What to do with Jamestown Mall? Public has lots of ideas
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 10, 2010 - The troubled Jamestown Mall may have a hard time attracting customers, but there is no shortage of suggestions from the public on how its 142 acres could be redone.
- An indoor track
- A community center
- An amphitheater
- A high-end hotel
- A video game arcade
- A heliport
- A farmers' market
- Green energy windmills
- A black heritage and cultural center
- A dog boutique
- A retirement village
- And everyone's favorite idea whenever any large retail space goes vacant: IKEA.
No one expects all of these features to wind up in the plan for Jamestown Mall now coming together in north St. Louis County. But the whole idea of the public design process being held through Tuesday at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley is to put everything on the public's wish list into the top of the planning funnel, then see what kind of a coherent and doable proposal comes out the bottom.
"It's our job to filter out different ideas and see what is going to happen," said project manager Pamela Stacy of Dover, Kohl & Partners, the Coral Gables, Fla., town planning firm chosen by the St. Louis County Economic Council to head the process.
"If you ask the public to filter things themselves, the process just kind of shuts down. We want all those ideas to come out. The community knows what its needs are better than we do."
The initial flood of ideas came out Thursday night at a public design session where people were divided into 10 groups, each led by a facilitator. They were asked what they would like to see on the Jamestown Mall site, where some stores are still operating but many have shut down, leaving the once-busy shopping center with only a fraction of the traffic it once had.
Depending on whom you ask, reasons for the mall's decline range from a location away from major highways to an area without the necessary population density to newer retail competition to a perception that the area is not as safe as it used to be.
To get the process going, the Urban Land Institute held a week-long conference last fall to come up with ideas of what Jamestown Mall could become. Their answer -- Lindbergh Place -- was an expansive plan that featured a lifestyle center, restaurants, housing, green space and more.
What it didn't have was any concrete path for how the transformation could take place. That vital piece is a key part of the current process, which was convened by the economic council.
"That was looking at things from a very high level perspective," Stacy said of last year's exercise. "We're zooming in more, to come up with a raft idea of what this place will actually look like. This is a very challenging project to see what will work here."
Stacy said that when a plan tempered by economic reality takes shape and is presented at a wrap-up session Tuesday night at the college's student center, the next phase will begin: figuring out who might be willing to take the project on and how it could be paid for. Public-private partnerships, zoning changes, incentives -- everything will be considered, she said,
In any case, she said no one should expect a magical transformation at Jamestown Mall any time soon. She gave a timeline of three to five years before changes begin. In the meantime, she added, people should still support the shops that remain open.
"It's not going to be something that happens overnight," Stacy said. "It's going to be done incrementally. But having a plan in place makes sure that each small change matches the overall vision."
As Stacy explained the process, members of the project worked with maps, markers and big white boards, trying to translate the ideas from Thursday night into coherent potential designs. At the same time, members of the public drifted in to study what others have had to say.
One area resident, Sandy Delcoure of Florissant, said she wouldn't mind seeing a return to the days when Jamestown Mall bustled with stores and customers. Special times like Christmas and Easter are among her treasured memories with her family.
"It was one of my favorite places to shop," she said. "That's why I hate to lose it. We'd like to be able to have a plan where we can shop without having to go to Chesterfield, the Galleria or Mid-Rivers. Why waste all that gas?"
She realizes that giving the site over to condominiums or other uses might help the area. But she's not sure she wants to give up the convenience of retail.
"That could work," she said of alternate plans for the site. "It would be totally different from what we have now. But it might also work if they would just bring in the best stores. The mall still seems halfway decent. It doesn't seem to be that old."
For Ryan Baldwin, who lives within walking distance of the mall, a place to buy stuff may not be the best use of the property.
"Malls on the whole are kind of going downhill," he said. "Some people say it's almost an archaic kind of concept. I like being able to go inside and not worry about being out in the elements, so it works both ways.
"But everyone seems to be retail-oriented. I'd like to see a place where people can go and do other things besides buy things."