Major CORTEX Project Inches Forward

UPDATE: The construction appears to be for the nearby Neuroscience building under construction just down the block. Although the construction is on the site of the 4210 site, this may not yet be an indication of the project being restarted. The story will be updated as more information unfolds.

St. Louis is on the precipice of becoming a major city for fostering startups, seeing massive venture capital growth over the last several years and now regularly finding itself topping coveted lists. One recent study from JobSage found that St. Louis was the top city in the nation for successful minority-owned businesses, finding that 25% of STL startups were minority-owned with average annual sales totaling almost $200,000.

Listen to the story in the new This Week in Urbanism Podcast BONUS feature.

The St. Louis Business Journals also reported that St. Louis saw a regional record-setting amount of investment dollars, totaling almost $250,000,000 in 2021 alone. The amount of investment has swelled in recent years as the city finds itself in the top 30 markets for investment from Bay Area and New York based firms, having attracted only around $30-$40,000,000 annually between 2010 and 2013. That growth is remarkable and palpable for St. Louis area businesses and can likely be attributed to the major investments in infrastructure and networks within the Cortex Innovation Community.

CORTEX – Source: Cortex Innovation Community

If you’re unfamiliar with the Cortex, it’s an innovation community sandwiched between Forest Park Southeast, the Central West End, and Midtown. It’s several acres of high tech office space, innovation hubs, restaurants, research labs, a hotel, and soon to be residential space once KDG’s Cortex K project gets off the ground. Over the past decade, it has seen several new buildings rise and has attracted businesses including Boeing, Microsoft, and labs from WUSTL and BJC.

One office in particular, to be located at 4210 Duncan, has been an object of interest in the local urbanism community for some time. The development has been stalled since late 2020, perhaps due to leasing issues rooted in the effects of the pandemic. This building would total over $100 million dollars in investment and has a fascinating design and would have a huge presence in the community should it actually get built. With 8 and a half levels of office space, labs, and retail, it would fill out the Eastern edge of the district with a sizable presence and the façade is unlike anything we’ve seen before in the St. Louis market.

Without a whisper, it seems as though the developer has finally restarted their efforts. Over the last couple of days, the construction gates have been open as workers returned to some incomplete foundation work. Some witnessed cement trucks entering the gates and workers seemingly restarting construction. What we haven’t seen yet are the building permits, so time will tell if this is only a temporary measure, or really the start to one of the most architecturally interesting office buildings in STL getting underway.

Ronald McDonald House on Chouteau Poised to Revitalize Whole Block, Help More People

The Ronald McDonald House, an organization dedicated to providing affordable housing for families visiting St. Louis for children’s medical care, has long been planning to upgrade its facilities in the region. The organization currently has a capacity limited to 59 families due to their facility limitations, leading to a wait list that they hope the additional room will alleviate.

While St. Louisans may not be the direct beneficiaries of the Ronald McDonald House, sick children and their families across Missouri often must come to St. Louis to access needed medical care. Often that means staying for a long time at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Children’s Hospital, or Siteman Cancer Center. With that in mine, it is very important that the Ronald McDonald House should be as close as possible to relieve the burden on families.

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The proposed development will be located on the 4300 block of Chouteau in Forest Park Southeast. It will sit adjacent to the highway (64/40), just across from the Central West End where all of the healthcare facilities are located. According to RMHC, “The House will be equidistant from St. Louis Children’s Hospital and SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital adjacent to Shiners Hospitals for Children – St. Louis. “

Location pin pointed on Google Maps

Despite the quickly accelerating property values in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood and dwindling land availability, the North side of 4300 block of Chouteau (much like the Drury-held properties on Kingshighway) is vacant and blighted. A former church, Emmanus Baptist, sits at the corner of Tower Grove Ave and Chouteau, abandoned for years and slowly seeing its fortunes and structural integrity decline. The more industrial looking building is a former warehouse, though it may look more like a prison than anything else with large, barbed wire fencing on the Eastern half of the property.

Image from Google Street View

The proposal itself will significantly improve the block, consolidating the three parcels into one for their construction. As the organization will be also consolidating the units from two other locations into this development, it will also be quite large. According to minutes from the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association from a 2018 meeting, the proposal calls for 60 units at this location, over 10000 square feet of public space, and 11000 square feet of office for RMHC. Although we are now well past the anticipated start and completion dates indicated in that meeting, it appears now that the Ronald McDonald House is gearing up for construction.

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Just this weekend, the group finally put up large signs with renderings and information in front of the site. Moreover, there have been large teams of people inspecting the property over the past few weeks. Missouri Metro has reached out to RMHC for more information regarding a new timeline. Regardless, the design seems to be just about finalized and residents can expect the finished result to look like the rendering below:

Rendering of the Ronald McDonald House – RMHC

If the rendering is a good indication of the final product, then RMHC will be using high quality materials across most, if not all of the façade. The streetscape will also be improved significantly with repaired sidewalks, trees, and more pedestrian activity. The organization is also suggesting that the building will be significantly more energy efficient than their current setup, while also indicating that the staff-on-site will substantially improve the patient and family experience.

