Former Praxair Site in Lafayette Square - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

Continuing with my top twenty announced or under-construction projects from 2016, we move to Lafayette Square with a development announcement for the former Praxair site along Chouteau Avenue.

I'm amazed at how long this property has sat vacant in such a desirable neighborhood (2005).

We've seen plans floated before

 as far back as 2007. But, maybe the economy is back on its feet and the time is right to make the development work.

I'm confident the people in Lafayette Square will demand quality and will be very involved in the process. They have worked so hard in this neighborhood, and I expect that will continue here.

So what are we talking?

NextSTL reported in November that a developer has plans for 64 townhomes

:

Now Pulte Homes has a plan to build 64 townhomes on the Praxair site bounded by Chouteau, Missouri Avenue, MacKay Place and a separate parcel fronting Hickory Street to the south. The developer is planning to meet next week with neighborhood residents living adjacent to the site. A larger Lafayette Square community meeting is planned to follow before the end of the year. No images or site plans have been made available.

Pulte Homes? Not a name I've heard before,

they've never done a project in St. Louis, but they've done many in the suburbs

. And it shows, but this site is unique. I don't think the suburban stuff will work here and I don't think the neighbors will let it. Pulte have done some decent work in other parts of the country including the following:

Pulte project in Alexandria, Virginia

                                 Pulte project in Washington State

This is a dead stretch of Chouteau that needs some love. The south side of the property abuts the fully intact part of the neighborhood and the northern edge has much room for improvement. People have been living around this vacant site for over ten years and they (and people who live near here) are ready for positive change.

This will be a fun one to watch in 2017.

Better Family Life 100 Home Renovation Project - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

Continuing with my twenty 'Best of 2016' development announcements and under-construction projects, we have an exciting project in North City.

Better Family Life would like to renovate 100 homes around Page Boulevard, the project has a potential to reach $20M in investment in some areas that haven't seen much investment recently.

I have to apologize for not having more information, I've reached out to Better Family Life via email, but have not made the time to reach out with calls or schedule a visit to get the full story. I hope to follow up on this development in 2017 and report back here.

The local media discussed the work they are doing in several venues.

Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a November, 2016 article

:

“This is a new beginning for Better Family Life because this project will be a major redevelopment of Page Boulevard, which could spark a renaissance in North St. Louis and eliminate the Delmar Divide by helping the existing community and attracting new residents,” Malik Ahmed, Better Family Life's chief executive, said in a statement.

He said he envisions the project will attract millennials and others who want affordable housing in the Page Boulevard area.

Renovation costs for each house will total $200,000, Better Family Life said. Each house will sell for about $130,000, providing owners $60,000 to $70,000 in equity when they move in, the organization said.

Work has begun on three homes. Two of the rehabs are funded by the St. Louis Community Development Agency with gap financing by Midwest Bank, Better Family Life said.

KMOV Channel 4 did an interview with Mr. Ahmed who spoke about the project

.

Do yourself a favor and listen to the following 

KPLR Channel 11 story with Better Family Life and a representative from the city

. If that doesn't get you excited, than what will?

Better Family Life has been active in the 26th Ward of St. Louis and they've been buying properties along Belt, Maple, Vernon, etc in several neighborhoods since the 1990's.

They are gaining momentum and one of their goals is to get African Americans who left the city for the county to move back...especially young people who will be civically involved.  They call this stretch of Page "The Vibe" because this part of town feels right and is on the verge of gaining fresh blood and investment.

I can't wait to learn more from this group. I will definitely make the time to interview them if they'll have me.

My humble opinion is that if we are going to subsidize growth, this area/project is ripe for it. We need more people rooting down who want to live here. We can subsidize things that benefit visitors and tourists next.

This would be a huge deal for North City! Congrats Better Family Life, keep up the good work.  Hope to talk in 2017.

Brew City - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

Continuing on with my favorite 2016 developments in St. Louis, the local beer scene in the city just seems to get bigger and better.

2016 was no exception with the addition of one more brewery and announcements for a couple others in the city. 

2nd Shift Brewing

may be familiar to some, they have been making beer for some time in New Haven, MO about an hour drive from St. Louis.

They set up shop in the Hill Neighborhood at 1601 Sublette Avenue just south of Manchester.  I haven't visited yet, or tried their beer, but I can't wait.

Another brewery,

Rockwell Beer Company

, will set up shop in the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood at 1320 South Vandeventer Avenue and they hope to be open in Spring, 2017.

Another brewery,

Center Ice Brewery

will be a hockey-themed brewery.

The tasting room will be constructed from the Old Arena/Checkerdome

! they will be in the beautiful Dinks Parish Laundry Building just west of Pappy's and Southern on Olive in

the Midtown Neighborhood

. Perfect place for all those 

hosers

to converge for a Blues game. On my visit, work was underway on the facade of the building:

Then, work continued on 

Earthbound Beer

's renovation of the Cherokee Brewery, complete with caves on Cherokee Street. Read all about it

HERE

.

Good news abounds. 

I recently attended a brewery tour at Schlafly Tap Room and I gained an appreciation for their vitally important role in changing the laws around brewing in Missouri and St. Louis. Without them fighting the legal fights to open up brewing to smaller breweries, we would still be in ABI land alone. They really played such an important role to open things up here.

Oh, and scenes from Escape From New York were filmed in the building that is now the Taproom on Locust. There is an homage to Snake Plissken on their mural:

So with the addition of 2nd Shift and Rockwell, we will have the following breweries right here in St. Louis:

2nd Shift

4 Hands

Anheuser-Busch InBev

Alpha Brewery

Center Ice

Civil Life

Earthbound

Heavy Riff

Morgan Street 

Perennial

Rockwell

Schlafly

Square One

Urban Chestnut

Pappos is brewing their beer for their operations at the Midtown restaurant location as well.

Heck, I'm probably missing a few.

This is something we should really talk up.

In fact, that is exactly what local filmmaker Bill Streeter is doing with the recent completion of St. Louis Brews - The Story of Brewing in the Gateway City

. I can wait to see this movie:

There is no shortage of good beer and guzzling beer in St. Louis. 2016 was a good year and 2017 should be even better.

Ballpark Village Phase 2 - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

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.

And this would $220M investment would help

:

Go Cards. Do the city right this time. 

Pelican Building in Compton Heights - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

Continuing on with my top twenty development proposals and under-construction projects from 2016, I'm moving to the Compton Heights Neighborhood to discuss another proposal for the Pelican Building and the shuttered YMCA building on the adjacent property.

Something has to be done with this property. It is in one of the most stable neighborhoods in the city, yet it has sat vacant for as long as I can remember.

The various property owners throughout the years have done nothing to preserve the buildings while they lie in wait for a plan. A hole formed in the roof of the YMCA; zero efforts were made to mitigate water damage and you knew it was a just a matter of time. The owner did not fix it or block access to the interior, just let it sit and rot so it'd get "eyesore status" and easier to tear down. The Pelican too. The owner doesn't even call or take responsibility to remove the 4th grade level "art" that trespassers have done to this building. Again, all part of the process of getting what you want (tax breaks or demo permits). Brick is falling all over from both buildings.

I was really worried that the elements and firebugs would take the Pelican out once and for all.

Sometimes it is hard not to be pessimistic with the system here when some property owners are allowed to run amuck while others are held to the codes and standards. This happens all over the city, north to south.  

Doing a little research, none of the plans I came across included the YMCA in future plans, so it's days are numbered. As a pragmatic compromiser, I can live with the demo of the YMCA if the Pelican is carefully restored and an urban building replaces the current views of the surface parking lot along Grand and Shenandoah.

For interior photos of the YMCA from 2014, check here for a piece on NextSTL.

Slacker owners aside, I was happy to once again read that something just might happen with this property in 2017. The most recent proposal includes rehab of the Pelican and demo of the YMCA with apartments and commercial/retail.

The Pelican Building is really something special. You might not think that if you are just seeing it for the first time in its current state.  Many probably remember the grand metal and neon sign that once graced the building. It was removed and is in storage in the Lemp Brewery. 

One of the best write-ups I've seen on this restaurant is at Lost Tables:

The core of the building was constructed sometime prior to 1875, enlarged in 1878 and completely overhauled in 1895 when the Griesedieck family of brewers purchased it for a restaurant and bar, managed by Carl Anschuetz as Anschuetz’s Restaurant.

In 1938, James Pelican bought the restaurant and gave it his name. Pelican converted the establishment into a highly popular family restaurant, where the menu offered fish and a wide variety of American cuisine.

The sign above the Michelob sign is the one I remember. I don't recall the long horizontal metal and neon and the Bud sign. The Falstaff sign that preceded the Bud sign can be seen in the photo with the streetcar.

The Pelican Building is a historic reminder of our brewing history; it can and should be saved.

Secondly, the potential for new construction could bring a building that hugs the street along Grand and Shenandoah to relieve Tower Grove East neighbor's views of the surface parking lot.

