KDG Nixes Clayton Developments, Doubles Down on City

Real Estate Developer KDG, known for its luxury apartment buildings including Clayton on the Park and The Euclid, appears to be doubling down on their St. Louis City investment. Surprisingly, those plans seem to include some distancing from Clayton, one of St. Louis’ most desirable and expensive suburbs.

Although KDG’s portfolio still includes multiple St. Louis County assets, including Centene Plaza and the under-development Olive Crossing, their recent investment decisions are skewing quickly toward the City itself. KDG just sold its long-held Clayton residential tower, Clayton on the Park, after managing the property for over a decade. KDG had, years ago, converted the building to luxury apartments during the Great Recession. It had previously been home to senior living facilities and even a hotel.

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The disinvestment from Clayton appears to go a bit further, as selling one property alone does not signify a meaningful trend. Rather, KDG has long had its eyes set on the vacant land just next-door to its Clayton on the Park tower at 121 S. Meramec. Some might be familiar with this address, as it used to be home to one of the two mid-rise 7-Up towers that were a part of the beverage company’s former headquarters. The building at this address had been demolished, while the other midrise still stands and would be converted to residential apartments under this plan. Chris Stritzel at CityScene STL details this incredibly well.

KDG’s plans as rendered above would have completely rehabilitated the structure still standing today and would have included new infill on the vacant lot to its side. Both would be connected to their former property, Clayton on the Park, via the parking garage. The development would have cost upwards of $70 million and included amenities like a rooftop pool deck, fitness center, and individual work spaces for tenants to use. However, KDG just recently scrapped these plans, shortly before they announced the sale of their neighboring asset, Clayton on the Park.

While some may suggest or feel that Clayton is losing steam, this move appears to be an individual investment decision rather than a growing trend. It is indicative of a market that has more strongly embraced the City of St. Louis in addition to but not instead of Clayton. Although KDG is shifting its set of priorities, there are multiple other developments currently reshaping the Clayton skyline, adding new residents, hotel guests, and Class A office space.

Rendering above attributed to U.S. Capital Development of the under-construction Forsyth Pointe office buildings

Clayton’s continued strength aside, it is evident that development has been heating up in the City of St. Louis. In 2020, over $1 billion in building permits were awarded, and there are currently thousands of residential apartment units under construction and in development. The Central West End saw the rise and completion of the new 100 on the Park high-rise apartments. Similarly, Downtown saw a new residential tower, One Cardinal Way, open by Busch Stadium amid major announcements by developers for hundreds of other units within Downtown limits.

The momentum clearly has not gone unnoticed by KDG. In the hot Central West End neighborhood, KDG is currently well into the construction of a residential apartment building on Laclede Ave. 4545 Laclede will host 200 units between its 7 stories, adding considerable density to an already vibrant corridor. Demand in the CWE is striking, and KDG is looking to offer new options for residents looking to enter the neighborhood with its many nightlife, shopping, and restaurant options. The building will feature “micro-units”, studios, 1, and 2-bedroom units. The average size of the micro-units will be 386 square feet, with larger units available for those who need additional space.

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KSDK reports that other amenities like a fitness center, golfing green, pool, and yoga studio will be available for residents. Moreover, while some locals might be shocked at the size and inclusion of the smaller units, they are an excellent way to maintain some modicum of affordability for residents looking to live in certain areas. Common in bigger cities with higher rent prices, micro-units also have considerably higher occupancy rates than traditional units, while also promoting sustainability and more efficient land use according to the Urban Land Institute.

KDG is also doubling down on the neighboring Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, more commonly known as The Grove. The company partnered with another developer, Green Street, on two large mixed-use buildings at the corner of Sarah and Chouteau. The two buildings, Chroma and Hue, share amenities and wrap hundreds of units, a coffee shop, hair salon, and other restaurants – significantly densifying and activating the East end of The Grove. KDG is responsible for the onsite property management at the two properties. Hue just recently wrapped up construction, and we were able to meet Green Street VP of Marketing, Liz Austin, for a construction tour covered here.

