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Monday, May 4, 2009

Where Ed Box and Peter Kinder Meet

The Suave House at 2512 Palm Street in St. Louis Place has been adorned by both the graffiti artistry of Ed Box and the political signage of Peter Kinder. The fact that's it is owned by a Paul McKee, Jr.-controlled holding company (N & G Ventures) creates a strange political triangle of sorts. McKee owns many of the vacant buildings of St. Louis Place, Box tags them and Kinder posed himself as a gatekeeper of north St. Louis' future by championing a tax credit that could help McKee make sense of his holdings.

Someday MetroLink may run down Palm, which merges into Natural Bridge. There are pockets of storefronts like this one on Natural Bridge west to the city limits. Unlike Martin Luther King Drive, Natural Bridge largely passes through areas of high population density, making it a natural commercial thoroughfare for north St. Louis. In fact, on the block just west of the Suave House there already are popular small businesses in sidewalk-fronting buildings. The area already functions as a commercial gathering spot, but it needs enhancement. Of course, commercial districts on public transportation corridors don't work well if they are not densely built out, and buildings like the Suave House indicate the density and building form that is needed to build up Natural Bridge in the future.

McKee would be wise to think about this northern edge of St. Louis Place, where Palm meets Natural Bridge, and its relationship to other neighborhoods west of here and the future presence of light rail. This is a seam, not an edge. This eastern end could be the gateway to a renewed Natural Bridge Avenue commercial district. The Suave House is a welcoming building that defines this block not as a marked boundary but as the face of one side of a street that laterally connects the entire city.

Of course, MetroLink itself could be a boundary of sorts if Metro insists on building out a light rail line like the ones it currently operates. The drawings for the north extension show many streets crossing Florissant Avenue, Palm and Natural Bridge that would not go through due to the placement of contained tracks in the middle of those major thoroughfares. That could hurt the tremendous potential of these streets to sprout more pedestrian-oriented commercial areas. A less invasive light rail system would be better -- how about a street car? Meantime, let's protect future building blocks like the Suave House.

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