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Economy & Business

Downtown St. Louis Group Lays Out 10-Year Development Plan, Seeks Public Input

Downtown STL_01
Rachel Lippmann
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St. Louis Public Radio
The plan, proposed by Design Downtown STL, lays out strategies for upgrading street infrastructure and making downtown neighborhoods more inviting for cyclists and pedestrians.

A group guiding development in Downtown St. Louis released a draft Thursday of a plan to improve Downtown and Downtown West neighborhoods over the next decade.

The big goals center around upgrading street infrastructure and improving walkability to make the city’s core more inviting to residents and visitors.

Downtown STL — a nonprofit organization that runs the Downtown Community Improvement District — organized the 30-member advisory committee, called Design Downtown STL. The group is asking for public comment on the plan into early October.

Over the past year, Design Downtown STL collected feedback from people who live, work and visit the area with the help of consultants, including Philadelphia-based Interface Studio, Cambridge-based Mass Economics, Boston-based STOSS Landscape Urbanism and St. Louis-based transportation and engineering firm CBB.

Together, they came up with five key goals:

  • Become the region’s most walkable and diverse neighborhood.
  • Expand the neighborhood’s economy to better support startups and existing businesses.
  • Redesign streets to create a better bike, pedestrian and transit network.
  • Provide more vibrant public spaces and green infrastructure.
  • Share more stories through marketing channels about the people and places that make downtown unique.

Missy Kelley, CEO of Downtown STL, said it’s the first major plan in two decades to lay out the future for downtown neighborhoods. She said one goal is to figure out how to redesign downtown into one of the region’s most pedestrian- and bike-friendly neighborhoods.

“How do we better integrate people with transit — so cars, bikes and its people and activities — with the infrastructure so they become part of it and it doesn’t become so centered around driving?”

Kelley said that means downsizing major thoroughfares like Tucker Boulevard and Market Street, developing more small parks and planning more communal events.

Downtown businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic over the past few months. She said that’s why the first thing to come out of this plan is a “welcome back campaign” to help drive activity for small businesses.

Scott Page, principal at the urban planning firm Interface Studio, has helped design downtowns across the country, from Fargo, North Dakota, to Atlanta.

He said downtown St. Louis has a lot of historic amenities to offer — like the Gateway Arch, the National Blues Museum and sports teams like the Cardinals — but it doesn’t do a good job of connecting the dots between major attractions.

“There are pockets within downtown that are pretty active, but there’s also lots of streets where you don't see many people, there’s not a lot of activity,” he said. “Downtown needs to be threaded together more strongly.”

In the plan, Page and other consultants outlined more specific strategies, like coordinating with Brickline Greenway to create a two-mile walking and recreational path between Market and Chestnut streets, building a new riverfront garden and bicycle connections between downtown and the Mississippi River and planting trees to filter pollution and dampen city street noise.

The plan also sets a goal of keeping 25% of housing units priced below market rates to maintain affordable housing as improvements ideally increase desirability of the neighborhood.

Some downtown St. Louis residents, including members of the grassroots group Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis, are pushing for better public safety strategies in the neighborhood.

In a recent interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Arnold Stricker, a member of that group and Downtown West resident, said public safety needs to be the No. 1 priority.

“The entire city government needs to invest in this particular solution of ‘How can we make downtown a safer place? How can it be more secure? How can we take care of our infrastructure?’” he said.

Kelley said Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis did not collectively participate in the Design Downtown STL plan because the group didn't exist at the time interviews were conducted. She said the groups align on the goal of improving the neighborhood, but the advisory group and her organization leave policing strategies up to the police department.

Kelley said the Downtown St. Louis Foundation paid Interface Studio $600,000 to complete the plan using existing private funds.

She said recommended infrastructure improvements will require private and public money.

The public can view and comment on the plan until Oct. 4 online. Design Downtown STL anticipates presenting the final plan to the St. Louis Planning Commission in early November.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Clarification: Missy Kelley provided additional information after publication, including the cost of the plan and that Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis did not exist at the time the advisory group conducted interviews for the plan.

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