So let's take a look at the various site plans proposed by the owners/developers over the years and see what could be in store in 2017.

Back in 2009, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on a proposal that would have brought a Snap Fitness and 37,000 total sq ft of space to the YMCA site, which was slated for demo, and a steak restaurant to the Pelican. This plan never materialized. 

Later, another proposal called Pelican Court surfaced from First & Main Properties that would have brought >18K square feet of office space and >16K square feet of retail/restaurant space.

view facing South Grand

The site plan looked nice along Grand, but it did not address the lack of a street wall along Shenandoah. This was a missed opportunity to improve the site. 

No improvement along Shenandoah Avenue

This one never materialized either, which brings us to the 2016 proposal.

In 2016 the St. Louis Business Journal reported a new plan being floated:

MBR Management and Altus Properties plan to demolish the old South City YMCA and replace it with an $18.6 million apartment project.

About 110 apartments would go up at the old YMCA site. Retail space and apartments would go into the Pelican Building, and the projects would share a parking lot.

The rudimentary site plan had the same lost opportunity to improve the Shenandoah street view.

The neighbors across the street would be stuck with the view of the parking lot. It seems easy to remove the curb cut, add part of the new construction on Shenandoah and Grand, with access to ample parking from Vandenbergh Avenue (and on-street Shenandoah parking).

If I were living here, I'd rather overlook other similarly-scaled buildings and the street front vs. somebody's backyard on Longfellow Boulevard.

In November, NexSTL reported that the likely tenant of the Pelican would be Domino's Pizza:

MBR Management Corporation is the owner of 72 Dominos Pizza franchises in the Missouri area. It’s long been rumored at the the South Grand Dominoes would relocated to this development, though that has not been confirmed. Josh Udelhofen, previously of Koman Group and now with Altus Properties, is listed as co-developer on LCRA documents.

So while the site plan is less than perfect, hopefully the neighbors and leaders in the area can demand a better layout and demand the best construction materials in trade for the tax breaks they will certainly seek. And before you get on your national chain high horse, I would bet a Domino's Pizza would be used by more people in TGE and the rest of the delivery radius than a higher-priced local option. This neighborhood deserves something nice and we don't want to miss this opportunity to improve the city.

I'm once again hopeful for this site and the Pelican Building. This will be a fun one to watch in 2017.

Curvy Building on Tower Grove (Woodward Lofts) - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

Forest Park Southeast development announcements were copious in 2016. The good news just kept on coming throughout the year. There was ~$80M worth of new construction developments along Manchester Avenue filling in vacant lots and surface parking lots. 

Equally exciting were the preservation announcements for some of our most beautiful historic buildings.

So when I read of the ~$35M plans to convert the Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co. building at 1519 Tower Grove Avenue (at Vandeventer Avenue) to 160 apartments, I was stoked.

This is one of my favorite buildings in the FPSE neighborhood because of its curvy edge that follows the railroad tracks.

Most everyone knows this building from sitting at the light at Tower Grove and Vandeventer. It is such an important connection from FPSE to Shaw and Botanical Heights. It is exciting when my friends who don't pay as much attention to this stuff as I, mention a project they are excited about. That happened on three separate occasions, so I know this building is important to a lot of people.

Both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and NextSTL reported on this development proposal in November, 2016. Per the PD report:

Conversion as housing is planned for the Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co. building at 1519 Tower Grove Avenue. Pier Property Group, a new St. Louis real estate company, hopes to complete its purchase of the 250,000-square-foot building in March and begin its renovation as 160 loft-style apartments. The first units could be ready for residents in late spring 2018.

Michael Hamburg, PPG’s founder, said the $30 million to $35 million project, to be called Woodward Lofts, will help connect the rapidly growing Grove neighborhood to the north and areas to the south, which include Botanical Heights and the Shaw neighborhood.

“The thought is to be an infill anchor between all those areas,” he said.

Trivers Associates, a St. Louis architectural firm, bows deeply to the building’s early 20th-century “daylight” factory layout in designing Woodward Lofts’ modern apartments.

The “daylight” design figures heavily in the old factory’s rehab. Reinforced concrete floors and columns permit use of huge windows and clerestories that admit daylight deep into the building’s interior. Ford’s gigantic Model T factory that opened in 1910 in Highland Park, Mich., epitomized the design, which quickly spread to other industries nationwide.

A cornerstone marks the architect's pride in the building:

You can really get an appreciation for the amount of light that would flow into this building if the window were opened on the north side:

Again from the PD article:

Hamburg said the “daylight” factory design will provide every apartment “oversized window bays,” including some with window sections 20 feet high and 20 feet wide. Lofts beneath the building’s five rooftop clerestories are designed with two-story floor plans and 20-foot ceilings. Plans call for removal of roof sections between the clerestories to create narrow indoor courtyards. Garage parking for 175 vehicles also is part of the project.

Check out the amazing rendering that brings some interest to the north side with varied colors and new windows. This could be an amazing space.

I cannot wait to see this one progress in 2017.

Chouteau's Grove in Forest Park Southeast - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

Continuing with my favorite development proposals and under-construction projects in 2016 the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood just seemed on fire.

This ~$61M project at 4001 Chouteau Avenue, called Chouteau's Grove is a massive proposal from suburban developer Green Street (Clayton, MO) that would convert >4 acres of vacant parcels into 18,000 square feet of street level retail, 240+ apartments and a dedicated parking structure (source).

Check out the full presentation on this project on Green Street's website.

The site plan has gone through various iterations since I first read about this one back in May, 2016.

This location is critical as the eastern entrance to the Grove commercial/entertainment district. It is right behind the Commerce Bank building on Vandeventer and Manchester/Chouteau.

With the future new SSM Hospital and SLU Medical Campus investment just east of here. And the Cortex, St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Barnes/Jewish and Wash U investment to the north, this location is prime for additional retail. And the residential component is equally welcomed.

Then with IKEA just up the street from here, it would be great to get more unique retail options for the region that bring tax dollars and jobs to St. Louis.

I really hoped for a grocery store at this location as this seems like something this neighborhood really needs. While I don't get the allure of Trader Joe's, I know people who are devoted to the place and currently there are no St. Louis locations, so you have to go to the suburbs if you want this option.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in May that the grocery option was not viable at this time:

Green Street Development plans to begin construction late this year on its redesigned Chouteau’s Grove, which no longer has the supermarket of the initial plan.

Brian Pratt, Green Street’s vice president of development, said Tuesday the company was unable to lure a grocery to the $61 million project planned for the eastern end of the Grove nightlife district in St. Louis.

Green Street pitched the site to “fresh grocery concept” operators but all replied the area needs more residents to support such a store, he said.

Well, this project does have the potential to bring in >200 people so it's a step in the right direction.

Per the above PD story, it sounds like the site plan is moving in more of an urban direction now that the larger grocery store is out of the plan:

With a 30,000-square-foot grocery off the drawing board, Green Street revamped the 4.5-acre site to give the project a more urban look. Instead of having a parking lot to accommodate grocery customers, the new plan rings much of the site with a four-story apartment building that wraps around a parking garage.

“It will feel very urban, unlike an urban-suburban blend like we had before to attract a grocer,” Pratt said.

About 100 of the garage’s 565 parking spots will be set aside for the public and to serve the 20,000 square feet of retail space planned as part of the project’s new plan.

Then, in December, NextSTL reported that the site plan was again tweaked:

Documents show Chouteau’s Grove will have 236 residential units and a 383-space parking garage. Retail space has been simplified and slightly reduced to just more than 17,000sf. A public plaza is planned to front Chouteau, a dog park has been moved to the east end, the traffic island will be expanded as a pocket park, and a phase II “fitness building” by another developer is planned. Sources tell nextSTL the tenant for the site’s northwest corner will be Planet Fitness.

With 35 fewer apartments, and a little less retail, parking demand has been reduced, but the impact of 182 fewer parking spaces is unclear. There are 39 surface spaces planned off Sarah Street, and a proposed 72-space lot across the street, bringing the reduction to 71 spaces, not including on-street parking.

The smaller footprint of the garage has allowed it to be fully screened by apartments, instead of the garage facade fronting Papin Street. In addition, there’s no longer a curb cut for a garage entrance along the street.

The fact that the garage will be hidden from the street view is important. And a fitness center is a welcome addition to any neighborhood.

On my visit, grading appeared complete and the site it ready to go. 

This will have a huge impact on Manchester Avenue, activating a former dead zone.

Check out this amazing flyover video posted by Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation

of all the activity on this stretch of the Grove:

Keep your eye on this part of town in 2017, it'll be popping!

Laclede Gas Station G - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

Continuing on my quest to visit the sites of each of my top twenty development projects from 2016, once again I find myself in the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood

This time at 4401 Chouteau Avenue at the Laclede Gas Station G building.

The Laclede Gas Station G pump house is the only reminder of the former use of this parcel within the city. As a kid I remember sitting in my parent's car driving down I-64 and wondering what that massive thing was on top of the hill. 

It was a gasometer.

