Jamestown Mall is ready for its closeup -- and its makeover
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 15, 2010 - On most evenings, auditorium No. 3 at the Jamestown 14 Cine is showing "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse."
But Thursday evening, the presentation could have been titled "Jamestown Mall: Vision for a New Dawn."
A packed house learned about the next phase for plans to revive the 140-acre site of the moribund north St. Louis County shopping center that has fallen on hard times, with empty storefronts and abandoned parking lots that have more weeds than cars.
Last fall, planners presented a grand scheme for the center -- renamed Lindbergh Place -- that featured everything from restaurants to housing to green space. But even as the panel convened by the Urban Land Institute unveiled its vision, members acknowledged that it was all concept, no practical details.
Now, the practical work is about to begin in earnest. Five firms chosen by the St. Louis County Economic Council and county government will hold a series of design sessions Sept. 9-14 at Florissant Valley Community College, soliciting the public's ideas for how the site can become a center for what County Executive Charlie Dooley called a North County destination, akin to downtown, the Central West End or the Loop.
Introducing the session, Dooley told the crowd that the reimagining of Jamestown Mall can only succeed if they become actively involved.
"We need to take ownership of this process," he said. "This is not a Charlie Dooley thing. This is not a designer thing. This is your community. You need to be engaged. Tell us what you want it to be in the next 20, 30, 40 years.
"This is important because people like to spend money where they live. I want people to start thinking outside the box. Don't think about what used to be. Think about what can be."
To help members of the audience stretch their imagination, James Dougherty of the firm Dover, Kohl & Partners of Coral Gables, Fla., showed how his firm has transformed dying malls into space that is livable and walkable, combining stores with homes with public spaces in a configuration that cuts down the need to hop into your car to go everywhere.
He likened the public design process to a "good old-fashioned barn raising," where everyone pitches in with ideas that start at the top of a funnel, then work their way down into a coherent plan that can then be presented to developers.
Dougherty noted that Jamestown Mall is in an area where household incomes are relatively high, the population density is relatively low, so there were not enough people close by to make the mall a success.
Add increased competition from centers like Mid-Rivers and St. Louis Mills, plus the general nationwide trend that has seen suburban malls give way to smaller, urban store settings, and the demise of Jamestown is not hard to understand.
In its place, he said, can be a center that has any number of activities and combination of amenities, but to turn dead malls into living neighborhoods, a few basic principles generally need to be followed, including:
- Having an identifiable center and edge of the neighborhood.
- Making it a walkable size, generally meaning no more than a quarter-mile or five-minute walk from the edge to the center.
- Setting up an integrated grid of walkable streets, to distribute traffic.
- Including a mix of land uses and types of buildings.
- Having special sites for civic purposes.
Glenn Kellogg, of the firm Urban Advisors of Portland, Ore., which will be handling economic aspects of the project, echoed Dooley and Dougherty, saying that whatever finally emerges from the planning process has to come from the people who live and work in the area.
"This needs to be community-based," he said, "so when it comes up for a hearing, you all don't come out and shoot it down."
When it came time for questions from the audience, they ranged from show me the money to make sure we're included to why not include a good bait and tackle facility, since we're so close to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Dougherty welcomed the suggestions and invited people to share them when the design meetings begin.
The answers to the questions of who is going to chose the final design, and who will pay for it, are a long way off. Timothy M. Tucker, vice president for real estate and community development for the county Economic Council, said that in some ways, the delays in coming up with plans to redevelop the Jamestown Mall site may have been beneficial.
"Even if we had the best plans in the world right now," he said, "I don't think we could finance it. Banks aren't lending for these kinds of projects at this point."