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Mid-70s Downtown Office Tower Getting Needed 21st Century Update

August 12, 2021 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Real Estate, Walkability Comments Off on Mid-70s Downtown Office Tower Getting Needed 21st Century Update

Office vacancy rates are high now, especially in downtown St. Louis.

Office vacancy is up across the metro area, averaging 16.9% in the second quarter of 2021 compared with 11.8% in 2020. Rents for offices outside of downtown declined nearly 4% from the end of 2020 through the second quarter of 2021, according to commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

Vacancy downtown has risen more than 1 percentage point in the past year, to 20.8% from 19.3% in the second quarter of 2020. And rents have fallen by more than 1% to $19.48 per square foot. (Post-Dispatch)

One downtown office tower, recently acquired by a local fund, is taking steps to reverse years of increased vacancy.

The 4th & Chestnut corner of 100 North Broadway. The former bank pavilion is getting a long-needed update.

Readers might recall my December 2015 blog post on this building. In that post I suggested connecting the low pavilion portion to the adjacent sidewalks, orienting the interior space to take advantage of the location and views.

To refresh your memory, here’s a view of what the exterior looked like for the first 45 years. Awful, right? Zero connection to the sidewalks. The east & west plazas weren’t inviting.  December 2015

I sent the then building owner, a San Diego-based capital firm, my post at the end of 2015. They responded the next month, I met a local property manager on site. They sent me a nice fruit basket from Harry & David.  They didn’t do anything.

Looking at the building from the NW corner of the Luther Ely Smith Square. December 2015. This is the same corner as the first corner, above.

According to KSDK more tenants left, the California owner defaulted, and by February 2019 the lender had taken over the property.  A new local owner purchased the tower and apparently recognized the need for major updates to the prominent pavilion, inside & out.

The SW corner of the property, at Broadway & Chestnut. This is diagonally across from Kiener Plaza, which reopened in 2017 after a major redesign.

The new owners logically hired one of the remaining tenants to update the interior & exterior:

Larson Capital Management has engaged Trivers to make both interior and exterior building improvements to the 2-story atrium structure and surrounding plazas and streetscape to comprehensively update and reposition the Broadway Tower as a premier office building destination in downtown Saint Louis.

Exterior improvements include removing the “greenhouses” and reimagining the Atrium façade materiality and line of enclosure, updated entrances and entry canopies, surrounding site improvements and landscaping, and public art and placemaking components creating public outdoor destinations.

Interior improvements are geared toward creating an abundance of tenant amenities including a best-in-class conferencing center, co-working lounges with hospitality support, a walking track, and access to outdoor work spaces. The Atrium will also include a new café with indoor/outdoor seating connected to the west plaza along Broadway, a new monumental stair, a large greenwall, building management offices, new security desk and updated elevator lobbies, restrooms to support the proposed uses, and comprehensive lighting, casework, and finishes upgrades. (Trivers Architects)

In 2015 I imagined a few restaurants to fill the space, but tenant amenity space will be critical to filling vacancies. There will be one cafe, on the corner shown above.

This is a crop of the previous photo, you can see how the ground floor is set back so the upper level provides shade, room for cafe tables.
The artist rendering shows this corner. The exterior cladding on the pavilion will offer more texture than the tower portion.

I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product, experiencing the revised plazas, eating at the cafe. The upper level features a covered outdoor space on the opposite corner, facing the Arch. Not sure if that will be public or tenant-only. Either way, to pedestrians at 4th & Chestnut it’ll be perceived as inviting.

— Steve Patterson

 

Mid-Century Modern vs. 21st Century Density

June 17, 2021 Central West End, Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design, Real Estate Comments Off on Mid-Century Modern vs. 21st Century Density

A developer has proposed a new apartment building that was require the demolition of a mid-century modern (MCM) building. I’ve been watching the debate of preservation of MCM verses increased density on Twitter & Facebook. I want to weight in, but first some background.

The non-profit service group Optimist International was founded elsewhere more than a century ago. In 1924 St. Louis was selected as the location for its worldwide headquarters. Decades later their 2-story building at 4494 Lindell (@ Taylor) was designed by local architects Schwartz & Van Hoefen.