There is an excellent summary of these massive structures throughout our region on Built St. Louis

Here's what Station G looked like from the Interstate:

photo credit: Built St. Louis

And then from Chouteau Avenue with the pump house in the foreground:

photo credit: Built St. Louis

Per Built St. Louis:

The Forest Park Southeast gasometer stood at Newstead and Chouteau, a jarring interruption of an otherwise quiet residential neighborhood. It was erected in 1901 and rebuilt in 1942. A sibling tank once stood just to the west; it was demolished in the 1960s and left as a vacant lot.

The adjacent Pumping Station G building dates from 1911. Both the gas holder and the pump house were built for the Laclede Gas Light Company. National Historic Register nominations were submitted in 2006.

The FPSE gasometer was demolished in 2007. Plans called for the pump house to be converted to residential use. An article in the Post-Dispatch's South City Journal details the nomination and plans for the site.

That 2006 development plan never materialized. I was concerned that the only remaining memory of this once awe inspiring site, the Station G Pump House, would be destroyed. Why? Well it is open to the elements, it was rapidly deteriorating as I visited it over the years. And it was enveloped by a massive apartment complex called "The Aventura". This complex looks like standard cheap design you'd expect to see in suburbs throughout the country.

Chouteau Avenue needs to counter the uninspired suburban design of the Aventura and others along this stretch in Forest Park Southeast. The classic St. Louis architecture sits right across the street to the south.

So when I read that there were plans in place for a St. Charles firm to move to St. Louis and renovate Station G for their offices, I was ecstatic. 

I truly thought the days of this one were numbered. One storm or firebug and it could have been more of this:

But man does it feel good to be wrong. I love this building and the reminder it brings of past uses. 

Here's how it looks as of publishing:

I read of this development on NextSTL in November, 2016. This wonderfully comprehensive post is well worth a read and check out the great photos:

nextSTL has learned that Greater Goods, a company producing ethically sourced and produced coffee, blood pressure monitors, knives, scales, and more, will be renovating the long-vacant Station G building on Chouteau Avenue in The Grove for its new corporate headquarters. The move will bring approximately 15 employees to the city. Greater Goods will be working with Vessel Architecture to design the space.

The company had been looking for a location in the city as many of its employees are younger City of St. Louis residents. Being located in the city was also considered a necessary move to attract future talent. It is expected that the renovation of Station G will utilize historic tax credits and brownfield credits. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Greater Goods will be moving to a temporary location on Vandeventer Avenue while Station G is renovated.

Another great story for 2016 with much to like: historic preservation, another shot in the arm for Forest Park Southeast, new jobs for St. Louis and more activity in a great part of town.

I look forward to watching this one progress throughout 2017.

4101 Manchester, Mixed-Use Building in Forest Park Southeast - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

Continuing with my favorite development proposals and under-construction projects in 2016, the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood just seemed on fire. Five separate projects from FPSE made my top twenty list.

This one is at a wedge-shaped property between Manchester Ave. Chouteau Ave. and South Sarah St.

This was a city-owned surface parking lot that was not very well maintained over the years.

The city's Land Clearance for Redevelopment department chose to market this property to private developers. Per Park Central Development, the local community development corporation:

The east end of the Grove is getting a makeover. The Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority received three proposals for the parking lot at 4101 Manchester. Each one was a multi-story building, but in the end, the LCRA chose Spencer Development’s seven story, mixed-use building.

The $6.25 million plan includes ground level stores, second story parking, third-floor offices with an outdoor terrace and the upper floors will feature apartments. This building will be an anchor at the eastern end of the Grove neighborhood, welcoming visitors and residents.

Second floor parking? Now we're talking higher use of city space. The suburbs can have their vast expanses of surface parking, St. Louis should set itself apart and rebuild for density. This new way of thinking is one of the main appeals of this project.

A November, 2016 story by NextSTL included more details on the project:

The design proposes 12,500sf of street level retail, 45 parking spaces, 8,000sf of office space, and approximately 30 residential units across seven stories. A third floor terrace would serve the office tenant and a rooftop deck would be a residential amenity.

When I visited the site for this blog, I saw drilling equipment on site, indicating that some progress on the site in already underway.

If plans proceed as planned, this former dead zone surface parking lot at the entrance to a great residential neighborhood and entertainment area will have a sleek, modern, activity-generating building in 2017.

4400 Manchester Avenue, Mixed-Use Building in Forest Park Southeast - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

Continuing with my favorite development proposals and under-construction projects in 2016, the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood just seemed lit. The next five blogs will be focused on this single neighborhood which was recently rebranded the Grove (and I accept that).

There are three major projects announced along Manchester Avenue, the important commercial/entertainment district between Kingshighway and Vandeventer.

This proposal from Restoration St. Louis is exciting because it takes a large vacant lot (since the 1970s) along a very important commercial/entertainment area and replaces weeds with a five-story market-rate apartment building with 3,680 square feet of commercial space on the ground level.

The design proposed by Maplewood, MO firm V3 Studios are modern and impressive:

The location is high profile as many people come from all around to visit this section of Manchester in part due to one of our greatest breweries: Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, right across the street. If you haven't tried their German pilsner "Stammtisch" you are missing out on life. Back to the building...

I first became aware of potential development on this site back in 2013 via a NextSTL story:

A five-story, 55-unit mixed use building has been proposed by Forest Park Southeast developers Amy and Amrit Gill for 4400 Manchester in the Grove.

[the structure], which would subsume two adjacent parcels at 4400-08 and 4410-12 Manchester. Both are presently vacant lots, though it is unclear if nearby buildings to the south (on Swan Avenue) will remain or will be replaced with parking.

The parking plot thickened and in February, 2014, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the plan was delayed due to parking concerns:

Restoration St. Louis owns the vacant lot where it had proposed the apartment building. It also owns some vacant houses on Swan Avenue, a block south of Manchester.

Tearing down those houses to provide parking for the apartment building ruffled the Forest Park Southeast Development Committee, a neighborhood panel administered by Park Central Development.

Brooks Goedeker, Park Central's executive director, says the Gills signaled they would suggest parking alternatives but then asked that the apartment building proposal be removed from the development committee's consideration at its meeting Jan. 27.

Here's what the the apartments and houses on Swan Avenue near Newstead Avenue look like as of publishing:

 boarded up homes along Swan Avenue directly behind the Manchester lot

Upon my visit, there was interior demolition taking place at the handsome apartment building that faces Newstead at the corner of Swan:

Nobody wants a surface parking lot where there is viable housing, right?

Well, later in the year, updated proposals surfaced. In July and August, NextSTL and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, respectively, published stories on updated renderings and project details. The PD article reported:

The Gills, whose Restoration St. Louis owns the vacant lot, are proposing a nearly $11 million project of 55 market-rate apartments. A similar plan put forward in 2013 didn't get far, in part, because of parking concerns. The Gills had wanted apartment parking on the site of some vacant houses nearby.

In their new plan, parking is tucked inside the apartment building behind street-level storefronts.

A swimming pool, an outdoor deck and bike racks are included in the design. V Three's plan is for "universal design" apartments, which would be new to the Grove. "Universal design" characteristics include apartments without steps and doors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. The intent is to provide market-rate housing for people aging out of multistory homes.

Congrats on the new design, hopefully the apartments along Newstead are being saved and the neighborhood will be vastly improved by this project.

As of publishing, there are signs of fencing off the property and the familiar project billboards are on site.

Forest Park Southeast if becoming a whole neighborhood once again with vacant lots turning into viable housing and commercial space.

A great, evolving story in 2016.

River des Peres Greenway Extension - Lansdowne/Shrewsbury Metrolink Station to Slay Park

Continuing on my top twenty projects announced or under construction in 2016, we have the Great Rivers Greenway (GRG) River des Peres Greenway Extension that was announced early in the year.

This 1.5 mile extension is part of the larger 7.3 mile River des Peres Greenway that will eventually connect to Forest Park and the Mississippi River in South County. 

I first learned of this project at a community feedback session held in October. This was the last of three public meetings designed to get community feedback, so the project details were fairly refined. As I was browsing the posters and renderings, one thing really stuck out, an important precedent for St. Louis. I'll get to that in a minute.

To make sure I interpreted the design correctly, I sat down with Elizabeth Simon, Great Rivers Greenway Community Program Manager to learn a little bit more about the project. Ms. Simon has lived in St. Louis for 11 years and has worked at GRG for 3.5 years. She has a wealth of information on this project and others and it's the tireless efforts of people like her that help me have solid hope for the future of our city and region.

One of my favorite things about living here is the willingness of people to sit down and give the average citizens the time of day to explain the work they are doing to move our city and in this case, region, forward.

Ms. Simon helped me get the facts straight and answer some of my questions. One of her main roles is soliciting and evaluating feedback from the community before, during and after GRG projects; so her perspective on this project goes back to the very beginning stages of planning.

Why does this < 2 mile extension make my best of 2016 list and not larger, higher dollar projects like NGA or the Armory? Well, this one has a personal connection and there is a big-picture win that makes me hopeful for the future of the entire city and region.

