Thursday, August 07, 2008

Mercantile Library Building Revisited

I am unapologetic in my love for the Mercantile Library Building. Sure, it’s an ugly duckling, but as LoftWorks will soon be proving with its newest project, The 411, recladded buildings of this era can be quite attractive with a little creativity.

The Mercantile Library Building is actually a group of seven separate historic buildings that were connected and given a cohesive façade at some point, presumably in the 1960s or so. It has been vacant since the Mercantile Library moved out of the building and onto the UMSL campus (thanks a lot, Touhill!) in 1997 after having been downtown since 1846(!!!!!).

The closest the building has come to being redeveloped was in the late 90s, when Fowler Flanagan Technology acquired it and stripped the interior to create a “telecom hotel” similar to the Valley Building and 210 N. Tucker. That plan never took off, as the tech bubble burst shortly after Fowler Flanagan announced their plans. John Steffen’s Pyramid Development planned to renovate the building as part of the Mercantile Exchange district, but it is now in the hands of his development partner, Spinnaker, after Pyramid folded.

So, right now there is a gaping 270,000 sf vacancy right in the heart of downtown.

I’m convinced that if renovated, it could be incredibly cool – especially as office space. Some new windows and creative touches to the exterior, along with new sidewalks and street trees out front, would make this building look fantastic.
Its ground floor is large enough to accommodate a large retailer with a prominent corner entrance (and highly visible signage) at 6th and Locust across from Macy’s. A lobby for the office tenants could be constructed at the Broadway entrance. A law firm or financial services company could really set itself apart with a truly unique space like this.

Presumably, the fact that the “building” is actually multiple buildings makes its renovation a bit more challenging than typical rehab projects, but it can be done. 555 Washington is actually a series of connected buildings, and it is very impressive.

I really wish Spinnaker would make this happen. I walk by this building every day, and can see its potential. It’s the only vacant building on Broadway in a highly visible location – its redevelopment would complete the Broadway corridor. This one needs to be a priority.


Anonymous said...

brian i would like to get in contact with you name is bobby and you can reach me via e- mail at
thank you and i look forward to speeking with you.

Vanishing STL said...

During my tenure with Pyramid Architects, we looked at the idea of restoring the original portion of the building to its 1880's appearance. While possible, it would be extremely expensive and would involve re-creating all of the ornament that was hacked off to clad the building in limestone. The building though was deemed ineligible for National Register listing due to the severe loss of integrity on both exterior and interior. It would likely be eligible for listing with its current façade which is now over 50 years old and this is how we would have likely proceeded. It is really awful though to stand on the inside and look at the giant stone arched windows and then the concrete block back-up infill around the much smaller rectangular windows.

Brian said...

Bobby - I tried to e-mail you at the address you provided and received an undeliverable message.

Vanishing - IMO, restoring the original buildings would really be incredible for that block. It's unfortunate that it's not feasible. For some reason, I've grown to love the recladded version over the years and it would absolutely make my day to see someone step up to the plate and rehab it. At the very least, I'm surprised no one has taken on even a portion of it. Wish I could have seen the inside.

Anonymous said...

I don't think a restored historic building facade will do a damn thing. What this city needs is a purpose.