St. Louis is quickly bouncing back from the abrupt move of the Rams football team to Los Angeles, an act the city considers a slight from the National Football League. And, for a handful of stakeholders along the north Mississippi riverfront, the first step to recovery is figuring out what will happen in the space which had, until January, been planned to be a brand new $1 billion stadium.
The latest developments did not worry Chicago- and St. Louis–based Forum Studio though. As the lead designer for the development of the North Riverfront, its master plan had been in the works long before the idea of putting a stadium in the former industrial area came about. Working with Great Rivers Greenway, a public organization in charge of managing the riverfront development, Forum’s plan was specifically designed to be flexible enough to accommodate the possibility of a stadium from the beginning.
From vacant industrial buildings and empty lots, to a casino and chocolate factory, the 180-acre site is already diverse in its makeup. Immediately to the south are the Gateway Arch grounds, well into a $380 million renovation. The first phase of the master plan includes a 21-acre riverfront park that will complement the more formal park surrounding the Arch. “The ability to put really active programing wasn’t feasible in the Arch grounds,” said Tyler Meyr, principal at Forum, when discussing some of the features their master plan will bring to the riverfront. “We really want to bring a lot of active innovative park programing to that area. It also has access to the river, so we have looked at add barges with additional venues or park spaces right on the water.” The Forum plan includes a diverse series of mixed use zones and open spaces with names like the Creative District, Barge Park, the Innovation District, Energy Plaza, Mound Point, Great Lawn, the Media Wall, and Metro Plaza. The Creative District is filled with a handful of large historic warehouse buildings that Forum envisions one day being filled with university housing and workspace, or other creative institutions. The Innovation District is imagined as a series of low-rise offices with views of the river. These spaces would be targeted at businesses that might otherwise fill suburban office parks, as well as the young tech companies that now call St. Louis home.
One of the major tasks Forum has taken on is facilitating the conversation about the possibilities of the project to the many players involved. With land held by city, county, and private interests, getting everyone on the same page can be a challenge. Discussing the current mood of everyone involved, Meyr said, “For the most part, the stakeholders are on board. We tried to include a plan that included all of the owner’s interests.” Because the process of assembling the private interests was bolstered during initial stadium planning, Forum has been able to piggyback off the work it and the Great Rivers Greenway already set into motion. Much of this work has been carried out through multiple open house presentations, and community stakeholder meetings over the last year and a half.
Forum’s master plan is designed to flex, change, and grow with the different interests involved. Though stadium plans may come and go (now interest has turned to Major League Soccer coming to St. Louis), the firm feels confident that its robust and diverse layout can accommodate whatever stakeholders can throw at it. Meyr pointed out how the plan has, in some ways, already been put to the test, “We are definitely open to collaborating, if somebody has a vision for a project. Just as it did with the stadium, where we took something that came to us as vision and integrated it into the plan. We would do the same for other opportunities”