Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jazz Club to Occupy Former Red Moon Space

According to Joe Whittington of the Post-Dispatch, a jazz venue - the St. Louis Jazz Café - is slated to open in the former Red Moon space in the Terra Cotta Lofts building at 1501 Locust.

The café will open in March and will be run by Arnold and Aundra Charleston.

Arnold Charleston said the new spot would have live entertainment three or four nights a week, and maybe a Sunday jazz brunch. The rest of the week will consist of local talent and streaming smooth jazz from the Internet.

"Once a week we'll get a headliner, and I've been talking with Erin Bode and Tim Cunningham," said Arnold Charleston.
I've heard that jazz clubs are challenging to run, so I wish the club's owners the best of luck. It will definitely be great to fill the void left by Red Moon.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Danna McKitrick Should Have Considered Downtown

Clayton-based Danna McKitrick, the 28th largest law firm in St. Louis, is moving its offices to 23,000 sf in the Pierre Laclede Center. The firm is moving from 17,700 sf at 150 N. Meramec. At the asking rental rate of $24.50 psf at Pierre Laclede, the deal is worth an estimated $5.6 million over the span of the 10-year lease.

Unfortunately for Danna McKitrick, had the firm considered downtown, it could have realized some nice cost savings at any of these Class A buildings that currently have large enough vacancies to accomodate them:

Equitable Building - $21.00 psf
One Financial Plaza - $21.00 psf
One City Centre - $18.50 psf
Bank of America Tower - $18.00 psf
St. Louis Place - $15.00-$16.00 psf

In a B/B+ building like 500 N. Broadway, the cost savings would be even more significant.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Forum Up, Productivity Down

Just a quick note: After going down for a few days due to server/software issues, the Urban St. Louis forum - - is back up and running again. Whew!

1500 Washington For Lease

RileyWaldrop has the listing on one of my favorite downtown buildings, 1500 Washington. Situated in the heart of the Loft District, this building is being marketed as restaurant space, for which it would be perfectly suited.

It features 3,500-7,000 sf available at $22 psf. It would be great to have another dining option on Washington Avenue while saving this unique little building.

1500 Washington

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I'm going to be taking a few days off from blogging, so happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

HDR Inc. Moves Downtown From Maryland Heights!

A nice early Christmas present for downtown boosters: HDR Inc., an architectural, engineering and consulting firm, is moving to downtown St. Louis from Maryland Heights! The firm has leased 11,400 square feet in Union Square Plaza, at 326 S. 21st Street and will move into its new home in February.

Space in HDR's current building leases for $20.00 psf, whereas space in Union Square Plaza goes for $14.00 psf, representing a nice cost savings in addition to more interesting office space and a great location. After HDR's lease, the 50,000 sf building now has just 814-5,413 sf available.

Tom Bajardi of Sansone Group is the leasing agent - (314) 727-6664

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shop Local - Stop the Insanity

Fox 2 aired a story last night about holiday shoppers at West County Mall. Apparently, many shoppers drove around the parking lots and garages for up to an hour in search of a parking spot. Made me glad I knocked out all of my shopping downtown - a completely stress-free experience.

Sure, West County has some great stores, but here in the St. Louis area, we're also blessed with a plethora of great local retailers. Maybe stories like these will convince people to check out locally-owned retailers instead of battling the malls. When you're wasting an hour in the parking lot, is it really all that convenient? Obviously, I'm impartial to downtown retailers, but supporting local stores throughout the region has a much greater benefit to us all.

In today's economy, it's the local stores that need - and appreciate - your business more than ever.

Ford Plaza Renovation Greenlit

Some rare good news on the residential front: The redevelopment of the Ford Plaza Apartments has been approved to receive $900,000 in TIF assistance as part of an $11.5 million plan that will include 39 rental apartments and first-floor retail.

Peter George's Blue Shutters Development will be taking on the renovation of the 14-story high-rise; work is expected to begin in the spring and take approximately one year.

Montgomery Bank, which took over ownership from Matt Burghoff this past summer, will be financing the project.

The Ford should make a nice bookend for the Park Pacific project that's currently underway two blocks to the east. The two buildings are separated by a one-block park that is slated to receive improvements soon.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Flux Capacitor...Fluxing

Let's go back in time, to November 1968. This picture was taken at the corner of 7th and Washington on the day after Thanksgiving, 40 years ago. I LOVE this picture; I find myself staring at it all the time.

Having been downtown on the day after Thanksgiving this year and the last few years, I can attest that there were a lot fewer people on the streets than there were 40 years ago. This year, the vast majority of the people I saw downtown were there to attend the Show-Me Bowl high school state championship football games at the Edward Jones Dome. It was enough to add a little life to the streets, but certainly nothing like the picture above.

When I think about the future of downtown and how I'd like for it to look and feel, this is what I want.

How do we get back to this point?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Everybody Loves UMA

According to Deb Peterson's column in the Post-Dispatch, Mike Finan's Urban Materials and Accessories (UMA) at 11th and Locust has been getting a lot of attention - and business - these days. Apparently the store's web site has some high-profile fans!

The site was featured last Friday on the Today Show's holiday gift list segment, and it was spotlighted again Monday on Isaac Mizrahi's webisode series on holiday gift giving. December was the second month for to be included on Oprah's "O List." Finan says he's thrilled with the attention and that he can now be found in the Shipping and Receiving Department filling the orders!

UMA is a great store and the perfect place to do a little last-minute holiday shopping!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

12th Street Animal Hospital

The 12th Street Animal Hospital and Boutique is now open at 412 N. Tucker and has a great web site.

12th Street is the only full-service veterinary hospital serving downtown, Soulard, Benton Park and Lafayette Square. In addition to veterinary care, they also offer doggie day care, grooming, dog walking, pet sitting, pet supplies and even a "boutique hotel" for cats.

Wtih City Pet Supply at 1915 Washington and now 12th Street Animal Hospital and Boutique, downtown pet owners should have everything they need!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An Open Letter to John Steffen

Dear Mr. Steffen:

These are tough times, as you know better than anyone else. But tough times call for tough people.

I’m sure that plenty of people told you that you were crazy over the course of your career; you weren’t. You were just unafraid to dream big, which is something that a lot of people in this city are unable to do. You envisioned St. Louis as “Paris on the Mississippi,” and thanks to your hard work, that vision was becoming a reality.

You’ve left an indelible mark on this city, and the projects that you completed on Washington Avenue and in the Old Post Office District have made downtown a much more vibrant, exciting place to work and live. Hopefully, the projects you began, such as the Mercantile Exchange and Arcade Building, will come to fruition under new developers and I hope you'll return to take on new projects of your own.

I obviously don’t know the specifics of your personal financial situation, but I trust that you’ll bounce back as you always have when faced with adversity.

I sincerely hope we haven’t heard the last of John Steffen. St. Louis needs more people like you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fireman's Fund - Why Not Downtown?

According to Joe Whittington's column in the Post-Dispatch, Fireman's Fund Insurance has dropped its plans to relocate its offices from Earth City to a new 100,000 sf building in Winghaven. The company is looking to renew its lease in its current location.

My question is, why not downtown? (I'm a broken record, I know.)

500 N. Broadway ($14.50 psf) would be a great choice if Lewis Rice decides to move. As would the former United Way building at 1111 Olive. And if Fireman's Fund is looking for Class A space, One City Centre has plenty of it at only $18.50 psf.

The Sherwood Medical Building at 1915 Olive would be another great option - Over 100,000 sf available at just $15.50 psf, and in a more "campus-like" building if Fireman's Fund thinks it absolutely has to have a suburban-style office building.

And with Metro about to drastically cut service outside of 270, places like Earth City and O'Fallon are about to become a lot less accessible.

Give downtown a chance!

Monday, December 15, 2008

More Musical Chairs

Joe Whittington of the Post-Dispatch is reporting that Lewis Rice may be interested in taking Stifel Nicolaus' space in One Financial Plaza once that firm moves to Ballpark Village in 2011. Lewis Rice signed an 18-month lease extension at 500 N. Broadway, buying the firm extra time to fully consider its options.

Stifel currently leases floors 7, 8 and 9 as well as part of the fifth and first floors.

Such a move would certainly be great for One Financial Plaza, but would create a massive vacancy at 500 N. Broadway, one that would be difficult to fill.

The building is currently 58% occupied, with four full floors currently vacant. LaBarge Pipe & Steel, McGlynn & Luther, Castle Law Office, Daedalus Capital, Beneficial Capital Leasing, Lord & Taylor and 3001 Inc. are among the major tenants at 500 N. Broadway.