First of all, this entire Greenway project is a testament to the various electorates voting for the future with the region in mind. Sharing and pooling our tax dollars to connect us all, vs. walling off suburban towns from the city is a step in the right direction. This brings us together in the best and healthiest of ways. It is evidence that we would have a better community if we chose to work together instead of fighting and hoarding our assets.

Back in 2000, St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County voted for a tax increase for Proposition C to raise the funds for the greenway. Then again in 2013 St. Louis and St. Louis County (no St. Charles this time) voted for Proposition P to raise additional funds for the greenways among other items.

Secondly, I have a personal connection to this part of town having lived in the Boulevard Heights Neighborhood for several years.  We owned a house right along a stretch of park ground that would eventually become the Christy Greenway. GRG built an extension going through here that connected Christy ParkJoseph Leisure Park and St. Marcus Commemorative Park to the River des Peres Greenway. We watched every tree get planted and every brick and paverstone laid. We walked the path while under construction and dreamed of where trees should go and it was like they read our minds, planting diverse, native species in threes, planting at the correct depth, excellent placement, and respecting the trees that were already there.  It was perfectly designed and perfectly executed.

We listened closely as the local NIMBYs changed their minds on the trail once they saw the positive activity it brought to these parks. A true community asset came to this part of the city. People walking grocery carts to the Sav-A-Lot on Loughborough, kids learning how to ride bikes or skate, serious cyclists, dog walkers, etc. It was a great vibe.

It'll be great to see the same level of positivity and potential being built in another part of town.

The second reason I like this is while living in Boulevard Heights, I worked in West County and commuted to and from I-64 daily along this stretch of road that the greenway extension will grace. The commute was stressful. I drive small four cylinder cars and this stretch of four lanes is a raceway. When you drive this street in rush hour, it is an unspoken race to get home. People are in their daily commute and racing like NASCAR drivers. It was crazy, but it is what it is...a when in Rome type of thing. When I would drive River des Peres and McCausland at times other than rush hour, I'd still drive it at top speeds as I was conditioned. A friend of mine said "I attacked that street". My wife asked me if everything was alright. It is an overly wide street that is built for speeding and getting the heck out of town and quickly.

This project will bring a road diet, new landscaping, hardscaping and infrastructure to a stretch of road (Lansdowne, Ellendale and Wabash Avenues) that desperately needs it. A road diet is something we need very badly in this city and this location is undeniably established as needing a reduction in lanes. This road diet will set precedent for future traffic calming measures that are greatly needed in other parts of the city (think Jefferson Avenue from Cherokee to I-44). Here's an example of the lane reduction:

Per Ms. Simon's summary of community feedback, t

he lane reduction NIMBYs were the most vocal, but clearly not the majority.

The fear was that lane reduction would cause traffic congestion. These fears were somewhat allayed following a presentation of a thorough traffic study conducted prior to the community sessions.  The data generated were clearly in favor of a road diet and some folks were more receptive after hearing the data-based recommendation.

Others indicated that speeding was one of the main concerns on this stretch. The data showed that the road was overbuilt for the number of cars that were traveling it. The north bound direction was more condensed in the morning rush hour, so that was how they decided to recommend the southbound lane reduction when traffic is less. Makes sense. For a summary of the traffic study click HERE and go to Slide # 25.

But the lane reduction is not the only thing to be excited about. 

This will be the sixth phase of the River des Peres Greenway which is a small part of the massive St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County masterplan to connect our region with 600 miles of bike/pedestrian trails. This overall plan has the opportunity to set us apart from other cities and regions...and I feel so lucky to live during the time when the construction is happening all over the region.

Per GRG:

The River des Peres Greenway currently has direct connections to the Lansdowne Shrewsbury MetroLink Station, the Holly Hills neighborhood and Carondelet Park. In the fall of 2016, it will connect to Lemay Park, the River City Casino, Jefferson Barracks Park and the Pavilion in Lemay. In the future, the River des Peres Greenway will also connect to Forest Park, Downtown Maplewood and Webster Groves and Grant’s Trail. (source)

This 1.5 mile extension will connect the existing path that terminates at the Shrewsbury Metrolink station at Lansdowne Avenue in the Lindenwood Park Neighborhood and runs all the way north and east to  Francis R. Slay Park in the city's Ellendale Neighborhood on the southwestern edge of St. Louis.

The trail will eventual extend north to one of the jewels of the Midwest: Forest Park. It will also extend west through the inner ring suburb of Maplewood, MO along Canterbury Avenue to connect with the Deer Creek Greenway. The latter is further along in the planning stages than the former...so we'll have to wait to ride all the way to Forest Park. Once construction is completed further south near the city/county line near Lemay Road, you'll be able to connect from Slay Park to the Gravois Greenway (Grant's Trail) and the southern stretch of the Mississippi Greenway.

Another route was considered that would have routed this extension along the easement of the River des Peres itself; but there were engineering, utility and safety concerns due primarily to the steep slope as well as overhead wiring, complicated property ownership landscapes, etc.

They are about to bid out construction, so the actual project cost is yet to be determined; but, GRG successfully received a $1.5M federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant to help fund the extension. Along with the lane reduction which has obvious benefits, t

here are other environmental benefits as well:

  • Concrete trail will provide cost‐effective long‐term maintenance

  • New storm water management features are designed to be low maintenance

  • Strategic drainage design minimizes the number of sewer structures

  • Existing sewage pipes and planters will be recycled

  • New trees, native plants and grasses will be planted along the greenway that require minimal maintenance, reduce storm water runoff and prevent erosion.

Some trees will be removed, but overall, a net gain will be observed as more trees will be planted:

Species selection will be determined by the landscape contractor. It will be vetted with the entity that will be responsible for maintenance, in this case the City of St. Louis. Therefore, design will be rudimentary with simple trees and grass that can be mowed.

Now let's take a look at the various sections of the 1.5 mile extension with a couple details on each.

The southern most section of the extension will begin at the Shrewsbury Metro Station.  

A bike counter will be installed near the entrance to the Metro station. These use electromagnetic and infrared sensors to count trail users and whether they are walking or biking. These data are used to determine uses and calculate community benefits of the greenways. A second bike counter will be installed on the northern section of the extension near Esplanade Street.

The Lansdowne bridge section of the trail will the same width as the rest of he trail (~10 feet), so the existing pedestrian section will be widened.

The section of Wabash Avenue from Lansdowne to I-44 will have several interesting elements:

One of three "nodes" will be constructed at the southeastern section of Lansdowne and Wabash. These will include a resting area with trees, trash receptacles and possible interpretive signage and public art. Information could include historic facts of the area, the significance of the River des Peres as a watershed, bird migratory patterns, etc. The installation of public artwork is part of the plan for the future and would be a unique element for the River des Peres Greenway.

Parking along Wabash will remain in both directions along Wabash Avenue, and will be freshly striped to clearly designate the parking lanes.

Bump outs on the corners will be constructed to calm traffic, protect the parking lanes and pedestrians using the trails. The bump outs will be planted with grass and trees to avoid runoff and provide a green buffer. These light green areas in the maps indicate storm water mitigation "best management practices" (BMPs) as defined by the sewer district, MSD.  BMPs including rain gardens,  bioswales, etc to minimize ground water runoff into the sewers and are mandated by MSD when new pavement is being added. In this case, grass channels with trees will allow for absorption via amended soil and grass.

Driveway restoration will take place to make the ten foot trail seamlessly intersect with the many driveways along the route.

The only designated pedestrian crossing on this extension will be placed between Lindenwood Place and Mardel Avenue. It will have solar-powered flashing signals, signs, and striping on the roadway to alert drivers that they are approaching a crossing. There is a refuge in the median for people to pause when they are crossing so that they are only watching for cars traveling in one direction at a time. There are no signalized intersections on Wabash/Ellendale between Lansdowne and Canterbury, so the mid-block crossing is an opportunity to cross where there are fewer points of conflict (no cars turning – the cars on each side of the crossing are only traveling in one direction). Another benefit of this location is that the width of Wabash Avenue is the most narrow at this location. Pedestrians are only crossing three travel lanes (two northbound, one southbound, and no parking lanes).

The first of several raised pedestrian crossings will be constructed at Tholozan Avenue. These crossings will feature slight ramps with an elevation change of only four inches over six feet in each direction from the ten foot trail allowing a very slow decline in each direction. It'll be a unique surface that will be a visual queue to drivers to inform them that they are coming to a greenway passage. 

The other raised pedestrian crossings will be located at Manhattan Avenue, Piccadilly Avenue and Esplanade Street.

The I-44 underpass will feature a stained concrete surface. The walls and interstate deck piers will be painted to define the area and provide interest. The north and southbound trail lanes will be split around the piers. The underpass will be lit for safety, think of the Macklind tunnel going to Forest Park.

