Thursday, July 31, 2008

P-D Feature on Craig Heller

David Bonetti of the Post-Dispatch had a nice
feature LoftWorks’ Craig Heller on Sunday, a few quotes from which stood out to me:
"It's unfortunate what we've done to this city," Heller says. "In many ways we've abandoned it. It's hard to imagine that at the turn of the last century it was the fourth largest city in America. There is an anti-urban bias among many people who live in this area. That's too bad, because most people who live in urban areas love the experience."

This notion of an “anti-urban bias” in St. Louis is dead-on; I experience it all the time. I’ve yet to visit any other city whose residents harbor such feelings of loathing toward their urban environment. And as a result, the problems that we face are of our own creation. Sure, we suffer when an out-of-town parent company like Macy’s decides to close its offices here, but that’s something that’s largely out of our control – that decision was made by non-St. Louisans in a distant corporate office. The bleeding of firms from downtown as well as the decision on the part of startup companies to locate in the suburbs, however, is entirely on us. In order to turn things around, the city needs to make itself as attractive as possible to companies of all sizes, while our business leaders need to develop some sense of civic pride and big picture thinking and make a commitment to improving our downtown.

I would expand Heller’s quote that “most people who live in urban areas love the experience” to include those people who work downtown – I’ve worked in several different St. Louis area employment centers and downtown is by far the most convenient and most enjoyable.
In 1998, when developer Craig Heller's firm LoftWorks renovated the Merchandise Mart's old annex into residential lofts, people told him he was crazy. "No one wants to live downtown," he recalls being told by nearly everybody. But when the condos in what's now called 10th Street Lofts quickly sold out, and he moved on to his next project, the skeptics kept at it. "Tenth Street Lofts was a fluke, you'll never sell Louderman Lofts. Nobody wants to live downtown."

Who the hell are these people? In just about any other city, people would be pleased to hear that someone was making an investment (and a sizeable one, at that) in our neglected downtown.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Leather Trades Building Update

Workers Realty Trust has taken over ownership of the Leather Trades Building from Pyramid and is now looking for a developer to renovate it. According to the Business Journal, apparently four developers, including LoftWorks’ Craig Heller, have expressed interest in the project, which bodes well for the loft district. Pyramid had originally intended to convert the building to 59 loft condos, but presumably any developer who takes over the project would either build rental apartments, office space, or some combination of both.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Whatever Happened with RubinBrown?

Back in late 2000, Clayton-based accounting firm Rubin Brown Gornstein & Co. (Now RubinBrown) announced that it was planning to lease 5,000 sf in Cupples Station Building 9, with an option to take an additional 7,500 sf there in the future. The firm planned on relocating 15 to 20 employees to Cupples Station.

At that point, McCormack Baron was still the developer. Building 9 is now being renovated by BlueUrban to include 54 loft condos, a first floor restaurant and the offices of Osborn & Barr and Adamson Advertising, both of which are relocating from Clayton.

But whatever happened with RubinBrown? Would they still be amenable to opening a downtown office elsewhere? While it would be ideal to have their headquarters downtown, a branch office would be the next best thing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Random Lease Roundup

Welk Resort Group, Inc. leased 2,099 sf in the Laclede Gas Building at 720 Olive.

The Downtown St. Louis Partnership leased 9,843 sf, also in the Laclede Gas Building.

Kastner & Partners leased 2,918 sf in the Cutlery Building at 612 N. 2nd Street on Laclede’s Landing.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Update on The 411

The Post-Dispatch provided an update on LoftWorks’ newest development, The 411 (the former Farm & Home Savings Association Building), the best part of which being:

“LoftWorks has received letters of intent from prospective tenants for about 30 percent of the available retail and office space, and Heller said that figure is likely to rise to 60 percent by next month.” Pretty impressive.

Renovation work on the $12.7 million project will begin in early August and finish about a year later.

I can’t wait to see what Craig Heller has in store for his next project…

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Earnings Tax Info

Came across these interesting facts on city earnings taxes from the Kansas City Convention Bureau:

17 states have cities and/or counties that impose a local income tax.