500 N. Broadway is currently up for sale, offered at $16,500,000 ($58/psf). Perhaps a new owner could bring an infusion of new tenants to make up for the loss of Lewis Rice. The availability of Lewis Rice's current space, combined with the current vacancies, would offer a great opportunity for a tenant looking for a huge block of space at a low rate.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Left Bank Books Now Open!

In a day and age of Amazon, Borders, Wal-Mart, Kindles and other competition for your book-buying dollar, the intrepid souls at Left Bank Books have opened their new store downtown, at 10th and Locust.

While the economy and the market for book retailers are both tough, fortunately, LoftWorks' Craig Heller is providing Left Bank's 6,000 sf space rent free for three years, giving the store time to achieve profitability. I had a chance to check out the store on its first day in business, and it is fantastic. The space is loft-like, with huge windows. Employees were still hard at work stocking the shelves, so I look forward to stopping back in next week, when the store is fully up and running.

From the St. Louis Beacon:

Heller...hopes the addition of a book store will add to the fledgling neighborhood's "walkable" atmosphere. He said he likes the fact that the shop will be an independent one, too, he said, rather than a chain.

"When you walk in, you're going to know the people behind the counter, and they're going to know you," Heller said. "You don't get that in a 30,000-square-foot store."

This is an extremely important - and exciting - development for downtown. A bookstore is something the downtown retail scene has been sorely lacking since the Waldenbooks in St. Louis Centre and the B. Dalton in Union Station both shuttered.

Now that we have our bookstore, what's next? What other retailers does downtown need at this point? Personally, I'm hoping for a Walgreen's. Boring, yes, but needed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

St. Louis Design Center

The Roberts Brothers’ plans to open a Hotel Indigo at 917 Locust got me thinking about that building’s most recent use, as the St. Louis Design Center. I was familiar with the building primarily due to the fact that the Landmarks Association and Art St. Louis were located there up until this year.

Apparently, the St. Louis Design Center was intended as a smaller scale version of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, a one-stop shop for interior designers and architects and their clients.

The 12-story, 60,000 sf building, originally a warehouse for Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney department store, was repositioned and became home to furniture and lighting showrooms, art galleries and even an open-to-the-public artists’ supply shop. Knoll International, an office furniture and furnishings company, was the first tenant, establishing its showroom on the 11th floor.

The Design Center opened in 1986 and was founded by Paul McKee, president of Paric Construction, and a group of limited partners. Mike Murphy was hired as the center’s director and Sharon Derry was the creative director.

Back then, the building was a hub of activity, hosting a constant stream of exhibitions, shows and seminars. It sounds like it was an incredibly cool resource to have downtown.

Would it be possible for the St. Louis Design Center to make a comeback in another location downtown? Of course, I can think of plenty of potential sites that would be perfect for it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NGAGE Preleases Full Floor in The 411

Somehow, in my last update on Loftworks' latest project - The 411 - I missed this little nugget of information from the Business Journal:

Advertising firm NGAGE has preleased a full floor, or about 9,000 square feet, of the building, according to agency President and CEO Dan Curran. NGAGE currently leases space at 1141 S. Seventh St., and targets Dec. 1 to move to The 411. NGAGE expects about $3 million in '08 revenue and will have grown from its current 16 employees to about 20 by that time, Curran said.

1411 S. Seventh Street is Disper Schmitt's Art of Living Building, BTW.

When researching NGAGE, I came across another local firm - Engage Software - which is currently based in Des Peres. A software firm like Engage could use some cool office space like that in The 411. Maybe they could lease a floor or two and make it the Engage/NGAGE Building!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Check Out This View

I've written a handful of posts on the odd little Mansion House office building at 335 N. Fourth Street.

This building has been vacant for decades, and with good reason, frankly. The poor design of the Mansion House complex leaves this building sitting atop a parking garage, completely detached from Fourth Street. It does have street-level access at Memorial Drive, but Memorial is not exactly pedestrian-friendly.

On the other hand, being situated atop a garage means that the building offers abundant parking. It also features great visibility from Memorial Drive. But its real selling point, for any tenant who doesn't mind the building's flaws, is its views...

Check out this picture taken by Steve Patterson at the recent riverfront/Arch grounds design charrette held in the vacant office space. Look past the dated decor - that can be easily updated - and you'll see that this building offers amazing views of the Arch grounds. I'd love to have this view.

335 N. Fourth Street currently offers 18,500 sf of space, with lease rate and tenant finish negotiable - I'm guessing this space could be had at a very nice rate. It would work well for office tenants, but might also be a good spot for a restaurant as well.

Rob Berneking of AH Realty Advisors is the listing agent - (314) 773-1700 x114,

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Little Love from the P-D

My recent post on starting a microbrewery incubator was mentioned on Jeremiah McWilliams' Lager Heads blog on STLToday.

Thanks for reading! I hope this does not mean that my 15 minutes of fame are up though!

What Would Santa Do?

With the holidays just around the corner, now is the perfect time to patronize downtown businesses - the easiest way for everyone to do their part to revitalize downtown St. Louis.

Why buy books from the Ann Arbor-based Borders or New York-based Barnes & Noble when you can shop at the new ST. LOUIS-based Left Bank Books on 10th Street or the incredibly unique AIA Bookstore on Washington Avenue?

Thinking about ordering a gift basket from Oregon-based Harry & David? Why not check out what ST. LOUIS-based City Grocers has to offer?

What about Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel? Try English Living, UMA, Niche, Salt of the Earth and other home furnishings stores.

"He went to Jared?" Forget that. He should have gone to Hamilton Jewelers at 8th and Locust.

Downtown now features so many UNIQUE shops and boutiques that you should be able to find something for everyone on your shopping list - gifts you can't find anywhere else. And to supplement your local shopping efforts, there's also the downtown Macy's at 6th and Olive, which makes for a fun experience. The window displays are up and they look fantastic.

Why deal with the hassles of the mall when you can come downtown, do your shopping, have lunch and make a fun day out of it.

WWSD? What would Santa do? Shop downtown, of course! These businesses need your help now more than ever.

Some resources to help you get started:

Friday, December 05, 2008

One City Centre

A little over six months ago, SCR Investments took over ownership of One City Centre after Pyramid Construction started missing its loan payments on the building.

SCR is led by Stacy Hastie, who is also chairman and chief executive of Environmental Operations Inc. Environmental Operations was one of Pyramid's creditors, loaning the developer more than $7 million.

When SCR took ownership of the property, they stated plans to immediately invest an undisclosed amount of money to "update and enhance the facility and attract new tenants." SCR hired Matt O'Leary from Pyramid to handle the development.

Several tenants have left the building in recent months. A-B moved to Sunset Hills and is currently sub-leasing the space it leased there, so their space would be vacant now anyway. Cannon moved its offices to the historic power house it renovated in the Cupples Station area. Losing those tenants brought the building's vacancy rate to 65 percent. Then, Herzog Crebs signed a lease at the Bank of America Tower, bringing the vacancy rate further down.

To my knowledge, no work has been performed on the building, but I hope SCR can get its plans moving forward and attract some new tenants.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

My Idea: A Microbrewery Incubator

A few weeks ago, I had a post about O'Fallon Brewery and why it should locate its brewery downtown. I still think it's a good idea, if anyone from O'Fallon is reading this.

Anyway, writing that post got me thinking about St. Louis' role as a brewing center, especially in light of InBev's takeover of Anheuser-Busch. How can we maintain and build upon our reputation as a "beer city?"

My idea is to establish a microbrewery incubator in downtown St. Louis. The incubator would consist of:

-Bulk warehouse space for production, packaging and storage. The incubator's tenants would be able to rent brewing equipment, instead of having to provide an outlay of capital to purchase it themselves.

-A business office with in-house professionals to assist brewers with marketing, finance and other functions as well as the art of brewing itself. Professionals would help the tenants find their own space once they've outgrown the incubator.

-A restaurant/brewpub that will sell the tenants' beers and feature them in its menu items. The profits would help subsidize the facility and provide the tenants with income.

-An education center to teach homebrewing - to help encourage the next generation of brewing - sell supplies, offer a "beer school" for anyone interested in learning more about beer and brewing.

-A market to sell the tenants' beer and merchandise.

-Small museum to highlight St. Louis' brewing history - A-B, Lemp, Griesedieck, Falstaff, Schlafly, etc. Even though we want the emphasis to be on the FUTURE of St. Louis brewing, it's important to appreciate and honor past and present brewers.

-Maybe even a small agriculture center to learn more about growing hops, barley, grain, etc. to encourage local production of beer ingredients as well as to explore green/sustainable methods of production - perhaps the facility could have its own turbine or solar panels to help provide its own power.