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In the neighboring Cortex neighborhood, an emerging innovation hub bolstered by Washington University and SLU, KDG is at the forefront of the efforts to bring 24/7 vibrancy through a residential component. The Cortex master plan envisions offices, hotels, entertainment, and apartments to activate the community throughout the day. To date, there has been significant progress. With a new Aloft hotel that opened its doors during the pandemic, a new MetroLink station, and tons of investment into labs and offices like the soon-to-be world’s largest neuroscience facility, the area is booming.

KDG hopes to add the key missing link: apartments. The whole plan, dubbed “Cortex K” will host a variety of uses from apartments to office and retail, but apartments are the piece that could truly stitch the community into a neighborhood, while also helping connect it to the vibrancy of The Grove.

Aerial Overview Rendering – St. Louis April 7 TIF Agenda

There will be three structures built in two separate phases. The first is a 7-story mixed-use building with 160 apartments, 18,500 square feet of office space, and 2,150 square feet of retail space. As KDG is quick to point out, this building will contribute to a neighborhood of over 500 residential units combined with the Chroma and Hue developments when complete. The TIF agenda notes that the apartments will include amenities like a fitness center, club room, outdoor deck, and more. Recent KDG apartment buildings have generally also included flexible workspaces for residents, pools, coffee, etc. Phase 1 is expected to cost $37 million according to the TIF packet.

Phase 2 will include an office building and garage, which will be part of the same complex as imaged in the renderings from KDG above. The Cortex K office building will bring 125,000 square feet of Class A office space to the City of St. Louis, in addition to 7,000 more square feet of retail space. For construction to proceed, KDG is looking to prelease at least 50,000 square feet of the usable space. The budgeted cost for the office building is an estimated $40 million.

The garage is expected to hold approximately 610 spaces and is still in a preliminary design phase. Although the garage is fairly large for a district that features a MetroLink station, it is not street-facing and will likely be shared by residents and workers alike. The project is certainly a decent example of transit-oriented development (TOD) still with the combined density and access to nearby transit options. This portion of Phase 2 will be an additional $17.9 million.

KDG is also promising to make various public improvements to the surrounding infrastructure – something common for developers when requesting tax-incremented financing from municipalities. Although the plans are still “very preliminary”, KDG expects to spend up to $3.5 million on streetscape improvements, lighting, utilities, sidewalks, and bike lanes. The improvements will be carried out for KDG on behalf of the Cortex.

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In the April 7 TIF agenda, KDG is requesting $14 million in assistance from the City of St. Louis for this development – 14.25% of the total development costs. TIFs have been under increasingly intense scrutiny by St. Louis residents for a variety of reasons. Many suggest it is a form of corporate welfare that takes necessary funds away from the city, and others a necessity to attract and retain beneficial developments.

Historically, the City of St. Louis lacked a transparent, thoughtful, and consistent plan on how it would award TIFs to developers. State Auditor Galloway released an audit of the program and called for increased oversight and transparency to ensure a level playing field just under a year ago. Much of the controversy from residents stems from the fact that the TIFs are often awarded to developers in the most economically successful districts, predominantly in the Central Corridor. The Cortex K TIF request is likely to face similar scrutiny from residents.

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Cortex Master Plan

The project itself, however, will certainly contribute to a fast-growing region in St. Louis City. Additional apartments, office, and retail will go a long way toward connecting The Grove and Cortex. Vibrant, 24/7 neighborhoods with transit access are more sustainable, enjoyable, and attractive to residents and are crucial to developing a strong, urban corridor.

As an investment decision, choosing to double down on the City of St. Louis instead of the very strong Clayton market also represents a growing source of demand that residents might not yet have noticed. There are thousands of units under construction in the city, and new home construction is off the charts. While the city is still seeing depopulation on its North Side, stemming from decades of disinvestment, redlining, racial covenants, and a 1970s plan that essentially would cut off efforts to sustain the North side (though not officially enacted, it was essentially still practiced for years), its Central Corridor and many South Side neighborhoods are booming.

The tricky act for St. Louis, however, is to find a way to extend this success, without displacement, to other neighborhoods that see little investment. With any luck, including the emerging “North Central Corridor” and a Mayor dedicated to racial equity, the City of St. Louis may yet see that day come sooner rather than later.

