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Pyramid’s Sullivan Place Senior Housing An Anti-Urban Monstrosity

Pyramid, the company proposing a highly suburban McDonald’s for South Grand, has dumped an atrocious housing project on the city’s north side (map). Forget the high-profile loft projects downtown, Pyramid is making a name for themselves with suburban rubbish throughout our once urban neighborhoods.

Sullivan Place, named for Sullivan Street closed for this project, will be a 190-unit 55+ affordable housing project when completed. Half the project has been open for a few months yet lots of units remain available. No wonder, these “affordable” apartments run $511/month for a one-bedroom and $631/month for a two-bedroom. The income limit for a single person is $27,660 and $31,620 for a couple. Still, $511/month isn’t too bad depending upon what you get.

Well, the six one-bedroom floor plans range in size from 461 sq. ft. to 515 sq. ft. Both two-bedroom layouts are 634 sq. ft. Laundry facilities are down the hall — two per floor. Units have very basic finishes and do not include a dishwasher. The only luxury are two call for help devices — one in the bedroom and one in the bathroom. Residents are treated to a fortress-like security setup designed either to keep others out or the them inside.

These units range from $0.99 per square foot per month to $1.10 per square foot per month. The only thing making these even remotely affordable is the fact they are so miniscule in size. Not that everyone needs massive places to live but I have to wonder about the total project costs and how much we, as tax payers, underwrote this project.

Aside from the question of affordability is the suitability of the design for the neighborhood. In fact, I question the design for any location, even the most sprawling of suburbs. I will say, however, I have no objections to the material choices. I actually like that they didn’t try to make this some trumped up retro project (like Pyramid’s own King Louis Square at Tucker & Lafayette). No, the material selection and detailing is actually quite nice. It is the overall massing and site planning where this project goes into the unacceptable territory.

The project is massive, occupying a block and a half. Based on dimensions from Google Maps I estimated the site to be roughly 5.4 acres. With 190 units that works out to a low density of less than 36 units per acre. I might be willing to accept a low density if much of the parcel was some sort of monumental park or other community asset. But that didn’t happen here. Instead we have an X-plan with the east & west triangles for parking and the north & south triangles as sort of left over green.

sullivan_place - 09.jpgThe building is not an asset to the neighborhood. With its street setback, high fence, security gates and surveillance cameras it is clear Pyramid’s designers didn’t want to engage the area. Instead, the building retreats from having anything to do with the adjacent residences. Add some barb wire across the top of the fence and one might mistake this for a minimum security prison.

In other parts of the city developers are creating new housing which makes connections with the public sidewalk, thereby contributing to a sense of connectedness. Not here. Clearly, the folks at Pyramid simply don’t understand what a city and urban neighborhood are about. And based on the rents vs. size, they have a warped view of affordability.

The sad part is Pyramid wants to move the McDonald’s at Grand & Chippewa to the old Sears so they can build an 87-unit senior housing project on the current location. Where is the demand for those 55+ that earn less than $28K and want to pay $511 for a tiny place? I fail to see the logic here.

The Sullivan Place project is one of the most horrific projects in recent memory. In my mind, thought not even complete, this project will need to be razed if we hope to rebuild the neighborhood. I can’t imagine someone wanting to build or live adjacent to this generic geriatric penitentiary.

One can only assume that 5th Ward Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin approved of the plan. Perhaps she is having a contest with 15th Ward Alderwoman Jennifer Florida to see who can get away with the most suburban sprawl before getting recalled by voters? If so, Ford-Griffin will get lots of points for this one. Of course, Florida already has a rebuilt White Castle, a new Walgreens with excessive parking and the Gravois Plaza strip center under her belt without the proposed McDonald’s. They better watch out because 11th Ward Alderman Matt Villa’s Loughborough Commons project may trump them both. And they’re off…

But it is not the Aldermen that are designing and building these projects. For Sullivan Place the blame lies solely with John Steffen’s Pyramid Companies. I know many talented people that work at Pyramid but they are not the ones calling the shots. It seems Pyramid has a complete lack of leadership where it counts. I couldn’t sleep at night if I was the decision maker that determined this was what St. Louis needed.

Matt O’Leary, whom I’ve know for a number of years, is a Senior VP for Development but his territory is confined to downtown’s loft projects. Desiree Knapp, presumably another VP, is the person in charge of Pyramid’s neighborhood projects such as the nearly abandoned Keystone Place, the ugly King Louis Square, the proposed Grand McDonald’s and now Sullivan Place. In May of 2004 I met with O’Leary to see about working for Pyramid (taking Knapp’s place) but I don’t think he wanted to get involved in that side of the company so I never got a meeting with John Steffen. From the look of the resulting projects, O’Leary has kept a hands off approach. Too bad because I would have enjoyed doing some nice urban neighborhood projects with Pyramid. If by chance this post should make its way in front of Pyramid’s President, John Steffen: I’m available as an hourly consultant to help your staff evaluate future projects. Trust me, you need my help!

Pyramid enjoys a favored position with the Mayor and others. But their track record leaves much to be desired. Now is the time to unite and fight Pyramid’s anti-urban sprawl projects. Additional photos of Sullivan Place can be seen on Flickr.

– Steve


Currently there are "12 comments" on this Article:

  1. Anthony Coffin says:

    I could not agree with you more on all counts concerning Pyramid. I’ve met with O’leary, I think his heart is in the right place and Pyramids work downtown stands up for itself. But what can be done about these abominations they are building in the rest of the city?