I don't know enough about brewing to know if something like this is possible, but thought it just might be crazy enough to work.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board for the Hotel Indigo

The Roberts Brothers’ architects – Killeen Studio, who has done some great work all over St. Louis – have gone back to the drawing board and come up with a revised rendering for the entrance to the proposed Hotel Indigo on Locust.

The new rendering is a significant improvement over the original – an open driveway that would have been horrible for the streetscape.

That said, it’s still not an improvement over what’s there right now – a three-story, Tudor-style building dating back 118 years(!!) at 921 Locust and a four-story building at 917 Locust that dates back almost 100 years. According to a recent article in the Post-Dispatch:

Steve Roberts said the company considered incorporating 921 Locust into the hotel until they discovered its wooden beam construction of 1916 doesn't comply with modern earthquake-resistant building codes.

Sorry, I’m not buying it.
Another obstacle was 921's floor levels, which are mismatches for the adjoining 917 Locust, which was built in 1913.

I would refer to 555 Washington for an example of how to combine adjoining, mismatched buildings into a single interior space. It can be done with a little creativity. I think Killeen Studio could pull this off.
Roberts said the design might still change slightly, depending on the requirements of state and federal building preservation officials who control the tax credits the brothers plan to seek for the project.

As a poster on Urban St. Louis pointed out, should tax credits really be administered for a project that involves the demolition of two historic structures? The Preservation Board has already approved the project, but I implore the Roberts Brothers two save these two small, but important structures and either incorporate them into the hotel design or preserve them and renovate them for other uses.

Couldn’t the hotel just take up the St. Louis Design Center building?

Monday, December 01, 2008

1424 Washington For Sale

Another opportunity in the loft district - 1424 Washington is listed for sale. This three-story, 13,500 sf building is well suited for office or residential reuse.

The building is listed at $875,000 ($64.81 psf), and Patrick McKay of Hilliker is the listing agent - (314) 781-0001.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another Good Ballpark Village Candidate: Montgomery Bank

Montgomery Bank's plans for a new high-rise office building in downtown Clayton have been put on hold indefinitely. St. Louis County, who was to partner with Montgomery on the project, announced that it would not send out RFPs to developers until market conditions improve.

This project always struck me as a little strange - at 30+ stories and 600,000 sf, it's awfully large for Clayton, and it seemed like way too big of an undertaking for a smaller, regional bank like Montgomery.

When the project was initially announced, Joel Montgomery Jr. was quoted as saying, "What we would build (on the Clayton site) would make a statement and would redefine the Clayton skyline."

How about helping to redefine the ST. LOUIS skyline? A downtown headquarters would make so much more of an impact than would a Clayton location. Again, the fact that there are people out there who want us to have a great suburban business district instead of a world-class downtown is indicative of the short-sighted, small-minded thinking that has plagued this region for decades.

Why not lease space in Ballpark Village? Let Cordish worry about developing the building.

Montgomery Bank, originally based in Sikeston, Missouri, serves two major regions - St. Louis and Southeast Missouri. Southeast Missouri also happens to be Cardinal country, with thousands of Cardinal fans making the pilgrimage to Busch Stadium every year. A Ballpark Village location makes a tremendous amount of sense as it would provide exposure and publicity that would reach both constituencies. A Ballpark Village location would also be a great sign of faith and support by Montgomery Bank, that it believes in this region and its future.

Downtown was once home to great St. Louis banks like Boatmen's Bank, Mercantile Bank and Centerre Bank. These institutions thrived downtown, and there's no reason why Montgomery Bank would not thrive downtown as well.

To the City of St. Louis and Cordish: Make this happen.
To Montgomery Bank: Move downtown - it just makes sense.

Want to contact Montgomery Bank to encourage them to move downtown? Link

2000 Washington For Sale

One of downtown’s coolest buildings, 2000 Washington, is listed for sale. This former firehouse is located adjacent to the Sporting News Lofts, the Tudor Lofts, and other recent developments. At 11,400 sf and with 12 parking spaces, it is flexible enough to be redeveloped for office or residential uses, and the first floor could easily be converted to very unique retail space. Would also be perfect for anyone considering opening their own ghost-busting operation. I wonder if it has a pole...

The building is available for $900,000 ($78.26 psf).

Mark Brennan of Solon Gershman is the listing agent – (314) 862-9400

Monday, November 24, 2008

Railway Exchange Headed to the National Register

Overshadowed by the Roberts Brothers' attempt to demolish 917-923 Locust for a pointless driveway, there was some good news for downtown at the most recent Preservation Board meeting: The Railway Exchange building at 600 Locust will be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, the first critical step in earning historic tax credits for redevelopment.
The Railway Exchange truly is one of downtown's most amazing office buildings. I hope that it is not functionally obsolete, as I would prefer to see it retained as office space, particularly with the housing market as soft as it is currently. My recollections of the building's office space is that it featured relatively low ceilings and felt rather cramped. Perhaps that problem could be remediated with the removal of drop ceilings in favor of a more creative solution.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What We've Gained

Just so as to not be entirely gloom and doom, here's a quick look at some of the firms that downtown has GAINED in recent years:

Adamson - Moved from Clayton.
Asynchrony Solutions - Moved from Earth City, grew from 18 to 85 employees.
Gateway CDI - Moved its employees in Sunset Hills downtown.
Hardee's - Moved from North Carolina.
Hughes Group - Moved from Clayton.
Jacobs Engineering - Consolidated its Earth City office downtown.
Larson Allen - Moving from Des Peres.
NSI - Moved from Maryland Heights.
Osborn & Barr - Moved from Clayton.
Rosemann & Associates - Moved from Maryland Heights.

Adamson, Hughes, Osborn & Barr and NSI are particularly exciting newcomers. They all operate within the same general industry - creative services - and could signal the rebirth of downtown as a center for advertising, PR and other services after the loss of such firms as D'Arcy, Arnold Worldwide/Simmons Durham, Advanswers, etc.

Unfortunately, the firms downtown has picked up don't quite offset the losses it has suffered. Centene could have brought about a major shift in momentum, but unfortunately, we'll have to hope that someone else can fill the void. We need more firms to follow in the footsteps of those listed above and join the downtown revolution.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Urban Review on the Mansion House Complex

Over at Urban Review STL, Steve Patterson has a great write-up on the Mansion House complex and some ideas for re-connecting the street grid in this semi-odd hodgepodge of a 60s urban renewal project.

I think these ideas are great, and could potentially benefit the Peabody Building and the smaller office building in between the Mansion House and Gentry's Landing buildings. These two buildings are really cut off from the rest of downtown, visible only from Memorial Drive with very difficult accessibility. Despite their unbeliveable Arch views, these properties sit empty, and their lack of connectivity likely plays a major role.

I especially like Steve's idea of building a 2-3 story structure to connect the complex's center tower to Fourth Street. The Federal Reserve and the backside of 500 N. Broadway create a bit of a dead zone on the west side of Fourth Street, so the east side needs as much retail and activity as possible.

I would add to Steve's ideas that the three-story office building at the corner of Fourth and Washington should be considered a top site for redevelopment. The building takes up an entire block and the site's footprint could easily accomodate a much taller office or residential tower. A developer had proposed a 14-story condo tower for the site back in 2007 before the market collapsed. I hope we'll see something substantial on that site at some point in the future.

The proposed 14-story condo tower:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

St. Louis Loses Out In Final Four Bidding

Bad news: St. Louis has been shut out in its attempts to land an NCAA Division I men's basketball Final Four in 2012-2016. New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas, Indy and Houston were the big winners. St. Louis will now miss out on an estimated $40 million in economic impact and a huge amount of publicity. We also lost out in the 2003 bidding round, but it was suspected that the NCAA was waiting to see how St. Louis would fare in hosting the event in 2005 before awarding us any future bids.

As Vahe Gregorian of the Post-Dispatch says:

But even in a particularly competitive field, the second straight jilting calls into question whether St. Louis can maneuver to the front again and perhaps even whether it will be willing to try.

Dallas, Indy and Houston all have an edge in facilities, with glitzy new stadia. New Orleans and Atlanta do not have an advantage over St. Louis in this regard.

Think the condition of our downtown had anything to do with this decision? I sure do. When the selection committee sees the vacant hulking shell of St. Louis Centre and the empty Dillard's building just outside the Edward Jones Dome along with empty surface lots and a lack of vitality in many parts of downtown, that can't help.

A prosperous downtown would have helped our case immensely. The present condition of our downtown is the cumulative result of every company's decision to either move out of downtown or choose inferior suburban locations over downtown.