While the section along Wabash Avenue has sidewalks, much of the 1.5 mile section along Ellendale Avenue does not. Some sections have steep slopes, so significant grading will be necessary. This will be one of the most aesthetically pleasing elements of the plan as the current views are less than ideal:

St. James Square, Leamington Avenue and Tremont Avenue will be closed to vehicle traffic to Ellendale/Wabash. Cul-de-sacs will be installed; while emergency vehicle and pedestrian access will remain. These are dangerous access points, neighbors were mixed but overall in favor due to the traffic calming elements and play spaces that cul-de-sacs bring. Folks not in favor feared it would add to their drive time to go around to the other streets.

The second "node" will be at the entrance to Slay Park and the third in the median greenspace on McCausland Avenue.

The entire roadway surface will be resurfaced and re-striped. The cyclists who prefer to ride on the road was in favor of this clear striping. This is a much needed upgrade over current conditions:

When both projects are complete, there will be a continuous corridor from Francis R. Slay Park (Intersection of Canterbury & Ellendale) in the City of St. Louis all the way to Jefferson Barracks County Park in St. Louis County!

Aerial views of the full north and south sections of the greenways are available from GRG.

Construction is expected to start in March with completion in late 2017.

Jefferson Arms Building - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

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.

KSDK, Channel 5 News did an interview with Alterra's founder and president:

"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,

as does a NextSTL story published in November, 2016

.

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.

The Chemical Building - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Favorite

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.

Soulard Mixed-Use Apartment Proposal at Russell and Gravois - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Development Favorite

Another of my top twenty projects proposed or under construction in 2016 is a 126-unit apartment building with commercial space on the first floor. 

Per a June, 2016 St. Louis Business Journal:

Propper Construction Services plans to build a $20 million apartment complex at South 13th Street and Russell Boulevard in Soulard.

The development, Propper President Tim Breece told the Business Journal, will include 126 units and space for a restaurant in a new building that ranges from three to five stories. Construction should begin this fall, with completion set for fall 2017, Propper said. An old Faultless Laundry building sits on the site, which is owned by Loy-Lange Box Co. The area's alderman, Jack Coatar, said Propper has the property under contract.

Breece said brothers Brett and David Apted will develop the project for Propper. Breece said a rendering is not yet complete, but that the building will be designed by Trivers Associates Architects and "will match the character of the Soulard neighborhood." (source)

Propper Construction is located in St. Charles, MO and Trivers Associates are located in Downtown St. Louis with offices in Granite City, IL as well.

So far the details and images that have been released meet my criteria for a better use:

  1. New design matches the neighborhood character better than the previous building.

  2. Proposal brings more residents or jobs than current use.

  3. The location is high profile enough to elevate the appearance of the neighborhood to visitors and residents alike.

The location of this project has the highest appeal. Gravois is an eyesore, and an inhospitable road right around Russell Boulevard. I live just west of here and my daughter and I have a routine of riding our bikes to Soulard Market. The ride is wonderful, with clearly marked bike lanes along Russell between Jefferson and Broadway.

The ride is beautiful until you hit Gravois with the Citgo gas station, Jack In The Box, a non-descript building on the northwest corner and of course the grey cinder block non-descript single story building on the southeast corner. 

Here's a taste for the impact the Interstates and overly-wide state roads have had on our neighborhoods:

Crossing this road is challenging and intimidating as a pedestrian or bicyclist. You'll routinely witness lots of aggressive driving with commuters trying to speed onto the I-55 ramp as quickly as possible. You have to "look twice and truck up" as my kids say.

This is not an inviting entrance to one of our most historic, beautifully intact neighborhoods:

This entrance to Soulard deserves a higher use and that is exactly what this project will bring.

It brings more people who'll call Soulard home, shopping the local businesses and enjoying the walkability, music, drinks and food that the neighborhood is known for. More density is always welcome.

The site will be highly visible from I-55, Gravois, Russell and the intra-neighborhood to the east.

The proposal made public is handsome, varied and modern with a nod to the irreplaceable brick and stone buildings just to the east. It hugs Gravois and the I-55 offramp as well as Russell Boulevard. 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and NextSTL published stories on the updated design proposals in July, 2016.

NextSTL did a thorough and excellent job depicting the current site and how the new building would fit in.

Corner of South 13th Street and Russell Boulevard, looking west

Corner of Russell Boulevard and Gravois Road

I walked the site to get a better perspective on how this will fit in with its surroundings. It'll be impressive, filling in a big chunk of real estate with a nice new use.

The demolition of the cinder block laundry facility was well underway on my first visit:

The historic brick building on the east and west of the former laundry facility remain. Here's a look north at the loading dock which is now gone:

To my eye, the only loss of character will be the small single story brick building at the corner of S. 13th and Russell.

The demo appears to be complete as of publishing, so I presume the home along the south side of the 13th Street alley and the home near the I-55/Gravois ramp will remain.

As of publishing, the site is completely cleared and ready for the next steps.

This project is a clear win for Soulard and St. Louis as a whole. I look forward to watching this one move forward in 2017.

St. Louis University On-Campus Student Housing Towers on Laclede Avenue - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Development Favorite

St. Louis University took a couple steps in the right direction with the addition of their two new student housing towers on Laclede Avenue between Grand and Vandeventer in the Midtown Neighborhood.

What's the right direction you might ask? Well that would be designing and executing urban buildings (tall, built to the street or sidewalk) vs. suburban buildings (massive setbacks, driveways and/or grassy moats).

With these projects, SLU is maximizing two of their surface parking lots and grassy, fenced-in expanses with beautiful new buildings. You have to applaud SLU for this. Thank you for complementing our city and being a good neighbor.

Let's do the same on the massive Med Campus expansion

...more thoughts on that in the near future.

The first dorm is called Spring Hall (located at Laclede and South Spring Avenues) right across from Humphrey's Restaurant and Tavern. In December, 2014 the board approved this $43.8M 8-story, 153K square foot student housing building.

Per the St. Louis University website:

Designed for first-and second-year students, Spring Hall features single and double suite-style rooms with a total of 450 beds. Classrooms, a conference room, study rooms, floor lounges, a chapel, a "living room" with kitchen, a large meeting space and a small outdoor amphitheater are included in the plans. The design concept leverages previously developed land, minimizing ecological degradation while optimizing land and community value. In addition, the position of the building maximizes sun exposure for daylight harvesting. The project utilizes at least 20% recycled and 20% regional materials. (source)

SLU using the phrase "optimizing land and community value" is such an important thing for them to say. SLU sometimes seems to forget their campus is a part of our city, not apart from our city.

Fences say "stay out" and define the campus as a private compound.

In fact, I was really worried SLU would lobby to close Laclede Avenue between Grand and Vandeventer which would be a major blow to city commuters. So far, I've not heard any talk of creating a super block.

Trust me, when the fences go down, the neighborhoods feels more contiguous with the campus. For instance, the track and field area at Compton and Rutger is open to the public and has a wonderful vibe. Local schools and track clubs use it for track practice, neighbors from the Gate District walk and jog on the track and the medical campus.

It is true to the Jesuit way.

Spring Hall is classified as LEED silver certified. It was designed by Creve Coeur, MO-based Hastings + Chivetta architects and built by Ladue, MO-based McCarthy Building Companies. Wouldn't it be great if these suburban companies chose to move to the city and be a true St. Louis asset?

Students moved into Spring Hall in Fall, 2016.

Here's the grassy knoll that the building replaced:

And here's what it looks like after completion:

Not bad! I really think this is a major upgrade for the campus and the city.

I really like how the stretch below along Laclede hugs the sidewalk, I can envision a nicely spaced row of Itea virginica and Heuchera elegans mixed in with Liriope muscari for ground cover...no mow, low maintenance, beautiful.

What an improvement, way to go SLU!

The building is C-shaped with a beautifully landscaped center commons area complete with outdoor sculptures.

Rendering image from

slu.edu

Rendering image from  slu.edu

The bike racks are logically placed near the sidewalk and entrance nearest Laclede Avenue.

The second dorm, Grand Hall, is currently under construction at the northwest corner of Laclede and Grand.

The new residence hall approved by the Board on [September, 2015] will be a seven-story, 237,000-square-foot facility built on what is now a surface parking lot near Grand and Laclede. The new building will be connected to the adjacent Griesedieck Complex, the University's largest residential facility.

Designed for first-and-second year students, the new facility will feature single and double suite-style rooms with a total of 528 beds. Plans also call for a 740-seat campus dining hall, as well as classrooms, study lounges and an outdoor plaza, among many other features. (source)

The cost of this building is estimated at $71M. This one was also designed by Hastings + Chivetta but built by University City, MO-based Alberici Constructors.

It used to be an uninviting, fenced-in grassy area and surface parking lot.

Before:

After:

Rendering image from  slu.edu

progress as of publishing

The C-shaped building opens up with an indoor/outdoor dining area open to the north.