  2. Scott Rendall says:

    Wow. I pay about $.85 a square foot to live in a two bedroom duplex in Richmond Heights that is significantly larger than these apartments. Not to mention that I get free laundry, a dishwasher, a yard, amenities I can walk to, etc. I can’t imagine these places being attractive to almost anyone. 634 sq. ft. for a new two bedroom? Thats crazy talk.

  3. Itsa Kroc says:

    I understand you can rent a loft downtown in the $1.10 a month per square foot range. Are they just trying to rip off people who don’t know any better? Why in the world would anyone live there? It sounds like they don’t even offer anything other than living space. I mean, do they even have meals or assisted care? I guess being new construction they are handicap accessible which is at least helpful for those 55 and older.

    But from the numbers you give, Steve, it seems that someone with an income under the maximum could in no way afford to pay so much for rent — especially when less expensive alternatives exist. This project was subsidized by tax dollars to provide housing for low-income seniors. Can we find what kind of tax credits were received and how much? Who in the city, state, and federal government approved this boondoggle? It sounds like the developer is not the only culpable party here. I think it starts with April Ford-Griffin and goes much further. Why doesn’t Elliot Davis go after stuff like this?

    This project will sit empty and become a blight on an area that otherwise had a chance at revitalization. This is 1950’s planning at it’s worst.

    In his letter of testimony to the zoning adminstrator regarding the new McDonald’s at Grand & Winnebago (that you posted earlier) Alderman Craig Schmid said:

    “And, I have not seen evidence that there is renewed demand for senior apartments. In fact, what I hear is that the senior residences in the area no longer have waiting lists, have vacancies, and some are accepting non-seniors.”

    So, even if the senior apartments really do get built at Grand & Chippewa — given the developers record and low demand in the area — it seems we could be stuck with an empty building on the taxpayers dime with a poorly run McDonald’s rewarded with a new location in the most disgustingly suburban [read: SUB (as in BELOW) URBAN] configuration imaginable AND market-rate homeowners at Keystone Place left with nothing but empty promises.

    All this squandered opportunity and mispent tax dollars just makes me sick. No, actually it makes me MAD!

  4. Craig says:

    I imagine that the government will foot the bill for most of those apartments anyway via Section 8.

  5. awb says:


    We all foot the bill for bad planning and disruption of our neighborhoods.

  6. Joe Frank says:

    I know at least one person for whom this particular project was the last straw that caused them to leave Pyramid.

    They seem to be following in the footsteps of McCormack Baron. While both firms have done some decent work over the years, lately they have been really big on these subsidized senior-citizen apartment complexes. The trouble is, these new projects don’t fill up, or if they do they don’t stay filled up very long. Or, they take away from other nearby complexes. For example, if the Grand/Chippewa development happens, I’m sure Alexian Court at Texas/Chippewa will suffer. Indeed, it’s already something of a problem spot because it’s not seniors-only.

    On the Northside, a number of St Louis Housing Authority senior high-rises are on the demolition list, because even though they were affordable, they’re not as attractive as these new subsidized, privately-owned developments.

    Most of these are NOT assisted-living, they’re just apartments. The firms that run them don’t want the expense of actually providing services! They are most definitely cash cows for many of these companies.

    I believe these are subsidized under Section 232 for elderly housing, which has somewhat different provisions than Section 8 housing programs.

  7. John Q says:

    Sullivan Place is a Low Income Housing Tax Credit project, awarded by the Missouri Housing Development Commission (gubernatorially appointed), to Pyramid.

    Same as the South Grand elderly proposal.

  8. Lily Bleu says:

    We need to get this suburbanite trash from taking over the city. Is there anyway something can be done? It’s hideous.

    [REPLY – We need zoning to prevent this sort of thing from being built. Short of that we need elected officials smart enough to know why this is wrong. We also need developers that are urban savvy rather than just looking for a quick buck. You can tell Pyramid what you think at 314-773-7333. – SLP]

  9. Duana Russell-Thomas says:

    I’ve never in my life posted a comment on a website, until now. Hopefully, someone will eventually read this message and act. I am a geriatric occupational therapist, and a family member to several seniors who are selling their homes and looking for places to live. I would love to review the information from the person who stated that there were no waiting lists, especially for subsidized senior housing.

    I know people who moved into Sullivan Place. I am shocked at the rent they are charging for such small units with few amenities. Believe me, however, when I tell you that, if the price is approx. $700 per month or lower, many seniors will pay for such a place. They want an updated living area. They want the security of being around other seniors who may be independent, like them. They want private parking for safety and facilities that are accessible. They want a building manager that understands their needs. And guess what? The alternative is $1,000 to $3,000 per month! It is frustrating that I can find tons of “regular apartments” for much less, especially if the person doesn’t need a lot of extra services, that are wonderful. However that senior wants a “senior or retirment community.”

    Please be aware that there is another group of seniors who are not well served–those who are independent, active in the community, cognitively aware, sometimes married, and who have incomes that just barely keep them from qualifying for any subsidized housing. They are insulted that the only options for them to get a decent sized living space are above there means. So if there is a place accepting non-seniors, I’m sure it has to do with offering so little options to an adult who may be downsizing from a 2 story home, but who is not ready for SNF sized rooms.

    I could go on. The main point of all that I have said is this–many developers see a financial business opportunity and do not understand THE NEEDS. One is not going be sustained without addressing the other. Please continue to find the RIGHT mix of senior living. It is needed, especially for middle income seniors. However we need Independent as well as assisted living, SNF, etc.

  10. john w. says:

    …but, Duana, that would be like asking real estate developers to actually understand that human beings make up richly vibrant, safe, welcoming, and fulfilling neighborhoods, and not numbers or line items.

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