If we want to be competitive in landing events of this nature and attracting conventions and tourism, we're going to have to clean this place up.

Update: Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch has a nice blog entry about this subject - Link

What We've Lost

I get irrated at the notion that a new museum on the Arch grounds is the answer to downtown's ills, as if that's all it will take to bring downtown back to life.

It's not. What downtown really needs is businesses and their employees. Consider what we've lost in recent years:

Anheuser-Busch - 110,000 sf in One City Centre, leased 150,000 in Sunset Hills.
Armstrong Teasdale - 400+ employees, 100+ attorneys, 100,000 sf in Met Square.
Arthur Andersen - 60,000 sf (three floors) in 1010 Market.
Energizer - leased 170,000 sf in Maryville Centre.
Ernst & Young – 86,000 sf in Gateway One. Now leases 100,000 sf in Clayton.
General American - 128,250 sf, 400 workers.
Husch Blackwell – 57,000 sf in the Bank of America Tower. Now leases xx sf in Clayton.
May Company/Macys - Railway Exchange now 50% vacant, 1,700 jobs lost.
Smith, Moore & Company - A small loss in terms of square footage and employees, but a growing firm and once part of downtown's identity as a financial center. After more than 90 years downtown, left for Clayton in 2004.
TWA – 57,000 sf in One City Centre, reservation center on Olive.

This is not even an all-inclusive list by any means; these are just the firms I could think of off the top of my head. I'm sure I've missed a few.

The most disappointing losses on this list are Energizer, Ernst & Young, Husch and Smith Moore. Each of these firms could have chosen to remain downtown and help fuel the revitalization of the CBD, but passed up the opportunity. The others were the victims of mergers and outside circumstances; the decisions to move were made by players from outside the St. Louis area.

In the case of Energizer, Ernst & Young, Husch, and Smith Moore, our own citizens chose to cast a vote for mediocrity over a thriving, healthy downtown. This city would be a much better place had they stayed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Scottrade - The PERFECT Ballpark Village Tenant

Friday's Business Journal featured an article about Scottrade's rapid growth; the company expects to hire 400 additional employees in St. Louis in the days ahead. A few months ago, Scottrade unveiled its plans to expand its headquarters in West County, adding over 200,000 sf of office space and a 1,400-car parking garage.

It's great to hear about a relatively young company (founded in 1980) doing so well here in St. Louis - it's great for the region.

Scottrade would have to be at the top of my list of firms that should be located downtown but aren't. With Stifel Nicolaus and Wells Fargo/Wachovia Securities already downtown, they would be a perfect fit. There's no reason that Scottrade's office space needs could not be met downtown. In fact, they would be an ideal tenant for Ballpark Village. For a firm that is doing everything it possibly can to get its name out to the public - saturation web advertising, sponsorship of the Scottrade Center, aggressive TV advertising, etc. - the publicity and exposure they would gain by locating in Ballpark Village would be huge.

I wonder if anyone from the city or Cordish has ever approached them.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lafser & Associates

In following the proceedings of the city's Preservation Board over the years, I've noticed that Lafser & Associates is responsible for providing the research and legwork needed to get numerous historic buildings nominated to the National Register. They provided the research for the Railway Exchange's nomination, for example, and have an impressive track record.

This is a firm that has been heavily involved in the preservation of our architectural heritage. They specialize not only in historic preservation but environmental assessment and remediation as well.

So, when I was visiting Lafser's web site, I was a little disappointed to see their offices listed at a Creve Coeur address. Creve Coeur? Come on!

Sounds to me like the kind of firm that would be right at home in one of downtown's many historic gems. When's your lease up, Lafser? It's time to move downtown!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cannon Design's New Office Opens

After a renovation and build-out totalling $8.75 million, Cannon Design has moved to its new home in the former St. Louis Municipal Power House at 11th and Clark. 105 employees will work from the firm's new 31,000 sf headquarters.

The building had sat vacant for over three decades and had largely been considered one of the most difficult rehab projects downtown due to the fact that it was basically just a shell, consisting of four non-load bearing walls. Cannon had to construct its offices within the framework of the exterior walls, a process one of the firm's principals compared to "building a ship in a bottle."

This project just goes to show that with a little thought, effort and foresight, creative solutions to the problems posed by historic buildings can be reached. Maybe the Roberts Brothers could come up with their own creative solution in their plans for their new hotel on Locust instead of tearing down 917 and 923 Locust.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Museum? What Museum?

First of all, let me start by saying that I have the utmost respect for Senator Danforth.

I just think his plans for the Arch grounds are half-baked, in particular, the notion that we need some sort of museum on the Arch grounds.

There’s been no indication as to what the theme of the museum would be or how having a museum built on the Arch grounds would solve all our problems.

More than eight years ago, there actually was a push to create a museum downtown, and it was a good idea – one with a theme and a plan and everything. Somehow, the idea died.

Back in 2000, the Post-Dispatch profiled plans to establish a Smithsonian affiliate museum. Apparently, the Smithsonian has so many items, it was looking for ways to make them available to the public outside of its museum in Washington, D.C. and was looking for “affiliates” in other cities that would display these items in “satellite” museums.

Attorney Alan Bornstein led the efforts to set up such a museum here in downtown St. Louis, to be known as Museum of American Character. Consultants from LORD Cultural Resources Planning & Management were hired to develop a feasibility study and cost estimates. The cost was estimated at $150+ million. The Union Station ownership group, Kiel Center Partners and the Danforth Foundation picked up the $300k consulting bill.

Bornstein wanted to conduct a national architectural competition and end up with something visually powerful and dramatic. There was mention of including a public school in the plans. The St. Louis Public Library was interested in collaborating. People like Richard Baron were mentioned as being part of the planning committee.

From 18 possible sites, it was determined that the best site would be on the gateway mall, on the site of a four-story federal office building at 1520 Market Street, a building that has since been mentioned as being used for parking as part of the late Donald Breckenridge’s plans to renovate the Kiel Opera House. The thinking was that this site would resurrect the old civic plaza idea from around 1919, when city fathers envisioned a public, outdoor gathering place surrounded by monumental architecture.

There was discussion of adding the proposed museum to the Metropolitan Zoological Park & Museum Tax District, and Union Station Partners were even talking about building a branch of the Museum of Transportation at Union Station.

So what happened to these plans? Why were they a good idea in 2000, but not now? Wouldn’t the originally proposed site on Market Street be preferable to the Arch grounds? Can we just bring back this idea instead of altering the Arch grounds?

The Smithsonian affiliate is up there with the planned exhibition hall as good ideas that never came about.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Arch Grounds - A Simple Solution

Much has been made about plans for the Arch grounds lately. Mayor Slay, Senator Danforth, the National Parks Service and even college students have all weighed in with their ideas.

First of all, any plans for the Arch grounds basically ignore the real issues that downtown faces right now. It's just another in a long line of "silver bullets" that are intended to "save downtown."

Downtown needs to:
1) Attract and retain businesses
2) Attract and retain residents

Pumping money into the Arch grounds will not address either of these issues.

So, if it is determined that something absolutely must be done, my solution is simple, albeit pricey:

- Eliminate the downtown section Highway 70 from, say Poplar to Cass.

- Fill in the "depressed section," which will free up a little extra land for development.

- Tear down the elevated section of highway that severs Laclede's Landing from the rest of downtown. Re-establish the street grid.

- Create an at-grade parkway on the current site of Memorial Drive with traffic calming measures and safe, accessible pedestrian crossings.

To me, anything else really doesn't truly address the connectivity problems that Highway 70 poses.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More Merc

I apologize for all the posts regarding the Mercantile Library complex, but that's the beauty of having your own blog - you can entertain all sorts of thoughts!

One of my favorite downtown enhancement projects in recent years is the improvements made to the Ballpark Hilton at Broadway and Market. When the former Marriott Pavilion Hotel was purchased and re-branded by Bob O’Laughlin’s Lodging Hospitality Management, its new owners gave the building a major overhaul.

Most notable among the $20+ million in improvements made to the hotel is addition of an impressive conference center and ballroom with a wall of windows overlooking the Arch and Old Courthouse. The new addition extends all the way to Market Street and wraps around the Broadway side of the building. It’s sleek, blends in well with the original structure and interacts well with the street. The views are stunning as well.

