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Economy & Business

Grand developments in Grand Center

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 17, 2013 - Grand Center is marked by distinct architecture, bustling streets, dozens of restaurants, public art and a few more new signs in old windows. The individual changes in venues, however, will all be affected in changes planned to the area's streets.

The Great Streets Project is perhaps the most expansive change happening in Midtown. The plan offers a new vision for Grand Center, from a wide granite curb to a “light ceiling” that hangs in a net-like pattern above the streets.

The final report on the project that was completed on June 30 has just been posted to the Grand Center website. The total estimate for the project is $68 million and includes consideration of side streets like Spring Avenue and Grandel Square.

The final report also lists detailed information about the  phases of development. The changes will affect streetscapes, lighting, signage and navigation, redevelopment, public art, stormwater management and transportation. Each point relates directly to the image of Grand Center as an arts and entertainment district.

“It’s going to be a place where people want to spend time,” said Michelle Stevens, director of marketing and grants for Grand Center Inc. “I think it’s going to become a point of pride for our city and region.”

This vision will be done in accordance with Great Streets tenets. According to these, great streets are to be

  • representative of their place
  • safe and comfortable for walking
  • contributors to economic vitality
  • functionally complete
  • accessible to modern mobility
  • memorable
  • interesting
  • green.

One of the most important aspects of the Great Streets project in Grand Center will be widening the sidewalks.
“They’re really not adequate for the scale of the buildings," people getting in and out of vehicles "when the events get out. And they limit the ability to be used for anything else, [like] outdoor dining,” said Laurel Harrington, director of landscape architecture for Christner Inc. Harrington is leading the Great Streets project.

To widen sidewalks along Grand Avenue, the street would be reduced to three lanes and drivers would be urged to use the parallel routes of Vandeventer and Compton Avenues.

“Grand [will] still [have] traffic on it, still [have] that lively atmosphere of people moving, cars coming through, but you’re not having to be in a big congested area and you can start to experience more of the community,” Harrington said.

Some of the proposed first changes that Grand Center residents and visitors may see relate to traffic adjustments. Pavement, striping and lighting will be improved on Vandeventer and Compton in the hopes that people will use these streets. The speed limit on Grand will be lowered; and the timing of traffic lights around the district will be more appropriately synchronized.

Also included with these initial concepts are adjustments to Grand Center branding, mapping and signage. Early changes are expected to take place in the next year or so, according to Stevens. The final report acknowledged that projects could be shifted, as other development, funding and priorities change. And funding is not yet secure for major changes.

The total project is expected to take seven to 10 years, according to an earlier summary report.

As the overall planning continues, new venues have opened in the past year:

Horizon Gallery

Tucked away at 3526 Washington Ave. is Horizon Gallery. There passers-by can find paintings of planets, flowers and figures inside a space the size of a small bedroom.

“This is actually just a gallery inside of a studio,” said Mark Jungmeyer, the owner of the space and the one and only artist on exhibit. He uses the back part of the space as his personal work area.

Jungmeyer said that his main inspiration comes from science and technology.

“I feel like it affects everybody,” he said.

The artist said he started painting at a young age. “Back in elementary school, I had a teacher who was into painting, and every Friday, he’d have a couple hours of the whole class doing paintings. It kind of snowballed from there,” he said.

Only in the past one to two years has Jungmeyer started to make his work public. This gallery, which he opened in March, is that attempt embodied.

“It’s to get my foot in the door. I thought it would be a good idea as a way to enter the art world, to try to get known a little bit,” he said.

Chronicle Coffee

New to the North Grand community is a coffee shop that brews its own coffee — coffee, that is, that it processed and roasted.

Chronicle Coffee, near Grand and Page Boulevards, opened on Jan. 18 with the purpose of becoming a “community engagement space” built on a platform of great coffee, according to its owner, Jason Wilson.

“It’s a slowly, but surely, redeveloping, revitalizing community, but it’s an underserved community,” he said.

Wilson has reach out by such things as maintaining a relationship with the Blumeyer Village tenants association that helps residents get involved in the community and addressing what other visitors may view as problems with the North Grand area.

“We do a lot of networking, so we make sure that people from out of the perimeter of our community come down here also … come check it out, see that it is safe on this side of town, that we [have] good coffee, great space, all those things,” Wilson said.

He got the idea for Chronicle Coffee while he was studying in China during his pursuit of his master’s degree.

“I was drinking coffee over there — I never drank coffee. ... I’d had cups, but I never really enjoyed it. But [there] was something about standing around a water cooler/coffee area and having incredible conversation with my counterparts,” Wilson said. “And the coffee was pretty good ... but the conversation that followed … just the whole connection, camaraderie — it was just phenomenal.”

Wilson then conducted an observational study of coffee shops, where he tried to figure out the culture of them and why they were successful.

He realized that the north side of St. Louis could benefit from such an environment.

“[There] needs to be this type of space where folks can go and not be around all the harsh elements of the other communities,” Wilson said.

Important to Wilson’s interest is not just the community, but the African-American community in particular.

“We want to connect this community and some of the marginalization that takes place with some of the same things that affect African communities, and ensure that there’s this connection between coffee and Africans, being that it’s indigenous to Africa,” he said. “We’re just trying to provide a positive narrative.”

International Photography Hall of Fame

More than 6,000 cameras and 30,000 photos have found a new home on the second floor of 3415 Olive Street, adjacent to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum. This museum, dedicated to photography and the history of it, is expected to have its first Friday open to the general public on Sept. 6.

John Nagel, executive director for the museum, said an opening exhibit would be directed toward nature photography. Both modern and vintage photographs will be featured, and the museum will host a guest speaker from The Conservationist, the Missouri Department of Conservation's magazine.