Rendering image from  slu.edu

A nice setback, matching or slightly besting the adjacent Simon Recreation Center to the west:

Rendering image from  slu.edu

These dorms are really changing the skyline profile of the main campus from all angles. It makes an impressive impact from Interstate 64 heading eastbound on the elevated lanes.

The height is equally impressive from Grand Boulevard at Chouteau:

Hopefully this good urban design will continue south at the Medical Campus in the Tiffany and Gate District neighborhoods and translate into real neighborhood assets.

"Everly On The Loop" Mixed-Use Project on Delmar Boulevard - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Development Favorite

This impressive investment on Delmar Boulevard will bring apartments and retail to a property that sat vacant for ~ten years. The project is called "Everly On The Loop" and it takes its name from a popular "hipster" baby name, a nod to the age group that this project is marketed toward. If you're a music fan like me, you might think the name had something to do with the buttery and haunting harmonies of the Everly Brothers and the property's proximity to the popular music venues in this part of town...not so, but a good tie-in nonetheless.

Another of my favorites from 2016 was the proposal for a mixed-use office/retail building at the northwest corner of Delmar and Skinker Boulevards, and this one is just down the street.

Combined, these two projects will really be a shot in the arm for this part of the Loop, colloquially referred to as "the East Loop" that extends just west of Skinker Boulevard eastward to roughly Rosedale Avenue. This is the section of the popular entertainment district that is in St. Louis vs. the western stretch that lies in University City, MO.

I first read about this project on NextSTL in January, 2016.

It's easy to like a project that fills in a massive vacant lot that extended from Delmar Hall (formerly Big Shark Bicycle) all the way to Gokul Indian Restaurant at Rosedale Avenue:

Of course, this wasn't always a vacant lot, ten years ago there were a couple single-story buildings on the property until a demolition permit was issued on June 16, 2006 and those were razed, leaving the above blank palette for ~ten years.

Here's a 2006 photo of the former buildings posted on St. Louis' online record site (Geo St. Louis):

photo credit Geo St. Louis

Thousands of tourists and visitors coming to nearby venues the Pageant and Delmar Hall for a show, or the Moonrise Hotel for a night's stay, or bowling at Pin-Up Bowl walk up and down this dense, urban strip.

But reaching 6105 Delmar meant coming to a fenced-in dead zone. A note to passersby heading west saying: "alright, we've reached the end of the line, time to turn around". 

This mixed-use project will extend the positivity and activity east and fill a major gap in the street wall. 

The Everly brings a $66M 14-story building with 209 residential units making up the top 13 floors and the first floor will have street-level commercial space.

image from 

everlyontheloop.com

The project is targeting students from nearby Washington University and St. Louis University. It is being billed as boutique student living.

image from 

everlyontheloop.com

14-stories is a massive building, the tallest on this stretch of Delmar. This height will dramatically change the skyline.

soon to be 14 stories

True to the urban environment, it is being built right up to the street and it hugs the charming little Gokul building to the west. No set backs for cars off of Delmar!!!

from Rosedale Avenue looking west

The building will also hug the Delmar Hall music venue to the west.

Unfortunately Big Shark Bicycles closed their shop on the Loop and moved to the burbs (although they kept their awesome location Downtown). But how can you lament their move when we have an equally great use. And the project is bringing

 more retail to the Delmar sidewalk.

Imagine being a student here. The car-free lifestyle is totally attainable.

The site is connected to multi-modes of transportation. You can get to the airport, downtown and many places in between with a short walk to the nearby 

Delmar Loop Metrolink stop and catch the red line.

Come Spring, 2017 there will be a Loop Trolley stop right out front as well, connecting the inner ring suburb of University City with the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park...and several stops in between.

The apartment housing demand is high in this part of town due to it's proximity to Washington University and it's good to see developers jumping on the opportunity.

The property is being developed by the Koman Group who have offices in Downtown St. Louis. 

Per their website:

Koman is pleased to be developing this 14-story student housing complex in the Delmar Loop neighborhood of St. Louis. The Loop offers six blocks of exhilarating one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, art galleries, live music, café culture, and the St. Louis Walk of Fame. This $66 million development consists of one, two and three bedroom units with bedroom/bathroom parity.

The Everly is designed to provide a high quality off-campus student housing option in the heart of the growing Delmar Loop neighborhood.

The new development consists of one building featuring three levels of gated garage parking, first floor commercial space, and 13 floors of residential space. In addition to the outstanding location, residents will enjoy a pool and lounge area, multiple study rooms, bike storage with a fix-it station, a fitness center, and a yoga room. Individual apartments will boast high-end finishes including stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, in unit W/D and fully furnished upscale furniture.

This student housing complex is driven by a strong demand for off campus housing. The overall vacancy rate of 1.6% in the surrounding market is extremely low and indicates that the market is limited by a lack of supply rather than a lack of demand.

// Available for the Fall 2017 academic year

// 0.6 miles from the Washington University campus

// 209 units, 211 parking spaces

// High quality interior finishes and full amenities

Like the project on the corner of Delmar and Skinker, it's easy to be supportive of any development north of Delmar Boulevard as a step in the right direction toward attacking the 

"Delmar Divide". Sure, this literally abuts Delmar, but investment here has the potential to bleed north (if the powers that be allow it).

We need more people living here bringing activity, eyes on the street and...well, money. This becomes very obvious if you look at the U.S. Census data for this part of town.

The property is in the West End Neighborhood which lost a whopping 27% of it's population between 1990 and 2000. Things got better from 2000 to 2010 as a tiny numerical gain was observed...but still way under-populated. This project is needed. How can one deny that?

This is a clear win for St. Louis. 

The leasing office for the Everly is just down the street occupying a handsome storefront.

I look forward to seeing the full 14-stories on the skyline and watching young people enjoying our city, hopping on the trolley and bringing some much needed vibrancy to the East Loop and the West End neighborhood.

The Loop Trolley - Looking Forward to Spring, 2017

I was in the Delmar Loop recently checking out the site of a 

proposed mixed-use development at Skinker and Delmar

as well as the construction progress on "the Everly" student housing project. 

Stay tuned for my blog on the latter.

As I was bumming around the Loop I was 

really taken by how much progress has taken place on the Loop Trolley. Man, I just don't make it to this part of town very often. I need to spend more time here. Especially on

the St. Vincent Greenway at Ruth Porter Mall

. There is so much happening in our city right now, I just can't keep track. It's fun. These are good times, folks. I am working my way through my favorite 20 projects announced or under construction in 2016 and the Loop Trolley wasn't one of them. 

That is a testament to just how much is going on. I am really looking forward to this, especially to hear what people think. I tend to think it will be a rousing success and a real treat for people visiting the Loop and those that live around the trolley line.

I remember buying a Citizen's For Mass Transit Loop Trolley poster almost 10 years ago so it's good to see things on the verge of operation come Spring, 2017.

The infrastructure of the trolley line is really taking shape. You can see how it will flow and how people will get off and on:

My wife was looking at some of my photos, and said if you put a sepia tone filter on that, it would look like St. Louis in it's heyday. So for her sake, here's an effected look down DeBaliviere Avenue:

At some stretches, the trolley runs down the middle of the street such as this section along Delmar nearest the eastern end:

At other stretches of Delmar, it makes it's way to either side of the street depending on which direction it is heading.

Even the signage is going up:

The 2.2 mile stretch will take people from the inner ring suburb of University City to the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park with ten stops in between:

image source:

Loop Trolley

The trolleys themselves are coming from Portland, OR which is odd considering we had the most sophisticated street car system in the United States until we scrapped them...for buses.

photo credit: The Loop Trolley

It's great that the trolley will provide another connection to Metrolink as the Delmar Loop and DeBaliviere/Forest Park stops are on the trolley line. The latter is critical as you can get on the red or blue line.

Another plus of this project is that it brings a shuttered historic building back to life. The trolley car maintenance and storage shed will be at 5875 Delmar. There are new windows and other investment that will allow this building to carry on for at least another generation with a new life.

This building is actually the combination of two buildings (5875 and 5893 Delmar Boulevard).  The first was built in 1914 the latter was built in 1911 with an extension added in 1951. These buildings were once auto showrooms and repair bays which later became the Delmar High School. 

Per

"So Where'd You Go To High School" by Ray Bosenbecker

:

Delmar High School opened in 1975 in the Delmar Elementary School building at 5883 Delmar as an alternative high school program, used for overflow during a period of high enrollment. The school was named for the street it was on, and the street name was derived from the first three letters of the states Delaware and Maryland. The school closed in 1980. 

Since then the structure sat vacant until the last year or so when construction began. Per

a February, 2012 story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

:

A Loop Trolley feature will be its maintenance building in the old Delmar High School. (Tim) Borchers (the trolley's technical manager) said it will have a public viewing area for people "to see the normal day-to-day-life of a streetcar."

It's good that it'll be open to the public.

Before:

Recently:

I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product!

For an amazing blog following the progress very closely with lots of photos, check out

Derek Knight 007

.