As I was admiring the Hilton recently, it occurred to me that many of its design cues bear a striking resemblance to the Mercantile Library complex a few blocks south. The color of the Hilton’s addition is fairly similar, as are the windows. The corner entry at Broadway and Market is nearly identical to the Mercantile Library’s entrance at Sixth and Locust. So, for a little preview of just how stunning the Mercantile Library complex could look, take a look at the Ballpark Hilton.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Solution for the Mercantile Library Complex

The Mercantile Library Building is actually six interconnected buildings that have been reskinned to give a cohesive appearance. In my opinion, the redevelopment of this building/these buildings is among the most critical projects left to be undertaken, due to the sheer size of the complex – almost an entire city block – and its highly visible location.

But maybe keeping the buildings together is hindering their development. So, to encourage the redevelopment of these buildings, perhaps Spinnaker – the owner of the Mercantile Library complex – could sell off the complex piece by piece, as individual buildings. The buildings could be sold to different developers or sold off one at a time to a single developer like LoftWorks, with options to purchase additional buildings after rehab work is completed. Actually, one of the complex's buildings has already been sold off and renovated - it's the one right next to the LaSalle Building that is the home of Paradowski Graphic Design until the firm moves to its new home on Locust closer to the Tap Room.

For example:

Buildings one, two and three are the largest of the bunch and take up the corner of Broadway and Locust. It might be best to keep these three together and renovate them as office space with first floor retail space. The large floor plates should be attractive to both types of user. There is a prominent entrance on Broadway, with a secondary entrance on Locust.

Buildings four and five line Sixth Street, facing Macy’s. Each has its own entrance; Building four’s entrance is right at the corner of Sixth and Locust and is particularly appealing. These two buildings are fairly slender and might be better suited for residential use.

Building six is a tiny, five-story building facing Olive that could be easily renovated as live/work space. It might be hard to work first floor retail into this building due to its small size. This building might also be fairly easy to restore to its original appearance before it was recladded.

Even under separate ownership, maybe a deal could be reached with the new owners to allow General Growth Properties to handle the leasing of the ground floor retail spaces as originally proposed in the exciting Mercantile Exchange project proposed by Pyramid in 2007.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

"Can-Do" Spirit

As an avid reader of the Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Business Journal over the years, I’ve noticed that a gentleman named Richard Ontiveros has consistently submitted great letters to the editor. It’s always nice to see someone who gets it. Here is his most recent letter to the Post-Dispatch. I couldn’t agree more – cities like Charlotte, Houston, etc. all embody the “can-do” spirit that St. Louis needs to embrace:

St. Louis lacks a "can-do" spirit

I enjoyed Bill McClellan's column "Business leadership style steals success from St. Louis" (Sept. 19). I have been trying for years to get corporate leaders to realize their role in the vitality of downtown St. Louis (or lack thereof).

Billions of dollars have been invested in revitalizing our central business district, which has gained global recognition. But when it comes to jobs and office space, businesses prefer to go to Clayton, west St. Louis County or elsewhere. The trend has been to hold the city hostage for tax incentives and perks under the threat of leaving the area. What civic pride.

It's not that there is a lack of money in St. Louis to push this city into the limelight, but there is a lack of corporate leadership and commitment. There is no "can-do" attitude in this city. We prefer to be conservative and smug about not suffering the highs and lows that risk-taking cities sometimes experience.

This area has minimal growth in jobs and population. We continue to take one step forward and two steps back. We could be so much more, yet we sell ourselves short of that chance. We have a delusional notion that we are an important city. How many corporate headquarters have we lost? How many of our companies have been sellers rather than buyers? We don't even have non-stop flights to London or anywhere in Europe, let alone Asia or South America.

Whenever I mention building a new monument on the western end of the Gateway Mall — "The Spirit of St. Louis," commemorating our city's heritage in aviation and aerospace — I'm looked at with disdain.

Times change, but we don't. The last time this city was prominent was when we had the audacity to have a World's Fair in 1904 and the business community had the chutzpah to invest in the crazy idea of a transatlantic flight to Paris. That never would happen today.

Richard Ontiveros | St. Louis County

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Achieving Balance

Back in 2005, Jack Carl’s 2 Cents Plain delicatessen closed its doors after 40 years in business downtown. In a Post-Dispatch article about the closing, Carl referred to downtown as “done-town” and said, "They keep kicking out the businessman to put up lofts. Now, there's no one around to buy lunch."

At the time, I dismissed his comments as the ramblings of a crotchety old man who was unable or unwilling to keep up with the changes taking place around him. But as I took a walk around downtown the other day, it occurred to me…

He actually had a decent point.

Starting with the demolition of the Ambassador Building at 7th and Locust in 1996, several prominent downtown office buildings have been demolished or decommissioned:

Ambassador Building – Demolished for U.S. Bank’s “driveway”
Arcade Building – Slated for loft conversion, in limbo after Pyramid's demise
Century Building – Demolished for parking garage
Chemical Building – Converted to lofts
Farm & Home Savings Association – Currently vacant, but slated for renovation as office space
Fur Exchange Building – Converted to hotel
General American Building – Vacant
Louderman Building – Converted to lofts
Marquette Building – Converted to lofts
Marquette Annex – Demolished for parking garage
Mercantile Library Building – Attempted conversion to telcom hotel, now vacant
Merchants Exchange Building – Converted to hotel
Paul Brown Building – Converted to lofts
School Board Building – Converted to lofts
Syndicate Trust Building – Converted to lofts
Union Pacific Building – Slated for loft conversion
210 North Tucker – Converted to telcom hotel (few workers)

The majority of these buildings are located in the central and western portions of the CBD. While many new modern office buildings were constructed in the 60s-80s, they have largely been concentrated in the eastern and southern portions of the CBD. And while the loft conversions have breathed new life into so many historic, but functionally obsolete office buildings, there are now relatively few office buildings in the central and western portions. These areas now lack the daytime population needed to sustain a successful mix of businesses. The loft dwellers cannot shoulder the responsibility for the downtown renaissance by themselves; a truly revitalized downtown requires a proper balance of workers and residents.

There is hope for the western portion of the CBD though: its vacant lots. The massive parking lots at 11th and Locust/St. Charles and 11th and Pine/Olive are among the best prospective building sites downtown – new office buildings on either of those sites would go a long way toward balancing out the office/residential mix in the area and give it more stability.

Arcade Status?

What's going on with the redevelopment of the Arcade Building? According to the Post-Dispatch a few months back, developer Keith Barket was considering taking it on.

Barket holds the second deed of trust on the Arcade, and was the one who sold it to John Steffen of Pyramid. He has been involved with the Arcade since 1979 when he was part of a group that bought the land under the building.

Barket is talking with Chicago-based Centrum Partners (which, with his son Sol Barket, was part of the Crestwood Plaza deal), some joint ventures and local investors.

"The development can be done somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million," said Barket. "Whatever is done will have to be redrawn, and it would have to go dormant about a year because of the financing atmosphere."

Apparently other sources have said that the Roberts Brothers have expressed interest as well. By taking on the Arcade, they would certainly help protect their other interests in Old Post Office Square - the Orpheum, the Mayfair, Roberts Tower, Roberts Lofts and the planned Hotel Indigo.

Steffen's $132 million plan had called for 40,000 square feet of retail, condominiums and office space.

I just hope that something is happening behind the scenes. This is the type of project that could really help move downtown forward, especially from a retail perspective. It and the Chemical Building (Alexa) are the two remaining undeveloped buildings in Old Post Office Square. The good thing for any developer willing to step up to the plate is that a sizeable portion of interior demolition and other pre-construction work has already been performed.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Losing a Pointless Plaza, Gaining Another Garage

There has been a lot of discussion in urbanist circles recently about the new parking garage that will soon be sprouting up adjacent to the U.S. Bank Building at 7th and Locust. The garage will be built on the site of the pointless “urban plaza” that took the place of the beautiful and stately Ambassador Building.

The general sentiment surrounding the new garage seems to be negative, which is justifiable. However, while a parking garage would not be my first choice of uses for that site, I contend that it’s not the end of the world. The good news:

-Thompson Coburn is not only staying downtown, it’s staying in the U.S. Bank Building. This will help keep the “musical chairs” game to a minimum.

-The garage will make the U.S. Bank Building and other nearby office buildings such as One Financial Plaza, the Railway Exchange and any future redevelopment of St. Louis Centre more marketable to prospective tenants.

-The garage will hopefully make the surface parking lot at the southwest corner of 7th and Locust more attractive for redevelopment, either for office or residential use.

-Ground floor retail will be included in the design, which will add some life to a fairly dead stretch of Locust.

