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History Museum Applied For Demolition Permit Less A Month After Buying Delmar Property

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been looking into the Missouri History Museum’s 2006 purchase of property on Delmar from former mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., here is the issue:

The Zoo-Museum District board has questioned the museum’s 2006 purchase of a one-acre parcel on Delmar Boulevard from former St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. The museum spent $875,000 to buy the land and at least $100,000 more in additional expenses. (stltoday.com)

In most of their stories they refer to land but rarely mention the existing building, a former McDonald’s, was razed after purchase.

ABOVE: Bosley and his business partner were operating Jake’s BBQ in the former McDonald’s at 5863 Delmar. Image from the City of St. Louis.
ABOVE: Pic from Soul of America for Jake’s Bar-B-Q, click to view

In a few stories I did find a reference to the building being razed after being purchased by the museum, but no concern about the loss in value as a result.  When you buy an occupied commercial property that had numerous big investments in the past few years that is part of what you are buying. Raze the building and you destroy some of the value.

But the boards must have taken that into consideration as they studied the options behind their new acquisition, right? Probably not. The Post-Dispatch says they closed on the property on Thursday November 9th, 2006. City records online say the sales date was the following Tuesday the 14th, maybe the actual recording date into city records.

The Wednesday after Thanksgiving, Bellon Wrecking Co applied for a demolition permit, estimating the cost at $10,000.   Permit #387069 was issued on January 23, 2007 and by February 27, 2007 the building was gone.

ABOVE: Last week the foundation and slab floor of the former McDonald’s remains

What was the rush? Couldn’t they have leased the restaurant to someone else while they raised funds for the community center? We know from the Post-Dispatch investigations there was little oversight into the purchase so the decision to quickly discard a functional building was also made in the same manner.

I’m curious how the improvements could be assessed at $67,800 in 1997-98, $60,200 in 1999-2000, -$2,800 in 2001-02, and $100 for the years 2003 through 2010. The other question I have is why the Missouri History Museum felt it was in their role to build a community center in the first place? Is a community center what is needed in the area? My guess is something generating property taxes, sales taxes and jobs for the community would be a better fit.

This site will be on the new Loop Trolley route, it needs density.

— Steve Patterson


2013: Gotham & Delmar Apartments

Recently, while riding the #97 MetroBus, I passed by the NW corner of Delmar Blvd & Hamilton Ave (map) just east of the Delmar MetroLink station and noticed signs on a vacant corner.

ABOVE: Pre-construction signs for new apartments on Delmar

Turns out the project will include the renovation of the historic Gotham apartment building in the background dating from 1926 as well as new construction facing Delmar:

Gotham and Delmar Apartments will consist of a substantially revitalized building recently certified by the National Park Service as a historic structure, and a newly constructed building on the same site. The transaction enables the property’s developers, Delmar Properties Management and Construction LLC, to obtain a fixed, low-rate, non-recourse loan for the period of construction and for a 40-year term once the buildings are completed. Many of the improvements being made to the existing building are designed to make the apartment units and public spaces more energy efficient and help reduce residents’ monthly expenses. (source)

The renovation of the Gotham building will reduce its unit count to 54 apartment units from 66, while the new Delmar building will consist of 18 residential units and a number of first-floor commercial suites for office or retail use. (source)

Very good news for a part of Delmar that hasn’t seen the level of development as the other side of the MetroLink line.

ABOVE: Rendering of the new construction to face Delmar Blvd

Hopefully we will see many more new mixed-use buildings planned for Delmar as the Loop Trolley construction begins.

— Steve Patterson


Filling In Three Blocks Along North Tucker Boulevard

North Tucker Boulevard has been more urban than it is today. Over the years buildings came down left and right to provide surface parking, mostly for workers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Much of the surface parking is owned by the paper but with hundreds fewer employees the same level of parking is no longer needed. It’s time to rethink north Tucker Blvd!

ABOVE: Privately owned parking lot vacant on a Tuesday afternoon (June 5, 2012). NE corner of Tucker Blvd@ Cole St., click image for Google Maps.
ABOVE: Unused parking lot owned by the Post-Dispatch.
ABOVE: Across Cole St to the south the parking area is partially full on the same day.
ABOVE: The building at 911 N. Tucker was built in 1890.

Below I’ve placed blue rectangles on the spots where new buildings could be constructed. The red are harder spots due to small size (Carr St) or a new useless plaza (south end).

