayo on Cherokee Station, the Cookie Spree and the History Fair on Cherokee Antique Row, etc., really make the place lively for a full day of festivities. They contribute to a sense of safety and community, and introduce suburbanites and other outsiders to a place they may not know very well.

The free parking lots off California and Oregon behind the Salvation Army store actually were full - something almost unheard of except perhaps on Saturday mornings when the Hispanic shops are busiest. Cherokee was closed to traffic all the way from Jefferson to Nebraska, and full of pedestrians and a fair number of booths, mostly selling food. There were carnival rides at Cherokee and California, and two music stages, one on Cherokee at Texas or so, the other on the parking lot across Iowa from the Casa Loma Ballroom.

We need to have more connections between Cherokee Station and Antique Row. It's well past time to get over the historical barriers to that. A coordinated effort to spruce-up the corner of Jefferson and Cherokee, including getting a few better tenants at that key location, would help.

At the same time, the proximity to the burgeoning Grand South Grand business district needs to be exploited better. Even if streetcars or MetroLink are infeasible, perhaps the three business districts could explore getting corporate support for a summertime and/or Christmastime shuttle service linking the three together, and with the Botanical Gardens, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and downtown. That's just an idea.

Essential to any improved connection between Grand and Cherokee is making the intersection of the two streets more pleasing and interesting.

As it is, Grand South Grand really ends a bit north of Utah, with two major institutional anchors - Carpenter Branch Library and St Pius Catholic Church - marking the southern end of the 'safe' zone.

I believe the current Schnucks store at 3430 S. Grand is much more a detriment to the community than it is an asset. It was built in 1989, when I dare say the neighborhood was quite different than it is now. It takes up a HUGE piece of property, which must have required demolition of numerous buildings, and their latest investment in the property is a rather disappointing less than $100,000 replacement of the video department with a US Bank mini-branch.

This location is really, really close to quarter-million-dollar and up homes on and near Utah Place, but most residents of that area prefer the Arsenal Schnucks "On the Hill" which currently is undergoing significant renovations.

I suspect eventually Schnucks would eventually like to close that South Grand store, although maybe it is more profitable than I think, given just how much alcohol moves through it.

Instead, I would love to see Schnucks -- or some other grocery chain if it does close at some point -- consider replacing this store with a prototypical urban grocery store. I wish I had pictures, but in cities across the country you can find reasonably large grocery stores with corner on-street entryways crammed into bustling urban centers. Dominick's has some nice ones in Chicago; although they seem to cater to a pretty high-end clientele.

Anyway, I think this site would be just ideal for an urban grocery store. You build it right up to the SE corner of Cherokee and Grand. Make Cherokee two-way again, and put in a traffic signal with crosswalks (something that's needed there anyway given how many people get off the bus in front of the laundromat on Grand to go to Schnucks).

The current store is situated somewhat lower than Grand, which compromises its visibility to casual potential customers. The dock is right there, right off Grand, creating a visual barrier and safety hazard for walking customers.

A new store could have a corner entrance for pedestrians, but also a lower-level rear entrance. Perhaps the lower-level could include covered parking - see the new Target on Hampton for a (rather poorly-executed) example. Or the lower-level could shelter the dock area, cart storage, etc.

You could still use much of the rest of the site for surface parking. Or you could build a parking garage, probably closer to Gravois (already a very car-oriented street), and then use the rest of the property to build additional shops, or perhaps even mixed-use buildings, along Grand or perhaps even along Cherokee. Yeah, the other side of the street is mostly residential, but I don't think that's necessarily a problem for this plan.

It still would be quite a long walk from this corner to Cherokee and Nebraska, the western edge of the historic "downtown South St. Louis" Cherokee Station district. But maybe that can be made more pleasant, by narrowing the intersection with Gravois via curb bump-outs, improving the crosswalks there, etc.

Once the South Side Tower / Grand View Pointe development in the South Side National Bank tower gets underway, I suspect the pressure will increase to do something better with this site that provides a substantial barrier between Grand South Grand and the high-profile Grand and Gravois intersection. (An aside: I find it very confusing that up in Midtown, the former Council Tower is now known as Grand View Tower. Name changes are bad enough - what, they didn't want people to think the Teamsters still own the place? But can we please avoid new names that sound so similar?)


Josh Wiese said...

Schnucks has hated that location for years due to high crime and low sales. If they could close it or sell it off they would in a heartbeat. One of the funnier stories I heard was about crooks stealing the bread trucks that would park at the loading dock. Can you imagine that? I was contracted out by Schnucks a few years ago and worked in the corporate offices and that store along with the Kingshighway RIP were the lowest performing and worst for crime.

Like McDonalds and Walgreens Schnucks is in the real estate business these days. Arsenal Schnucks isnt getting an update but Arsenal is hence all the congestion over there. The Schnucks at Chippewa and Hampton is good one.

Dominicks was like Dierbergs in both layout and price. The CVS also had nice stores in Chicago and the layout your talking about was prevelant there. Jewel-Osco was okay as well

Michael Allen said...

Most of the South Grand Schnucks store site was previously the institutional campus of the St. Charles Home for the Aged. The main building sat near the corner of Grand and Cherokee, facing Grand. Much of the site was open space.

urban Review said...

Great post, I totally agree! Cherokee Street has a wonderful & authentic feel to it, something that banners and other attempts can't recreate.

Yes, the Schnuck's is horrible -- the actual store and the site planning. The natural slope of the site could be used to create structured parking underneath a store.

I've seen great examples in other cities of grocery stores mixed with other uses. Both a Safeway and a Trader Joes in Seattle come to mind. Ideally new buildings would face Grand, Cherokee and Gravois. Density should be extremely high.

But for those that live near Jefferson & Cherokee this is really too far to walk. The SaveALot store on Jefferson could be rebuilt as a more urban store.