Tuesday, March 13, 2012
St. Louis Zoo Offers Uninspiring Vision for Deaconess Hospital Site
I almost thought it was a joke when a friend IM'd me the link to the press release late yesterday morning. After looking it over a few times though and remembering "oh, right I'm in St. Louis, of course this could happen", I realized it was not a joke, but a real proposal. The St. Louis Zoo is under contract to purchase the former Deaconess Hospital complex (more recently as Forest Park Hospital), with intensions to demolish all the buildings except a 1970's office building and a parking garage and replace them with parking lots, drop off and loading zones with the possibility of some kind of people mover transportation system crossing the highway.
Unlike most of my posts, I'm not necessarily advocating for preservation of the main hospital building, which was opened in 1930. The original structure has been severely altered by additions and a complete slip-cover. While it might be possible to remove the slip cover and the windowless bathroom towers that are tacked onto almost all of the buildings facades and potentially get the original building listed on the National Register (see the former Post-Dispatch building at Olive & Tucker), potential uses for the building would be limited... maybe senior housing or possibly a hotel. If the building is demolished though, it should be only after exploring all possibilities.
I can see the positives for the zoo, which would gain additional space for veterinary, lab, research, and other uses. Having an additional overflow parking area might be considered a positive too, however just last year the Forest Park Trolly was introduced with the goal of reducing congestion and parking immediately around the zoo and other popular attractions as well as making use of large existing under-utilized parking areas such as the Muny upper lot. One of the goals of this program and the media campaign put out by Metro, MoDOT, the CVC and Forest Park Forever was to get people to use other highway exits than 40/Hampton (which often backs up onto the highway) and other park entrances to access the attractions. So which exit do you think people will use to get to the new parking on the hospital site?
While I'm glad to see that the zoo is planning for commercial development at the corner of Oakland & Hampton, which is now occupied by a low-rise parking garage, much of the rest of the proposed site plan shows the areas now occupied by buildings filled with an overly large oval drop-off zone, expanded surface parking and a large reflecting pool... not exactly the best and highest uses for a prime site facing Forest Park. Additionally, one of the items listed on the press release for long term uses is the potential for additional "fitness trails, playgrounds or water features"... so people can use these instead of going to Forest Park and using the ones that are already there?! Seriously, I'm not making this up. Hopefully in the long term, the zoo will see that replicating features already in Forest Park is not the answer, and dedicate more of the 13.5 acres for other uses be they commercial, mixed use, and/or additional new support facilities.