A longtime Sunset Hills resident believes preserving a piece of his family's land will not only prove to be a memorial to his heritage, but to the city's history. While some neighbors flat-out oppose public activities at the former Paraclete Fathers property, others want more information on a proposed cultural center's wear and tear to their residential streets.
The majority of the city's planning and zoning commission members approved a recommendation made by Alwal “Al” Moore to include cultural centers as a conditional use in R-1 zones, but tabled the decision to recommend cultural center on the Paracletes property, in the Tapawingo subdivisions, until next month's meeting.
Several neighbors to the property expressed their concern over the center's proposed uses, and generally wanted more information on its impact to the area's homeowners.
Moore, who served as the city’s first Marshall, hopes to preserve 10 acres of land that were once owned by his family for a multi-use campus called the Moore Cultural Center.
The property was controlled by the Paraclete Fathers until just a few years ago. Before then it was owned by the Griesedieck family, of which Moore is a descendant.
"When [the property] came up for sale I could see my history, Hills' history, go away," Moore told commission members, and said he was compelled to buy it himself.
He told commission members one of his main objectives is preventing the historic buildings from being demolished and turned into residential properties.
Last year an effort to purchase the property from Moore and convert it into a city park fell through, according to Suburban Journals. The plan for the park would have required removal of campus buildings, according to the report.
The site’s carriage house was proposed as a new home for the St. Louis Children’s Illustrated Art Museum, according to South County Times. Moore previously told the South County Times that he also considered using the property to house the city’s first public library, the report said.
Moore is now working with the Children’s Illustrated Art Museum’s founder, Jeanne Johnston, to develop the cultural center concept.
"When you love something, you go overboard trying to make it work," Moore said.
The new proposal utilizes almost all of the campus buildings. Suggested uses for the buildings include:
- Historic tower (formerly a carriage house): historic artifacts, event space
- Chapel: performance art space, children’s theater, possible weddings
- Counseling Building: meetings and gathering space
- Palazolla: performance art studio
- Fitzgerald Hall: 20-room retreat center
- McNamara Building: individual workspaces, conferences
The Main House on the campus will be reserved as a caretaker’s residence, and three buildings will fall within a proposed sculpture garden. An additional building will remain private for storage, according to the proposal.
Other proposed features include four libraries, rotating art and history exhibits, a volunteer program for students, outdoor movie nights, Christmas and Halloween activities, a Fourth of July picnic, and “immersion weekends” to learn new languages.
Johnston emphasized it as a place for quiet, and Moore believes it can serve as a companion to nearby .
Moore told the audience Wednesday that no construction was slated for the project.
While the proposal did not include a formal traffic study, there are around 50 parking spots on the site as it currently stands, according to the proposal. Johnston noted on plan documents two other areas of the campus could accommodate another 50 cars if needed.
The center estimates around 35 cars to visit each day, with 10 at peak times.
While special events are listed in the center's proposal, Moore said Wednesday he doesn't foresee "hundreds of cars" using the grounds at one time.
The city has yet to recommend any parking requirements, according to a staff report by Public Works Director Anne Lamitola.
“It is unknown whether all of the buildings will be utilized simultaneously, which would make a significant impact on the parking restraints,” Lamitola noted in her staff report.
The property is currently included in a living trust, according to Moore. Funding for operations would come from a combination of grant funding, foundation and individual donations, cultural center memberships, and capital campaigns, according to the project’s proposal.