Downtown’s Railway Exchange Building, completed in 1913, occupies an entire city block. From the 2009 National Register nomination:
The Railway Exchange Building was recognized as an architectural and engineering wonder even before it was constructed. But the building’s rich history was built more on the shoulders of the companies it was designed to house than the structural supports and ornamental flare it boasted in its design. The building has been a commercial asset to the St. Louis downtown since its construction, housing what became the city’s largest department store. In addition, many local businesses operated on the upper floors of the building, and the building’s official moniker derived from the abundance of railroad company tenants occupying the building when it opened.
The Railway Exchange Building was designed in 1912 by Mauran, Russell and Crowell as a home for the newly merged Famous-Barr Company. By the time Famous and Barr were merged, each had established themselves as a prominent department store in St. Louis. William Barr & Company opened as a drygoods store in 1850. Located on Fourth Street between St. Charles and Vine, the drygoods company grew rapidly, and by 1876 boasted over 300 employees and 32 departments with a separate manager for each division. In 1880 William Barr moved into the Julia Building, a four-story construction that occupied half the block at 6th an Olive Streets. As the city’s first department store, Barr’s took advantage of the mail-order trade as well as the in-house sales. The company remained in this building until it was replaced in 1913 by the Railway Exchange Building.
May Department Stores was bought out by Federated Department Stores in August 2005, a year later Famous-Barr became a Macy’s (Wikipedia). In 2011 Macy’s consolidated into the lower 3 floors, from 8, but still couldn’t make it. Macy’s closed in 2013 (Post-Dispatch).
Tuesday morning I attended the public presentation by ULI St. Louis’ Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) on their recommendations to the developer that owns the structure. Unfortunately, their presentation isn’t yet online. Here are some highlights from memory:
- With 1,000 parking spaces in the block to the South they didn’t recommend including any parking within the building.
- Reskin/update the parking garage, remove the ramp off 7th
- Consider a plaza for the surface lot at 6th & Olive.
- The building would get sectioned into various zones for development into many functions. Different developers could then work on their portion, without any single developer having to take on the entire project at once.
- The total square footage would be reduced some by opening up floors at various spots — such as creating 2-story volumes in some residential units.
- Remove the roof and create an outdoor walk around the perimeter of the 21st (top) floor.
- Residential units on the floors just below. Various sizes could be offered.
- Two hotels on floors below the residential, one a boutique hotel like 21C and one an extended stay. With new startups downtown they indicate there is demand for such hotels. Each hotel could have large volume spaces.
- Recreational space, like a gym or basketball court.
- Street-level retail like Urban Target, CVS/Walgreens, a fresh produce market, etc.
The building would still likely be over a million square feet after the reductions in floor area. With four primary facades you could have separate entrances for each function.
I still don’t like the existing garage, it’s old & ugly. The flow inside is awful. The garage needs to be replaced with a new garage if parking is excluded from the building. I’d love an Urban Target, a 24/7 CVS or Walgreens, and a Trader Joe’s. The developer already has interest in a couple of the pieces, but not enough to move forward just yet. The TAP felt if broken up into pieces it could be marketed nationally to interest developers from outside our region.
UPDATE: 5/14/15 # 7:40PM — the ULI presentation wasn’t available online yesterday as I finished the post, but thanks to a reader this morning who posted the link.
— Steve Patterson