This development will go a long way toward revitalizing one of the few vacant stretches in Forest Park Southeast and provide a truly beneficial service for families and children across the state of Missouri.

Controversial Developer Proposes Apartments on Kingshighway near CWE

This featured article has been split into multiple sections to better organize the ideas discussed and the many moving parts of the story. Thank you for your patience and I hope that you find it to be informative. I invite you to engage in the conversation either in the comments below or on our Twitter page.

Introduction

Site of the FPSE Project – Brian Adler

Just after announcing its latest apartment development in the Central West End at the Optimist International Building (intersection of Taylor and Lindell), developer LuxLiving released its big plans for the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. Those who have travelled on Kingshighway any time over the last two decades have witnessed the steady decline of several multifamily buildings owned by Drury Development Corporation. As Drury’s plans for a two-tower hotel adjacent to the CWE stagnated and faltered, their properties declined significantly with little to no maintenance. Missouri Metro covered their “Demolition by Neglect” strategy last year.

The blighted properties contrasted the stunning growth and evolution of the Forest Park Southeast and Central West End neighborhoods, even as housing inventory in the neighborhoods remained low. The highly visible location, so close to the highly sought after amenities of some of the City’s most expensive neighborhoods, stood out for long-time residents and visitors alike. Residents hoped for action for years, but faced stiff resistance from Drury Development Corporation and a lack of transparency as the corporation continued to acquire more properties.

Map of St. Louis with Forest Park Southeast Highlighted – Google Maps

After nearly two decades of this prolonged process and limited neighborhood approval for a two-tower design and a surface parking lot that would replace handfuls of historic residential homes, Drury finally announed it had cancelled its hotel plans in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. This year, they begun selling some homes to residential buyers and investors alike, while also choosing a large developer to take on the most notable parcels facing Kingshighway. That developer is LuxLiving.

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The Proposal

Preliminary Rendering Facing Kingshighway: LuxLiving

DISCLOSURE: Brian Adler is the current Vice President of the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association and will have some say in the community engagement process. He also lives on the 4500 Block of Oakland, which will be directly impacted by this proposed development.

LuxLiving is proposing a 7-story, 163-unit apartment building to replace these structures. While I generally am in favor of preserving many of the city’s historic brick structures, the buildings facing Kingshighway have been open to the elements for years, lack walls in some cases, and have foundations that are crumbling significantly. The proposed structure would activate a stretch of land with significant density that has not been occupied for two decades. While the design is still in preliminary stages and far from finalized, the current plans call for the usage of 15 parcels and the construction of a 177 space parking garage that will be partially underground and concealed.

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On Oakland Ave and Arco Ave, LuxLiving plans to construct two-story buildings with 14 units and amenity spaces to fill in the gap between the various other residential homes on the street and the larger, 7-story structure. The designs of the two-story buildings seem to be similar in materials, massing, and overall design to the other homes on the two blocks. With that said, to accommodate these additional buildings, a few currently occupied and vacant structures would have to be demolished. LuxLiving states that they are in various late stages of disrepair and while they may not be entirely unusable, this very author lives within this stretch and agrees for the most part on that assessment.

This article cannot be as neutral as I would otherwise hope for it to be because of my very close proximity to the site, but I do want to emphasize the kind of feedback that I have been hearing from the community. For the most part, community members have few, minor qualms with the overall design, density, and massing. In fact, many (including myself), are downright excited at the prospect of removing the blight that has FREQUENTLY contributed to visible crime and dangerous drag racing across the 4500 block of Oakland and Arco.

Behind the Kingshighway Buildings – Brian Adler

Causes for Concern: Safety, Fraud, and Bad Practices

With that said, there are significant concerns about LuxLiving itself as the selected developer for the site. While LuxLiving has been generous with information and access to its developments including the SoHo, Hudson, and Chelsea covered frequently on this website, it has a troubling reputation that has consistently dogged the company. Surprisingly numerous reviews from tenants at even their newest buildings suggest lackluster property management, shoddy building materials, thin walls, and various issues. LuxLiving also allegedly utilizes Airbnb to rent out vacant units for short-term visits. While Airbnb is not inherently bad, it can pose security concerns for actual residents of the building or pose challenges in terms of trash, noise, or usage of the building’s amenities.

There are also potential issues relating to various other business practices of the organization. The CEO of LuxLiving, Vic Alston, previously defrauded investors in a revealing Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) document. Alston reportedly omitted key information from investors and submitted SOX certifications that “were materially false and misleading“. He was banned from engaging in similar investments for five years following this judgement.