25% of large urban cities have a local income tax.

Earnings taxes are extensively used east of the Mississippi, along with property taxes, to provide revenues:

New York and Yonkers, New York

Louisville, Kentucky

2,900 cities in Pennsylvania

Birmingham, Alabama

Most towns and cities in Ohio

All counties in Indiana

Several large cities in Michigan

Wilmington, Delaware

Illinois (employer pays)

Newark, New Jersey (employer pays)

All counties in Maryland and City of Baltimore

Washington, D.C.

And west of the Mississippi:

Portland, Oregon

Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Las Vegas, Nevada (employer pays)

Denver and Aurora, Colorado (both pay)

St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri

The mean rate is 2%; Philadelphia is highest at 4.54%.

Only Indianapolis, IN at 0.7% has a tax rate lower than St. Louis’ 1%

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rawlings' HQ: A Missed Opportunity

Back in 2003, Rawlings Sporting Goods began looking for a new location for its headquarters after 15 years in Fenton. The company scouted potential sites all over the region and was considering downtown, as a location near Busch Stadium would have been advantageous.

Said Rawlings’ CEO Stephen O'Hara of a downtown location, “When visiting teams are in they can come by the office. Our baseball players are our key relationship. They're our R&D department.”

It sounded like a win-win for the company and the city. I had envisioned a fun, whimsical facility (perhaps in Cupples Station) that would have welcomed visitors interested in learning more about Rawlings’ products and the company’s place in sports history. Displays of the Gold Gloves, the evolution of the baseball, that kind of thing. How cool!

Instead, in 2005, Rawlings decided on leasing 40,000 sf in (expletive deleted) Maryville Centre.

Wow, how imaginative. Talk about a missed opportunity.

Meanwhile, in Louisville, the Louisville Slugger Company actually embraced its history and that city’s downtown with the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum adorned with the “World’s Largest Bat.” The facility serves as the company’s headquarters and is a popular tourist attraction. Sure, Louisville Slugger could have easily put its offices in an anonymous suburban office park, but they chose to take a more creative route and the result is not only an improved public profile for the company, but an asset to the city as well.

Thanks for nothing, Rawlings.

The Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Random Lease Roundup

Senniger Powers LLP leased 30,799 sf in the Bank of America Tower at 100 N. Broadway. Occupancy scheduled for September.

The Charles L. Crane Agency Company leased 30,000 sf in the Bank of America Tower at 100 N. Broadway. Occupancy scheduled for December.

McAnany, VanCleave & Phillips, P.A. leased 3,305 sf in the Millennium Center at 515 Olive.

Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America renewed and expanded its lease for 38,686 sf at Metropolitan Square, 211 N. Broadway.

And, in an update to this post, Verizon Wireless leased 102, 451 sf at Maryville Centre. I hope the Verizon employees enjoy the soul-sucking, incredibly boring experience of working in Maryville Centre.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lindenwood to Open Downtown Campus

It's official: Lindenwood University will establish a satellite campus in downtown St. Louis. The university signed a lease for 6,300 sf - a full floor - at 1409 Washington. Kind of an odd location, in my opinion - I would have figured that they'd want to be closer to the heart of the CBD, making it more accessible to downtown workers - but it will be great to have them downtown nonetheless.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Trickle-Down Effect

The recent article about downtown's ability to lure conventions got me thinking that while its overall success is dependent on a number of interrelated factors, it really all comes down to the presence of businesses in the CBD.

Let’s consider a hypothetical company, the Acme Corporation (in deference Wile E. Coyote)…

Acme moves its offices downtown from Clayton.

Several of Acme’s employees discover howdecide to purchase lofts so that they can walk to work and enjoy the lifestyle they thought they could only live in other cities. Acme employees who had previously considered moving to (supposedly) greener pastures in cities like Chicago now feel compelled to stay in St. Louis.

With lofts selling more briskly, developers take on new residential projects, renovating vacant buildings and constructing new ones.