It’s time to come to terms with the fact that we are getting another garage downtown and push for a smart, attractive design – something more along the lines of the Century garage. And at the same time, the line on construction of new garages needs to be drawn here, with an emphasis placed on attracting businesses and redeveloping problem properties and surface lots to add density. It’s critical that the gaping wound of downtown that is St. Louis Centre be redeveloped and new tenants brought in to occupy the office space in the Railway Exchange that has been vacated by Macy’s.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Random Observations, 11/3/08

Workers were performing what appeared to be some exterior cleaning at The 411. It looked like one of the dingy panels under one of the windows was being scrubbed to reveal the bright blue color under layers of dirt.

The Chinese restaurant in the first floor of The 411 is moving to a vacant retail space in the parking garage at 1120 Locust. It's an odd semi-subterranean space last occupied by the "City Cafe and Market." Chinese restaurants generally seem to be pretty resilient and able to succeed in strange locations, so I'm sure this one will do well in its new home.

Work continues on the exterior of 1015 Locust, and it appears that the white sections are going to be painted black, giving the facade an all-black appearance. Should be an improvement.

There is an Athlete's Foot store in the first floor retail space in the Globe Building on Tucker. I'm not sure when it opened, but it must have opened fairly recently, as I don't recall seeing it before.

The usually meticulously maintained plantings in front of the Renaissance Hotel are looking a bit shabby. Many planters are missing plants, and some of the plants look like someone tried to rip them out, with exposed roots. I hope this isn't an indication of the hotel's financial problems.

The building that housed Creepy Crawl and most recently Gus's Fashions is getting a facelift. It looks like the facade is being skimmed with stucco. I'm interested to see the final product. I believe a vet's office will be opening in the building.

From what I can tell, no progress is being made at the burnt-out Copia space.

There appears to be some sort of build-out taking place in the former Baseline Gallery space in the Vanguard Lofts at 1110 Washington. There's no indication as to who the tenant is though. Looks like there's some sort of refrigerator case by the window.

The Old Post Office Plaza is rapidly changing. A large steel frame has been erected at the northern end of the plaza - looks like the framework for the video screen. Lots of large trees have been brought in for planting at the eastern end, and small plants and shrubs are waiting to be planted at the western end.

Doesn't look like much is going on in the Left Bank Books space, but it's sounding like they're still on track for an opening later this month.

I really hope the Roberts Brothers reconsider their plans to demolish 917 and 923 Locust. These buildings add more to the streetscape than meets the eye at first glance, and their loss - especially at the expense of a driveway for their planned hotel - will really detract from an area that is just now starting to get stronger. I still question the need for another hotel in the first place, but that's another story.

City Pet Supply is now open in the Tudor Building at 1915. It's a great little store with everything a pet lover could want. I hope downtown's pet owning population gives them plenty of business.

With all of the development that's taken place downtown in the last few years, I'm surprised that HRI hasn't been able to lease the 2,000+ sf first floor retail space at the northwestern corner of the Merchandise Mart. It's a great space in a great location.

Foresight Needed

Looks like the loss of Armstrong Teasdale and/or Husch & Eppenberger to Clayton could have been averted with a little foresight.

From the January 30, 1998 edition of the Business Journal

Sources said Armstrong Teasdale is interested in approximately 175,000 square feet in the Cupples property facing and behind Clark Street, across from the new federal courthouse. The firm is looking at either building new or combining rehabbed space with new construction, according to those close to the project. Husch & Eppenberger is also said to be interested in having offices at Cupples, but a lawyer there said the decision is at least a year away.

Downtown needs more quality office space so that this kind of thing does not happen again. How did we let these two firms slip away like this?

Friday, October 31, 2008

1015 Locust Update

Some additional info on the renovations underway at 1015 Locust:

The building’s transformation will begin in the lobby, where renovations will create a more upscale image. Space will be carved out of the lobby for a restaurant and retail space in order to provide amenities to both the office building’s tenants and its neighbors. Eileen Hamburg of Quintin Design Resources has a created a completely new look in the lobby, featuring a redesigned security desk, updated lighting and ceiling treatments combined with new, rich-finish materials and comfortable seating areas.

Elevator cabs will be refinished in high-quality materials, and individual office spaces can and will be tailored to meet tenants’ needs, including creating a popular “loft-style” creative look by accenting the exposed architectural aspects, including distinctive bell columns. Next up, contractor Stuart Dean will begin work on the exterior of the building. A new exterior color palette and new canopies will be added over the building’s ground floor. In addition, the skin will undergo a major cleaning and will be refinished in a new color, offering a fresh, modern look.

“These renovations will dramatically improve the image of 1015 Locust,” says John Warren, an Associate with CB Richard Ellis, which handles leasing efforts for the property. “Just as the neighborhood around the building is being dramatically transformed with new loft apartments, high-rise condominiums, restaurants, retail services, parks and supermarkets, so will we create a special new environment for Downtown office tenants,” notes Stephen Reinstein, ICO’s Senior Vice President.

“More importantly, however, the changes will give our tenants some important added amenities and send a message that ICO Development and Sovereign Partners are serious about making 1015 Locust one of the premier office buildings in St. Louis,” Warren adds.

Renovations began in mid-August with the exterior changes as well as those to the lobby, which are scheduled to be completed before the end of 2008. AJ Brown is the general contractor. A second phase, slated for 2009, will include awnings with associated retail signage.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

Armstrong Teasdale’s managing partner cited the fact that its new home – Centene’s office complex in Clayton – will be LEED certified as one of its reasons for leaving Met Square downtown.

“Technology has changed considerably since we moved into this building. That, and you hear a lot about LEED-certified buildings. We’re very interested in that effort, as are our clients, so we were very interested in being involved in an office building in St. Louis that’s LEED-certified.”


First of all, isn’t remaining in an existing building – even if it is not LEED-certified – be considered more environmentally friendly than moving to a new one? This falls more on Centene than it does Armstrong Teasdale.

And just because Met Square and certain other downtown buildings aren’t LEED-certified, Armstrong Teasdale could have earned LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors) certification for remodeling its space. HOK’s space in Met Square is LEED-CI certified as is Arcturis’ new space in the Laclede Gas Building.

With regards to technology, as part of its upcoming office renovations, Thompson Coburn plans to outfit its offices with the highest technology available, including voice-over IP and video conferencing. Bryan Cave did the same thing when it renovated its space in Met Square a few years ago. So, it can be done – even in Armstrong Teasdale’s current building.

It’s okay to admit that you’re just helping out a major client and received a massive subsidy to go there.

Thompson Coburn has presented some more compelling reasons for remaining downtown:

"From a recruiting perspective, (Managing Partner Tom) Minogue said the firm’s proximity to downtown redevelopment, including the Washington Avenue loft and restaurant district, was another factor in the decision to stay. 'Our young people like being here, which is a very positive thing to say about the city,' he said. In addition, half the firm’s staff commutes from southern Illinois, which was another consideration in choosing to remain downtown."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Office Space at 14th and Washington?

An alert poster at has pointed out that RileyWaldrop is proposing a new office building on the former site of the ill-fated Skyhouse condo tower.

According to the developers, the building will have eight stories of office space with ground floor retail. The proposed building certainly seems to fit in with its surroundings better than the Skyhouse would have.

We'll keep an eye on this one. It would be nice to see this project and Nadira Place - the other proposed office development on Washington Avenue - move forward.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

DHR International Still Interested in GenAm Building

Unfortunately, last year executive search firm DHR International made the decision to locate its headquarters in a building it purchased in Clayton. It had also been considering the purchase the vacant General American building at 700 Market Street downtown.

Apparently though, DHR is still interested in purchasing the building as an investment property, according to the Business Journal. While it would have been preferable for DHR to use the building as its headquarters, perhaps it would do a better job of landing a tenant for it than the current owners, Centaur Properties LLC. They certainly couldn’t do any worse, as the building has continued to sit vacant under Centaur’s ownership the last three years.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Suitable Spot for O'Fallon

Just wanted to follow up a bit on my post on O'Fallon Brewery last week.

Just south of downtown in Benton Park is the former Falstaff Brewery which would be a great spot for O'Fallon to move its operations.  This location would help bridge Benton Park/Soulard with downtown while preserving an important structure - for its intended use even!

Matt at has a great post with more pics and information.

Arcturis' New Digs

Architecture/design firm Arcturis has posted pictures of its new office space on its web site, and the results are fantastic. The new space looks like a great place in which to work and is an excellent example of the firm’s capabilities and creativity. Arcturis recently moved into roughly 45,000 sf on the second and third floors of the Laclede Gas building and intends to pursue LEED certification for its efforts.