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While financial accounting requirements can be complex and perhaps it would be unfair to make judgements off of one case, Alston has repeatedly led business practices that are at best scorched earth-competitive, and at worst, deeply and fundamentally dishonest and dirty. For example, LuxLiving is currently wrapping up the nearly completed apartment building in DeBaliviere Place, dubbed “The Hudson” – poised to become another luxury, amenity-packed community. I have reported on its progress multiple times and lauded how it adds significant density to a well-trafficked transit corridor. Those facets of the project are unabashedly positive, and additional units online relieves pent-up demand that would otherwise raise rent prices.

Unfortunately, LuxLiving worked to undermine their competitors and the neighborhood itself at the onset of the development. While praising their contribution to a transit-oriented district, Alston and LuxLiving sabotaged the under-construction apartment just across the street. The Expo at Forest Park would offer hundreds of apartments at a similar price range and with similar amenities. In response, as first reported by the St. Louis Post DIspatch, LuxLiving had their lawyer Ira Berkowitz “reincorporate a long-dormant property owners association that claimed to hold review rights over the competing apartment development and declined to support the project.”

The complaint resulted in a lawsuit against the Expo at Forest Park developers and then, of course, a countersuit alleging that resurrecting an organization that had not existed for 30 years was nothing more than a means to denying a competitor’s approval. LuxLiving and the other firm ultimately settled, but another legal battle ensued – this time with LuxLiving suing the City of St. Louis’ Development Corporation, SLDC. Lux claims an entitlement to tax incentives including tax abatement and a tax break on construction materials. They allege that they must receive this support due to a letter of support from Alderman Shameem Clark-Hubbard from the 26th ward. The suit has not yet been resolved, and the decision to grant tax breaks was tabled at the June 22 meeting.

This context is important because Lux has gained some positive publicity from not requesting tax incentives for its proposed project at the Optimist International site in the Central West End, just minutes away from Forest Park Southeast. While the development will ultimately lead to a large and noticeable property tax receipt that will benefit St. Louis Public Schools, it would admittedly be awkward for Lux to request incentives from the same organization that they are currently feuding with. Notably, Lux has been mum on its intentions for tax incentives at the parcels in question in Forest Park Southeast.

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Unfortunately, tax breaks, lawsuits, and fraud cumulatively barely scratch the surface of the controversy surrounding the company and its owners. LuxLiving is but one name of many for the company and its principle actors. Some St. Louisans might remember their apartments under the portfolio of Asprient Properties, CityWide, and others. They are all the same buildings, the same company, and the same team. Lux tends to rebrand when controversy hits a fever pitch, like when Asprient mishandled residents’ security deposits.

Even more worrisome, at one of the Central West End properties under the STL Citywide brand, residents had to be evacuated for a structural collapse at the Euclid + Pine building. Residents interviewed by KMOV reporters, while horrified, expressed not being surprised due to the general conditions that the building was kept in. Perhaps you may have been urged to give the company the benefit of the doubt, choosing to assume that the company surely has improved since then. That would be unlikely, however, because this happened this last May.

What’s Next

The proposal is likely going to go through a community engagement process facilitated by Alderwoman Tina “Sweet-T” Pihl, Park Central Development, and the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association. Although Park Central Development and its Development Committee often led the process in years prior following former Alderman Roddy’s decades-long design, Alderwoman Pihl is looking to reshape the process and involve more members of the community.

There will likely be community engagement sessions in the next couple months to inform both the community about the developer’s plans and the developer on the community’s concerns. It will ultimately then receive the approval or denial from the Alderperson.

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A Nuanced Conclusion

While some might have expected my take to be one of pure opposition based on the sizable list of concerns outlined above, it might surprise you to know that I am still begrudgingly, mostly in support of the project. It is difficult to shake the feeling of “ick” that surrounds LuxLiving and it feels wrong to reward the company with my support, especially as a member of the FPSE Neighborhood Association. Remember, and this is important, the association itself is a neutral party and will not lend its support or lack thereof to any project, and the views of its members and board members are diverse.

That said, I am also a current resident of the 4500 block of Oakland that I presume that I will one day share with LuxLiving and the many residents who will occupy the community. I am writing this piece with little to no distance at all between myself and the anticipated consequences. As a resident of this block, I know all too well the damage and hardship currently caused by the derelict Drury-“maintained” buildings facing Kingshighway. The alley is littered with broken glass, impossible-to-count bottles of spent liquor, drift marks, and more. The majority of nights feature speeding down Oakland and Arco in unlicensed vehicles opting to not use their headlights. Recognize that this is not a short-term problem: this has been the reality on this block for decades. It is not as though we have been given the choice of various optimal developers, or even that matter for residents to buy up these individual buildings facing Kingshighway. Drury has selected LuxLiving, and I know well that what we will get is better than what we have.

