Creve Coeur, Missouri, is looking for a downtown. But it's found a location: a 47 acre, relatively underutilized area bordering Olive Street (the major east-west arterial) and only a long block away from Interstate 270.
[above photo shows just a small portion of the northern edge of the development area; Olive Street is on the right]
The city has already put considerable planning efforts into realizing this dream. A market feasibility studied was done, and a downtown land use plan has now been adopted. There are also detailed architectural guidelines for development in this area.
But before getting ahead of myself, let me describe Creve Coeur. As I noted in my previous post, much of Creve Coeur is residential, with a predominant one-acre lot pattern. But there's also another side to Creve Coeur -- it's a major employment hub. Monsanto's world headquarters is in Creve Coeur, with 4,500 employees on their "campus" off Olive Street. There's also Mercy Hospital, with 3,000 workers. Not to mention other major office complexes. Planning Director Paul Langdon told me that while Creve Coeur's population is 16,500, during business hours there are some 50,000 people in the city.
Besides serving office uses, Olive Street is also a major commercial corridor, with all kinds of retail establishments along its length.
Creve Coeur's plan for a downtown was approved in 2005, following extensive citizen participation, including numerous focus group meetings and open houses (one of which was attended by over a hundred people). A delegation from the city, including members of the planning commission, also visited several Chicago suburbs to see their downtown/town center developments. Planning commissioner Gene Rovak (a licensed engineer) told me this trip was "very helpful" in seeing what worked and what didn't. The HOK firm served as the consultant on development strategies and did the financial analysis.
But why go through all the trouble to develop a downtown in Creve Coeur? I asked. Creating a "sense of identity for the city," is one reason, Gene replied. Carl Moskowitiz (who retired from Monsanto, and serves with Gene on the planning commission) concurred, and noted that the downtown plan will also provide an area of green space in the center of town -- something now lacking. Carl added that one goal is for the new downtown area to be a place where people can walk -- again, something largely absent in the existing Olive Street corridor.
The ability to "age in place" also came up. As Carl explained, the new downtown will also have higher density residential housing. "This will give empty nesters a chance to sell their homes, but stay in Creve Coeur."
The site itself consists of a number of individually owned properties. There's a mix of small buildings, parking lots, offices, and a residential condo development. Overall, the site is underdeveloped given its location. Eminent domain will not be used for the project, residents have been assured. Moreover, as the result of a citizen initiative, eminent domain authority has been sharply limited in Creve Coeur.
[some photos of the site: large exisiting surface parking; exisiting residential townhouse development, left below; houses used for offices, right below]
But Paul Langdon doesn't think this will be an obstacle to the project. "Most property owners in the area won't be averse to selling given the value of their land," he explained.
While the planning studies have been completed, the city is waiting for a private developer to step up to the plate. "Its' an unexplored market in the St. Louis area," Planning Director Paul Langdon acknowledged. Creve Coeur's approach, Paul explained, is to find "a balance between letting the private market take the lead and ensuring a public role."
[note from Wayne: we've published several helpful articles in the Planning Commissioners Journal that relate to what Creve Coeur and other suburbs are trying to accomplish. In particular, I'd recommend Phil Langdon's Creating the Missing Hub: How Today's Suburbs Build Town Centers and Kennedy Smith's What Makes a Town Center a Town Center].