The development boom in Forest Park Southeast continues, with Golden Grocer taking over and rehabilitating the former K9 Athletic Club building at 4501 Choutaeu Ave. Currently operating in the Central West End, the Golden Grocer offers plant-based food and smoothies, as well as a food subscription service intended to make consistent healthy eating easier.
The Golden Grocer will expand their operations with their Forest Park Southeast location, slated to open in October of this year. Plans include 2500 square feet of space with 18 foot ceilings to accommodate a cafe and bulk section, which will include bulk herbs and spices. They will also offer produce, grocery, and beauty aisles to complement the cafe. Their website also includes that their space will be open to various vendors offering plant-based food, adding a unique element to the open-concept space. Developments in St. Louis that operate with more than one food vendor are rising in popularity, from the City Foundry to Urban Eats in Dutchtown.
The Golden Grocer is extensively rehabilitating the building on Chouteau, as can be seen in the rendering above, contrasted to the old structure depicted just below. This location has been something of an eye-sore for the neighborhood, which effectively served as the entry to the community from the Central West End and Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex on Taylor Ave.
Much like the Drury buildings falling into disrepair closer to Kingshighway, this property has presented a false image of the Forest Park Southeast and Grove neighborhoods. They contrast the thriving retail corridor on Manchester, which is seeing new commercial and residential spaces added at an incredible pace. This addition to the neighborhood will begin to resolve these contrasts, while also contributing to the character the the community with a unique and modern offering.
While the Golden Grocer represents a new healthy offering to FPSE, it also introduces a Black-owned business to the neighborhood under the leadership of Jamila Owens-Todd. There are concerns, many of them reasonable, about the segregation of wealth in St. Louis. Forest Park Southeast and the Grove have enjoyed incredible growth, and seeing that at least in some way that the fruits of that success are shared in the community is something to be proud of in a neighborhood with a rich heritage of diversity and pride. Owens-Todd is also utilizing a local designer, Mwanzi Co., to bring about her vision for this space. This is the kind of local, neighborhood-level development that thriving neighborhoods should seek out and welcome.
Drury Hotels scatter the St. Louis area, offering a value-focused hospitality experience in buildings that predominantly look alike. Friendly staff greet visitors who arrive with a clean room, a few free drinks per day, and a breakfast buffet. Drury now operates more than 150 hotels in 25 states, with 20 in St. Louis alone.
Drury’s growth has been remarkable, and their hotels have become staples in the many St. Louis area neighborhoods. Yet, it is becoming evident that their focus is beginning to shift away from St. Louis. Amidst Drury’s rapid growth is a strategic shift toward other markets and larger developments. Drury Hotels outlines on their website a list of future hotels, both large and small, from Richmond, Virginia to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
A quick glance at these developments reveals that while Drury is retaining their traditional hotel look for its Richmond and Knoxville hotels, it is branching out into larger, more modern structures elsewhere. Alongside the structural and stylistic shift is another strategic move, with none of these “Coming Soon” hotels coming to St. Louis or Missouri as a whole. This could be explained by St. Louis possibly being too saturated with Drury properties or hotels in general. However, hotels have been flocking to St. Louis in what has been called a “hotel boom” over the past two years, so it is clear that more rooms are demanded in the STL market. Drury has 20 hotels in St. Louis, so why invest more time and money in the St. Louis market?
It would be understandable and perfectly conceivable if the saturation argument were true that Drury would move on, expanding predominantly in other metropolitan areas. On first glance, it would seem that Drury Hotels is doing just that, with one critical exception. While Drury has constructed mega-hotels in other cities, it has simultaneously gobbled up property in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, slowly destroying historical property with demolition by neglect.
Those who commute to or live in the Central West End or Grove neighborhoods are probably be familiar with the site pictured above. Straddling Kingshighway are several multi-family buildings that deteriorate a little bit more each day. Going South on Kingshighway, one might assume they were entering a neighborhood devoid of investment or appreciation.
Instead, these structures mark the entrance to the popular Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, harboring the popular “Grove” neighborhood and a growing number of luxury rentals with rents to match. Housing stock in the community has been appreciating rapidly as doctors, medical students, and tech gurus working at the Cortex choose to live close to work and the many retail and dining establishments on Manchester.
Drury Hotels likely noticed the upward potential when their development arm, Drury Development Corporation, began acquiring neighborhood properties in 2007. Minutes from the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association detail a lengthy timeline marked by a notable lack of transparency or neighborhood involvement. The first acquisitions were located on Arco, Gibson, and Chouteau.
It seemed for a short moment that Drury Hotels and Drury Development Corporation would move quickly, realizing the potential of a hotel on the edge of Forest Park, the Central West End, and an attraction corridor with a vibrant history and growing popularity. Drury unveiled an early rendering of a potential hotel to occupy the property along Kingshighway and build not one, but two towers. Each tower would rise 16 stories above the neighborhood and the rendering depicted a large section of land being made available for parking.