There are other benefits I look forward to including a prettier streetscape, way more neighbors, density that will at some point add to our tax base our students, and a bit of relief for a rental market very short of inventory in this neighborhood. Perhaps I speak from a point of privilege in a multitude of ways as well, in that I am not one of the few families that will likely have to move for the project. I also am keenly familiar with development and have a hand in the community engagement process. That heightens my responsibility and that of my fellow neighborhood volunteers to ensure we don’t let LuxLiving skate through this process without answering for its reputation and demanding a robust community engagement process that allows for real concerns to be given real answers.

What’s your take?

OPINION: St. Louis CITY SC Disappoints with Downtown Parking Garage despite plans for “District”

The anticipation for the new MLS stadium and team has been profound for St. Louisans across the metro area. A huge construction effort is currently underway in Downtown West, poised to bring significant activity to a neighborhood that has lacked significant investment, retail, or residential additions for decades. The new stadium and team are well positioned to help revitalize the area while also providing residents an incredible new entertainment option.

Still, the immense positives associated with the stadium and team do not immunize the project from criticism when promises and hype falter. The St. Louis CITY SC branding quite obviously leverages city imagery and loyalty for its brand. Their website for the stadium has an entire page dedicated to the “District” they hope to create alongside the stadium. A key note on this page is to “bring vitality and drive inspiration through inspiring architecture and public spaces, and through creative uses of infrastructure and technology”.

Rendering of the MLS Stadium in Downtown West when completed (Does Not Include Parking Garage)
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An ambitious plan is certainly good to have, and creating a true district “home to a diverse selection of restaurants, bars, living spaces and family experiences” has the potential to do wonders for Downtown West. Having a hub of entertainment, retail, and living options near the stadium contributes to a neighborhood that people stay in rather than simply attend for a game and then leave right away. For the City, that means dense, fun neighborhoods that contribute heavily to the tax base. For the stadium and team, it builds a true connection with the community that is longer lasting with higher revenue potential. While the Ballpark Village developments aren’t perfect, they are succeeding at creating a real neighborhood. With a hotel, office, high-rise apartment building, stadium, Starbucks, retail, and bars, the area supports a 24/7 atmosphere that is both convenient and enjoyable for tourists and locals.

A Rendering of the St. Louis City SC Garage

Unfortunately, just-released renderings from St. Louis City SC depict a large parking structure on Olive with no activation whatsoever, save for a gaudy balcony and staircase. In order to build this parking garage, the soccer club demolished nearly an entire block of mixed-use buildings that could have housed bars, residents, and various other uses. If this rendering resembles the final product, then the built environment surrounding the stadium will be less of a district and more of a brief shop for a game and nothing else. The latter would be a loss for an area so central to the city and near many incredible amenities.

While pedestrians and the neighborhood more broadly lose out with this parking garage, the proposal also demonstrates a continued reliance on a mode of transportation that contributes heavily to our climate crisis. That is despite excellent transit proximity and St. Louis City’s ambitious climate goals, especially relating to new construction.

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When developers promise the world and demolish the urban fabric of a city, ultimately underdelivering on their commitments and publicly stated mission, the city and its residents are harmed. This kind of practice is frequently applied, from Drury Hotels with their demolition-by-neglect strategy in Forest Park Southeast to Restoration St. Louis and its bait-and-switch just by The Grove. Until this strategy is reigned in, we are likely to see more developers preach wide ranging benefits and deliver little more than lipstick on a pig, like this very parking garage.

Park Central Development Awards Small Businesses with Critical Grants

Park Central Development, a group that works to strengthen and attract investment that creates and maintains vibrant neighborhoods and commercial districts in the City of St. Louis, announced this afternoon a major round of grants toward St. Louis City businesses. Park Central works in several central St. Louis neighborhoods, including the CWE, Tiffany, Botanical Heights, FPSE, DeBaliviere Place, Cheltenham, Academy/Sherman Park, and Botanical Heights.

Announcement from Park Central Development’s Twitter

Small businesses in St. ,Louis and across the country are facing unprecedented hardship in the midst of a global pandemic that has disproportionately impacted the United States. With nearly twice as many COVID deaths as any other country and a caseload that has just recently dipped below 100,000 cases a day in the most recent 7-day average, the U.S. has only recently began to significantly curb community spread. This reality has forced businesses to make huge investments in marketing and health-related investments while many consumers stay home to avoid contracting COVID-19.

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While many communities, from the City of St. Louis itself and St. Louis County have been working to connect small businesses with CARES Act funding, there is still a massive hole in the budgets of many small businesses. With this in mind, community groups, like Park Central Development, are aiming to shore up businesses and the communities that run and support them. Local economic success is critical for cities and those who reside in their bounds.

With its COVID-19 Small Business Stimulus Grant, PCD is allotting $4,000 to the following small businesses: Saigon Café, Pharaohs Donuts, STL Elite Bets, Northwest Coffee Roasting Company, Revoaked Sandwiches, BBC Café and Bar, Kampai Sushi Bar, The BBQ Saloon, and Juniper STL.