Hue@Chroma Opening Soon in The Grove: A Review of Community Impact, Gentrification, and Urban Density

Only 2 and a half years after Green Street and the Koman Group opened Chroma and its chic 235 residential units to the public, Chroma’s sister property Hue is nearly complete with an additional 111 modern apartments. Together, their combined 346 luxury apartments and 18,000 sq. feet of ground-floor retail will significantly densify and urbanize the Eastern end of The Grove’s commercial corridor on Manchester.

We’ve covered a lot of development in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, particularly along Manchester, where hundreds of new residential units are rising quickly alongside new commercial spaces and restaurant expansions. For those who have not visited The Grove this last year, you might be in for a shock. The neighboring Central West End has largely and near exclusively been home to the most dense development and luxury apartment communities, but it seems readily apparent that Manchester might soon host a similar density to that around the BJC Medical Center.

Hue@Chroma facing East from Sarah St. – Brian Adler

There is no doubt that Hue@Chroma is seemingly poised to offer some gorgeous apartments to St. Louis, but before we get to the photos (some better than others, my apologies – didn’t realize some of my camera settings were off), let’s talk about some of the elephants in the room. With new development, particularly on such a large scale, we have to talk about the community that “was”, before we get to the community that “will be”. I’m specifically referring to that “G Word”, gentrification.

It seems that we talk about that, at least briefly, in many of our articles here at Missouri Metro. Humungous buildings constructed with multimillion dollar budgets ballooned by outside investors who might or might not live in the communities affected may drastically change the physical landscape of the communities they are built in. Not to mention concerns that outside investment adversely impacts current residents.

Before you make up your mind, remember that gentrification is much more complicated than many people attempt to make it seem. Like everything else, there is a good deal of nuance. A 300 unit luxury apartment complex built atop a previously vacant lot is significantly different than the same development constructed upon a street of just occupied homes razed only for newer and wealthier residents. Social scientists have studied vacancy for decades, and not only does it cost the city financially, it makes communities significantly less safe. Replacing vacant land with productive development can be very, very positive. That doesn’t mean that it always will be positive, but that we must keep an open mind and keep digging.

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As we have discussed before, the studies on gentrification put forth some mixed messaging. There is a general sort of “Classical Gentrification” that is often examined in some of the U.S.’ largest and wealthiest cities, wherein white, single, and higher income individuals move into a neighborhood and price out a more diverse and lower-income set of individuals who previously occupied that community. Todd Swanstrom, a Professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, published a study in 2014 that indicated St. Louis’ rebounding neighborhoods do not generally fit this model. As a recent student of Swanstrom myself in UMSL’s Graduate Public Policy program, we have had the opportunity to speak on this topic together to great lengths. You can read more in Swanstrom’s article he wrote about the study on NextSTL, but I’ll briefly describe it here too.

Even some of the most “gentrified” neighborhoods in St. Louis, like the Central West End, are retaining their diversity. There is a huge difference in the level of displacement found in a legacy city like St. Louis, where the housing market is under much less pressure and demand is slower and markets like D.C., Los Angeles, or New York City.

“In legacy cities housing markets tend to be “loose” and that may mean that displacement pressures are less severe in so-called gentrifying neighborhoods and that economic and racial diversity may be an asset for neighborhoods rather than a problem.”

Todd Swanstrom, source: NextSTL

The other studies, which focus on significantly larger metro areas, tend to show a mixed academic consensus, with perhaps still a tilt toward some negative consequences. Even though the most recent studies on gentrification suggest that there was no sign of “large-scale departure of elderly or long-term homeowners” in their Philadelphia experiment, they recognize a higher risk of tax delinquency for those long-term residents. Studies that have now been around a few years show that gentrifying neighborhoods lose their affordable units at five times the rate as non-gentrifying neighborhoods. There are also benefits noted by both studies, including better quality of life and services like education, safety, higher property values, access to groceries, etc. There are many of these benefits to be found in St. Louis neighborhoods, with perhaps fewer of the negative impacts as well.