According to the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, “Features of the space include a living green wall equipped with grow lights, unique/signature orange concrete sinks and 12' tall steel doors designed by local artists, high technology throughout with A/V, special lighting, moveable walls and open collaborative spaces, Wii room, private rooms for personal time, large kitchen, showers and bicycle lockers.” Sounds good!

In particular, I love this view of the Old Post Office and the Alexa (formerly the Chemical Building). One advantage of having space on a lower floor is that it makes you feel like you’re a part of the energy and vitality of the street below.

With a mix of different architecture types that can’t be found anywhere else in the area, along with an active, lively work environment perfect for stimulating creative thinking, why would any local architecture firm choose to locate anywhere but in downtown St. Louis?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Random Lease Roundup

East-West Gateway Council of Governments renewed its lease and expanded to 15,969 sf at the Gateway Tower, 1 Memorial Drive.

Gateway Legal Services renewed its lease for 5,627 sf at St. Louis Place, 200 N. Broadway.

The Newport Group subleased 2,074 sf at Gateway One, 701 Market, from Northwestern Mutual.

Richard Constance and Kurtis Hoener renewed their lease for 2,395 sf at the Laclede Gas Building, 720 Olive.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Brewing Up More Tourist Attractions

The Post-Dispatch recently featured an article on O’Fallon Brewery and how it’s outgrowing its “little brewery in an industrial park in O'Fallon, Mo.” O’Fallon is looking for ways to fund an expansion that would increase its production from about 4,000 barrels this year to 15,000 to 20,000 barrels within five years.

Said O’Fallon co-founder Fran Caradonna, “We really could make this place a bigger brewery. We started thinking about what do we want to be?”

The company’s plans for expansion could involve incremental expansion or even the construction of a new brewery. If O’Fallon opts for the latter, downtown would be an ideal location.

With Tom Schlafly’s St. Louis Brewery on Locust, Morgan Street Brewery on Laclede’s Landing, and of course, Anheuser-Busch in Soulard, just south of downtown, relocating O’Fallon Brewery somewhere from downtown to Soulard would help reinforce St. Louis’ standing as a brewing capitol.

A location in an industrial park in St. Charles County is too isolated; a downtown location would raise the brewery’s profile substantially and provide exciting opportunities for tours and tasting events – perhaps even a bar or hospitality house – along with the natural synergies that come with being located in close proximity to other breweries.

With continued growth, O’Fallon could evolve into the St. Louis equivalent of Kansas City’s Boulevard. Boulevard’s brewery is located in an urban area near Union Station in Kansas City proper, and has become a popular destination for tourists and local beer lovers alike. It’s hard to picture it anywhere but in the city of Kansas City. Were it located in Olathe or Overland Park, it just wouldn’t be the same.

O’Fallon could become a similar attraction for St. Louis with a downtown brewery. Tourists and conventioneers who mostly stay downtown – not in places like O’Fallon – would provide a totally new market for O’Fallon’s beers.

Choosing downtown would be a win-win for both O’Fallon and the city. Come on, Caradonnas – make it happen!

Edit: According to STLHops, Boulevard produced 132,000 barrels last year and has the capacity to produce up to 700,000 barrels per year – obviously much bigger than what O’Fallon has its sights on right now. At a goal production of 15,000 to 20,000 barrels per year, O’Fallon would still be producing less than Schlafly does (about 24,000 barrels annually). Still, Boulevard – and Schlafly, for that matter – makes for a good role model for O’Fallon in a variety of respects, particularly their urban location.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Working On Another Final Four

Officials from the NCAA were in town on Monday to tour the Edward Jones Dome as part of the St. Louis Sports Commission’s bid to win the city a Men’s Final Four in 2012, 2013 or 2016.

The Sports Commission will make its final presentation to the NCAA on November 12 and expects a decision to be made sometime shortly thereafter.

According to an article in the Post-Dispatch, the city has agreed to allow Broadway to be closed on the east side of the Dome to help create a festival atmosphere. One of the few criticisms of St. Louis’ hosting of the Final Four in 2005 was that there was a lack of connectivity and core of energy in the blocks surrounding the Dome. Closing Broadway should help significantly.

The article also features a quote from NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt, who said, “There is truly a resurgence in the downtown area. It’s very noticeable.”

This just goes to show how important the public face we present to the rest of the country – our downtown – is to anyone who’s considering planning an event in St. Louis, whether it be a convention, a major sporting event, or even something as simple as a family vacation. And that public face is impacted by downtown’s businesses and residents.

It’s exciting to think about what downtown will look like in 2012, 2013 or 2016. Should we receive a Final Four, I can just imagine how much better Washington Avenue will look, with a renovated Dillard’s Building (I’m assuming) and possibly a revitalized St. Louis Centre. Ballpark Village could be a popular gathering spot. Old Post Office Plaza could host events and broadcast the games on its giant video board.

Of course, downtown’s continued revitalization will depend on economic conditions and the availability of credit, but it also requires commitment from our community. That means locating businesses downtown instead of Clayton and beyond. That means offering a variety of housing options to encourage the greatest possible number of people to move downtown. And that means having a “can do” spirit that so many St. Louisans seem to lack.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Patricia Stevens College Moves to Washington Avenue

Patricia Stevens College is moving from its 13,000 sf space in the Mansion House complex at 330 N. 4th Street to the four-story, 20,000 sf building it purchased at 1521 Washington Avenue. The school has plans to boost enrollment to 300 students from its current 190.

The college paid $835,000 for the building and plans to renovate it, giving the project an overall value of $2 million.

“We are very dedicated to downtown, and we have always been here," said the college's president, Cynthia Musterman. "We have full faith that downtown will continue to thrive, and we want to be a part of it.”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Old Post Office Plaza Progress Photos

Over on Urban St. Louis, user irocktheparty2000 snapped these great progress photos of Old Post Office Plaza - it's really coming along!

I hope this project will help spur new development in the area, such as the renovation of the Arcade Building and new construction on the vacant lot at 7th and Locust.

The Ghosts of St. Louis Centre

During the final days of St. Louis Centre, back in 2005 or so, a handful of decent retailers managed to hang on and thrive as the mall continued its decline. Unfortunately, since St. Louis Centre closed, those tenants have been completely missing from downtown.

Shouldn’t the city have worked with those retailers – Walgreens, FootAction, T-Mobile, Sbarro, Chick-Fil-A, GNC and Payless Shoes – to find other locations downtown?

Just because there’s no mall, that doesn’t mean that these stores could not do well in any of the available street level retail spaces scattered throughout downtown. If anything, a street level location should provide a better opportunity for success than one in a dying, uninviting mall.

Heck, Walgreens and Payless did well with locations on the top floor of St. Louis Centre; despite roof leaks, broken escalators, dirt, grime, deferred maintenance and the myriad other problems that the mall suffered from, people still made the trek up to the fourth floor to shop there. Imagine how well those stores would do on Olive, Locust or Washington – revitalized areas that are much more conducive to shopping.

While these retailers may not be as exciting as say, IKEA, it would be nice to fill up some vacant retail spaces and add some additional tax revenue to the city’s coffers while giving downtown a little extra added vitality. While the rotting corpse of the mall itself remains an issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible, let’s at least get some of its old retailers back downtown.

Friday, October 10, 2008

STL Lands a Big Convention

Meeting Professionals International, which represents more than 24,000 event planners, has chosen St. Louis as its host city for its World Education Congress, to be held July 28-31, 2012.

The Congress is MPI’s largest gathering of meeting and event professionals and usually draws thousands of industry planners.

The selection of St. Louis can bode well for the city if attendees then decide to hold their own events here. We had better put on a great show for them!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Demolition On Locust Proposed

The agenda for the October 27 meeting of the Preservation Board confirms that the Roberts Brothers are seeking to demolish 919 and 923 Locust. The buildings will be cleared to provide a driveway and lobby for the Hotel Indigo that the Roberts Brothers will be opening in the St. Louis Design Center building.

To me, this is a bad idea.

The buildings slated for demolition are small, historic, easy to redevelop and are full of character and personality. There has been a substantial amount of redevelopment taking place in the immediate vicinity – the Syndicate Trust and 411 projects, in particular – and demolishing them will disrupt the building wall along Locust and detract from the overall continuity and pedestrian experience of Locust. Downtown needs more density, not less.

The first of the two buildings in question are a small, tudor-style three-story building with a historic cast iron storefront. It once served as a Fatted Calf restaurant and more recently was the site of a proposed restaurant by David Slay which never came to fruition. It would be perfectly suited for a cozy pub, with space for parties and group gatherings above.

The second is a larger, four-story building that could provide first-floor retail with flexible uses on the upper floors. It would be well suited for either office or residential purposes.