The businesses receiving the grant can use the funds for launching an online presence, PPE and other safety supplies, short-term marketing, utility payments, replenishing inventory, interior modifications for health purposes, and rent/mortgage payments. Many of these are fixed and capital costs that simply must be paid, like a business’ rent or mortgage payments that are usually non-negotiable. For businesses seeing reduced sales during the pandemic, this grant might be the difference between closing now and renewed success 3 months form now.

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Park Central Development plans on announcing future grant awards in blocks of 5 over the next couple months, and they announced on Twitter that applicants will also receive business resource guides and direct contact to apply for separate PPP loans. If you are looking to donate to a resource where 100% of donations go directly to small businesses, you can donate to Park Central’s small business fund at this link.

Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association to Host Ward 17 Aldermanic Candidate Forum

Following the surprise announcement that Alderman Joe Roddy would resign from his long-held seat, multiple candidates are running to replace Roddy in the rapidly densifying and developing Ward. Roddy, who has served for more than 30 years, is the longest-serving member of the Board and has worked with civic and business leaders alike on major projects along the city’s Central Corridor.

Three candidates are seeking Roddy’s soon-to-be former Aldermanic seat: Michelle Sherod, a CPA with 30+ years of experience and former McCaskill staffer; Tina “Sweet-T” Phil, a former head of the FPSE Neighborhood Association and social entrepreneur; and Donald De Vivo, member of the Green Party. (Unfortunately, we cannot find an active candidate website for De Vivo).

Michelle Sherod

Tina “Sweet-T” Pihl

With few options for neighborhood residents to safely meet the candidates due to COVID-19, the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association is holding a candidate forum over Zoom at its next regularly scheduled meeting, on Tuesday, 1/19 at 6:45PM. To access the meeting, join the Zoom meeting at: Webhttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/82903905861. You can also view the event details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/3768466896544367

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The winner will govern Ward 17 in an increasingly partisan political environment, both locally and nationally. While replacing Roddy could be transformative, the eventual victor will only serve a portion of their full term, assuming that Ward Reduction still reshapes the Board in 2023. The fate of Board Reduction is still uncertain, however, despite a citywide vote nearly a decade ago, with the Board voting narrowly to reintroduce the measure to city voters in April just this week. While proponents of the reduction are concerned about the Board’s actions that do not represent the will of the voters, they are cautiously optimistic that Mayor Krewson will veto the effort of the slim Board majority as she threatened to do in 2018.

They will also oversee a Ward that has been transformed over the past three decades. The Grove, now a major entertainment and dining district, is surrounded by tons of new residential infill and hundreds of new units in multifamily developments. The Cortex District, just East of the Central West End and North of Forest Park Southeast, continues to see more office-space and high paying jobs. With a new 11-story WashU Neuroscience building now under construction (the largest such facility in the country once complete), the district appears poised to maintain its momentum as the city’s premier innovation neighborhood.

Roddy’s tenure will certainly be celebrated for his consistent efforts to modernize his Ward and the city’s urban center, while critics maintain he represents interests of wealthy developers over lower-income residents in older housing stock South of Manchester Ave. Moreover, his politics is less progressive and sometimes more controversial than many of his younger peers, like Aldermen Green and Spencer.

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Disclosure: The author of this article, Brian Adler, is the newly elected Vice President of the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association. This article is simultaneously the first piece of Missouri-Metro’s Politics section and an effort to ensure that voters in Ward 17 are educated on a once-in-a-generation ability to reshape their Ward’s leadership. To read more about the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association, visit its website here: http://www.forestparksoutheast.com/.

Drury to Sell FPSE Holdings after long “Demolition by Neglect” Strategy

One of our first articles here at Missouri Metro covered the remarkably long-term and damaging strategy of Drury Hotels in the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood. Conducting a de-facto “Demolition by Neglect” strategy, Drury allowed their nearly 30 properties in the neighborhood to decline despite consistent and strong community pushback. After nearly two decades, Drury has finally scrapped their plans for the neighborhood and listed each property for sale.

What began as an effort to build two hotel towers and a large surface parking lot extending from Kingshighway into the residential streets of Oakland, Arco, Gibson, and Chouteau ended with little success or fanfare. Members of the FPSE community have, for over 15 years, been subjected to increased crime, blight, and a striking lack of transparency for a project that would effectively raze the Western edge of the neighborhood.

2008 Drury Rendering – NextSTL

Although nearby residents were not too keen on the hotel proposal itself, the lack of any development turned out to be the biggest problem with Drury’s presence in the neighborhood. Their neighborhood stewardship could be characterized as “negligent”, as we covered in our prior article about Drury’s FPSE holdings.

“As Drury continued adding properties to its portfolio in FPSE, they neglected even the most basic maintenance. The structures are slowly falling apart at the seams, endangering residents and skirting the requirements for demolition set out by Park Central Development.”