Optimists International’s headquarters at 4494 Lindell was dedicated at 3pm on Sunday June 17, 1962 — 59 years ago today. Previously they were located in the Railway Exchange building, Image from May 2014

Schwartz & Van Hoefen is also known for:

  • Marchetti Towers I & II, SLU campus.
  • Mansion House, 4th Street downtown.
  • Council Plaza, which included a “flying saucer” gas station (later various places like Naugles & Del Taco, now a Starbucks & Chipotle)
  • Northland Cinema (demolished)
  • Busch Stadium II (local architect, demolished)
Optimist International has formally listed their property for sale a number of years ago, it includes the slightly taller building next door. Photo from May 2021.

There have been numerous proposals for the property, including one for renovated and updated office space. The most recent, announced last week, calls for demolition of the original 2-story building and late 70s 4-story addition. In their place a new 7-story apartment building.

This recent proposal is what got people fiercely debating, falling roughly into 3 camps: we need to preserve our few remaining mid-century modern buildings, more density is good, and preservation focus should be on saving 19th century buildings. This is a generalization of their points so let’s get into some specifics.

This view shows the Taylor side of the proposal.

Many see an artist’s rendering of a proposed project from a bird’s eye and get all excited. From this vantage point artists can make anything look good — they could make the workhouse look like a lush resort.  Humans, however, don’t experience the built environment from a bird’s viewpoint.

Those on the side of preservation of Optimist International are correct that increasingly we’re seeing MCM buildings being razed, especially in the Central West End. Last century these MCM buildings were seen as important symbols of reinvestment as the wealthy began to flee the city, as Gaslight Square began to fade.

One disputed point is “architectural merit”, I’m not qualified to argue for or against on this particular building. However, from the Mansion House nomination to the National Register of Historic Places I can learn about the firm responsible:

The firm of Schwarz & Van Hoefen was a midcentury incarnation of one of the longest-running continuously operating firms in St. Louis. It began in 1900 as Mauran, Russell & Garden when three architects broke away from the St. Louis office of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge (which was set up locally as Shepley, Rutan, Coolidge, and Mauran). John Lawrence Mauran brought along two younger colleagues, Ernest Russell and Edward Garden, and the firm almost immediately received several important commissions. Ned Garden left the firm in 1909, to be replaced by William Crowell in 1911. After Mauran’s death in 1933, Russell & Crowell added W.Oscar Mullgardt.

By the mid-20 century, more than half a century into its existence, the partnership remained one of the leading architectural firms in St. Louis. Esley Hamilton wrote that in the 1950s and 60s, the firm “was unusual in maintaining its design flare while working on large commercial projects. The firm completed many architecturally significant works during this period. In addition to the Mansion House, four of their other projects were recommended for National Register listing in the City of St. Louis’ Modern Movements survey of 2013.

This means that 1/5 of the 25 properties on the list were by the various iterations of this single partnership, more than any on other firm on the list.

The four other buildings on the list are as follows. The Wohl Recreation Center (1959) at 1515 N. Kingshighway Boulevard is a glass-skinned neighborhood recreation center commissioned by the City of St. Louis. The Engineers Club of St. Louis (1959) at 4359 Lindell Boulevard is a low-rise addition to the emerging Modernist corridor; its use of traditional masonry and playful forms is very striking. The original two-story section of the Optimist Building (1961, 4490-94 Lindell Boulevard), a block to the west of the Engineers Club, has an exposed concrete frame.[Emphasis added] Finally, the Steinberg Art Gallery Building at Washington University was a collaboration between the partnership and architect Fumihiko Maki, who is credited with the design (1960, 6201-53 Forsyth Blvd.)

In addition to the buildings recommended for listing in the City’s Modernism survey, the partnership of Schwarz & Van Hoefen designed many other important buildings in St. Louis. Among the most visible is Council Plaza, which consists of two towers and two smaller buildings located at 212 – 310 S. Grand Boulevard (NRHP 3/02/2007).

So the architectural firm is an important part of our history. The city’s modern architecture page includes the survey mentioned above, which lists the Optimist International property as significant and worthy of individual listing. The list only contains 25 properties. So one of the two buildings is architecturally significant. Saying otherwise ignores the established record.

I love density, but it’s also correct that the Central West End isn’t where we need to be building more density. That said, I do like that the proposed apartment building includes small studio apartments. If only new CWE residential projects included some affordable and low-income units — they are not the same thing. An alternative is paying into a fund the help building units elsewhere in the city. Elsewhere means cheaper, less desirable neighborhoods…like where I’ve lived for before and for the last 2+ years.