We discussed gentrification in our article covering recent development in Gravois Park

The dense, urban fabric of the Central West End is something that can have immensely positive impacts for residents and visitors, not to mention the City’s tax base. Multifamily construction tends to not only increase property values of nearby homes, but also hosts significant advantages in city expenses, particularly when compared to single family homes in suburban areas. The city must only extend utilities once to reach hundreds of residents, whereas the street construction, street maintenance, and utility extensions to reach 300+ single family homes would be astronomical. Moreover, Multi-Family Residential apartment units traditionally are occupied by individuals without children, while taxed at an effective rate similar to single-family residential dwellings.

This would mean the development would subsidize schools and significantly add to the city’s tax revenues, as posited by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. This is complicated to some degree by St. Louis’ taxing subsidies often found, even in strong markets like in the Central Corridor, although these incentives are generally temporary, though usually still for several years. Public financing is very flawed in St. Louis and in need of new standards and transparency, showcased in a recent audit by Auditor Galloway, though that is a conversation for another time.

Of course, there are the human benefits too. Density builds community, and dense communities with large amenity spaces allow for events and informal connections in a world where distance is likely to keep growing between people, at least in the workplace where it appears work from home might become more of a norm. Combined with the ability to walk to restaurants, walk to stores, and potentially live car-free with nearby Metro access, density creates the potential for healthier neighborhoods and healthier people.

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That is all to say that gentrification is an incredibly complex issue, one that there might not be a convenient “good” or “bad” answer for in this context. What we can see are real benefits offered in a section of the community that transitions more into industrial activity than residential, leaving little room for displacement as a part of the discussion. It would be different in the context of Drury Hotels and their proposal on Oakland, Gibson, and Arco on the Western edge of The Grove and FPSE, where dozens of homes would be demolished for a surface parking lot and two towers. We covered that here, and we can say that at least right now, that project is stalled, if not cancelled.

One of many properties on the Western edge of FPSE owned by Drury – Brian Adler

We expect that this conversation surrounding gentrification and community impacts will continue for years to come. Research is still developing, and perhaps lacking in markets like St. Louis, where researchers like Swanstrom are shining a light on neighborhoods and developments in looser markets. Expect that Green Street will be a major player in these discussions as well, as the developer is also looking to build 6 new residential communities just South of Manchester. Most of these plans are not yet finalized or public, but expect them to include communities similar to Chroma, but “on steroids” with incredible amenities. There may also be rowhomes and smaller structures to add to the physical diversity of the neighborhood. We can also expect a significant amount of affordable housing to be included, something that is only financially feasible on their part with a massive scale. Missouri Metro will look forward to covering these as soon as we’re able, and we thank Green Street for including us in some of the discussions so far.

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On to Hue@Chroma itself, there is much to look forward to. I had the opportunity to see the progress firsthand on a tour of the construction and the amenity spaces its residents will have access to at the finished and fully occupied Chroma. Liz DeBold Austin, Vice President of Marketing at Green Street, granted Missouri Metro access to the quickly progressing construction, allowing photos of every space and unit.

All of Hue’s units will be studios and 1-bedroom apartments, although they are certainly fairly spacious. Even the studios have separate “rooms”, not necessarily closed off with a door, but otherwise sectioned off where a bed would clearly go, separate from the living room and kitchen.

Editor’s note: Brian and his wife, Lydia, used to live in a studio in Clayton spanning 400 sq. feet. It was only one room with a kitchen and separate bathroom. These studios felt downright spacious in comparison.

The most impressive thing about the units was the attention to detail and the feel of the materials. The countertops were a high quality material, either Quartz or Granite, and the appliances were all stainless steel and definitely not the cheapest kind. Each kitchen had more than enough space, and the larger 1-bedroom units even had large islands. Many units have large balconies as well, helping create a larger livable space for residents who otherwise don’t have separate bedrooms to lounge in.

Each unit also had a large bathroom with a big shower, storage space, and large mirrors. The attention to the space, making a small unit feel big, was something I kept noticing throughout. Many of the units had walk-in closets, others still hosting large spaces where one could easily store several large suitcases or many, many clothes.