ABOVE: Aerial of a few blocks of north Tucker showing locations where infill buildings can easily be constructed (blue) and additional spots where they should be considered (red)

The Carr St on the north to Convention Plaza (Delmar) on the south there are many opportunities to construct infill buildings. At the center is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

I can hear the naysayers now, “there’s no demand for new construction here” or “location, location, location.” The new Mississippi River Bridge opens in 2014 and then suddenly this will become a major entry into downtown St. Louis. Now’s the time to start planning so at least one building can be open by 2014. It may very well take 10-20 years to fill in as I’ve shown but this is the first step to getting to that goal.

Remember, 15 years ago naysayers said there was no demand for housing downtown — and they were right — sorta. Those who wanted a hip loft in a walkable downtown had no way as individuals to get what they wanted. A few were marketed but not enough were willing to take the risk — and it was a risk. Then Washington Ave went on a road diet going from 4 travel lanes to two, widening the sidewalks in the process. Through these efforts the area was reinvented and things began to take off.

Storefronts are still vacant but housing occupancy is on par with other areas.  The area of North Tucker Blvd I’m talking about is just a few blocks north of Washington Ave. The new Tucker streetscape is being finished now. It includes provisions for on-street parking in this area so ground-level retail is an option.

Lee Enterprises, owner of the Post-Dispatch, should be talking with developers now. They might get a new parking garage behind new buildings facing Tucker — I’d want the city to prohibit/strongly discourage a parking garage facing Tucker but facing 13th would be ok.

In the block opposite the Post-Dispatch new buildings on each side of 911 N. Tucker should be respectful without copying. Modern would be fine with me, just not a six-story mirrored box.

The opportunity for a “signature” building is on the NW corner of Tucker Blvd. & Cole St.

ABOVE: Looking east on Cole St from Tucker Blvd.
ABOVE: Looking west on Cole St from 11th. A new building on the vacant lot would hide KDNL’s building.

Cole Street has a very wide right-of-way east of Tucker, giving the opportunity for high visibility for pedestrians and motorists heading west on Cole. This is also an opportunity to look at Cole and how to encourage more pedestrians to use Cole to connect parts of downtown and the housing to the north.

Perhaps a CVS or Walgreen’s would locate in the ground floor of one of these buildings on Tucker?  New construction in this area could be exciting, much more so than Ballpark Village.

— Steve Patterson


Code Compliance Isn’t The Same As Best Practices

Last week on Tuesday July 17th the 197-unit apartment building at 3949 Lindell was destroyed by fire.

The Lindell Apartments at 3949 Lindell caught fire around 7 p.m. and quickly went to five-alarms.

Around 100 people were inside the building at the time. Everyone was evacuated safely. The 197 unit building housed around 250 people who are now homeless. (KSDK)

Less than an hour after firefighters arrived on the scene of a blaze at a Central West End apartment building Tuesday night, they were forced to evacuate as the top floor of the four-story structure began to collapse.

The flames spread so fast through the attic that firefighters thought something must be wrong with the building. (stltoday.com — see photo gallery)

The building was previously destroyed by arson in June 2007 during construction, but this time it was occupied.

ABOVE: The 3949 Lindell Apartments earlier this year.

Had a fire started in a kitchen, for example, the sprinkler system would have likely put it out.  But the fire is said to have started in an attic space though, above the units and the sprinkler system.  Apparently the building code allows the use of a drywall wall to be used as a firestop within the attic to slow the spread of the fire. But a wood framed wall with drywall can’t hold a fire for long. Between apartments it’s good enough to contain a fire until the sprinklers come on. But in an open attic space with so much wood a big fire can get going and pretty much blast through a drywall firestop.

ABOVE: The massive roof has no masonry walls to divide it. Image from Google Maps, click to view.

So while the building may well have been code-compliant, it wasn’t built with best practices. Such a large building, especially one of wood frame construction, should have had masonry walls to completely section off the building into parts.  A fire may have destroyed or heavily damaged a section of the building but the rest would have been unharmed. Such a wall exists between the parking garage and the building, likely required to keep a car fire from spreading from the garage to the building.

I’ve been photographing this building for years, but I never once visited inside. Here are images from 2007 & 2008:

ABOVE: The building was well underway on June 3, 2007
ABOVE: All wood framing was destroyed by arson on June 13, 2007
ABOVE: The front facade is taking shape again on August 1, 2008
ABOVE: The west end of the front facade not yet covered in brick on August 1, 2008. The old McDonald’s was being razed.

