Eight months after picking the lead designer of the Chouteau Greenway, backers of the planned bike and pedestrian trail are closer to deciding how it will connect Forest Park and the St. Louis riverfront.
A sliver of the greenway already exists along the north side of the Cortex MetroLink station that opened in July. Susan Trautman, chief executive of Great Rivers Greenway — the public agency that develops the region’s pedestrian-bicycle trails — said the Cortex bit is just the start of the Chouteau Greenway project, which will connect Forest Park to the Gateway Arch and could grow to 15 miles of paths, including one north to Fairground Park and another south to Tower Grove Park.
Stoss Landscape Urbanism, which in May won the project’s design competition, got the job in part because it proposed to knit together neighborhoods with spurs running north and south from the main route linking Forest Park and the riverfront.
Trautman said greenway planners will listen to “voices from all neighborhoods in the city” in deciding project details. Construction will be done in segments — or labs, as Great Rivers puts it — with nothing built before hearing from residents, she said.
A public presentation of current Chouteau Greenway planning is scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m. Feb. 5 at the Local 36 Sheet Metal Workers Union Hall, 2319 Chouteau Avenue in St. Louis.
Great Rivers estimates that when fully built, the Chouteau Greenway will have cost $250 million to design, engineer and construct, including $75 million in “special projects” that could include artwork. The preliminary figures are based on the costs of other greenway projects. Great Rivers plans to have actual cost estimates when Chouteau Greenway planning is completed this summer.
The first segment will likely be in midtown. But before construction can begin, Great Rivers must raise money — and lots of it. The agency is about halfway toward the $12 million needed for project planning. The money raised so far includes $3 million from an anonymous donor. Great Rivers anticipates having all the planning money by the end of January.
Private dollars and Great Rivers tax revenue will fund construction of the Chouteau Greenway, which is the agency’s most ambitious project so far.
Trautman said Great Rivers hopes to raise money for the Chouteau Greenway in one large campaign, even though construction will happen in phases.
Designers at Stoss, which has offices in Boston and Los Angeles, have been meeting with St. Louis partners to work out the Chouteau Greenway’s framework. Trautman said greenway steering committees and working groups with diverse memberships are talking with planners who are “thinking holistically about the city.”
Chouteau Greenway plans evolved from a mobility study Great Rivers did in 2014 with BJC HealthCare and the Cortex tech district. The idea began with a notion that development firm McCormack Baron Salazar floated in the 1990s to redo an area south of the MetroLink line downtown.
Trautman and other Chouteau Greenway supporters predict the project will stimulate commercial and residential growth along its route. They said greenway connections to employment centers such as Cortex, BJC and Wells Fargo will attract private money to the project and residential development such as what has occurred along the BeltLine bikeway in Atlanta.
Such also has been the case in Indianapolis, where officials of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail claim the eight-mile path for cyclists and pedestrians has had an $864.5 million economic impact since opening in 2013. Chouteau Greenway advocates are showing some Indy envy.
Trautman gathered ideas for the St. Louis project while biking the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which she said connects neighborhoods similar to the Grove and Delmar Loop in St. Louis.
Another Chouteau Greenway advocate who believes the Indianapolis project is worth emulating in St. Louis is Jason Hall, who was a top economic adviser to Jay Nixon when he was governor and an economic development official with the St. Louis Regional Chamber. Hall is now chief executive and co-founder of Arch to Park, a recently formed investment firm and Chouteau Greenway collaborator.
Hall biked the Indy trail in 2017 and came away impressed.
“I saw how that project was connecting pockets of urban strength,” he said.
St. Louis also has centers of economic strengths the Chouteau Greenway can connect, he added.
“We’ve got all the pearls,” Hall said. “Let’s make the necklace.”
In addition, he said, the Chouteau Greenway could provide cultural information, including the history of Mill Creek Valley, the area between St. Louis University and Union Station that once was home to thousands of people. Mill Creek Valley residents, most of them black, were forced out when the city cleared the area’s tenements in the 1950s for what was then among the nation’s largest urban renewal projects.
Further, Hall sees the corridor between the Arch and Forest Park as the St. Louis region’s “greater downtown” with the Chouteau Greenway as its spine. Greenway spurs to the north and south would be the ribs connected to the spine, he said.
“This could be an actual mode of transportation in an urban form,” Hall added.
Several potential Chouteau Greenway routes between SLU and downtown are under study. Likely locations for other trail sections include the Gateway Mall downtown, a strip next to the MetroLink line in part of the Central West End, and along 20th Street, for a spur to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency future site northwest of downtown.
Nearly certain is use of the abandoned rail trestle that passes over Vandeventer Avenue, then enters the City Foundry development on Forest Park Avenue. The Lawrence Group is redoing the former Century Electric factory as a retail and office center anchored by a food hall. It is scheduled to open next year.
Lawrence Group is working with Great Rivers to incorporate the deteriorated trestle as part of the Chouteau Greenway. The preliminary plan has the rebuilt trestle connected to a new elevated section that would lead to a bikeway adjacent to Forest Park Avenue. At Spring Avenue, the greenway could go north into the SLU campus with a spur south to the Armory, a project by Green Street Development to put offices in the former National Guard Armory on the south side of Highway 40 (Interstate 64).
Trautman said the greenway segment to link City Foundry and the Armory is “on a fast track.” The planned link would be a span over eastbound Highway 40 lanes and below the elevated westbound lanes.
Todd Rogan, Lawrence Group’s director of development services, said former rail lines redone as bikeways are proven economic activity producers, particularly when they link nearby job centers that in City Foundry’s case include Cortex and BJC.
“These greenways work best when they are connected to places,” Rogan said. “Connecting places to people is what will determine long-term success.”