Now able to attract and retain the best workers due to its superior downtown location, the company undergoes tremendous growth and decides to build a new headquarters building, complete with rooftop signage that can be seen from Busch Stadium, on a vacant lot.

The headquarters needs artwork, and lots of it. The CEO visits a downtown gallery and purchases several works from local artists and commissions several more.

The vendors and partners that serve the company – PR firm, law firm, accountants, etc. – decide to relocate their offices downtown to serve their biggest client.

The additional workers create longer lines at restaurants and busier happy hours at downtown bars, inspiring entrepreneurs to open additional restaurants and bars to serve the additional patrons.

The improved nightlife makes a positive impression on a meeting planner who is exploring prospective sites for her organization’s next convention. She decides to choose St. Louis, bringing thousands of conventioneers to town.

The conventioneers book rooms in downtown hotels and provide a nice financial shot in the arm for downtown retailers.

The combination of improved convention business and increased business travel by Acme and other companies results in additional flights in and out of Lambert.

A college kid, at home in suburban St. Louis on summer break, heads downtown for a Cardinals game with his friends and experiences downtown’s vitality firsthand – new office buildings and lofts, restaurants and bars, people everywhere. He was thinking about moving to San Francisco after graduation, but now thinks that Cupples Station might be a better spot for the software company he wants to start.

This little scenario is all in fun, but hopefully it shows the trickle down effect that businesses can have on downtown, and in our region.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Convention Business Gets a Boost

As reported in the Business Journal, the Convention & Visitors Commission booked a record number of room night commitments in fiscal 2008, which ended June 30. The 554,240 room nights exceeded the organization’s stated goal of 550,000.

This is great to hear.

The article mentions one particular organization, the Society for Nuclear Medicine, that chose St. Louis for its 2014 annual meeting, despite having a rather lackluster time here in 2000. Said the Society’s meeting planner:

"…a lot of restaurants were closed on Sunday and Monday, and there weren't really any nightlife options. It wasn't a real vibrant downtown."

Fortunately, the impressive turnaround that has occurred downtown since then played a major role in the Society’s decision to come back to St. Louis. Perhaps we can win back other conventions that have overlooked us in the past.

The quote above illustrates why a thriving downtown is so important – because it’s our public face to the rest of the world. When you're in St. Louis for a convention, your whole world is downtown St. Louis. The state of downtown will determine the impression that you'll develop of the city as a whole - anything happening in Creve Coeur, Clayton or Chesterfield is totally irrelevant. For some reason, this concept is hard for some people to grasp, but I'm guessing that if they were to go to, say, Chicago for a convention, they wouldn't be heading to Naperville or Rosemont or Orland Park.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Downtown Should Be a No-Brainer for Law Firms

From big firms like Bryan Cave and Thompson Coburn to solo practitioners, downtown’s legal community provides an important economic engine for downtown.

At the same time, downtown offers law firms many unique advantages:

- Recruiting. A downtown location can give a firm an edge when it comes to recruiting the most talented law school grads, many of whom prefer working in a lively downtown to a suburban environment (including Clayton’s quasi-urban downtown).

- Location. Downtown offers proximity to both city and federal courthouses, as well as other firms, clients, etc.

- Accessibility. Public transit and the convergence of major highways makes downtown highly accessible to workers from all parts of the region, particularly Illinois.

-Prestige. A downtown address simply delivers a prestige factor that no other part of the metro area can match. Smaller firms can improve their visibility and stature by locating downtown.

-Amenities. Downtown is the ideal spot for “extra-curriculars” – things like restaurants, hotels, bars, and other amenities needed for socializing and entertaining clients.

-Cost. Class A space downtown is significantly cheaper than in the suburbs. This is not only helpful to smaller, fledgling firms, but can help silk stocking firms be even more profitable.

When you add in the other factors listed above, downtown should be a no-brainer for just about any firm.