Brian Adler – Blight in Drury’s Wake: When Development Stalls and Buildings Crumble
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We have been hearing hints for the last few months that Drury would finally offload their properties due to neighborhood pushback, market conditions in a global Pandemic, and shifting priorities. Initially, this sounded like they would opt to find another large developer to purchase all of the holdings in the neighborhood.

The sizable tract of land directly neighbors the BJC Hospital complex and nearby commercial corridor along Manchester Ave. In other words, this is some of the most valuable land in the city in terms of nearby amenities and attractions. An acquisition by another large developer seemed almost guaranteed given the location and near total ownership of properties along the edge of the neighborhood. Another hotel, office, or large residential development could certainly find success at this site.

Drury FPSE Holdings located in the highlighted portion of the map – Imagery provided by Google Maps

Much to the surprise of FPSE residents and members of the community, each individual property will be listed for sale separately. While there could certainly be value to a larger development utilizing the properties together, this piecemeal strategy allows the neighborhood to recover and maintain its historical character. St. Louis has a long history of demolishing well-kept brick homes with unique architecture for uninteresting and unengaging developments, and the neighborhood just may avoid such a scenario.

If you are interested in learning more about Drury’s “Demolition by Neglect” strategy, we highly recommend you read some of the great articles from other St. Louis blogs. While our article does a pretty good job explaining the situational context, St. Louis has a host of incredible development bloggers doing great reporting around the city. You can also check out the listing for the most prominent Drury properties that directly face Kingshighway here.

NextSTL

ElevateSTL

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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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A Changing South City: Development Renaissance Headed to More Neighborhoods

South St. Louis is seeing a host of development and infill, leading with neighborhoods like The Grove and Benton Park which are practically in a renaissance. With new, sometimes controversial luxury apartments in The Grove and home sales in Benton Park seeing sky high prices and bidding wars, these neighborhoods are showing a resilience and desirability factor reversing a half-century long real estate trend. And yet, other communities have yet, until now, to experience the same waterfall of investment despite their incredible architectural assets, diversity, and density.

St. Louis’ long history of population decline, led primarily by “white flight” in the second half of the 20th century, has turned dense neighborhoods upside down and left homes in abandon. Forest Park Southeast, oddly enough, saw the greatest population loss in South City from 1950-2017, according to Downtown Dutchtown. Yet, despite those losses, Forest Park Southeast is also seeing some of the most rapid growth amidst its recent rebound, likely due to its proximity to the Manchester retail corridor, the Cortex, and the Central West End.

Then there is Dutchtown, which experienced a severe population loss, but nothing like some of the more stable and popular neighborhoods we see today like Shaw and Forest Park Southeast. It goes against conventional wisdom to see that it is struggling more than its peers despite of its relative historical population stability.

However much neighborhoods like Dutchtown and Gravois Park have struggled to grow in the way other communities have been able to, the efforts of community groups and residents to stabilize homes and businesses has begun to pay off. A CID – Community Improvement District, a Neighborhood Innovation Center, and the relentless work of community building has begun to turn the tide on population loss in Dutchtown. Similarly, the strength of the Cherokee Street retail corridor and Benton Park housing market has added stability to Gravois Park, which has also benefited from rich architectural assets and population decline not as severe as some other neighborhoods.

With their newfound stability and proximity to neighborhoods experiencing rapid growth, development is beginning to spill over toward Dutchtown and Gravois Park. With that said, change is not always positive. It is fairly common for luxury housing stock to replace low-income housing, both replacing residents and the historical architectural character of a community. 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.

While the academic consensus is somewhat mixed on gentrification, it is still a process that should be considered thoughtfully by developers and urban enthusiasts in this context. Those cheering the introduction of predominantly luxury units in Gravois Park would have to acknowledge that the most tangible benefits would largely exclude current residents, with the service and quality of life benefits coming into play in the long-term. A better solution would be affordable units with attractive amenities, perhaps even utilizing the already existent housing stock. This is a tough pill to swallow for some developers – as profit margins are necessarily smaller and returns are less guaranteed, but that does not mean it is impossible.

3600 Texas pre-rehab – St. Louis Post Dispatch

Just ask Blackline Investments or Garcia Properties, and they’ll point to a path forward in these communities. In Gravois Park, developer Blackline Investments accomplished a restoration on 3600 Texas Ave (shown above), a former publishing building. Blackline converted the vacant historic structure into 15 updated apartments with higher quality features, with rents ranging from $765 to $1,195. These are far cry from the rents seen elsewhere like in the Central Corridor neighborhoods, remaining within the market range for Gravois Park, only with updates that provide more and better residential options.

