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!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Two More Leases

Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, Inc. leased 3,705 sf in the Gateway Tower, One Memorial Drive.

Hewitt Associates, LLC renewed its lease for 11,449 sf in the Equitable Building at 10 S. Broadway.

Random Lease Roundup

Pasha Distribution Corporation leased 3,704 sf of retail space at 1136 Washington Avenue.

Worsham N. Caldwell Jr. & Associates, LLC leased of 2,872 sf at 1010 Market Street.

Milliman, Inc. leased 6,553 sf at One Financial Plaza, 501 N. Broadway.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What a Difference a Year Makes

Exactly one year ago next Saturday, I walked down Washington Avenue to attend an after-work function at the Renaissance Hotel. On my way, I passed the grand opening celebration for Pyramid’s Laurel condominium development at the former Dillard’s Building. The Laurel’s stylish sales office had just opened, and for the first time since Dillard’s closed – about eight years – life had returned to the building. New awnings were installed in front of the sales center, and shrubs and flowers filled large pots that lined its perimeter. Sixth Street was closed off, and a band was playing to a huge group of partiers. The one section of Washington that’s normally dead was so lively, and I remember feeling extremely happy and optimistic that this important project was finally about to get underway.

What a difference a year makes.

With Pyramid going out of business, the fate of this project has been up in the air for several months now. Pyramid’s partner, Spinnaker, pledged to complete the project, and there was talk of adding an Embassy Suites hotel to the mix. Over 20% of the condos had been reserved, and despite Pyramid’s demise and the difficult market conditions, it was looking as if everything was still going to come to fruition. Sadly, the sales office closed this week.

Despite any official announcement from Spinnaker, it’s looking like we’re back to the drawing board on this one. Will someone step up and carry the torch on this project? I’m still optimistic that things will turn around, but it certainly ain’t easy being a downtown booster sometimes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rain Gardens - Something to Think About

unday morning’s massive deluge from the remnants of Hurricane Ike and the small lake that subsequently formed in my backyard got me thinking about flooding and rainwater runoff, and the use of rain gardens, in particular.

A rain garden is a planted depression, generally filled with native plantings, that is designed to absorb rainwater runoff from impervious surfaces such as roofs, paved areas and compacted lawn areas. This reduces rain runoff by allowing stormwater to soak into the ground as opposed to flowing into storm drains. In cities such as Seattle, Portland and Kansas City, they can be found along urban streets, in courtyards, lining parking lots and sidewalks, and in a variety of other spots. Green roofs are also considered rain gardens as well.

What parts of downtown would be well suited for a rain garden? Let’s see…

City Hall

Lucas Park

Kiener Plaza

The grassy area to the east of Pointe 400 (the former Sverdrup Building) at Fourth and Spruce

Anywhere along the Gateway Mall west of Tucker

The area in front of the Gateway Tower along Memorial Drive

Luther Ely Smith Park

Parking lots such as the one across from the Railway Exchange Building at Sixth and Olive.

Something to think about...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Downtown Housing Update

Downtown Partnership has reported the results from its recent survey of downtown residential developments, and it appears that interest in downtown living remains strong.

2007 was a record-setting year for condo sales, and with the softening of the real estate market, last year’s figures would be hard to measure up to.  However, in the first half of 2008, 134 condos were sold – compare this to 124 units sold over the same period in 2005 and 110 units in 2006.  Not bad!

The Downtown Partnership also reports that apartment leasing activity remains strong, with an 83% occupancy rate.  According to the survey:

“Neighborhood Gardens, The Syndicate and Tudor apartments are near capacity and more than half of all rental properties reported an increase in occupancy.”

Hopefully the popularity of downtown rentals will result in the announcements of additional apartment developments in the near future.  And hopefully many of those renters will decide to buy downtown, helping to fuel the condo market.

From January to June 2008, downtown added 500 new residents, bringing the total population to just under 11,000.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Good News for Downtown

Downtown could use a little good news and on Tuesday, it got some: Thompson Coburn has decided against moving to Clayton and will remain downtown!

The Business Journal is reporting that the firm may stay in the U.S. Bank Building, where it leases 230,000 sf on 10 floors.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, incentives the city offered Thompson Coburn in exchange for staying put, but it’s gratifying to see the firm give a show of confidence in downtown.

Way to go, Thompson Coburn – you made the right decision!