And what is to become of the St. Louis Design Center? Space for artists, designers and other creative types is important for downtown’s vitality.

A precedent has already been set for a driveway like this, first at the U.S. Bank Plaza, but more similarly at the Omni Hotel on Pine Street. While the Omni itself is quite nice, it sits as an island surrounded by parking lots and the substantial driveway.

Somehow, hotels in cities like Chicago, San Francisco and New York seem to get by just fine without demolishing adjacent structures to create driveways. It could work here as well, with a little creativity.

And at the same time, perhaps it would be prudent to wait until the economy and credit markets improve before any buildings are knocked down. Here in St. Louis, we have a knack for demolishing historic buildings and building nothing in their place (see the Skyhouse at 14th and Washington).

I’m not even sure if downtown needs another hotel right now, but if it does, a better location can be found just a block west on Locust – the former Alverne Hotel, which currently stands vacant.A

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Law Firm Picture

The picture is starting to become a little clearer on the law firm front:

Polsinelli – Consolidating its downtown and Clayton offices in 90,000 – 110,000 sf at Ballpark Village.

Thompson Coburn – Staying downtown, maintaining its space in the U.S. Bank Plaza.

Armstrong Teasdale – Leaving its 100,000 sf at Met Square; moving to Centene’s development in Clayton.

So who’s up next?

Stinson Morrison Hecker – This firm was originally located in the Deloitte Building downtown but consolidated its offices in Clayton after acquiring Clayton-based Blumenfeld, Kaplan & Sandweiss. The move to Clayton has been described as a short-term decision, and the firm is looking to sign a lease for 60,000 sf either downtown or in Clayton. Stinson’s lease in Clayton expires in October 2012 with opportunities to buy out. Having Stinson downtown would certainly help offset the loss of Armstrong Teasdale, both in terms of office space absorption and employees.

Husch Blackwell – Husch & Eppenberger’s merger with Blackwell Sanders give the combined firm 80,000 sf in the Laclede Gas Building downtown and 175,000 sf in Clayton. Husch was originally located in the Bank of America Tower and left for Clayton in 2002 after it was unable to find a large enough block of space downtown. If the firm were to combine its operations downtown, it would be a major coup. Having both Husch and Stinson downtown would mark a significant step forward.

Lewis Rice – The firm is rumored to be looking at a number of downtown sites. It currently leases 110,000 sf at 500 N. Broadway.

Friday, October 03, 2008

KPMG Staying Downtown!

KPMG has renewed its lease of 45,000 sf in the Equitable Building at 10 S. Broadway. The firm is committing to downtown for 10 more years and plans to hire approximately 40 more employees over the next three to five years (it currently employs 270).

KMPG cited downtown’s close proximity to employees on both sides of the river among its reasons for remaining downtown. I’m sure a comparatively affordable lease – the Equitable Building’s asking rate is $21 psf – played a role as well. It would be difficult to get space of that quality in Clayton for a comparable price.

When a firm made up of professional number-crunchers like KPMG chooses downtown, that must mean it’s a smart financial decision!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Doctors, Dentists, Etc.

Looks like things are starting to happen at the Truman Building at 916 Olive. A sign advertising The Boxing Gym is posted in the front window. According to the building’s web site, it will be taking the 4,000 sf basement space, while Downtown Urgent Care will be located in the 4,000 sf first floor space. Both are slated to open in winter 2008.

Dr. Sonny Saggar is investing $2 million into renovating the building, which is being marketed as the Downtown Health and Wellness Center. Dr. Saggar hopes to lure complementary users, such as medical and dental practices. Available spaces in the building include:

3,000 sf first floor mezzanine
1,522 and 1,500 sf spaces on the second floor
2,526 and 1,970 sf on the third floor
5,200 sf on the fourth floor
5,000 sf rooftop space

Meanwhile, the City Smiles dental office has opened on the first floor of the Spool Thread Building at 1113 Locust and is accepting new patients for general, cosmetic and implant dentistry. City Smiles is taking reservations on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be reached at (314) 375-5353.

There also appears to be a veterinary clinic about to open in the former Gus's/Creepy Crawl building on Tucker.

It’s great to have these services available to downtown residents and office workers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

While perusing some old Business Journal articles, I came across a commentary piece from April 2006 in which a cross-section of area executives were asked what advice they would give to Kitty Ratcliffe, who had just been hired to lead the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.

The executives featured in the piece were:

Madolena Key of Mannerisms LLC

Deborah Moulton of Microsoft Alliance

Trey Goede of Primary Networks

Rudy Telscher of Harness, Dickey & Pierce

Tom Taylor of Lawrence & Associates, Inc.

Scott Bartholomew of TGI Marketing Communications

Most of the suggestions were great, and the majority of them focused on improving downtown St. Louis. Here are the two that stood out most to me:

“While Ms. Ratcliffe's position focuses on the Convention Center and attracting visitors to St. Louis, her job will be made much easier if St. Louis can continue to successfully develop areas like the Washington Street Loft District and Ballpark Village by creating desirable living spaces for St. Louis residents in those areas. The more people who live in downtown St. Louis, the better the ability to sustain active nightlife that serves to attract more visitors and make St. Louis a more attractive convention city.”

--Rudy Telscher

"It would be a good idea if the city began fixing the infrastructure around America's Center, such as making sure that the St. Louis Centre project gets under way after years of foot dragging, that the old Dillard's store gets converted to something useful, and that the ugly skybridge between both buildings gets removed so there is not a visual impairment to Laclede's Landing. How about the city taking the lead in adding restaurants and shopping near the convention center?"

--Scott Bartholomew

They’re right – a vital downtown is critical to St. Louis’ success as a convention and vacation city, and it’s great to see that we have business leaders who grasp that concept. All of the suggestions made would go a long way toward helping St. Louis and making the CVC’s job easier.


A little research reveals that not one of these executives’ businesses is located in downtown St. Louis:

Mannerisms LLC – Defiance
Microsoft Alliance – St. Charles
Primary Networks – Maryland Heights
Harness, Dickey & Pierce – Clayton
Lawrence & Associates, Inc. – Des Peres
TGI Marketing Communications – Clayton

And herein lies one of downtown’s greatest problems. People are quick to point out its problems and say things like, “The city should do this or do that,” but they’re not willing to “walk the walk” and make a real commitment to help downtown by locating their business there.

What if, instead of waiting for the Dillard’s Building to “get converted to something useful,” these businesses decided to move their offices there? The result would be instant revitalization of an important block, and the added office workers would help bring about new businesses, such as bars and restaurants, and perhaps downtown would gain some new residents as well.

Since these people seem to realize just how important the success of downtown really is, perhaps they could be persuaded to move downtown…

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More Random Observations...

Random observations from a lunchtime walk around downtown…

Work on the Broadway side of the Federal Reserve has been completed, and it looks great. The newly-reopened sidewalk is now adorned with planters, banners and period streetlights. Work on the St. Charles and Fourth Street sides should be completed by the end of the year.

The streetlights in front of the Federal Reserve extend south all the way to the Marquette Building – Broadway now has two blocks of nice-looking streetlights. Will they eventually be added to the blocks in front of St. Louis Place, 500 N. Broadway, Met Square, the Bank of America Tower, Mercantile Library, etc.? They make a huge aesthetic difference over the traditional “cobra head” lights that predominate downtown.

Construction crews have begun gutting The 411 development at 10th and Locust.

The Old Post Office Plaza is really taking shape. Workers were pouring stairs and building the structure at the north end of the plaza. I can’t wait to see the finished product.

The Alexa – formerly the Chemical Building – has been awfully quiet recently. It sure would be nice to be able to get a Dooley’s hamburger.

The exterior of the Locust Building at 1015 Locust is getting a thorough scrubbing. It makes a huge difference and I can only imagine when it was last cleaned. I look forward to seeing how it will look when all the work is done. According to the Business Journal, $3.5 million in improvements will be performed. The next phase includes new awnings and signage.

With the Downtown Partnership relocating to the Laclede Gas Building, the Olive side of the Frisco Building is looking a little sad these days. Erker’s Optical still looks great, but it would be nice to have the old Frisco Cafeteria and Downtown Partnership spaces filled up. With the redevelopment of the Truman Building underway and the Syndicate Trust Building nearing completion, these spaces will be much more prominent in the days ahead.

The Thaxton Building is advertising space for lease on its upper floors.

In the span of about 15 minutes on my walk, I ran into my wife, a college fraternity brother and a former co-worker whom I haven’t seen in a few years. I guess this kind of thing never happens in Maryville Centre or Earth City!