The Restored 3600 Texas Ave – Blackline

Blackline Investments seems to now be moving toward the first new infill in Gravois Park in several years as well. Capitalizing off of the vacant land next-door to their original rehab, Blackline is planning a 12-unit, two-story building that with a decidedly modern aesthetic. First reported by Chris Strizel and his CitySceneSTL website, this development manages to introduce new residential units without demolishing historic brick homes. Each unit will be a one bedroom in a shotgun style, with a small parking lot behind the structure.

There is a zoning request to reclassify the land for multi-family usage, in addition to a 10-year, 95% tax abatement. The current assessed value of the land is $4,330 and the construction costs are anticipated to be $950,000. The low cost is likely attributed to the attractive costs of acquiring and maintaining property in Dutchtown.

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There are bound to be reasonable questions about the request for a tax abatement. In fact, developer requests and subsequent approvals of TIFs (Tax Incremented Financing) were recently subject to an audit by State Auditor and candidate for Missouri Governor, Nicole Galloway. Her report found that St. Louis lacks a standardized policy for awarding TIFs and often grants them to developers proposing projects in the wealthiest parts of the city. The audit grants legitimacy to arguments of advocates within the city who have long criticized the city for its method of granting awards to developers.

With that being said, a tax abatement in a neighborhood like Gravois Park seems as though it might accomplish what advocates have long hoped for. In a decidedly developing neighborhood that has seen little previous investment, a tax abatement is perhaps necessary for a developer to break even or make a profit. In a project like this one, the units would seem to also benefit members of the community by not pricing nearby residents out of the new units or by demolishing nearby structures.

These two projects alone would be enough to turn some heads about where development is shifting in South City, but a third major renovation is poised to revitalize the edge of Gravois Park at the intersection of Grand and Gravois. This is a notoriously busy intersection with large streets, but the built environment is full of potential.

The South Side National Bank Tower, depicted in the photo to the right of the map below, was nearly demolished in favor of a Walgreens at the turn of the 20th century. Preservationists balked at the plan, and the Lawrence Group and West End Realty began a rehabilitation project to convert the upper units into condominiums and restore the commercial spaces at street level. Although the project was a huge victory for urbanism and historic preservation, the intersection still struggles today. However, just across the street sits the Grandview Arcade Building, a former theater with a gorgeous façade.

Grandview Arcade Building – Google Street View

In 2018, Garcia Properties acquired the building pictured above after plans to rehabilitate it under The Lawrence Group did not come to fruition. Garcia properties hoped to break ground on a renovation in 2019, but the project had gone silent until just this month. The delay sparked fears that this project would end up going nowhere, but finally the plan resurfaced with a solid path forward.

It turned out that the holdup had occurred in the State of Missouri’s Historic Tax Credit office, although the credits were finally granted. The office had seen major cuts under former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, and projects like these are the victims. Garcia Properties wrote on Instagram that the project is not “out of the woods yet”, suggesting there is much difficult work ahead given the rough shape of the building.

The Grandview Arcade is no small project. Combined with Blackline’s residential developments on the East side of Gravois Park, these developments represent a turning point offering both residential and commercial additions that add to rather than subtract from the neighborhood. With historical preservation, renovation, and infill on vacant lots, they offer up a type of neighborhood revitalization that avoids some of the more negative methods like demolition and a sole focus on luxury housing and little for current residents.

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A similar process is beginning to play out in Dutchtown, with renovations capitalizing off of its current historical and structural assets. In fact, Blackline Investments is about to undertake a rehabilitation of a school at 4021 Iowa Ave. The former St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School will likely become 25 market-rate apartments, part of a $4.9 million renovation.

School-to-apartment conversions are all the rage across the city, made possible by the St. Louis Public School system having experienced a large decline in the number of students over the past several decades. As a result, a number of schools have become up vacant and abandoned, with many in poor condition and in need of major work.

Dutchtown is home to two of these vacant schools. The former St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School (pictured on the left) is the more readily useable, and the former Cleveland High School (right) in a more dire state. The latter has suffered fires, innumerable break ins, and is boarded up, covered in ivy, and showcasing windows upon windows of broken glass.

Although the former Cleveland High School is in rough shape, things appear to be headed in the right direction. Dutchtown is seeking proposals for the site, and rehabs are picking up steam of smaller residential properties within the neighborhood. An active proposal for one of two abandoned schools speaks volumes about the demand present in the community, and also lays the groundwork for a future redevelopment of the former Cleveland High School should it be successful.

Coupled with the restoration of “Downtown Dutchtown” along Meramec St., with businesses offering innovative concepts like the Urban Eats food hall or cute clothing boutiques, Dutchtown is building its own unique character and picking up steam. With its very own retail corridor, residential conversions, and affordable housing stock renovations coming from Rise, the stabilization is already well underway. The Dutchtown CID is providing infrastructural support to retail along the street, and the Neighborhood Innovation Center is setting up its own plans to invigorate and support the business community.

