Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Could City Garden Help Spur Additional Development?

City Garden is slated to open this week and the early reviews have been very good. As more and more St. Louisans visit downtown's amazing new sculpture garden, it's feasible that it could become one of our most treasured assets.

It will be interesting to see if City Garden is able to spur any additional development in the surrounding area.

While City Garden includes its own restaurant - operated by Jim Fiala of Liluma in the Central West End - suddenly, the vacant first floor space in Bank of America Plaza directly across the street becomes a prime spot for an upscale eatery overlooking the park.

On the office front, perhaps City Garden will help generate some interest in the long-vacant General American Building, or even eventually lead to the construction of a new Class A tower on the vacant parcel adjacent to Bank of America Plaza, which was part of the original development plan for that building but never came to fruition.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Low Quality Camera Phone Picture of the Day, 6/29

The west side of Broadway, between Locust and Olive, has to be one of the most desolate stretches of sidewalk in all of downtown. The sidewalks themselves are in poor condition, and the lack of street trees allow the sun to beat down on pedestrians on hot days.

Of course, the vacant Mercantile Library Complex and LaSalle Building just add to the feeling of loneliness this block creates. It's a shame, because this block is fairly prominent and well-traveled, especially when the Cardinals are in town. Even despite the vacant buildings, new sidewalks, trees and lighting would go a long way here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Yesterday's Downtown Next Open House

I had the opportunity to attend the Downtown Next open house put on by the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis yesterday. The open house presented feedback from over 1,100 stakeholders surveyed on the things they'd like to see downtown in the future, outlined the progress downtown has made in recent years, and represented the evolution of the Downtown Now plan conducted in the late 90s.

It was encouraging to see so many people take an interest in helping plan the future of downtown, and the results provide a great framework for the direction in which downtown is heading. Attendees were given the opportunity to rate the priorities that are most important to them, and the long list of excellent options showed that the Partnership has a firm grasp on what needs to be done in order for downtown to reach its potential.

I liked the fact that many of the presentation materials stressed connectivity - making downtown more pedestrian friendly, and doing a better job of linking downtown to surrounding areas such as Old North St. Louis and Soulard.

The priorities that I ranked highest involved business development - making downtown THE center for small businesses and entrepreneurs, enlisting downtown firms to encourage other businesses to move downtown, utilizing local universities to help launch businesses downtown, and constructing Class A office space. I also listed the redevelopment of vacant buildings such as St. Louis Centre and the Arcade Building as a priority, along with streetscape improvements and ongoing retail and residential development.

In my opinion, the more we can strengthen downtown as a business center, the more attractive it will be to residents and retailers. A boom in the number of office tenants could help fuel another boom in residential construction.

There's a lot of work to be done, but I think things are headed in the right direction.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Random Lease Roundup

Gateway Pipe & Supply Co. leased 1,070 sf in the Laclede Gas Building.

Luther & Associates PC leased 2,133 sf feet at 1010 Market Street.

The St. Louis Sports Commission leased 4,723 sf in the Welsh Flatness & Lutz Building at 308 N. 21st Street.

Anderson & Gilbert LC leased 3,120 in the Millennium Center at 515 Olive.

Level 3 Communications renewed its lease for 1,641 sf at 1015 Locust Street.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Health and Human Services Moves Downtown

The city's Department of Health and the Department of Human Service has moved to a newly renovated building located at 1520 Market Street.

This move will benefit both employees and customers as the new building will meet industry standards for a modern office configuration and improve energy efficiency.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Confluence Academy Takes 120,000 sf Downtown

Charter school Confluence Academy has announced that it will be opening a high school in the Farm Credit Bank Building - most recently known as the TWA Reservation Center - at 310 N. 15th Street. The building is undergoing a $15 million renovation and will be home to 200 students this fall, with enrollment expected to eventually reach 900.

Not only will this location be a good fit for the school, it will also have a significant impact on downtown's Class B vacancy rate. Confluence has signed a 20-year, 120,000 sf lease which will provide approximately $1 million per year to the St. Louis Public Library, the building's owner.

The building currently houses the St. Louis Public Library's administrative offices and McCormack Baron Salazar. The library's 125 employees will relocate to another location within the building complex, and McCormack Baron Salazar is looking for 30,000 sf elsewhere downtown.

Confluence is the second charter school to sign a major lease downtown. In late 2007, the Ethel Hedgeman Lyle Academy signed a full building lease 110,000 sf at 1881 Pine.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Bit of Italy Coming to Washington Avenue

Joe Bonwich of the Post-Dispatch has the scoop on Mama Figlia, an Italian food and gift store coming soon to the former Paper Dolls space in the Bee Hat Building at 11th and Washington.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Datotel - A Downtown IT Firm

Last Friday's Post-Dispatch had a great profile on David Brown, Founder and President of Datotel, an IT outsourcing firm based in the Globe Building at 710 N. Tucker. Mr. Brown sounds bullish on St. Louis' prospects as an IT hub:

How does St. Louis rate as a place to grow a tech business?

