We’ve spent a lot of time on the riverfront and downtown the last few weeks. You can’t help but notice those cranes at Ballpark Village, visible from many vantage points. Here are some thoughts on the plans throughout the years, the hope and the reality of tenants announced to date. Hope springs eternal as does every baseball season.
I recently took a scooter ride down Martin Luther King Avenue from Downtown to the St. Louis border with Wellston, MO. The ride yielded 165 photos documenting this time and place in some struggling areas of our city. Some light discussion and photos of this important east-west street that forms a border for seventeen separate neighborhoods.
The design and architecture firm to lead us toward the future of a fully realized Chouteau Greenway was chosen this week. Here are some quick thoughts and high-level considerations given to the jury report and strengths/weaknesses discussed. Well done Great Rivers Greenway! This city is doing things right an headed in the right direction.
The full block, ~1.2M square foot Railway Exchange building at 601 Olive in the heart of Downtown had a change in ownership and some news of courting some exciting tenants. This massive, ~$300M development would be a massive shot in the arm for Downtown and architecture lovers alike. Here's to this one gaining tracking in 2018.
Okay, I'm getting into the sports related posts from 2016. How can you not be optimistic with what Cordish and the Cardinals have proposed for Ballpark Village's 2nd phase.
And then you have the Major League Soccer expansion potential...I'll get to that next.
First some opinions on Ballpark Village (BPV).
Let me get it out of the way and say I, just like nearly everybody in this region, love the St. Louis Cardinals. Baseball is in my blood from the earliest days I can remember. The 1982 and 2011 World Series Championships and the 2006 NLCS were unforgettable moments. Willie McGee, Tom Herr and Yadier Molina are my favorite players. Man, if the Cardinals or Blues ever left the city limits of St. Louis, I'd be crushed. When the Rams left, frankly I was relieved.
I'm a Cards fan, okay. Who isn't? But like Kroenke and Demoff, the Cards/Cordish have tested my loyalty.
Now, I have come to really appreciate Busch Stadium-III...I might even love it. Part of me wished St. Louis would have been the last American city to hold on to it's round, multi-purpose stadium from the 1960's. It was not to be and Busch Stadium-II only lasted a mere 40 years. It didn't save downtown either.
That said, I am not a fan of BPV Phase 1. To each his own, but that whole thing is a massive disappointment to the City of St. Louis and the people who live here. I've tried to walk in there on two separate occasions. I made it for about 10 steps each time. The ridiculous music and the volume at which it was being played gave me immediate social anxiety and I knew I had to get outta there.
Suburban malls and chains don't work very well in St. Louis. This Dave and Busters/carnival/bull-riding stuff is great in Maryland Heights and around casinos, but here it just doesn't work...by itself.
There are too many great, affordable and interesting/unique places to drink and eat in St. Louis and BPV ain't one of em. This is a suburbanite's dream, an entertainment compound surrounded by a fence. It was built for game day visitors and tourists. The fans got what they wanted, but not the city or the people who root down in the city.
I'm not so naive to think that the largest city in the region can't be many things to many people, and I'm glad if BPV rocks your world. But to date it isn't enough to get me excited.
And then there is the MASSIVE surface parking lot that is a scourge on downtown. I started to get cranky with ownership of my favorite sports team. I started to shake my head.
Further, I can't believe the city leaders, Cordish and the Cards bungled the Centene HQ as it went to the inner ring suburb of Clayton, MO (pop. ~16K). St. Louis lost out on its greatest opportunity for new jobs in my lifetime and I mourned that loss.
They blew it. The city blew it. Clayton is nailing it. We lost, they won. I am resentful of that and I shake my head every time I think about the lost potential.
One could argue that what downtown St. Louis needs more than anything is professional, career jobs. That was the chance.
Ugh, have I ruffled your feathers enough? Sorry, but I've got to let the frustration show every now and again.
But, I'm still hopeful and here is why. The Phase 2 site plans are stunning. Modern, beautiful, mixed-use buildings and towers.
A residential tower would cement the stadium into it's current location. You can't sell these amazing living spaces with views of the stadium and then propose demo of Busch 3 in 40 years and move it somewhere else like Busch 2. The Phase 2 commitment would be just that. Commitment to the site and budding history of this great ballpark.
I want to forgive the Cardinals and Cordish for the parking lot, the contemporary country music at volume 11, the mall food and the Centene disaster.
Go Cards. Do the city right this time.
Continuing on my favorite development proposals and under-construction projects in 2016, this one is a proposal, but seems to be well on its way toward real action bringing another St. Louis classic back to life.