Meramec St. – Downtown Dutchtown – Google Street View

That Dutchtown and Gravois Park are seeing positive developments that support current residents, maintain and restore historic architecture, infill vacant lots, and increase density is something of a wonder for the city. With development having catered to predominantly wealthier individuals and staying primarily within the central corridor neighborhoods, many St. Louis communities saw very little outside investment and contributed to tax subsidies for projects that did not benefit their residents directly.

Hopefully these projects are the beginning a more inclusive style of restoration that more communities can be a part of. They demonstrate the intrinsic value of St. Louis’ historic housing stock, which when cared for, can become the building block for a community’s revival. They also showcase a very positive usage of tools available like Historic Tax Credits and tax abatements, bolstering neighborhoods that need the help and filling a market gap for developers where a gap actually exists. Developments in Clayton, for example, are far less likely to be in need of tax assistance when the community is majority high-income and demand is strong.

St. Louis communities have so much to offer, even those outside the central corridor. Density, diversity, and historical character are valuable and it seems that truth is set to finally revitalize South City in a more equitable manner.

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Residential Development in The Grove meets controversy as Plans Change after Demolitions

The Grove is in the midst of a development boom, with a new project or business entry announced seemingly every week. There is an incredible amount of momentum, driven by a stable business and restaurant community on Manchester and the residential stability granted by the CWE, Cortex, and Forest Park’s amenities. Many of these developments are celebrated by members of the community for adding density, tax revenue, and support for the nearby businesses, which is of particular importance in the age of COVID.

The latest proposal, spearheaded by Amy and Amrit GIll of Restoration STL, instead finds itself in the middle of a controversy. The latest Forest Park Southeast Development Committee packet reveals a larger-than-expected residential structure, dubbed the Arbor on Arco, shown above. (Clarification: The Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association is a separate entity from the Forest Park Southeast Development Committee. The latter is run through Park Central Development and will see the proposal, the former has no control over the proposal despite efforts to become more involved in the process). The Arbor on Arco will offer 152 units atop of a wood-frame construction and one story podium. Also visible is an amenity deck supposedly with a pool on the second floor, a feature that is becoming very common and has a lot of potential benefits as residents increasingly seek outdoor space to complement their indoor units.

Added density is an important element for retail corridors like the one steps away from the proposal on Manchester, a benefit recognized by community members I was able to speak to regarding this project. However, it is within the business practices of developer Restoration STL where the controversy comes in to play. Those who have followed Restoration STL might know that this project has roots back to 2018, when Restoration STL provided a rendering of a 95-unit, brick-clad structure, shown just below. The initial rendering revealed an urban feeling designed to emulate a row of historic brownstones and maintain architectural compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. Many of the units would be accessible from the street, and the structure had a greater emphasis on brick construction, not relying on a podium and enclosing residents off into an amenity space. This project, too, would provide significant added density.

Provided by user urban_dilettante on the UrbanSTL forums

This section of the street, from 4211 to 4239 Arco, previously contained a row of brick-clad single and multi-family residences. Each of them had their own entryways, similar to the feel and design replicated by the original 2018 rendering above. This is important because it is the very first 2018 rendering that Restoration STL used as the basis for their project, justifying their demolition. Most of these buildings were vacant and dilapidated according to Restoration STL, but in the The Grove housing market there is generally very little real vacancy when homes are listed, even when in need of renovation.

Location, provided by Google Maps

Some of these buildings, as can be seen below, were entirely salvageable, even in better shape than the buildings that Drury Hotels is demolishing through neglect. The leftmost building was demolished last month. While it looked less than perfect, was in a structural condition that could have been saved. With fresh brick tuck pointing on its side, and seemingly a relatively solid looking stone foundation, this building would be ripe for a redevelopment.

View of the structures on Arco, as provided by Google Street View

Residents I have spoken to expressed a feeling of dismay, feeling as though they have been victim of a “bait and switch” tactic by Restoration STL for demolishing historical structures under a false promise. Many had been excited by the original proposal, far-cry from NIMBY-ism, looking forward to the addition to the neighborhood and the added density. The rendering would have fit well with the form-based code of the neighborhood, honoring the history of the block.

Many residents feel that the strategy by Restoration STL leaves the community little choice but to approve of their new proposal. Because the demolition has already occurred, there is now nothing left to save. Yet, they did so under the guise of a development that actually fit the neighborhood’s architectural character. The old rendering and project details are still currently and publicly displayed on their website. Now that so much is gone, those residents prefer the new proposal to vacant land in the heart of the Manchester strip, where Manchester meets Arco. The added density is such a positive, and the design isn’t so bad that it should be rejected, but it reflects a business practice that is deceptive to members of the community who care about their physical surroundings.

The Arbor on Arco project cost is slated to come in at a total of $32 million, with 134 1-bedroom and 18 2-bedroom units. It will be presented at the Forest Park Southeast Development Committee meeting on September 15th at 5:30 PM. Those interested can listen in on Zoom, following the instructions in the packet.

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