That casino, the $500 million Lumiere, marks a departure from others near and around town which, in accordance with legal regulations, are all located on dockside "boats". Instead, this building appears to be solidly on terra firma a block inland, rudely turning its back to the city and divided from it by a highway. Accessible on foot only by a water-side approach, the casino goes out of its way to circumnavigate the rules. Its casino floor, though, is actually an eight-foot-thick concrete raft floating in an unseen 1.5-million gallon basin of water. Voila — a watery locale.
The shenanigans have residents referring to the property as "riverboat gambling" in arch quotation marks, but the development's worth noting if only because such new construction is a relative rarity in town. "St. Louis is fortunate to have a really large stock of historic architecture," Geisman said. "It's always going to make more sense for us to look at reusing our existing buildings."
With the exception of the new ballpark (a promised accompanying mixed-use "Ballpark Village" on the adjacent site of the demolished historic stadium has yet to materialize), and a new-built-apartment building now going up across from the Old Post Office, St. Louis has indeed concentrated on reusing old assets. And, it's earned a good (though by no means impeccable) preservation reputation for doing so.
Geisman counts Citygarden as part of those efforts. Now that downtown is on the right path, she said, the spotlight is shifting to the public realm. More than just a pretty park, Citygarden — which runs between 8th and 10th Streets and Chestnut and Market Streets — is but a small part of a master plan to redevelop the Gateway Mall, a 1.2 mile-long ribbon designed to connect the Arch with Union Station. Although it was conceived as a sweeping City Beautiful project when Eero Saarinen was still a gleam in his daddy's eye, the Mall was never fully realized until the '80s.
The idea spouted when St. Louis was in its heyday — shortly after it hosted both the 1904 World's Fair and the first Olympics to be held in the U.S., and when it was among the five most populous American cities. But through the city's cycles of growth and abandonment (when buildings erected on the site were razed), all that ultimately resulted was a patchwork assemblage of empty lots.
Intended as a link between the north and south sides of downtown, this haphazard strip acted more as a barrier, according to Geisman. Bordered by significant civic buildings like City Hall, Municipal Courts, the central library, and a defunct opera house (also up for renovation, if funding comes through), the space is generally unused, save for programmed events like parades, rallies, and concerts. Think of it as a tattier Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
With a downtown residential population of 15,000 (a doubling over the last decade) and a daytime worker population of 90,000, the potential for increased usage is untapped, say planners, and Citygarden is just the beginning. And retail will come to the Mall's fringes, Geisman said, recoiling in horror, half mock, half real, at the notion that the Gateway Mall itself be less about open space and more about infill. "There's an optimism now that the Mall can be a beautiful space as well as an economic generator," she said.
Sounds promising. For now, though, downtown St. Louis still suffers from a dearth of desirable retail and a lack of things to do. Until that changes, urbanites might just be better satisfied with the host of lovely nearby neighborhoods.
Contact JoAnn Greco, ASJA, SATW, at 215 413 3137 or www.joanngreco.com
Check out her new online magazine, TheCityTraveler at www.thecitytraveler.com