All of these events are being done in coordination with the Missouri Botanical Garden, which is also bringing in a photographer from National Geographic for a month-long series of workshops.

Nagel aims to participate in more collaborations like this in the future.

“We want to be an assist to other organizations that are involved in photography,” he said. “The idea of IPHF coming here [to St. Louis] is a springboard for other activities as well. What we do is probably unique to anyone else. We don’t think we’ll be stepping on anyone’s toes. We will be complementing what’s going on in Grand Center.”

Indeed, it is the activity and interest in photography that attracted the museum to Grand Center and St. Louis at large. Although several potential locations were surveyed, Nagel said that the audience here could not be matched anywhere else.

He noted the space for the museum as an equally “serendipitous” occurrence. The owner of the building was initially interested in using the upstairs space as a gallery for a friend, but the friend backed out.

Nagel said that the museum, its activity and its presentation were attractive to the building owner, and so he made it available to the International Photography Hall of Fame. (The museum has a fundraiser going to help with the finishing touches.)

“I think we’ll make a positive cultural contribution,” Nagel said.

Sun Theater

The Grand Center Arts Academy is home to a number of middle and high school visual and performing art students who, until recently, did not have a space to show their work.

Early this month, construction work began on the Sun Theater, which will undergo an $11.5 million renovation. This is thanks to the Lawrence Group, which owns that building and the building of the GCAA school itself. The school leases both buildings, but says it would like to buy them in the future.

Katherine Palmer, director of development for GCAA, hopes to have the new space opened by March 1. This would be exactly 101 years after the first performance at the theater on March 1, 1913.

“The number one thing that we’re excited about is that these kids here at our school are going to have a place to perform,” Palmer said. “Our kids provide such quality performances. … This is great for them.”

Palmer recently had the chance to show a few students around the new space. “Just to see their faces light up, it was pretty special for me,” she said.

Aside from creating a performance space that would seat about 700 people, the Sun Theater will also be renovated to include classrooms and maybe a dance studio.

KDHX

The new headquarters of KDHX, 3524 Washington Ave., has done away with the old closed-in feel of the space. Instead, the first floor will feature a small concert venue, open to performances presented by the radio station and outside parties, and a coffee shop.

The location will be a huge expansion compared to the station’s current location above a bakery on Magnolia Avenue. The Washington Avenue site will also triple production space, making it possible for KDHX to air its HD channel. 

Beverly Hacker, executive director of KDHX, said she was excited about everything regarding the new location.

“Being here in Grand Center is going to be phenomenal because we already work with so many of the neighbors here,” she said.

The inspiration for the move came about three and a half years ago, when a donor wanted to do something to honor the late Larry Weir, who “had been with the station since the beginning,” Hacker said.

Although this new location is a big change, Hacker expects that the core of KDHX will remain the same and continue to follow its mission statement, which is “To build community through media.” Hacker said that this statement has not changed much since the station first came into being in the 1960s.

“I think we’re going to continue to be very much a local voice, we’re going to continue to be both a promoter and a presenter of the arts and we’re going continue to do what we’ve always done,” she said. “We’re just going to do it on a whole lot more channels and whole lot different channels.”

Hacker expects the new space to be in use by September.

Folk School

On June 10, the Folk School of St. Louis started classes in its new location on Washington Avenue, just blocks from KDHX’s new space.

And appropriately so: The radio station and music school merged about a year ago.

“The Folk School had been around for about 10 years, and I think we were kind of at that point in our growth cycle when we were ready to grow some more but definitely had learned that partnering with other organizations was a great way to do that,” said Kelly Wells, director of the Folk School and education director for KDHX.

Because both nonprofit organizations shared similar missions, Wells said the merge had been a “really easy process.”

Now that the Folk School is in Grand Center, there seem to be more opportunities for other partnerships.

“There’s really a lot of potential for all bringing our skills and talents together and making something really exciting,” Wells said.

In general, Wells seemed excited with the developments in the area.

“All the things that are happening in Grand Center are really appealing for arts organizations, and their plan for expansion and for growth in this area is really impressive,” she said.

The future -- Palladium

With the Sun Theater being saved, the Preservation Research Office now has its eyes on the Palladium, a St. Louis historical landmark that is the first of its kind.

“It was the first dance hall where African-American musicians were hired to perform to white audiences. ... Many, many important names played there,” said Michael Allen, director of the Research Office. “What we know is most of the other venues from that period for white audiences that [had] white musicians or African American musicians have been systematically erased. Most of them are surface parking lots.”

Indeed, that could be the fate of the Palladium as well. Although no public announcements have been made, Allen said the Veterans Administration released plans a few years ago depicting a parking garage that straddled Enright Avenue. The Palladium and Sweetie Pie’s next door would both be demolished.

It is not yet certain if the Veterans Administration will have the money for such a project, but until the Palladium is put back on the market, Allen said the building remains at risk.

One option he and others have pursued is listing the Palladium in the national register of historic places.

“If the building is on the national register, of course, historic tax credits would be available for its renovation. That’s something I think the current owner needs to be aware of,” Allen said. “The Veterans Administration might be compensating that owner for what the building is worth now, but the Veterans Administration is not likely to be paying for the future value if it was fully rehabbed.”

Were the building to be renovated, some of its potential uses include a gallery, museum, dance hall or events space. The Arts Academy has “intermittently” had their eye on the building, but Allen was not sure how serious its interest was.

Though the building remains in danger, Allen said recent developments in Grand Center seemed to favor preserving older, historic buildings.

“Grand Center doesn’t need to tear anything else down,” he said. “I think everyone’s finally realized that buildings, not parking, [are] needed in Grand Center. There seems to be a tremendous interest in finding new uses.”

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