Forest Park Southeast Activity - Vista Place and Columbia Iron Works

These days, I get my haircut at a place in the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood (FPSE). Seems like every time I head over there, I see development activity, most recently, construction fence caught my eye around the former Columbia Iron Works. 

I walked the perimeter of the property to check out what's going on.

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I parked on Vista, crossed Tower Grove Avenue and noticed a sign for yet ANOTHER project on the north east corner of the intersection called Vista Place. FPSE is in a historic period of rebirth and it's fun to visit and take it in.

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Per the project website, this place is a somewhat unique courtyard concept where the homes have a common space toward the center. Sounds kind of cool. This concept exists all over the city and it works pretty well; but I'm pretty sure it is unique for FPSE.

Vista Place is a condominium collection of 4 single family homes, 2 lofts and garage parking arranged to create a shared courtyard, complete with allee of Honey Locust trees and movable furniture. A contemporary version of a St. Louis historic place, Vista Place is a community within the broader Forest Park Southeast community, offering convenient access to world class institutions and local artisanal businesses.
— vistaplace-stl.com/

The property has been a vacant lot for years. It was purchased for redevelopment by the current owners from the Adams Park Community Center, a north city owner who paid $25 a year in taxes and sat on the property since 2006, erecting a raised bed or two and doing nothing with the small home that will likely be demolished for the Vista Place project. 

 Image from Geo St. Louis

Image from Geo St. Louis

While this project is tax abated at 80% for ten years, it will still generated more taxes for our schools than it was when it was owned by a non-profit. I'm good with that.

Here's the site plan and renderings of what the project will look like:

 Image from vistaplace-stl.com

Image from vistaplace-stl.com

Man, I try to keep up with St. Louis development stuff on NextSTL, STL Today and UrbanSTL, but I must have missed these developments and this part of town is afire. But, of course, the above projects have been covered; trusty NextSTL wrote about this back in 2015.

This could be a real boon for this part of the neighborhood that has not seen as much care and investment in the last 20 or so years. Examples of neglect are still ragin' full-on.

As an example, this property sits right across the street from the former Columbia Iron Works property. 

 4231 Vista Avenue

4231 Vista Avenue

It is owned by Grove Place 3 LLC which is code for Restoration St. Louis who own a lot of property in this neighborhood. You have to trust this company as they have an office here on 4240 Manchester and have done some amazing rehab work here and elsewhere in St. Louis. Here's a blurb from their website, and how can you not like what they're preaching:

Here’s what we believe and how we’ve built our business...
Where some see old neglected buildings and wrecking ball fodder, we see new hope. This is why we continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the revitalization of architecturally significant buildings, neighborhoods and thriving communities.

Promise through repurposing...
We’re investing in the future and supporting the present through various real estate development programs and partnerships with both city-based and minority-owned businesses. Once neglected husks of greats monuments from a by gone era live again with exciting new uses ranging from loft apartments and restaurants to movie theatres and bowling alleys.

When revitalizing neighborhoods, it’s about what we term, “urban husbandry...”
To nurture and care for these neighborhoods from re-birth to sustainability, we must create a shared vision and mission. This requires funding, community support, engagement and constant vigilance, along with a buy-in from those who visit. Our projects are much more than just a collection of rehabbed buildings. This is about building a neighborhood block by block; these “building blocks” are the foundation upon which great cities thrive.
— Amrit and Amy Gill - Restoration St. Louis

I'm hoping this property sees new life as it has been vacant since 1996, condemned since 2010 and only collecting a mere $251.58 in taxes annually and is not a pleasant view for the neighbors and people like me walking around.

But let's get back to the construction fence that caught my eye in the first place. Columbia Iron Works is a relic of the Industrial Era in the United States that is long gone, it was built in ~1920. I wanted to get some final photos before it sees new life as the home of the Missouri Foundation for Health.

Per the St. Louis Business Journal, here's a description of the Missouri Foundation For Health:

MFH was formed in 2000 to receive the assets of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri following its conversion from nonprofit to for-profit status. MFH is the largest health care foundation in Missouri and among the largest of its kind in the country. An independent nonprofit organization, MFH focuses on bridging the gaps in health care services to uninsured/underinsured/underserved citizens and funding health care programs that address their needs. It also undertakes health policy research to educate the public and decision makers on effective health policies that will result in long-term, positive health system change in Missouri. With assets of approximately $1 billion, MFH awards about $50 million in grants annually. Since 2002, MFH has provided $430 million in grants in its service area, including more than $220 million in the metropolitan St. Louis area.
— St. Louis Business Journal, 2011

So, obviously happy to have this non-profit in St. Louis.

Based on articles from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and NextSTL, the project is a bit of a mixed bag. 

The pluses:

  1. The Columbia Iron Works buildings will be repurposed for the MFH operations and a reminder of our Industrial past will remain.
  2. The handsome building at the corner of Tower Grove Avenue and Vista will be rehabbed.
  3. This will be a $12.5M shot in the arm for the property and the neighborhood.

The minuses:

  1. This is not a net gain for St. Louis in either employment or tax dollar generation. The MFH will be vacating their offices in the Downtown West Neighborhood and pulling a musical chairs to FPSE. A loss for DT is a gain for FPSE, but not a clear win for the city.
  2. This is a non-profit, so they don't pay property taxes, hence don't contribute to our schools, etc. This property used to generate money for the city, now it will not.
  3. Of course, they want to demo several formerly tax-producing structures including several homes on Hunt and a beautiful multi-family on Tower Grove Avenue.
  4. Why do they want to do this demo? Surface parking lot. Geez, a step backward for any urban neighborhood is the addition of a surface parking lot.
  5. They also want "green space" which means under-utilized, vacant, dead zones for a residential neighborhood.

You can see the minuses outnumber the pluses. Here's the low-density site plan ripe with plenty of surface parking and underutilized, green space.

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Here's the home on Tower Grove they are out to destroy for a fenced off "employee courtyard" and "flexible community zone". Nope, I'll take tax paying residents over a "community zone" any day. Shame on MFH on this one.

 Building to the left slated for rehab, building to the right slated for demo

Building to the left slated for rehab, building to the right slated for demo

Here are the homes they've already destroyed on Hunt Avenue.

 2009 Google Street View Image

2009 Google Street View Image

Not a real loss from an aesthetic point of view. But the end result is a surface parking lot.

The good news is, per an April, 2017 NextSTL article, the Preservation Board denied the MFH request for demo:

MFA requested approval to demolish a residential building at 1408-1410 Tower Grove Avenue. The structure is a merit building in a National Register district and found to be in sound condition. The demolition would have made way for a “secure employee courtyard”. It’s unclear how removing a four-unit affordable apartment building in a quickly changing central neighborhood improves the health and well-being of individuals and communities most in need.”
— Alex Ihnen - NextSTL

Keep your eye on this part of the city, it's changing rapidly.