Today at 6pm more than a hundred local residents, business owners, designers, preservation advocates, and other fans of Saint Louis’s built environment will gather in front of the Del Taco building on Grand for a rally to save it from demolition. Del Taco, the most recent tenant, has filed for bankruptcy and the developer, Rick Yackey, wants to raze it and replace it with new construction that would accommodate 3,500-7,000 SF of retail space, have a larger parking lot fronting grand, and be more pedestrian friendly. No plan has been made public illustrating exactly how the increased street-facing parking and a more pedestrian-friendly site design are compatible.
The existing building can meet Mr. Yackey’s requirements with minimal modification. Aside from being probably the city’s best example of Googie architecture, it lends itself extremely well to several hospitality programs: a coffeehouse, a cafe, a bar, etc. Its location on Grand Blvd, which is currently being redeveloped into a more pedestrian-centric thoroughfare, and proximity to SLU are both contributing factors. Its massive 120′ thin-shell concrete roof would provide for an excellent covered patio. Restoring it to its original state would create an interior space between 3,800-3,900 SF, more than enough room for the above-mentioned programs. Eliminating the drive-thru that currently encircles the building would create an opportunity for a pedestrian access zone that bridges to the sidewalk and crosswalk across Grand without sacrificing more than a couple parking spaces.
Saint Louis has many, many under-utilized buildings. The city also has, more than any other city I’ve lived in, hordes of young, enthusiastic citizens with the talent, connections, and motivation to enact change through grass-roots organization and social media. Situations like the one currently facing Del Taco are opportunities for us as designers to lead the way, use our training and provide a vision for the future of our built landscape. Especially in a time when new construction is a little slow, why not seek out these opportunities?