Now, about Armstrong Teasdale…

Monday, September 08, 2008

Random Lease Roundup

Fox, Goldblatt & Singer, P.C., renewed its lease for 4,187 sf in the Laclede Gas Building at 720 Olive.

Burton M. Greenberg renewed a 2,158 sf lease at 500 N. Broadway.

Friday, September 05, 2008

G.W. Lofts Completed

Kevin McGowan’s Blue Urban development recently completed the $14 million redevelopment of the former Guth Lighting complex, now known as the G.W. Lofts. Located at the northwest corner of Washington and Jefferson, this project not only adds a splash of color to the downtown scene, it also helps extend the loft district westward toward Midtown/Grand Center, which is also seeing its fair share of redevelopment these days.

The G.W. Lofts feature 60 one- and two-bedroom units in six buildings, as well as seven spaces available for office or retail use:

Building 1 (A) – 1,760 sf - $14.00 psf – Corner space
Building 1 (B) – 1,260 sf - $14.00 psf
Building 1 (C) – 2,920 sf - $10.00 psf – Second floor space with excellent views
Building 2 – 1,492 sf - $15.00 psf – Space can be combined with Building 3
Building 3 – 5,694 sf - $15.00 psf – Creative space for retail or office user
Building 4 – 9,439 sf - $16.00 psf – Premiere restaurant space
Building 5 – 9,085 sf - $10.00 psf – Very functional space – Great for office or retail

Trey Buffington of Sperry Van Ness is the leasing agent – (314) 878-0303.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

1130 N. 3rd Street Warehouse

Located adjacent to the Lumiere Place casino on Laclede’s Landing, this building is a 20,000 sf industrial facility with approximately 750 sf of office space. It has three loading docks, three drive-in doors, and a 60-car parking lot. The space is available for lease at $4.25 psf.

The building appears to be in good shape, with newer windows on the second floor. Perhaps it could serve as more than just bulk manufacturing/distribution space. Judging from its cast iron fa├žade, it may have once featured large windows or storefronts that were bricked over at some point. It has extremely high visibility, right next to Highway 70.

The leasing agents are Kevin Gallagher (314) 584-6216 and R.J. Ortyl (314) 584-6265 of Gateway Commercial.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Quick Look at Washington Avenue

Washington Avenue is really something to be proud of. It wasn’t too long ago that its buildings were almost completely vacant and the area was more than a little sketchy. I remember walking down Washington on numerous occasions in the late 90s/early 00s and not passing another person on the street. Now, it is absolutely fantastic.

While Matt Burghoff and John Steffen are no longer in the development business (for various reasons), we should be thankful for the legacy they left us in the 1000 block of Washington. The Bee Hat Building and Dorsa Lofts look fantastic, and the sidewalks were full of diners at The Dubliner and Mosaic on this lovely day. And of course, Kitchen K in HRI’s Merchandise Mart Building across the street was still going strong as well.

There are still some prominent retail vacancies: the former Baseline Gallery space in the Vanguard Lofts in the 1100 block, a large space in the ground floor of the Meridian at Washington and Tucker, the former Good Works space in the Bankers Lofts and the ground floor space in the Bogen, to name a few.

It’s imperative that the St. Louis Centre skybridge be brought down ASAP. While not a physical barrier to pedestrian traffic, it’s definitely a mental barrier that cuts off the easternmost blocks of Washington from the hustle and bustle of the western blocks. The area under the skywalk is dark, uninviting, lined with pigeon droppings, and reeks of urine. The redevelopment of the Dillard’s Building at 6th and Washington is absolutely critical in order for Washington to reach its potential. Once that skybridge comes down, I think we’ll see something go into the vacant ground floor space at 555 Washington (whatever happened to the rumors that the Lombardo Family was thinking about opening a restaurant there?).

There are a few prominent vacant lots that would be prime development sites:

-The northwest and southwest corners of Washington and 11th
-The northeast corner of Washington and 10th (next to the Lammert Building)
-The southwest corner of Washington and Tucker, which was slated for a small new office building – Nadira Place – that doesn’t seem to be materializing.
-The northeast corner of Broadway and Washington – to me, this would be an ideal site for a new Class A office. It is a huge, well located site with plenty of adjacent parking. It would also help continue to push the boundaries of the CBD and greatly improve the environs of the convention center.
-And of course, the lot that was supposed to be the site of the SkyHouse development needs to be built on.

While there’s still work to be done, Washington has come a long way. And it gives me hope that other downtown streets, particularly Locust and Olive, can eventually achieve the same level of success.