One pro-preservation argument I saw said the Optimist International building was urban, in line with adjacent properties. Well, yes and no. It’s not set back behind a surface parking lot and the entrance clearly fronts onto the primary street.   The Lindell facade respects the established building line, the Taylor side is a set further back than the slightly older Grant Medical Clinic at 114 N. Taylor, designed by Harris Armstrong. In addition to being set back further than other buildings a low stone wall & raised lawn separates the building from the Taylor facade.  As a result of the design, the Taylor side has zero activity/openings/entrances. This is not urban form.

Looking south you can see the substantial setback behind the raised lawn. The low wall is the established building line along Taylor.

The proposed 7-story apartment building would be built out to the building line, not set back. It would have have a few retail storefront spaces right off the Taylor sidewalk. Balconies would also face Taylor, the common pool area also faces Taylor. I believe Taylor Ave would be more active and interesting with the proposed building, compared with the existing.

I do think we need to save our architectural history from all centuries. Both 19th & 20th century buildings are threatened, often for different reasons. While I love clean 20th century modernism it often is a negative to the urban experience. Claiming MCM buildings are urban is just as disingenuous as those who say the Optimist International building has no architectural merit.

In the event the current proposal falls through, I could see a reuse project where the 1979 4-story addition is replaced by a taller tower with west-facing balconies. A few storefronts or entrances are carefully cut into the Taylor facade. with a section of lawn & wall removed to create an entrance to each. Cafe tables with umbrellas would look great. Maybe the main building has storefronts, residential lobby on the ground floor and structured parking on the upper floor? New residential units would all be in the new tower to the east. The roof of the old building could be a green roof with outdoor seating, activities.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Horrific Conditions At T. E. H. Realty Properties Show Need For Quality Affordable House In St. Louis Region

December 2, 2019 Featured, Real Estate, STL Region Comments Off on Horrific Conditions At T. E. H. Realty Properties Show Need For Quality Affordable House In St. Louis Region

Finding decent housing when you’re low income isn’t easy. Recent news reports on conditions at various apartment complexes, all owned by T.E. H. Realty, throughout the region is proof. If people could live elsewhere, they would.

Southwest Crossing on Saturday afternoon

One is called Southwest Crossing Apartments, located in the Carondelet neighborhood in South St. Louis City:

The 328-unit complex at 7851 Bandero Drive is one of about 10 large complexes owned by T.E.H. Realty in the St. Louis region.

Nearly all of the properties have generated numerous complaints from residents about poor living conditions, and, on the flip side, T.E.H. has filed numerous lawsuits for nonpayment of rent. (Post-Dispatch)

Like you, I’ve been seeing reports about horrible conditions at many apartment complexes. These include:

  • Lack of heat
  • Sewage backup
  • Trash piling up
  • Lack of water

Plus many other complaints that make the units uninhabitable. Tenants that have refused to pay rent in the hope of getting issues addressed have been sued.

Another view of Southwest Crossing

So I wanted to create a comprehensive list for future reference. Most are in North St. Louis County:

  1. Blue Fountain 819 Gustav Ave, St. Louis, MO 63147. Built in 1963.
  2. Bridgeport Crossing 4015 Brittany Cir, Bridgeton, MO 63044. Built in 1959.
  3. Northwinds 9556 Glen Owen Dr, Ferguson, MO 63136. Built in 1964.
  4. Park Ridge 1379 Sharondale Cir, Ferguson, MO 63135 — lost to foreclosure — hopefully the new owners will quickly remedy problems.  Built in 1965.
  5. Pinnacle Ridge 10613 Lookaway Drive Glasgow Village MO 63137. Numerous buildings built in 1964.
  6. Southwest Crossing 7851 Bandero Drive St  Louis, MO 63111. Fourteen buildings built in 1971.
  7. Springwood 9123 Torchlite Ln A, Bel-Ridge MO 63121 — receiver appointed. Seventeen buildings built in 1965.
  8. Windham Chase 12401 Horizon Village Dr, Spanish Lake MO 63138. Built in 1972.

As numerous articles have mentioned, the owners of T.E.H. Realty are in Israel, their U.S. headquarters are in Reading PA. There are likely more in the region that I need to add to the lady above. The Kansas City region is having similar issues with this owner.