In the last dot-com era, we called St. Louis a tier-two city. It was really destined to be a tier-one city from an IT infrastructure standpoint. We have a really overbuilt infrastructure from a fiber optics standpoint.

So, from Datotel's standpoint, we really have a strong infrastructure today to apply these types of services. And the cost of Internet bandwidth and transport is plummeting through the floor, which makes access to these services a lot easier than it was previously. So the assets are already there.
Downtown's IT infrastructure is the best in the region, which is why it surprises me that any tech firm would choose Maryland Heights, Creve Coeur or even St. Charles over downtown.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dillard's Building Update

Building Blocks has some encouraging news on Spinnaker's redevelopment of the Dillard's Building: Two bills introduced before the Board of Aldermen would amend the way real estate and sales taxes may be used to pay off the public subsidy part of the project, potentially freeing up $3 million to $4 million.

The $100+ million project - to be known as The Laurel - would include residential units and a 200-room Embassy Suites hotel.

Any progress in this current economic climate is a good thing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chouteau's Landing Arts Center Gets its First Tenant

According to the Business Journal, the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum is planning to move from Oklahoma City to 10,000 sf in the Chouteau's Landing Arts Center, known to most as the Powell Square building. The move date is still up in the air, dependent on how quickly Chivvis Development is able to renovate the building.

The non-profit's collection includes 5,000 cameras and 35,000 photographic images.

Sounds like a great anchor tenant for this development and an exciting cultural venue for downtown. Perhaps it will be comparable to the new Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.

Hopefully we'll be hearing about commitments from additional artists and creative organizations soon.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Losing ANOTHER Law Firm

According to the Business Journal, Kohn, Shands - currently located in the U.S. Bank Plaza - is shopping for new space in Clayton to accomodate recent and future growth.

While losing a 16-attorney firm certainly isn't as devastating as the loss of Armstrong Teasdale to Clayton, it still stings.

One of the new attorneys joining the firm specializes in tax and estate planning for high net worth individuals, which I'm guessing may have something to do with the move.

What I don't get is why firms feel they can't serve affluent clients from a downtown location. Perhaps Kohn, Shands could be persuaded to stay downtown and keep their small (400 sf) Clayton office?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Your Site Selection Le Cordon Blows

A year ago, I wrote that Le Cordon Bleu should consider opening a culinary academy in downtown St. Louis.

Well, they apparently have set up shop in the St. Louis area...in St. Peters, of all places.

St. Peters?

Considering that the most creative minds in the St. Louis restaurant scene are almost exclusively working in the city and inner-ring suburbs, and that downtown St. Louis is the most accessible site in the St. Louis area in terms of both public transportation and highways, why would Le Cordon Bleu choose a location 30 miles away from the city, in an area dominated by chain restaurants?

I don't get L'Ecole Culinaire's choice of Ladue for its school either, but that's another story. St. Peters is absolutely mind-boggling.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Future of SLPD HQ

Police Chief Isom has stated that the 80+ year old downtown police headquarters building is in need of a complete overhaul, and will be presenting three options to the Board of Police Commissioners at its next meeting:

Pour tens of millions into renovating the 82-year-old building at Tucker Boulevard and Clark Avenue downtown.

Move into temporary digs while the building is torn down and a new one is constructed in its place at unknown cost.

Leave the building and permanently move into an existing building.

Of these options, I hope the second one is not taken into consideration. Downtown has lost enough historic buildings as it is.

If the cost of renovating the current HQ building is too great, my hope is that the SLPD can find another suitable existing building downtown. Maybe the old Sherwood Medical Building at 1915 Olive would be a good, modern choice.

More information here.

Enterprise Bank, Come on Down

While in Kansas City last weekend, I happened to notice St. Louis-based (or rather, Clayton-based) Enterprise Bank's building just east of Country Club Plaza (which is located in Kansas City proper). Seeing as how Kansas City has the same 1% earnings tax as St. Louis, I guess the earnings tax isn't a deterrent for Enterprise.

Perhaps Enterprise Bank could be persuaded to make the move downtown from Clayton. It would certainly enhance their visibility while saving them money on rent and helping re-establish downtown as the financial center of the St. Louis region.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Random Lease Roundup

Eurpac Service, Inc. leased 12,559 sf at 800 St. Louis Union Station.

