The development is based on the new urbanism concept, a return to a lifestyle where neighborhoods are pedestrian-friendly, where people get to know their neighbors as they live, work and play together. The focus is on a strong sense of community identity and the elimination of suburban sprawl.
So far about one-third of the Town Center area is either developed or under construction, according to Joe Vujnich, director of planning and parks.
"Ours is different from New Town or WingHaven," he said. "We have 300 separate properties, some of which were existing when we started, rather than large parcels of ground with single ownership."
A common architectural and landscaping theme would integrate the project, however, combining retail, restaurant and office space, apartments and town homes. A pedestrian-friendly neighborhood appeal would serve to bring the charm of the past together with the conveniences of today.
The city engaged Andres Duany of the firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ) to prepare a plan for the $70 million development, incorporating 820 acres with both residential and commercial areas. The planning process culminated with an intensive multi-day planning session called a charrette.
Wildwood is considered a planned residential development (PRD), although conceptually it about the same as a PUD (planned unit development).
"We have some leeway in lot size and dimensions but we encourage clustering and then preserving the surrounding area," said Joanna Browning, senior planner for the city. The city established design standards that permit any developer to come in and build, as long as they're in compliance with those standards.
Wildwood also established natural resource protection standards, which determine how much land can be developed and how much should be preserved. "It's a matrix, based on soil and slope," said Browning. "A soil scientist at the University of Missouri worked on that."
The mixed-use portion of the city is high-density residential and commercial focused around the Dierberg's plaza near the intersections of State Routes 100 and 109. Much of the rest of the city is comprised of 1-acre or 3-acre lots, in large part because of opposition expressed by residents who had lived in the Grover area for a long time.
"Some developments had been created in St. Louis County before Wildwood was incorporated," Browning said. "We developed Phase II and a Citizen Advisory Committee to work with the people living in the area to address concerns and modify the plan accordingly."
Because of opposition and residents fears that their established communities would be taken over by this PUD, the city did not prezone the entire area.
"So every developer has to go through the zoning process before developing a portion of the area," Browning explained. "There are many tiny parcels and this gives residents an opportunity to determine how they want it to be."
DPZ wrote the original plan - for 15-20 years - in 1998. Although they are approaching year 10 of the project, it's still hard to predict when the development might be completed, again, because the city doesn't own the property. The Look and Feel
Theirs is a "Main Street" concept with buildings placed along streets that connect directly to the surrounding neighborhoods, permitting access other than just by automobile.
Residential portions of the development include single-family homes, apartments, rowhouses and senior living in both apartments and cottages.
There are two sections to the business district in the Town Center - Dierbergs Center and Wildwood Center that are adjoining and are considered streetscapes, with open public space, trees, wide sidewalks for pedestrians, accessible parking, old-fashioned gas lights and brick signage.
Last summer residents gathered at the town center on Friday evenings for "Jamming on the Plaza" sessions. Live bands played while area businesses such as Starbucks and Cold Stone Creamery stayed open to provide refreshments.
A hotel near the plaza is under construction and will include 120 rooms. It will be a Clarion Select, called the Wildwood Town Center Hotel.
The Westridge Office Center along State Route 109 offers space for small businesses. Six buildings have space for anywhere from one to six businesses each.
"McLain Partners built these and they filled up incredibly fast," Browning said. "Now they're working on Phase 2 of that project."
Additional commercial development, including a Target store, is planned for the west side of State Route 109, although it hasn't started yet.
Last year the city of Wildwood opened two new neighborhood parks, and another this year. Trails, all part of the Wildwood Greenway Trail System, meander along the east side of State Route 109 and, within the next few months, the city will build a tunnel under Old State Road at State Route 109 so walkers and bicyclers can safely cross that intersection. Many other parks and trails are being planned.
The Town Center also includes a YMCA and a brand new campus for St. Louis Community College, which opened Aug. 1 for the fall semester.
Wildwood may be a new community but it certainly isn't lacking in opportunities, according to city officials who suggest that people check Wildwood's Web site at www.cityofwildwood.com to see how much there is to do there.
"It's been so gratifying to watch the area develop," said Browning who has worked for the city for eight years. "When we started, no one was doing this kind of thing but now others have caught on. We're creating a community with a hometown feel where people can live, work and play."
Vujnich said if he were to offer advice to Washington it would be that if the city likes a plan they should get community support and stick with it.
Franklin County officials will visit Wildwood as part of its educational "field trip" today, Oct. 17.