Anderson & Gilbert is a firm that got its start downtown, moved to Clayton, then decided to return downtown. Here’s a great quote from Frank Duda, a partner with the firm, in a 2004 Business Journal article:

"The staff enjoys it much more than they did Clayton. There's plenty of access to convenient places to eat and do things. It's great to be able to participate in the life of the city. For a law firm or other business doing business in the metropolitan area, it's the best place to be."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Locust Street Blues

I took a walk down Locust Street today and encountered numerous Shriners who were in town for a convention this week (Their fezzes made them easy to identify!). Many of the conventioneers that I passed on the street had puzzled looks on their faces as they explored downtown. I stopped to briefly chat with two gentlemen who looked especially perplexed as they searched for somewhere to get a bite to eat – I pointed them to Rooster and suggested the Pasta House Express in the Old Post Office as a secondary suggestion while pointing out that our downtown is in a period of transition, as they probably noticed. I have to say, I was slightly embarrassed at the current state of affairs, and I hate having to apologize to out-of-town visitors for the condition of certain portions of our downtown.

It got me thinking about just how desolate most of Locust really is, at least in the heart of the CBD, east of Tucker. While there are some random bright spots, it’s largely dead.

500 Block North – The parking garage that once featured a ground-floor Woolworth’s store (which is now used for additional parking). The garage hangs over the sidewalk, making it not particularly pleasant to walk under.

500 Block South – The vacant Mercantile Library Building, just begging to be renovated.

600 Block North – The vacant St. Louis Centre and its hulking skybridge. While it’s scheduled to eventually be redeveloped, right now it’s just sad and depressing.

600 Block South – Macy’s department store. Good, but the skybridge makes you want to avoid this entrance altogether.

700 Block North – The U.S. Bank Building’s pointless driveway and green space on the former site of the Ambassador Building on the eastern portion, U.S. Bank offices in a restored historic building to the west.

700 Block South – A parking lot, Lashley & Baer’s offices in a handsome historic building, Hamilton Jewelers in the truncated, but historic, xx Building.

800 Block North – Old Post Office Square is under construction and will be bordered by the Roberts Orpheum Theater and the Roberts Tower. As these projects are completed, this will easily be the best block between Fourth Street and Tucker.

800 Block South – The newly revitalized Old Post Office, with St. Louis Public Library branch and Pasta House Express.

900 Block North – Roberts Lofts in the Board of Education Building. Despite the fact that the building was renovated some time ago, the first-floor retail spaces remain vacant. The remaining smaller buildings on this block are owned by the Roberts Brothers and are mostly vacant. A tiny health food store in the first floor of the St. Louis Design Center Building is the only retailer on the block. The other buildings remain vacant, but would be relatively easy to renovate due to their small size. The tudor building at the end of the block would be perfect for a restaurant or pub.

900 Block South – The parking garage which will eventually house the downtown Schnuck’s store, and the Syndicate Building, which will be adding a plethora of new retail tenants soon. They could not come soon enough.

1000 Block North – The soon-to-be-renovated but currently vacant Farm & Home Savings Building and the 1015 Locust Building, which is slated to receive exterior improvements. A Chinese restaurant is the only retailer on this side of the street. 1015 Locust has a small art gallery on the first floor.

1000 Block South – A small loft building renovated by LoftWorks, which will house Left Bank Books and a basement music venue owned by Dave Bailey, is the only structure adding vitality to this block. The remaining buildings, Blustein’s Bride House and the Alverne Building, are vacant. I wish Craig Heller would take on the Blustein’s Building!

1100 Block North – Large vacant parking lot at the corner, which would be perfect for new construction. The Spool and Thread loft projects add a little life. A dentist’s office is under construction in the old Blend space, and Salt of the Earth appears to still be doing okay. A graphic design firm occupies an old rental car building at the end of the block facing Tucker.

1100 Block South – The renovated Louderman Building is home to furniture store UMA and Rooster, a successful eatery. Band Box Cleaners is in a small building next to the Louderman. A parking lot and parking garage with first-floor Papa John’s make up the rest of the block.

So that’s it for Locust Street. Hopefully all the talk of improvements along this street will become a reality sooner rather than later.