An example of a free-market failure.

— Steve Patterson

 

Activity at the Bottle District Site

March 18, 2019 Featured, North City, Real Estate Comments Off on Activity at the Bottle District Site

The eastern edge of my new neighborhood, Columbus Square, has been known as “The Bottle District” since 2004.

In 2004, longtime neighborhood business McGuire Moving and Storage Company, announced plans to redevelop the district as an entertainment destination. Noted architect Daniel Libeskind was hired to design the district. The Ghazi Company of Charlotte, North Carolina is the co-developer.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on September 27, 2005, with plans for the first phase to open in 2007. The plans called for a Rawlings Sports museum, a Grand Prix Speedways kart-racing center, a boutique bowling alley, 250 residential units, and several restaurants. The first phase of the development was anticipated to cost $290 million, to be funded in part by $51.3 million in tax increment financing.

But that effort stalled. In late 2011, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved the transfer of the unused $51.3 million to a new developer, NorthSide Regeneration LLC. The deal would see the previous investment group, including developers Larry Chapman and Clayco, sell the site to NorthSide for an undisclosed amount that documents with the city suggest would be $3 million; all three were to work to find tenants and build on the site. Construction on a $190 million office and residential project was to begin in summer 2012. (Wikipedia)

This area is basically a wedge between I-44 (formerly I-70), Cole, 7th, Cass. The only thing that’s happened was the giant Vess soda bottle got a new paint job in 2016.

The Vess bottle in 2012, before being repainted. The McKee-owned warehouse in the background has since had a fire.

From August:

Six years after developer Paul McKee, through Northside Regeneration, LLC, acquired the Bottle District just north of the Dome at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis, no development has occurred. (Post-Dispatch)

Recently I’ve seen some activity, but nothing to get excited about.

Lots of trucks brought many loads of gravel last month
The gravel was placed on several of the blocks
It was then spread out in places

Workers with large equipment have moved some dirt, big trucks have delivered gravel, which has been spread out on some of the blocks. Looks to me like they’re prepping for use as surface parking. With XFL pro football starting at the dome in 11 months there will be people to pay to park here.

Looking North
Looking East from 7th & Biddle
McGuire’s former building can still be renovated, but the clock is ticking.

The location seems good, right next door to the Dome, very close to Laclede’s Landing and the renovated Arch grounds. Yet, surfacing parking appears to be the highest & best use.

— Steve Patterson

 

The LRA’s 10 Smallest Properties For Sale.

November 13, 2017 Featured, Real Estate Comments Off on The LRA’s 10 Smallest Properties For Sale.
The LRA listing for 4555 Lexington indicates the lot is only 50 square feet! Based on listed dimensions, the lot is over 5,000 sq ft. Source: LRA

Last week I posted about the city’s Land Reutilization Authority, see Land Reutilization Authority Selling Vacant Lot That Is Less Than An Inch Wide. Today I want to highlight this property and nine others to make the 10 smallest properties for sale — out of 151 under 1,000 square feet.

The first nine are listed as vacant lots, the 10th is a house. The following links to the property page, followed by the lot size, date acquired, and value.

  1. 2752 Wyoming St: 11 sq ft 08/30/1973 $21
  2. 5137 Wabada Ave: 16 sq ft 02/26/1975 $16
  3. 825 Canaan Ave: 17 sq ft 03/14/1975 $27
  4. 4419 McPherson Ave: 35 sq ft 02/26/1975 $158
  5. 3327 McPherson Ave: 35 sq ft 02/26/1975 $158
  6. 4544 Manchester Ave; 35 sq ft no date listed $35
  7. 4957 Lansdowne Ave; 37 sq ft 03/14/1975 $141
  8. 5030 Claxton Ave: 40 sq ft 03/14/1975 $40
  9. 3029 Lemp Ave: 41 sq ft 03/12/1974 $160
  10. 4555 Lexington Ave: 50 sq ft 09/26/2013 $1,000

As the image caption indicates, the listing for 4555 Lexington is wrong — the lot isn’t 50 sq ft, but 5,275.68! The others appear accurate, but the question still exists — why does the city own an inch wide strip of land for several properties?Are these just recording errors? How have these been allowed to exist on the books for decades?

The LRA search lists 9,481 properties, including the 10 above. I’m going to keep looking int0 the listings and their marketing of these properties.

— Steve Patterson

 

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