Mixed-Use Proposal At Delmar And Skinker Boulevards - 2016 St. Louis City Talk Development Favorite

I'll be sharing my thoughts on twenty of my favorite proposed or under-construction St. Louis projects that were announced or broke ground in 2016.

The projects are in no particular order, so I am simply diving in.

First is a proposal for a mixed-use project on the northwest corner of Delmar and Skinker Boulevards.

One of the appeals of this proposal is the indisputable higher use at a prominent location. And being on the northwest corner of Delmar and Skinker, it's easy to be supportive of any development north of Delmar Boulevard as a step in the right direction toward attacking the "Delmar Divide".

This property sits on the western edge of St. Louis in the West End Neighborhood and currently has a Shell gas station/car wash and Circle K convenience store.

This key property is on the popular entertainment district "The Loop". The Loop is home to ~145 specialty shops including restaurants, galleries, clothing boutiques, gift stores, entertainment venues and a boutique hotel.

The American Planning Association recently voted this street "one of the ten great streets in America". It's one of the shopping and entertainment strips people throughout the region really identify with and it showcases the character of the city and it's one of the best examples of a connection to the inner-ring suburbs.

People love it here, especially visitors. 

You can also think of the Loop as the closest thing we have to a college town commercial/entertainment strip. 

Nearly every Midwestern Big 10 University city I've been to (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, Columbus, Ohio, Iowa City, Iowa and Madison, Wisconsin) all have their "strip" with international restaurants, drinking holes, ornate theater and music clubs. For Washington University students, this is that strip. 

There is no doubt that the Loop is one of the areas that we get judged upon by visitors and tourists.

In many ways, this intersection at Delmar and Skinker feels like the entrance to the Loop although the district extends roughly from the Delmar Loop Metrolink station at Des Peres Avenue in St. Louis all the way west to the U-City City Hall building near Delmar and Trinity.

Many people come to the Loop in a car and Skinker is the main artery to get here.  Currently, the view from this intersection is not a good one at three of the four corners.  Pedestrians are shut out with fences on two of the corners, and the third has a constant stream of cars entering and exiting the gas station due to the double curb cuts that make walking here inhospitable.

The southeast corner has a shuttered Church's Fried Chicken that has been sitting empty for years. The property is surrounded by a fence to keep people out.

southeast corner-shuttered fast food joint

Crossing Skinker you come to a surface parking lot surrounded by another fence next to an AT&T exchange building.

southwest corner-fenced in surface lot

The northeast corner of Delmar and Skinker is the only good one with a perfectly scaled retail building hugging the corner. In fact, if you like cannoli check out Piccione Pastry, one of the small businesses in this building. Yum.

northeast corner - a perfect urban building

And then the Shell/Circle K property:

 northwest corner

We need to do better at this important intersection and a recent proposal by suburban real estate investment firm Pace Properties (Brentwood, Missouri) does just that. In fact the project is deemed "Northgate", a fitting designation as the entryway to the Loop and North City.

I first read about this proposal on NextSTL from a November, 2016 piece:

Envisioned is 15Ksf of ground-floor retail and two floors of office space, totaling 50,000sf. The project appears on the city’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agenda this month. Pace is set to request support for a $4.4 TIF. Materials provided to the TIF Commission state the project would support 280 full-time jobs and target “technology and creative firms”.

The St. Louis Business Journal and St. Louis Post-Dispatch also reported on the project in November.

Pace is proposing an urban building that hugs this important corner. Three stories is just enough to match the handsome building across Skinker. It appears to be a modern design with a lot of glass which would be a perfect counter to the classic blonde brick across the street and the classic St. Louis red brick building just west of the property which currently houses Thai Country Cafe. More detailed renderings will surely come out as the project progresses.

This building would change the corner from a 100% auto centric establishment to a mixed use 

office/retail building all the while getting rid of the curb cuts near the corner, easing the pedestrian experience.

We also need bona fide crosswalks and traffic calming measures here too. This district deserves it, especially with a trolley car passing through here in the near future. Plain and simple: cars need to slow down at Delmar and Skinker.

This is not just my opinion, the need for change at this intersection was recognized by a design firm and consultant as well. Per a November, 2011 report called

"The Delmar Loop Area Retail Plan & Development Strategy"

prepared by HR&A Advisors for Washington University. The plan included an urban building at the northwest corner and more pedestrian improvements:

 before

after

The building in this study is much bigger, but I like the Pace proposal better as it matches the northeast corner and is not too much. We need to fill holes vs. building up, so three stories seems just right. Yet, notice in this rendering, the AT&T lot is still fenced, but at least has sculptures to break up the monotony of a surface lot.

The other thing to like about this project is the increase in jobs. 

We'd go from a gas station employing one maybe two cashiers/attendants to ~280 creative/tech jobs. That is a clear win. If those jobs come from outside of St. Louis, even better. If it is musical chairs from another neighborhood in St. Louis, this loses a lot of steam. Especially when you know the suburban developer will be asking the people of St. Louis to give our tax dollars that this property would generate to them and not our schools, parks, etc.

Now, I'm not one of these people that is completely anti-gas stations all the time. That would be the ultimate in hypocrisy as I own two cars and a scooter. But, the location of gas stations is something I feel okay being critical about, and this is all about location.

An entryway to such a high profile area that serves neighborhood people and visitors should have a better welcome mat. I'd like to see the gas station move just north of here along Skinker to keep the petrol option open for people who live around here. There is plenty of empty space to the north of this development.

The gas station/Circle K is owned by a Clayton, Missouri company called Spirit Energy, LLC. Their tax bill in 2016 was ~$16K; that's a nice chunk of change for city services. A move north would be a win:win.

Now there is a minor downside of this project, as the little single-story urban building just north of the Shell station at 621-623 North Skinker Boulevard would be demo'd. Wash U most recently owned the building, so no taxes have been paid since they bought it in 2012, but it is a perfectly good building. 

621-623 North Skinker Boulevard will be razed

However, the trade off is acceptable and a good example of compromise.  

The Loop, the pedestrian and the future employee in Northgate win on this one. What a great location to introduce street-level retail and office space.

Replacing the Shell station/Circle K with a three story, 50,000 square foot office building with 15,000 thousand square feet of retail space most definitely improves the intersection and the city. From a handful to hundreds of jobs that will bring people to root down and keep the businesses filled at lunch and after work. Imagine grabbing a workmate and jumping on the trolley and eating lunch in Forest Park in the shadow of the Missouri History Museum.

Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, construction could begin September, 2017 with a target completion toward the end of 2018.

My next post will address "the Everly" student housing project just east of here that will bring even more density, activity and patrons to the East Loop.

North Entrance To The Arch Grounds Is Open

Everybody and their brother are going to be sharing photos and talking about the ~$380M Arch grounds renovation. T

he public will gain access to the different sections of the project as it opens in stages.

I finally had a chance to visit the recently opened northern approach that extends from the Eads Bridge and Laclede's Landing.

This has been a long train coming. I remember sitting in the public unveiling of the design competition and dreaming about all the potential designs. I also remember voting for the public tax dollars to go toward the project against my better judgement (Prop P in 2013).

In my mind, the pros were:

  1. it is a cool project and something had to be done once the emerald ash borers kill off all the ash trees on the grounds
  2. it'll bring some jobs and I love employment no matter how temporary
  3. it'll improve the visitor/tourist/suburbanite experience
  4. it might make the Arch grounds become a place where people who live in St. Louis want to be and energize the dead zone that is the riverfront and Laclede's Landing
  5. the suburban cities in the County were pitching in too, so it wasn't just St. Louis on the local hook to fund everything (a la, NFL and MLS stadiums/parking lots)
  6. Great Rivers Greenway isoverseeing the $9.4 million in annual funding for improvements, and I trust them...look at the work they've done to date...amazing
  7. the major pro was that there were funds available for the city parks. 
  8. most of the money was coming from private funds:

Project Funding

  1. CityArchRiver is a public-private partnership formed to fund and coordinate the design and construction of a complete renovation of the Gateway Arch grounds and its surroundings.  Private donors funded the entire cost of the international design competition, Framing a Modern Masterpiece: The City + The Arch + The River, and continue to fund design costs for the project.
  2. Construction of the $380 million project is funded in three ways:
    • $69 million - Public funds from federal, state and local sources such as a USDOT TIGER grant, MoDOT funds, other federal grants and funding from Great Rivers Greenway District
    • $90 million - Proposition P bond proceeds - On April 2, 2013 voters in St. Louis County and St. Louis City approved Proposition P: The Safe and Accessible Arch and Public Parks initiative. Great Rivers Greenway is the steward of the taxpayers’ investment in the project.
    • $221 million -  Private funding from gifts, grants and donations raised by the CityArchRiver Foundation. The Foundation will raise another $29 million to seed an endowment that will help maintain and improve the project area into the future. (source)

And the cons (curmudgeon alert!):

  1. more taxes
  2. using local funds for a Federal monument and grounds
  3. St. Louis has 99 problems and the Arch ain't one of them. We should focus our efforts on things that make people want to live here not just visit here, park and leave

Anyhow, the changes are underway and the results are in plain view of the public. And, so far it looks pretty nice.