The massive 13-story Jefferson Arms building at 415 North Tucker, between Locust and St. Charles Streets in the Downtown West Neighborhood is a 1904 classic that has been sitting empty for nearly ten years. But a ~$103.7M plan from a Dallas, TX developer Alterra International will convert the building to 240 apartments, a Marriott Hotel and 1st floor commercial space.
One of the things that appeals to me the most about the project is the bullishness of people investing money from outside the region. Outside investment is one of the things we need most. In fact, add new immigrants, residents and workers from outside the region and you have a nice list of what St. Louis could really use.
"We actually fell in love with this one. It's not a good idea as a developer to fall in love, but we did because it's absolutely beautiful," said Mike Sarimsakcs, president of Alterra International. "The outside is just gorgeous."
The above link has some great photos of the interior,
Sure, you're not supposed to show your cards during a negotiation, but it's great to see people come to St. Louis and see what I see: potential.
Alterra further spoke to this potential in a St. Louis Business Journal story in June, 2016 where Sarimsakcs was quoted as showing interest in the Butler Brothers building just west of here as well. Bring it on!
Alterra is also exploring a partnership with Sovereign Partners to overhaul the giant Butler Brothers building at 1717 Olive St. That building has an appraised value of $2.4 million, according to city records. Sarimsakci said if the partnership agreement goes through, Alterra would invest about $90 million to transform the 718,000-square-foot building into lofts and creative office space.
Here's to hope that the Jefferson Arms will be the first in a long line of buildings Alterra purchases and develops in St. Louis.
St. Louis is a diamond in the rough and I just don't think the powers that be/old money in the suburbs are enough to get us to the next level; we'll need outside investors with optimism and bullishness instead of the knee jerk grasping for silver bullets when what we really need is block by block investment, new ideas, commitment to the things that will, well...make St. Louis great again (bad, I know). But it's worth pointing out that there was mention of a Trump Hotel in the Jefferson Arms.
Yet the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported there's no truth to that but it didn't stop anti-Trump protestors to make a stop in front of the building to speak their minds.
photo credit: St. Louis Post-Dispatch Staff Photo In September, 2016 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on some of the details surrounding the project timelines:
Work to turn the dilapidated and vacant Jefferson Arms into offices, apartments, restaurants and a hotel could begin as early as January, the prospective developer said Thursday.
Mike Sarimsakci, whose Dallas-based Alterra International has the 13-story downtown St. Louis building under contract, said he plans to complete the purchase in December. Clearing the Jefferson Arms of debris and beginning the environmental cleanup would then get underway, he said.
Renovation will begin with construction of shops and restaurants on the first floor and in the basement of the Jefferson Arms, at 415 North Tucker Boulevard, Sarimsakci said in an interview in St. Louis. Opening the retail outlets will occur before completion of market-rate apartments in the original section of the historic building that debuted as the Hotel Jefferson in time for the 1904 World’s Fair. Apartments also would occupy the top two floors of the hotel’s 1920s addition on Locust Street.
A hotel of about 240 rooms will fill the rest of the addition, said Sarimsakci, adding that the operator might be the Trump, Marriott or Divan Group hotel chain. The entire project could be done by January 2020.
It'll be great to see the windows lighting up along Tucker Boulevard once again. Again, this is a case where tax credits seem justifiable. Not only does the developer benefit, but so do we, the people of St. Louis who can extend one of our turn of the century beauties into the future. We can set ourselves apart from other cities with our architecture and beauty. Remember, not all cities have this wealth.
Here's a rendering showing the southern view:
How can you not be excited about this one? Maybe with the removal of more of our larger vacant buildings from the market, we'll start to see more of the many smaller buildings start to get new life Downtown.
Continuing on my favorite development proposals and under-construction projects in 2016, this one is not so much a proposal, rather a rekindled glimmer of hope for a St. Louis classic.
It's hard to commit to a favorite building in Downtown St. Louis. But as far as sky scrapers are concerned, the Wainnright Buiding and recently renovated Arcade Building are up there. But, the Chemical building is my personal favorite.
I have a memory of visiting a jewelry and watch repairman with a shop in the Chemical Building when I first moved to St. Louis in the 1990s. It was like a trip back in time, a movie set scene including nearly all stereotypes of what an early 20th Century city shop would be like. It was piled high with parts and papers and crap. The jeweler had the eye thing on, he was appropriately crabby..."I'll fix it, but I don't make much money on this" type of thing. I was fascinated with St. Louis back then, the old ways were still hanging on in some parts...and this was one of them. Once this guy retired you knew this shop would not go on.
The still visible painted ads on the windows still speak to some of the varied businesses that once were here:
The 17-story red brick Chemical building is a straight up masterpiece right in the heart of Downtown St. Louis at 721 Olive Street. It is right next to the Old Post Office, the Arcade, the sleek Roberts Tower and other STL classics.
