This article — originally published on NextSTL — was written by Rachel Witt, Executive Director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. Read all the articles in the Lessons & Partnerships in Community & Economic Development series.
The South Grand Community Improvement District’s mission is to cultivate a robust and supportive business climate on South Grand in order to establish the Tower Grove community as the premiere urban lifestyle district in the Saint Louis Metropolitan area. The District is located just south of Tower Grove Park from Arsenal to Utah Street on South Grand Blvd. Our vision is to further enhance the South Grand Community Improvement District to become a thriving self-sufficient vibrant community that emphasizes safety, cleanliness, promotions, quality tenant attraction and retention, and infrastructure improvements. But issues arise during the pursuit of business and the District must deal with these challenges in an organized and transparent way. Thus, a Special Use District, a set of rules that govern business operations, is created. The Special Use District will add additional regulations for signage: use and business types within the business district, storefront visibility, size for signage and outdoor lighting requirements. What makes it work on South Grand is engagement with the community.
The South Grand commercial corridor accommodates high volumes of both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It is distinguished by diverse businesses, distinctive architecture, and historic tradition. The District also serves as the gateway and commercial spine of two adjacent historic residential neighborhoods. Signs have a strong visual impact on the character and quality of the corridor as well as the adjacent residential neighborhoods.
It is the intent of the District, through this ordinance, to protect and enhance the District’s historic character and its economic base through the provision of appropriate and aesthetic signing. In addition, it is the intent of the City of Saint Louis to limit the size, type, and location of signs in order to minimize their distracting effect on drivers and thereby improve traffic safety.
We continuously strive to elevate the South Grand business district as well as to ensure that we are relevant to the needs of the community. Thus, the formation of the Special Use District.
The board of directors, with the support of our Alderwomen Rice and Green as well as City of Saint Louis Planning & Urban Design Agency, and the Zoning Department, helped craft our special-use district to ensure a walkable and inviting business district for future development and businesses. The South Grand business district has such longevity in property and business owners, it is extremely rare to have a long-term vacancy. Inevitably our businesses will retire and will either be selling their buildings or leasing out their spaces to a new tenant. The formation of the Special Use District will keep the mission and vision of the District intact for years to come.
The first step was to form a focus group representing the six surrounding neighborhoods: Tower Grove East, Tower Grove South, Tower Grove Heights, Compton Heights, Shaw, and Compton Hill Reservoir Square. From the focus group a draft SUD was formed. The focus group help come up with the following requirements and restrictions. A few of the items that the SUD will insure is the size of signage to fit the scale of the buildings as well as to restrict rope lighting only. We want creativity but want to encourage tastefulness and to attract potential customers to their business. Also, safety is a major priority to the South Grand Business District to limit curb cuts. Hence, we no longer allow gas stations within our six-block business district. The two gas stations will be grandfathered in, which means in the future if the gas stations are to shutter, they have a finite number of days to sell to remain a gas station. If not sold in that timeframe, the site is to be redeveloped. Our goal is to encourage walkability, which leads to no drive-thru within the six-block business district. Also, there will be a limit on the number of electronic stores and hair salons.
The next step was to attend neighborhood meetings to review the draft with the residents of Tower Grove East, Tower Grove South, and Tower Grove Heights. We are very fortunate we have very engaged neighborhoods that provided feedback to the draft which helped to determine which items should be allowed, a conditional use, or not at all. A conditional use will go before a hearing to determine if their business should be allowed within the boundaries of the South Grand business district as well as to inform the residents of such business to provide feedback on support or opposition. Thus, the following items will be considered a conditional use: barber/beauty salons, Bed & Breakfast guesthouses, Bed and Breakfast inns, beauty supply stores, secondhand or junk clothing or retail shops, day care facilities, stores that sell primarily electronics devices, private clubs and/or lounges, general office (first floor), professional office (first floor), package liquor stores, walk up windows, laundries (laundromats), bars, clubs, and lounges open after 1:30am or before 6am.
The SUD was submitted to the Planning Commission and was voted on and approved. Now, the document will be sent to the Board of Aldermen to review and approve. The community came together to set a standard for the District to ensure its longevity and future uses that provides the needs and wants of the surrounding neighborhoods. The District strives to be transparent and engage with the surrounding neighborhoods. The Special Use District will play a large role in keeping the District a destination as an international corridor, eclectic businesses, and vegan scene.
Rachel Witt is the Executive Director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. Graduate from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geography, minor in Sociology and certification in Nonprofit Management. Master’s in public administration from Widener University emphasis in local government and economic development. Connect with Rachel on Linkedin or Email.