While all Hue residents will be able to share the amenities in Chroma just next-door, they will also have access to a large courtyard in the middle. Residents will have a ton of amenities at their disposal, including an onsite Avenue C convenience store, pool, conference rooms, study spaces, BBQs, and more.

According to Liz, Green Street hopes to open Hue@Chroma to its first residents at the end of the year, an optimistic schedule but one that I assume they will be able to pull off. Many of the units appear just about complete, with just the finishing touches necessary. The only space still far from complete is the outdoor courtyard, which as of the tour, remained a pile of dirt with lots of potential.

Hue@Chroma also represents a joint venture between Green Street and KDG, formerly the Koman Group before a merger with Keeley Development Group. KDG will manage the property from a day to day basis and staff the building, providing exceptional customer service. KDG also manages Clayton on the Park just next to Shaw Park as well as Chroma, just next-door to Hue.

The North Facing Mural on Hue@Chroma – Brian Adler

The Grove is in the middle of a development renaissance, and it seems major developers from the St. Louis region are doubling down on the neighborhood, even in the middle of a global pandemic. We look forward to covering all of the changes and their impacts here at Missouri Metro.

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Gourmet Nachos & Narwhal’s Concept coming to The Grove

Most of the articles I have written lately have begun with a note regarding the incredible amount of development taking place in Forest Park Southeast and The Grove. With this new dual-restaurant concept proposed at Chouteau and Vandeventer, not to mention 7 large residential projects expected soon south of Manchester by Green Street, that seems poised to be the case for some time.

Dubbed the “Narwhals Grove Project”, the former gas station occupying the corner lot at 4014 Chouteau is being redeveloped into a dual-restaurant space by Narwhal’s Crafted and Pickleman’s owners Brad Merten and Brandon Holzhueter. Currently vacant and recently utilized by U-HAUL, the structure will be significantly renovated and revitalized to maximize the odd characteristics of the triangular and narrow lot, shown below. This lot has been something of an eyesore despite being an entry point to the otherwise vibrant neighborhood.

Aerial view provided by the Forest Park Southeast Development Committee

Merten and Holzhueter are planning to rehab the existing structure and create a common point of entry for the two businesses that will be onsite. The Narwhal’s side will likely share similar branding as the Narwhal’s Crafted locations, but with some room for variation given the proximity of the Narhwal’s Crafted on Laclede in the Central West End. Even with the other Narwhal’s so close, Merten and Holzhueter noted the existing nightlife, density, and characteristics of The Grove as major factors of their decision.

The other restaurant is a new concept for the two owners, a fast-casual gourmet nacho eatery, with new takes on nacho dishes that are not yet available in the region. The nacho restaurant is likely to be called “Loaded Nachos”, and a sample menu that was shown in the Development Committee meeting on September 15 revealed a surprisingly versatile nacho selection, with appetizer and entre options that also offered options for those with dietary restrictions.

The focus on both will be fun, with games and activities on offer under a shared covered patio. There will also be an interior dining room and uncovered patio, offering several different spaces for patrons. Those who have visited other Narwhal’s locations will feel at home with the indoor/outdoor experience. However, there will be a new open-front kitchen to add an additional layer of engagement for guests.

Basic renderings and plans for the location provided by Forest Park Southeast Development Committee

The triangular lot will also see a large amount of beautification, with landscaping and improvements occupying parts of the lot that are not large enough for activity or for structures. There will be a permanent art installation incorporating their signage as well. Although the property is small, the owners are making sure to include ADA parking spaces.

The Park Central Forest Park Southeast Development Committee supports the proposal, although it does not have official approval capacity. Instead, it serves as a recommendation and review board. It recommends a series of variances that would approve a pick-up window, a lower height request for the patio wall facing the street, and the patio covering. Should there be any other proposed changes, the recommendation requires the owners to come back to the committee.