This 1896 beauty is sitting in wait. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. If ever there were a project worthy of tax credits to help nudge this one back to life, it is this one.
Now that the Arcade on the opposite corner is fully renovated and ready to live another 100 years, the news that the Chemical Building might see another chance gets me excited once again.
So the news of a potential buyer investing in the renovation brought hope that I'll get to see this one again from the inside.
In July, 2016, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported a very vague update after two potential plans to purchase and redevelop the building fell through:
A day after local developers Amy and Amrit Gill dropped their plan to renovate the Chemical building in downtown St. Louis, an out-of-town developer expressed interest in the structure.
Publicly, the Gills never said what they had hoped to do with the 17-story brick building at 721 Olive Street. They put the building under contract in April but on Thursday notified the owner they will not buy the structure.
Purchase by the out-of-town developer might not be close and the Chemical remains on the market. But the developer said Friday a mixture of apartments and a hotel might make sense for the building. (source)
I've read of many starts and stops over the years for this one. A rebranding of sorts even took place at one time where the Chemical was called the Alexa. That owner fell into bankruptcy and that plan fizzled out.
Then in November, 2016, NextSTL reported another fanning of the flames in November, 2016 adding details on the developer and the possible plans:
TWG Development, the same group proposing the renovation of a row of historic buildings on Locust Street, and the demo of one prominent corner building, has the Chemical Building under contract for a reported $4.25M. Planned is a $20M renovation and the transformation of the space into 120 market-rate apartments. Just more than 8,000sf of retail would be preserved on the first floor. The developer is requesting a 10-year tax abatement on the property. (source)
I really hope to see this one come back to life. This is a St. Louis, heck National treasure that needs the love and investment more than maybe any other Downtown building.
The park was part of the "urban renewal" that cleared the buildings, homes and businesses for green space from 22nd street to the Mississippi River.
The park is framed by some St. Louis classics including Union Station, Peabody Opera House, Soldier's Memorial Military Museum and the St. Louis Law School.
As the city started losing population at a staggering rate, there was less need for business and housing...hence, we get more building demolition and are left with easier to maintain park space. Unfortunately, as go the buildings and people so goes the well planned, dense city. Anyhow, we lost a lot of tax generating, vibrancy-creating properties and now we have parks. Albeit...a very beautiful one in the case of Aloe Plaza.
Aloe Plaza West is really nothing more than grass, a few trees and homeless tents and debris.
Downtown truly is the door step of the city. It's our face to the world. Ask someone about St. Louis and they'll probably say St. Louie...yeah, the Arch. For better or worse, DT defines the St. Louis metropolitan region as a whole. The DT experience is the St. Louis experience for many, if not most suburbanites, regional visitors, tourists and even some citizens of St. Louis. It's a fact that many in the region refer to the entire City of St. Louis as "Downtown"...so the stakes are high. A vibrant DT means a vibrant STL to most. A 3X gain of residents in Kings Oak will not have nearly the same impact as a similar gain in DT would...and for that, I'm optimistic for St. Louis' future for first impressions, etc. The historic tax credits have largely made this boost in residents happen, that and the growing trend of people wanting to live in cities. In spite of the cities free wheelin' issuance of demolition permits and lust for parking lots, many vacant warehouse, office and factory buildings have been transformed to lofts, apartments, condos, new office/retail space, etc. It's been an amazing transformation to witness. DT was dead in the 1980's. When I moved here in 1994, it was gritty and vacant and starkly surreal, like a mothballed outdoor museum for cool buildings. Now it's everything from gritty to swanky...yet still cool. It's been a damn good 20 years for DT St. Louis. Despite all the job and tax base poaching that Clayton, Missouri and other cities in the suburbs have done to St. Louis over the last 50 years, DT is still the Central Business District and must continue to lure business, jobs and residents if it's to stay on it upward trend.
I am a big fan of the downtown Macy's. It's in a fabulous building, close to a
stop and is staffed by kind people. It's got a cool restaurant (
), it isn't part of an annoyingly jarring indoor mall and is never overrun with people; no lines (good for customer, bad for retailer).
Obviously, I am happy that Macy's is going to keep this location open. Yet, I'm sad that they are downsizing it. Not because of the loss of goods and retail square footage, but because of the escalators. Man I'm a dork, I know it, but
, I will desperately miss the varied styles of
in this department store. From the old school wood to the brushed stainless steel art deco ones to the more modern glass ones like you see today. I fear these will go the way of the typewriter during the remodeling. I hope not, but I fear the worst. Here's my photo tribute to a department store and escalators that have soul:
My kids love getting Swedish fish at the candy counter:
I will miss the marble floors too.