It’s important to note the property owner was not the original developer, from January 6, 2012:

Education Realty Trust, a Memphis-based developer, owner and manager of college housing, has purchased an apartment complex near Saint Louis University for nearly $28.5 million.

The four-story complex at 3949 Lindell Blvd. was bought with cash on hand, the company said. Education Realty Trust recently began doing business as EdR as part of a rebranding effort.

City of St. Louis records show the apartment building’s former owner as GB St. Louis 1 Temp LLC, a Dallas-based affiliate of Frank Howard’s Gulfstream Capital Partners. (St. Louis Business Journal)

The following images are from Thursday July 19, 2012:

ABOVE: Scene on July 19, 2012 passing by on the #10 MetroBus
ABOVE: West side as seen from the Arby’s parking lot
ABOVE: The American Red Cross on the adjacent shopping center parking lot
ABOVE: Residents being allowed back inside a north entrance off McPherson
ABOVE: Looking east along McPherson Ave, this side has no visible damage
ABOVE: Evidence of floor collapses can be seen on the east side near the garage
ABOVE: A sidewalk tribute for pets that died. The listing on forrent.com indicates pets weren’t allowed. Click image for listing.
ABOVE: The building is just west of the endangered AAA building
ABOVE: Lindell facade gives the impression just the roof was burned, but structural damage is clear in numerous areas.
ABOVE: Wall buckling above 2nd floor windows toward the west end of the Lindell facade

The existing frame construction will be razed with only the parking garage remaining. When apartments are built here again it needs to have several masonry firestops from the ground to above the roof. Ideally AAA and CVS will get together with EdR to include the west half of the AAA site into the new construction as well as a CVS pharmacy and renovation of the AAA for a restaurant space.

No doubt that wired smoke alarms helped in alerting all the residents so no human life was loft. But understand that building codes are the very minimum that must be met to obtain an occupancy permit.

— Steve Patterson


The Bottle Undistrict

The soft drink 7-Up was once marketed as the uncola. For years now people have been trying to market the vacant land and a vacant warehouse north of the Edwards Jones Dome as The Bottle District. The first post where I mentioned The Bottle District was in August 2005 (Thoughts on St. Louis’ Proposed Riverfront Makeover, Lid Over I-70 and Mississippi River Bridge).

The Bottle District is a six-block area north of Downtown St. Louis, Missouri that is being redeveloped as a mixed-use entertainment and residential district. The area is located north of the city’s convention center and west of Laclede’s Landing.

The district is located in what was once known as the Kerry Patch neighborhood of the city, which was home to thousands of Irish immigrants in the 19th Century. The neighborhood gradually became more industrial in nature. In the 1920s this area was famous for animal stockyards and bottling companies.

McGuire Moving and Storage Company, a longtime business located in the area, announced plans for redeveloping the district as an entertainment destination in 2004. Noted architect Daniel Libeskind was hired to design the district. The Ghazi Company of Charlotte, North Carolina is the co-developer of the Bottle District.

The first phase of the redevelopment is scheduled to open in 2007. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on September 27, 2005. The first phase will include 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 is anticipated to cost $290 million and is being funded in part by $51.3 million in tax increment financing.

Several explanations for the origin of the name of the Bottle District have been given. It has been suggested that the name honors the longstanding connection between St. Louis and the brewing and bottling industries. Others have suggested that the name comes from bottles found buried on the property, or the many broken bottles found in the neighborhood. Finally, the site is noted for a decades old, 34-foot-tall (10 m) advertisement for Vess Soda, shaped like a bottle, which the developers intend to restore during the redevelopment. (Wikipedia)

Here we are years later and this district remains anything but a district. To me it’s The Bottle Undistrict.

ABOVE: The neon-covered Vess bottle for which the area is named, Vessville didn't have a good ring
ABOVE: The bottle itself isn't looking so refreshing
ABOVE: The bottle with the Arch in the background, both familiar shapes

The problem here is this has been developer-driven planning. Big picture urban planning would have looked at how to develop this land and connect it to the west, the former Cochran public housing project, now the nice mixed-income Cambridge Heights neighborhood and renovated Neighborhood Gardens apartment development from 1935. Developers rarely think beyond the borders of their property, that takes municipal planning to knit together private parcels into a cohesive city.

We should be planning now for when the new I-70 bridge opens to the north, allowing the replacement of the highway lanes with a high volume boulevard instead. This district could then front onto the boulevard and more easily connect to the east. But our leadership doesn’t get it, to them the 1970 way is just fine.

– Steve Patterson