Thursday, August 28, 2008

Random Downtown Ramblings

Observations from a walk around downtown St. Louis yesterday...

The Bogen now has bright red awnings above its entrances, and they look great. Now, if someone would just lease the empty retail space at Washington and Tucker, we’d really be in business.

I noticed workers coming in and out of the back door of the burned-out remains of Copia. Have the rebuilding efforts begun?

Windows have been removed from the four-story building just west of the St. Louis Design Center on Locust. While I hope it means that the building is going to be renovated, my fear is that the Roberts Brothers are actually prepping it for demolition, along with the former Fatted Calf restaurant adjacent to it. Rumor has it both buildings will be coming down, to be replaced by a driveway and lobby for a new hotel in the St. Louis Design Center. A big mistake, in my opinion.

Looks like the new owners of 1015 Locust have begun to make improvements to the building – the lobby has been completely gutted. I can’t wait until the exterior is renovated.

BSI Construction has moved out of its temporary office in the first floor space at the Farm & Home Savings Building (soon to be The 411), presumably so that renovation work can begin.

I can’t tell what’s more embarrassing: St. Louis Centre when it was open, or St. Louis Centre now that it’s closed. Man, I wish that thing was never built.

Construction at Old Post Office Plaza seems to be moving along at a decent clip. I kind of thought it would be close to being done by now though. Construction on the Roberts Tower is progressing as well. I look forward to finally seeing the framework of the building emerge from the hole in the ground someday.

City Smiles, the new general and cosmetic dentistry office in the former Blend space in the 1100 block of Locust, is almost ready to go – the space looks great.

The formerly lush plantings outside of the sales office at The Laurel are just about dead. I hope this is the result of simple forgetfulness and not indicative of larger problems with the project.

Is the Schnuck’s store at 9th and Olive EVER going to open? No work appears to have been done there.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House is slated to open up in the Hyatt. It will be great to have them back!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Crime Stats Update

Good news on the crime front: According to the Downtown Partnership, overall crime in downtown St. Louis is down 11.7% from last year, which was down 15% from the year before. The SLPD expects to soon be able to increase the size of the downtown bike patrol as well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Downtown Advocates Needed

Back in 2002, Thompson Coburn considered moving to Clayton before signing a 10-year lease renewal and expansion at U.S. Bank Plaza. The firm even brought 15 attorneys and support staff from a Clayton-based firm it acquired.

Said Thompson Coburn’s Millard Backerman at the time, “We believe downtown St. Louis is, and will be, the business center of the metropolitan area.”

Now that’s smart thinking.

When asked about how the city’s earnings tax factored into Thompson Coburn’s decision, Mr. Backerman said, “It’s built into our system, and the bulk of our work is in the city.” He added that the downtown location gives the firm closer access to staff and attorneys who live in the Metro East.

Good deal. Sounds like Mr. Backerman was a great advocate for downtown. A quick perusal of the firm’s attorney list, however, shows that Mr. Backerman apparently is no longer with the firm – hopefully he’s enjoying retirement now.

Is there anyone else of influence at Thompson Coburn who will continue to be an advocate for downtown? Downtown is at a critical juncture and can’t afford to lose any more major firms to Clayton.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Is exposed brick becoming cliché?

The building pictured above is the modern TWA building in Kansas City, which was renovated by design firm el dorado inc., and the results are fantastic. 
(Here's the story behind the renovation)

Not to knock our outstanding historic building stock, but I’m a little surprised that creative businesses like architecture firms, ad agencies, graphic design firms and have largely ignored St. Louis’ modern architecture when choosing an office location. Maybe that's because downtown really doesn't have all that much modern architecture, but still...

Seeing this building reminded me that we have our own modern jewel here in downtown St. Louis just waiting for the right tenant, 505 Washington.  18,800 sf available on the first floor for $16.00 psf, 19,000 sf on each of the upper two floors at just $12.00 psf. Might be a nice alternative for a creative firm that's looking for something besides the exposed brick loft look.

More information on this nifty little building can be found HERE

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.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

More Jobs for Downtown

Good news: Ralcorp has added 50 new jobs so far this fiscal year and plans to add up to 80 more in the next 12 to 15 months. The new positions are being added to support Ralcorp's acquisition of Post cereals, which was recently completed.