The vision for our Great Streets project is to design a streetscape that allows the Grand Center cultural district to maximize the potential economic value represented by the 1.5 million arts patrons who visit the neighborhood each year. These visitors now come and leave with few arriving early and virtually none lingering after the events. By creating a pedestrian-embracing environment we will transform the neighborhood into a vibrant entertainment, residential and retail community. The district partners funded a plan last year and we want to move our common vision from "conceptual" to "schematic" design to begin fundraising for implementation.
The Grand Center Cultural District is the largest cultural community in the St. Louis region. The District is home to over 30 cultural organizations drawing more than 1.5 million visitors each year. The institutions and venues of the District have achieved national recognition for their cultural and entertainment offerings. There are twelve visual arts institutions and more than 12,000 theatre seats located in the District, and virtually all of the community's prominent not-for-profit media are also located within the District boundaries. Yet, for all of its success, notoriety and concentration of assets, GC does not include "Great Streets."
District visitors do not enjoy an experience as pedestrians that communicates a sense of place that would entice them to "come early and stay late." As a result, businesses severely underperform their earnings potential. The neighborhood right-of-way conditions and vast expanses of parking lots actually serve as a detriment to the ability of cultural institutions to draw patrons. The narrow sidewalks, wide streets and lack of pedestrian appeal require the quality of the art offered by the institutions to be so compelling as to overcome the negatives of navigating the neighborhood. An embracing "place" would vastly improve the economic returns to businesses and also enhance the earned income of the not-for-profit arts institutions, which have a collective annual budget approaching $80 million, and would make future growth possible.
To begin to address these conditions, the Grand Center community completed a conceptual Framework Plan earlier this year that delineates a design of a common vision for the future of the neighborhood. This plan was funded by 17 neighborhood partners and developed by a 30-member Planning Committee appointed by Mayor Francis Slay. Guided by a 14-member Steering Committee, the work was performed by Don Stastny of Portland, Oregon. The Grand Center staff provided all of the logistical support for the planning process. Community buy-in was accomplished through the funding strategy (common funding) and an extensive public engagement process that included 41 one-on-one interviews, two public presentations, and the work of seven active Task Forces- each addressing a key element of the plan. The overall objective of the planning process was to create a widely shared common vision for the future of the neighborhood and, in that goal, the plan was a complete success.
The Great Streets Initiative is needed to re-engage the community to work with technical experts to create designs that more specifically address the concepts identified in the Framework Plan. The streets included in the proposed Great Streets project are described on the attached Exhibit A The top priority for the project is to specify changes to both the Pedestrian and Vehicular Realms that will improve the pedestrian experience. The project will identify improvements that will allow pedestrians to walk comfortably through the District instead of being restricted by the often too-narrow sidewalks that exist. The project will also address the functionality of streets to determine traffic calming measures that will provide pedestrians a greater sense of safety as they walk around the District, while ensuring that vehicular traffic continues to move effectively. Specific design is also needed to improve the landscaping in the Pedestrian and Vehicular Realms and in the two existing, and two additional planned, green spaces. It is also necessary to identify the furnishings and other pedestrian amenities that will be conducive to pedestrians and inviting to visitors. Creating this safe, attractive, comfortable and inviting environment in the Pedestrian Realm, while ensuring convenient vehicular movement, will contribute significantly to the economic vitality of the District. If the experience of visitors as pedestrians is more comfortable and inviting, they will spend more time in the District, visit more destinations, spend more money and create new business opportunities. These improvements must be designed to occur while accommodating required vehicular traffic. If accomplished, these goals will make the District a desirable location for businesses and residents, further contributing to economic vitality.
As it stands, the Framework Plan addresses certain components of a green community, but is sparse on details related to heat island effects from parking lots, garages and storm water drainage. The Framework Plan addresses event-related traffic, but we do need work on traffic engineering to refine Vehicle Realm designs to ensure handling of the daily traffic loads as well as events. The Framework Plan addresses many elements of place-making, which may need to be refined or modified as the issues of pedestrian movement and functional completeness are addressed in the Great Streets Project.