M3 Investments LLC purchased the 7,110 sf building at 1113 Pine.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Arch Rivalry Series Cancelled

Sadly, Mizzou and Illinois won't be continuing the annual Arch Rivalry football game at the Edward Jones Dome after the current series expires in 2010. Said Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther:

“Eventually, we might resume it on a home-and-home basis, or perhaps return to St. Louis, but we have been leaning toward games on campus at some point in the future. This has been a big-time game that draws good income and TV coverage. With all that said, since we want to get to seven or eight home games, you have to evaluate the neutral game.”

It seems to me that everybody loses in this case - the schools and their football programs lose not only the $1 million payout, but the national TV exposure and the recruiting benefits that come from playing a game in St. Louis, the fans lose out on the ability to see Mizzou or Illinois right here at home, and St. Louis loses a great event and its economic impact.

I'll miss the college football atmosphere that the Arch Rivalry series brought to town. The games were a blast to experience in person, and I'm not even an alumnus of either school.

Hopefully Frank Viverito and the Sports Commission can get the two schools to agree to return to St. Louis in the near future. Like the Braggin' Rights basketball game between Mizzou and Illinois, the Arch Rivalry series needs to be a yearly tradition here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Renaissance Suites Up for Sale?

The recent storm damage to the Renaissance Suites on Washington reminded me that I had intended to address the convention hotel's current financial situation.

The bondholders on the Renaissance Hotel – who are now its owners – have hired Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels to advise them on how to cut costs and boost the hotel’s profitability. One strategy that has been discussed is selling the hotel’s suites building, which is located on the north side of Washington, across from the main hotel property. According to Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels’ report, it “can be independent and self-sustaining without any physical ties to the hotel.”

If the suites property is spun off, would it make the most sense to operate it as an independent, all-suites hotel? Perhaps it would be a more suitable spot for the Roberts Brothers’ proposed Hotel Indigo boutique hotel. Or maybe an extended-stay hotel?

Could the suites be converted to apartments? Leon Strauss’ Pantheon Corporation originally renovated the building as apartments back in the 1980s, but unfortunately, it was an idea that was ahead of its time for St. Louis, and the redevelopment failed. Downtown’s residential market is much larger and stronger now – maybe it would work?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Breaking Kiel Opera House News

The Board of Aldermen has approved SCP's $74 million plan to renovate the Kiel Opera House!

Let's hope SCP can get started this summer, as planned. It will be incredible to see this gem brought back to life!

Another Lunch Option Downtown

As reported in the Business Journal, Gourmet to Go will open a downtown café late this summer in St. Louis Place at Olive and Broadway. The 4,000 sf space will provide indoor and outdoor seating for 40, with food to order and salads and sandwiches to go.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Mansion House Redux

I was thinking about this building the other day.

Maybe office space isn't the best use of this property. Maybe it would be better suited as a venue for private events such as parties, wedding receptions, etc. With its wall of windows fronting the Arch grounds, there may be no better setting anywhere in town.

A restaurant might work here as well, although accessibility might be an issue.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Becoming "Faster"

Fast Company magazine recently released its annual list of "Fast Cities," a listing of the world's leading cities in terms of creativity, innovation, forward-thinking and other "it" factors that separate the Portlands and Austins of the world from the rest of the pack.

The article on Seattle, this year's "City of the Year," included this interesting quote:
The creative people who have transplanted to Seattle have sought out this place for a reason. Wherever they came from, they left because that place was stuck in tradition. And these people, these innovators, are not happy with that. They want to turn that idea of tradition on its head.
That's pretty amazing; I wish we had more of that spirit here.

In 2007, the magazine named St. Louis as one of its five "Slow Cities," along with Budapest, New Orleans, Detroit and Havana, describing our fair city thusly:
Too normal for its own good. It ranks dead last on CityVitals' "Weirdness Index," a measure of passion and engagement.
In 2008, Kansas City was listed as a "City on the Verge"
A $9 billion redevelopment is restoring downtown KC's shine with the new Sprint Center and Steven Holl's glorious expansion of the Nelson-Atkins Museum. This Missouri city also anchors a new animal-health corridor -- a bovine Silicon Valley -- that's home to more than 120 bioscience firms. The hope is that this old cow town's new spin will boost job growth and keep young people from seeking greener pastures.
What can we do to make downtown - and the St. Louis region - "faster?"

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Downtown Restaurant Bites

- New awnings with the Ruth's Chris Steak House logo have gone up at the Hyatt (formerly the Adam's Mark).

- Liquor license hearing for Jade scheduled for June 10.

- My Bar & Pizzaria appears to be opening soon at 9th and Pine. Web site - www.mybarandpizzaria.com is still under construction.

Correction: It's already open!

- Peruvian restaurant Mango is moving from Shrewsbury to the original Mosaic space at 1101 Lucas.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Poor Quality Camera Phone Photo of the Day, 6/1

A sneak peak at City Garden, downtown's new sculpture garden on Market Street (complete with bunny sculpture!).