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.

Green Street to Complete STL City HQ and BarK Dog Bar in Fall 21, sees Record Revenue

Real estate development firm Green Street and its younger counterpart Green Street Building Group are bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to St. Louis City and County in 2021, with hundreds of under construction units set to come online in the coming year. With its humungous Terra at the Grove and six smaller developments next-door, just South of Manchester in STL City’s historic Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, Green Street is doubling down on its investment in the city proper.

As part of its recent slate of investments in the city, Green Street is also moving its headquarters from Clayton, the region’s business and office hub, to a revitalized industrial building on McRee in the City of St. Louis in Botanical Heights. The development will see the space completely remodeled and will include the St. Louis region’s first BarK dog bar. BarK has been highly successful at its Kansas City location, and includes a restaurant, bar, and park for members to bring their dogs to play and socialize.

Rendering of the BarK and Green Street HQ – Green Street

The new HQ and BarK development will see a complete renovation of 4565 McRee, a 64000 square foot warehouse with nearly 2 acres of outdoor space. Despite the building’s proximity to Tower Grove and The Grove, the McRee corridor is more well known for its industrial warehouses than it is for residential or commercial uses. However, with the incredible growth and investment in the City’s Central Corridor and surrounding neighborhoods, even industrial sections are becoming more highly demanded as space becomes more of a premium.

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Many St. Louisans might be surprised to see the strength of the St. Louis City market, but the Central Corridor has seen billions in new investment over the past few years. With a new MLS stadium, residential skyscrapers like 100 on the Park and One Cardinal Way, and historic renovations including Green Street’s Armory project and the nearby City Foundry from The Lawrence Group, the city is regaining its reputation for attractive services and amenities.

With that said, there is still a significant disparity in St. Louis investment, one many readers may likely know well. The region’s “Delmar Divide” is a well-known phenomenon that represents the effects and continuation of historic and systemic racism and segregation. Even now, investment lags North of the Central Corridor more than anywhere else.

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Green Street recently introduced a new investment firm, dubbed Emerald Capital, with the intent to invest in historically low-income communities. Emerald Capital, according to Green Street’s recent press release, will collaborate with non-profit and for-profit entities, as well as their recently acquired architectural firm, HDA Architects, to utilize complex tax credits comprehensively in order to bridge the investment gap across St. Louis neighborhoods.

With the many upcoming developments including the under construction Union-STL project, Terra at the Grove, and the recently announced $250 million development in Webster Groves, we expect that we will have many more renderings and details to share soon for multiple developments. Their recent success with Chroma in The Grove, as well as the recently completed HueSTL, which we covered here at Missouri Metro while it was under construction, have already seen incredibly high occupancy and absorption. Enough so where Green Street released a presser announcing $20 million in additional revenue over the last year alone.

Rendering of Green Street’s proposed “Old North” Webster Groves development

While their units could be classified in the luxury segment, it certainly bodes well for the St. Louis market and the potential for future residential growth in the city that developers are bullish on providing hundreds, and cumulatively thousands of units, over the next few years. We hope that Green Street will continue including workforce housing in its developments, and share St. Louisans hope that other parts of the city will see equitable development and growth soon. The good news is, as Chris Stritzel at CitySceneSTL recently reported, it seems North City may finally be seeing some hints of growth and investment in his excellent article here.

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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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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.

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.

Golden Grocer to move to Forest Park Southeast

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.

Golden Grocer Rendering, provided by the Golden Grocer

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.

Google Street View of 4501 Chouteau

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.

The Grove Lofts at 4440 Manchester Under Construction

Development in The Grove is continuing at a rapid pace, with lofts at 4440 Manchester now under construction.

4440 Manchester – Brian Adler

Right across from, Urban Chestnut Brewing Company these lofts are poised to add significant density to The Grove closer to Kingshighway. The building will reach five stories and supposedly should have retail fronting Manchester, helping activate this end of the corridor. This development is also highlighting the neighborhoods roots and culture, specifically in regard to The Grove’s historical acceptance and celebration of LGBTQIA+ individuals. As such, the building will be clad in rainbow colors to show their support and pride for the community.

Tower Grove Pride released the photo below as a preliminary rendering of the project, which also appears to include patios for most, if not all, of the units. Park Central Development Committee indicates that there will be 60 units with retail on the first floor, at a total cost of $13,350,000.

Tower Grove Pride

With Chroma Phase II nearing completion near Vandeventer and other apartment projects on the way, The Grove is showing no signs of slowing down even in the middle of a pandemic.

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