Notably, this lot is actually being sold by the Koman Group/KDG, who developed the CHROMA luxury apartments next-door. Koman/KDG have been heavily involved in the process of finding a suitable buyer that is beneficial for their residents next-door and that fits the vibrancy and eclectic atmosphere of the neighborhood as a whole. Although they had intended to build more residential units on this lot, the shape and size proved too difficult to design around. The good news is that instead of maintaining a vacant lot in The Grove that all visitors and residents coming from the East would have to drive through, they put in the effort to fill the space with a vendor that seems intent on adding to the neighborhood positively.

This should be a substantial improvement to this location, helping fill another lot at the corner of the neighborhood that might otherwise dissuade residents or patrons from entering and enjoying the neighborhood amenities.

Front view of the former gas station provided by Forest Park Southeast Development Committee

Stay tuned for news of official approval, opening dates, and more information on this development. Feel free to comment below or on our social channels.

A Sneak Peak at Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea, coming to The Grove in October

Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea is coming to The Grove this October, with local owners Jason and Leah Rooney poised to introduce a the first of the premium-targeted and family-friendly coffee franchise to the St. Louis market. I had the pleasure of meeting Jason for a pre-opening tour of the facility and was given a rundown of all the intricacies of opening a new coffee shop in the middle of the pandemic.

Product Display

Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea was founded in 1993 in Ann Arbor, near the University of Michigan campus. With a focus on high-end, real ingredients and a love for coffee, co-founders Wei and Lisa now run several corporate locations, and together with locally owned franchises, the Sweetwaters brand can be found at 45 locations. Rooney hopes to expand on their success with what he intends to be the flagship Sweetwaters location in St. Louis, located in the “Heart of The Grove” on Manchester.

It is a strikingly challenging and complicated time to be a small business owner in the food and beverage industry, but Rooney intends to offer a unique set of drinks and activities in an accessible setting to a neighborhood with relatively little competition. The only other coffee shop in the vicinity is Rise Coffee, which Rooney himself praises. Rise offers more of an eclectic style, while Rooney intends for Sweetwaters to have a broader audience and a host of beverage options that will be new to the region.

Jason and Leah are aiming to open Sweetwaters within the first two weeks of October, first for a “Friends and Family Celebration” to give the staff a chance to practice for a four hour setting before opening to the public. A sizable portion of those proceeds will benefit charitable organizations.

Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea is very community oriented as far as charities and integrating with the community, being there for lots of local events.

Jason Rooney

There is a lot of opportunity and energy that Leah and Jason intend to capitalize on in the neighborhood. With a fresh and modern space in the Chomra luxury apartment community, Sweetwaters will capitalize on its storefront to create a “third space” for a recent and continued influx of nearby residents. Jason emphasized a desire to not just serve the local community, but also the greater St. Louis region, an ambitious task for any small business. Their physical space will be a platform not just for local community events, but for community non-profits and charities that need a retail partner. Jason, who grew up in St. Louis, decided with Leah that St. Louis was the best city to raise their family of four children and start their business, specifically choosing a Sweetwaters franchise because its mission relates to their own and expresses the values and importance of charitable impact they hold.

Jason and Leah Rooney

With only a few weeks left until their opening, the staff is working hard to prepare for the “Friends and Family Celebration”, the very first time that the shop will open its doors to members of the public. The celebration will be the official start of a Grand Opening week, taking lessons from their day of practice and then opening to the public with a special promotion each day to build excitement and ensure people try their more unique and different beverages.

It took a long time to get to this stage, however. The Rooney’s first intended to open Sweetwaters in March, but ended up pushing back their opening just as COVID-19 began to spread. While the virus was not the only factor in the delay, the time ended up helping the staff prepare and plan. The delay was a positive, but added to an already long process. Jason and Leah valued taking their time and getting things right, even charting their own path patiently as they looked for the perfect space for their coffee shop. When they first began looking for a space, their real estate broker found plenty of adequate locations, ones with drive-throughs, others in the suburbs, and some even Downtown, but nothing felt right. They ended up doing their own research, ultimately finding this location in The Grove themselves. They knew almost immediately that this space, in the “heart of The Grove” and in a contemporary, dense development, fit every criteria. It would not only fit the store, but the brand itself and their many ambitions for how they would serve the neighborhood.