I entered the grounds from the north through Laclede's Landing, so I started by taking in the view from the Eads Bridge pedestrian lanes.

Then I walked down to ground level and entered the grounds just south of the Metrolink stop.

The real star of the show is the elevated walking bridge which allows unmatched views of Eads Bridge and takes you to a deck overlooking Lenore K. Sullivan Boulevard at the river's edge.

 Three bridges to the north

Street, bike lanes, riverfront

The following photos from

the CityArchRiver website

show the before and after versions and how it's supposed to look after completion and plant maturation.

Before: with parking garage that is no more (photo credit CityArchRiver)

After: looking north toward Eads bridge and Laclede's Landing 

(photo credit CityArchRiver)

Before: with Washington Avenue still available to traffic (photo credit CityArchRiver)

After: looking west sans Washington Avenue (photo credit CityArchRiver)

I'm looking forward to exploring the south grounds, the Interstate highway lid, Kiener Plaza and most of all, the new museum.

New Homes Under Construction In McKinley Heights And A Brief History of Charless School

This blog was updated on December 10th, 2016 with updated information on Charless School from St. Louis Public Library Reference Librarian Adele Heagney. I met Adele while blogging on the St. Louis library branches, and she is a tireless researcher of city records and invaluable reference materials. Updates in red font.

The McKinley Heights neighborhood is ripe for development and rehab. The location is nearly unmatched as you can get anywhere in the city in ~15 minutes.

Aesthetically speaking, McKinley Heights is a real unsung hero. It boasts some of the most varied architectural styles and details of any single neighborhood.

You might not pick up on that for a couple reasons. 

One, most people drive through the neighborhood as opposed to walking or cycling. And to appreciate it, you really have to slow down and train your eyes toward some of the intricate details on many of the homes and businesses on the side streets.

These interesting brick details might have something to do with renown architect William B. Ittner's family owning a brickyard near here in the 1850's in what is now Fox Park. Some of Ittner's earliest works are in this part of town. (source)

Secondly, driving through McKinley Heights usually takes you down Russell Boulevard as there are no other really convenient streets to get east/west and there is only one intra-neighborhood street (Mississippi Avenue) that crosses I-44. 

So it's understandable that Russell would be the average St. Louisan's sole exposure to McKinley Heights.

But, venturing down the side streets show that a lot is going on from a development standpoint; there always appears to be rehabbing going on with at least a couple dumpsters on display indicating substantial rehabs.

2300 block of Ann Avenue

And there's evidence of the much needed investment in maintenance and upkeep of the owner-occupied homes.

2200 block of Jules Avenue

A new construction project recently caught my eye on the 2200 block of Shenandoah near Jules Avenue. Just south of Shenandoah, there are several concrete foundations recently poured on what appeared to be an empty lot.

A sign on the construction site indicates it is called "Charless Village". Where'd that name come from? I'll explain in a minute.

A view of the property along Shenandoah indicates it was once a larger, single property as evidenced by the small stone wall that lines the property and a stairway allowing access from the street:

I was immediately thinking a school or other large building must have been there at one point. A quick look at the alley-side of the property showed another clue: remnants of the familiar iron fencing indicative of our historic public schools.

Turns out, this is the site of the once beautiful Charless School. Per the St. Louis City website:

The earliest public school built in the area was the Charless School which was erected in 1895 at 2226 Shenandoah Avenue after the design by A. H. Kirchner. (source)

sans bell/clock tower and dormer windows

The school was in use through the 1970's and maybe later. I'm trying to find out if any alumni can tell me when the school was closed via the alumni Facebook page.

Per St. Louis Public School records, and thanks to the research of Adele Heagney, the school closed in 1981.

If anyone reading this can provide proof of how the clock/bell tower was lost as per the second photo above, let me know. I am thinking tornado/storm but have no proof.

One of the worst tornados in U.S. history occurred in May, 1896 that did a number on this part of town. Here's a photo of the damage just a few blocks north of Charless School at Jefferson and Allen Avenue:

The Charless School withstood some pretty big tests from Mother Nature, but it was not able to survive the St. Louis wrecking ball. Per city records, a demolition permit was issued for the property in 1993. (source)

Demolition of our historic schools was short-sighted and ignorant. As we know now, many of these schools are being rehabbed for modern residential.

So it goes.

Although no one will call this row of new homes "Charless Village" once they are constructed, it's at least a nod to the history of the school, likely named after Joseph Charless (who added the 2nd S to his last name to emphasize how it was pronounced in his birthplace, Ireland). Charless was famous for publishing the first newspaper west of the Mississippi, the Missouri Gazette in 1808. (source

Ms. Heagney was able to provide the evidence I needed that the school was indeed named in honor of Joseph Charless and was damaged by the tornado. From news clippings circa 1920 in the Central Library archive:

This school is located at 2226 Shenanadoah avenue, and was erected in the year 1895. Although erected over 25 years ago and conforming to the type of school architecture of its day, it is still an excellent school building with 13 splendid and modernly equipped class rooms.
The building is erected upon a plot of ground donated by Mr. Joseph Charles to the City of St. Louis to be used as a school site.  He was born in 1804 and at first aided his father as printer on the Missouri Gazette. After completing his studies at the University, he took up the mercantile business, and in 1828 established a wholesale drug business. He haled many positions of trust, being Alderman, School Director, President of the State Bank and of the Mechanics Bank.  He was one of the founders of Washington University and of many charitable institutions of our city.

Furthermore, Ms. Heagney's research indicated that the school at 2226 Shenandoah is actually the second location of the Charless School. The first was at Shenandoah and Gravois from 1859-1895.

Original Charless School at Shenandoah and Gravois

The second Charless School closed in 1981 after an 86 year run. It sat vacant for ~7 years, until it was damaged by an arsonist in 1988. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on February 23, 1988 that the fire department put out a three-alarm fire that damaged the roof of the vacant school. A separate fire was extinguished in the building the following day. Deputy Fire Chief Bob Jones suspected arson since there was no electricity to the three-story building and the fire started in the attic.

Then, per printed records of the Board of Education from 1895/1896, 

Ms. Heagney was able to find determine that a "storm damage"  account set up by the SLPS for repairs to Charless totaling over $2000 for tornado damage...mystery solved.

Anyhow, once the school was razed in 1993, the property sat vacant until most recently when building permits were issued in 2016.

Per city records, the property changed hands in 2007 from the St. Louis Board of Education to suburban developer CF Vatterott (officially entered as "Affordable City Homes of St. Louis, Inc." in the city database). Vatterott owns quite a bit of property in this part of the city from the Gate District to Fox Park to McKinley Heights. 

In fact, Vatterott recently floated several highly-subsidized, low-income home construction projects in these parts and many of the neighbors were quite vocal against it, though not for the reasons one would expect (low income-NIMBY's, bad design, cheap materials, although those reasons were debated). The loudest dissent came from the dubious financial terms that by no means appeared to be in favor of a family on a fixed/low income. The financing plan made public by the developer appeared to be a bum "rent-to-own" deal for the tenant that no financial adviser would likely recommend to someone with as a sound long-term investment.

I'd like to see Vatterott return with a more equitable proposal that would mutually satisfy the developer, the existing neighbors and prospective buyers. It is high time to act as opposed to sitting on the many lots they've owned for many years. Or, just sell the property to someone that has the will to develop an even-handed urban plan that can gain support from the current residents/tax payers.

Anyhow, Vatterott is building five new homes on the former Charless School property...and I'm hopeful that this development will be a step in the right direction for the property and by extension, for the neighborhood.

Per the Vatterott website the ~1,568 square foot 3 bed/3 bath homes are being offered for ~$215,000.

From the Vatterott website:

Now taking reservations! Five historically-based Energy-Efficient new homes now underway on Shenandoah Avenue in historic McKinley Heights! Representing the first new construction homes offered in this area in decades - enjoy modern open floorplan layouts, full basements, two-car garages and high-efficient systems together with historic elevations with 9 ft first AND second floor ceiling heights. (source)

The thing that is unclear is if these are market rate, if there were tax abatements awarded and if the sides will be vinyl or brick. The overall ability of new faux-historic construction usually depends on the details and finishes. So far, it's too early to tell.

The good news is the placement of the homes blends in well with the existing homes on the block.  Judging by the foundations, the five homes are densely placed and they have

 a good relationship with the street. The massing and overall shape matches the adjacent homes and they will fill a much needed gap in the street wall along Shenandoah that's been there since the 1990s.

See for yourself how they will fit in:

The garages will utilize the alley:

And they kept the long stone wall and stairs:

We will have to see how the finished product turns out, but at a minimum it is good to know that more people will be moving to this important part of the city. Not everyone wants to maintain a 100+ year old home, and these will provide a lower-maintenance alternative.

We need more residents to make the city feel vibrant and keep wonderful local places like Kim Van, Milquetoast Bar and Fritanga open.