At the time this project was proposed to the community, Drury was still completing their Brentwood hotel near the Galleria mall. Alex Inhen at NextSTL reported that Drury would then focus their attention in Forest Park Southeast / The Grove if the Brentwood hotel proved to be a success.
Although we are not privy to Drury Hotel’s occupancy statistics, my own anecdotal experience with family and friends staying regularly at the Brentwood Drury Hotel seems to indicate a relatively high occupancy. Even if my assumption proved incorrect, there is evidence that Drury has not yet completely given up on a Grove hotel and plans to develop, eventually.
At the time of their FPSE hotel proposal, Drury owned 5 parcels of land that the development would occupy. In 2014, NextSTL reported that Drury Development Corproation had acquired another 15 parcels. In those six years, Drury never presented any other renderings or plans for this location. Instead, they simply kept acquiring land at a snails pace, indicating that they were still bullish enough on the location to purchase relatively expensive land.
Although that might indicate that Drury intended to invest in the community and its success, their actions were far from that. While a hotel would surely add jobs to the neighborhood and improve the landscape for retail and restaurants, their property ownership and lack of maintenance has hampered growth, hindered other investment that could have taken place, and bothered residents.
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.
Drury has looked to demolish this property at 1092 S. Kingshighway since 2016, and Park Central Development laid out a set of criteria Drury must follow. They include landscape maintenance, debris removal, regularly painted and maintained boards for all window and other openings, and all other Drury owned buildings not on Kingshighway must be renovated by December 2020, according to NextSTL.
Of course, this building is still standing, with Drury completing none of the requirements set forth by the community. Instead, they are letting the building fall by itself through a strategy of “Demolition by Neglect”. In doing so, a lack of maintenance will eventually bring the building to a state of disrepair wherein demolition is not an “if”, but rather a “when”, as the community pays the price.
As is evident in the photo, there are major portions of the structure that are fully exposed. Vegetation and weeds are found inside, on, and surrounding the property that have hardly seen any maintenance. Moreover, the fence hardly discourages any urban explorers or criminals from entering. This property is undeniably dangerous, unstable, and a disaster waiting to happen for children or scavengers. Bricks could easily fall off the side, rocks the same, and I would not wish to be the individual to test out a floor board inside.
While 1092 S. Kingshighway is being demolished by weather and neglect, Drury also is ignoring its other properties not located on Kingshighway. 4569 Oakland is in a drastic state of disrepair. That is despite the fact that all Drury poerties not facing Kingshighway should have until December to be rehabilitated and stabilized according to the agreement with Park Central Development. Instead, they sit vacant, contributing to blight in the community. Criminologist James Wilson posits a “Broken Window Theory” that suggests blighted buildings sitting vacant with broken windows or in otherwise various states of disrepair also invite crime to communities. Broken windows and abandoned housing provide areas that criminals may reside in, whether for drug use or various other acts, and the visual representation of blight encourages other actions that are damaging or harmful. While it is certain that Drury does not support crime, their actions in Forest Park Southeast absolutely endanger residents, either through a physical risk attributed to structures literally falling apart or by making the neighborhood more attractive to criminals.
Writing this story in the middle of August 2020, I am hardly expecting Drury to suddenly begin and then quickly complete their rehab of the 4569 Oakland property prior to December 2020. Yet, their properties are being brought down slowly without any care on Drury’s toward the wishes of a community that hopes to prevent several homes from suffering the fate of the six-family Oakland property pictured above.
I hoped to give Drury the benefit of the doubt. That is why I called Drury Development Corporation to try and ascertain what their current plants were in Forest Park Southeast. Tom Milford, Manager of Real Estate, would not reveal whether any plans were still in the works for this site. While the answers to all of my questions were some variation of “No Comment”, he suggested that COVID-19 had at least somewhat impacted their long term goals for this property. Tom claimed that he and Drury Development Corporation have held a steady, consistent presence with neighborhood groups like Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association and Park Central Development, and that they would work with the community and reveal plans as they come. However, we already know that residents have found Drury to be an inconsistent, relatively untruthful member of the community, not revealing what their plans are even as they accumulate and therefore deteriorate more land.
It has been almost 13 years since Drury began acquiring properties in Forest Park Southeast, an up-and-coming neighborhood that has seen tons of rehab, infill, and development. The community has evolved in spite of Drury Hotels and Drury Development Corporation, whose crumbling properties line the entrance of the neighborhood and contribute nothing but an increased likelihood of crime. How much longer will Drury string along this community, and how many properties will they demolish through neglect as neighbors cry foul and they ignore the sensible stipulations set out by community organizations? When will St. Louis and community leaders finally say enough and demand more of a corporation that has created almost a decade and a half of blight? Hopefully soon.