All aboard new MetroLink station in Central West End?
The area between the Central West End and Grand Center, home to St. Louis’ burgeoning life sciences research district, sports several sparkling new and rehabbed buildings, but it also has aging, industrial buildings — many of them vacant — and streets that are far from pedestrian-friendly.
Dennis Lower painted a picture Tuesday night of a vibrant neighborhood, an internationally recognized bioscience hub with a 24/7 vibe, restaurants, shops, walkable streets and potential for new housing development.
All that’s need to spur the vision to reality, he said, is a new MetroLink station.
Lower, president and CEO of CORTEX, a not-for-proﬁt partnership created to promote biotech development, made his pitch for a new station at a community meeting at the CORTEX building on Forest Park Ave. The station, which would be built between the Central West End station and the Grand Center station, could be a “double entrance” station with access from Boyle and Sarah.
Some 60 people — mostly residents who live to the north and south of the
district — attended the meeting and shared their own ideas.
Lower has good reason to push for a new station. CORTEX, an acronym for Center of Research Technology and Entrepreneurial Expertise, is expanding, increasing its lab and ofﬁce space from 400,000 to 800,000 square feet.
“Our vision for CORTEX is to create a knowledge community that includes the neighborhoods and the area that surrounds CORTEX,” Lower said. And, that includes “amenities not only in the Central West End but reaching down to the Botanical Garden and into Forest Park and Grand Center, trying to weave together a larger area and connect to all of those neighborhood amenities,” Lower said.
A new MetroLink station could increase walkability and spark transit-oriented
development, backers of the initiative said. The station would also make getting to the new jobs that will come as the research park grows easier. About 1,100 tech workers are already there.
“That’s important for me when I try to market internationally because in Europe in particular public transportation is much more embraced than it is in the United States,” Lower said.
The team held 15 community meetings over the last three months, with area residents saying they want more walkable streets, said John Hoal, principle of H3 Studio, which is doing the study.
The Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, bounded by Chouteau, Arco, Boyle and Taylor, is perceived as “very unsafe” for pedestrians and bicyclists, Hoal said.
If a new station is built, planners would make nearby streets more walkable, add bike paths and bike facilities, improve streetscapes, install security lighting and a monitoring system, add a blue light safety call system and increase safety patrols over safety concerns.
Complicating the drive for a walkable community are MoDOT’s plan to add an interchange for Interstate 64 at Boyle and a round-about on Tower Grove. Neither are pedestrian-friendly, several participants said.
Lower said drawing a circle with a quarter-mile radius from MetroLink stations shows “clusters” of economic activity. There are clusters at Washington University and the Loop area, he said, and others around downtown, Grand Center and the Central West End, he added.
“We’re trying to put a circle in the middle between the two (Grand Center and CWE stations) that would create a third cluster of stops,” Lower said. His comments echo those made by transit expert Katherine Perez who, on a visit to St. Louis last week, said that planners should focus on cluster development around existing stations.
A new station should generate new riders, not take them away from the existing Central West End station, Hoal said. Preliminary results indicate 600-700 new riders are projected at opening with 1,250 to 1,350 new riders projected in 2030, he said.
There are three ways to improve ridership numbers, Hoal said. “Improve connectivity to the station, increase development in and around the station and adjust management operations.” He added: “It’s a really a combination of all of those,” with more housing the fastest way to increase ridership near the station.
The meeting was part of a six-month study to determine the feasibility of a station within the research park. A preliminary plan would put the station on Boyle adjacent to the CORTEX building on a strip of greenery planners have dubbed “CORTEX Commons.” The commons area would be the “front door to the station,” Hoal said.
The plan is being funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant with additional funding from the St. Louis Development Corp., CORTEX and the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Hoal said he didn't know how much a station would cost. “We don’t have dollar amounts,” he said. “Funding is a very complicated issue.” That would be part of a full-blown Federal Transit Administration study if it is decided to build the new station.
Jason Kenney, who works in the CORTEX building and often bikes to work from south St. Louis, was cautious about the plan.
“It would be convenient for me, of course, because I work here,” he said. “But one of the concerns I would have is is it worth the investment. My tendency is to think that it is, but there’s always reason to question that.
He likes some ideas, like a facility for bike storage and showers for riders, but he said he doesn’t know how “realistic” they are.
Barbara Murray, who lives in the Central West End and says she rides Metro “to everything” complimented Lower on his presentation. “I love your vision and I support it,” she said. “I really hope this comes together.”