We probably couldn’t have written a better location and a better fit for what the brand is.”

Jason Rooney

Picking The Grove and Chroma in particular made sense to the Rooney’s. With 235 units in the first phase of the development alone, Hue opening this fall with more than a hundred more, and 4400 Manchester opening shortly, there has been an influx of dense residential units in the neighborhood. These developments are just the tip of the iceberg with more along the way. Rooney hopes that Sweetwaters will complement Rise and help serve a growing, diverse demographic in the community.

There were so many neighborhoods Jason and Leah considered, from Maplewood to University City, but the density, walkability, and competitive landscape of The Grove were deciding factors. The encouragement and support of the neighborhood and building sealed the deal. This particular location offered a contemporary storefront that they felt would fit their premium brand well and would provide the best experience for nearby residents.

One of the more interesting final candidates for locations was a retail spot, now to be occupied by a Starbucks, in the newest Ballpark Village phase. They loved the new buildings, but felt that the stronger residential aspect of Forest Park Southeast and The Grove would contribute to a more stable business environment not dependent on a game day crowd. They would love to support Downtown St. Louis, but this problem emphasizes the type of issues Downtown, even as it sees a growing residential population, faces. St. Louis, with its fragmented neighborhoods, still has much to do to make its downtown attractive to families and businesses. It’s impossible to deny the progress it has made so far, however.

A view of Chroma from a table inside Sweetwaters

The support from the building management in Chroma has been outstanding, and Jason is grateful for the support from the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association. Residents have also provided incredible support and interest, fielding constant questions to their social accounts.

We are here to serve the community and give them a product they love and enjoy. We think this will enhance the neighborhood.

Jason Rooney

Meeting their expectations is paramount to the Rooneys. Opening a business during COVID, particularly one in the food-service industry, is complicated. The Rooney’s want to ensure everyone is safe and feels safe and will emphasize and abide by all city and CDC guidelines. They do not want anyone catching anything because they missed something. When things begin opening up and getting safer, they hope to fully realize a coffee concept built with events in mind.

From Friday Game Nights to live music to adult coloring evenings, etc., they hope to hold all sorts of events for community members. COVID unfortunately changes the equation a bit, but they hope to eventually implement these events at a large scale and then some to make Sweetwaters an event space that contributes to an active, social lifestyle for those in the neighborhood and beyond. Jason hopes to incorporate some events sooner, but does not yet know exactly what those will look like.

Coffee Bar

Jason is looking forward to winning people over and building brand awareness for Sweetwaters. In his mind, this is really the first and most important step. Sweetwaters has a number of proprietary drinks and blends that you can’t find elsewhere. You cannot even buy Sweetwaters blended coffee offered at any other coffee shop. One of Jason’s favorites is a special Ginger Lemon Tea, which complements their soda-like Ginger Lemon Fizz. That have that bottled now, in regular and raspberry flavors. The Ginger Fizz can be served hot, which apparently not only tastes great, but can be helpful when you have a cold.

They also have a couple of different frozen drinks, like the ice cream based cold brew based on Hawaiian coffee blends and Hawaiian coffee culture. Jason stands by it, proudly claiming that it is the best frozen drink he has had in his life. They also have Strawberry Lemonade and regular Lemonade freezes. These too use fresh berries and real ingredients. The Lemonade comes from lemons and actual lemon juice. Similarly, there is no strawberry syrup or juice – just strawberries.

Sweetwaters Interior

While there are many coffee shops and chains around St. Louis, this is a opening that I find truly interesting. It is not every day that a new chain starts up in the city, in particular one that offers something different. It also highlights the development and continued economic successes of neighborhoods in the Central Corridor and The Grove in particular, with the influx of residents and large residential complexes fueling small businesses. More than anything, it is refreshing to hear the passion of a local business owner who loves and sees value in St. Louis, and who plans to use his business as a platform to make peoples’ lives better.

Pastry Bar and Entry

Stay tuned for details on their Grand Opening as October gets closer! In the meantime, you can follow their social accounts here:

Facebook

Sweetwaters Website

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