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What To Do With 1.2 Million Square Feet In The Railway Exchange Building (UPDATED)

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).

Railway Exchange building in 2011, before the consolidated Macy's closed.
Railway Exchange building in 2011, before the consolidated Macy’s closed.

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

 

Reviving A Dead Mall By Rebranding With An Ethnic Focus

In 2009 I paid a visit to my childhood mall that opened in 1974 — eight days before my seventh birthday. By 2009 it was dead — all four anchors were closed as were most of the smaller stores. The next year National Public Radio did a story on how the Federal Reserve of New York came to own one of Oklahoma’s largest indoor malls:

It also owned a loan to Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City. Then, when the owners of the mall couldn’t make the payments, the Fed foreclosed. So now it owns the mall, which includes a Chick-fil-A and an AMC theater. (NPR)

The AMC Theater is in a separate building on an outlet — built years later.

A Crossroads Mall  entrance, August 2009
Crossroads Mall entrance, August 2009 was used (by permission) in the 2010 NPR story.

In March I returned with my husband. Why visit a dead mall again? New owners have rebranded the mall, attracting new customers and stores.  From two years ago:

The south Oklahoma City mall fell into the hands of the federal government in 2008, limped through the recession years with a handful of tenants while somehow managing to keep its doors open.

But Legaspi, who owns The Legaspi Co., a California firm known for turning ailing shopping malls into thriving, Hispanic centers, has a plan.

On Wednesday afternoon, he announced details of the project, including the mall’s new name: Plaza Mayor at the Crossroads, a name that translates to “the main square” at the crossroads. It includes space for a grocery store, nightclub and a rodeo arena seating 3,500 spectators.

Already, Legaspi has worked on a dozen ailing malls across the country. (NewsOK)

From the new owner’s About Me page:

The Legaspi Company is a full-service development/brokerage company for commercial/ investment real estate, particularly for retail projects.  We are recognized as an aggressive commercial real estate company, noted particularly for our ability to successfully identify and capitalize on untapped opportunities created by demographic changes and trends in the marketplace.  This reputation has led many investors, developers and retailers (please see accompanying client list) to seek our assistance in their expansion/development planning, site selection, and leasing/sales negotiation activities.  Municipalities and government entities have also recognized our ability to position, in many cases re-position, shopping districts in order to increase services to the community.

The foundation of our strength in various market areas is our niche marketing orientation: our recognition of the unique needs and marketing characteristics of each site on its own merits, and our willingness, as a matter of choice, to educate and work aggressively with investors, developers, retailers, and tenants in these areas, which in many cases were, till quite recently, considered marginal at best. (Legaspi Co)

We visited early on a Sunday morning, just as stores were starting to open.

Color was added to the entrances
Color was added to the entrances, a vinyl banner covers the outdated metal graphics
The former Dillard's, where I worked briefly in college, now has some color
The former Dillard’s at right, where I worked briefly in college, now has some color. Click image to see this lot filled with people during a 2014 festival.
The former Dillard's store was being
The former Dillard’s store would soon be ‘El Parian’

During our visit we didn’t know what El Parian would be, I’ve since learned:

El Parian will feature about 60, 12-foot by 12-foot incubator booths that will be ringed around an atrium.

Additional phases of construction will include salon and restaurant space, with the hope of eventually having booth space for as many as 300 small start-up businesses, he said. The second and third floors of the Dillard’s wing will be converted to office space, Ruiz said.

Tenants at the mall said they were hopeful that El Parian would draw more shoppers to Plaza Mayor and give existing businesses a boost. A trickle of new shops has continued to reopen in the mall since redevelopment plans with Hispanic mall developer The Legaspi Co. were unveiled in spring 2013. (NewsOK)

The El Parian is now open, so I have a reason to return. Another would be to visit later when places are open — especially restaurants.

One of several restaurants in the mall, this one was just about to open. Soccer was playing on the TV.
One of several restaurants in the mall, this one was just about to open for the day. Soccer was playing on the TV.
The center court once again hosts packed events
The center court once again hosts packed events, click the image above to see a photo from a 2014 event on their Facebook page

This video aired not long after the change to Plaza Mayor — it is wrong about the mall’s opening though — it opened in 1974 — not 1979.

Such a focus makes sense in Oklahoma City, in 2010 the population of Oklahoma City was 579,999 — with 17.2% being Hispanic or Latino (of any race) — up from 5% in 1990 (Wikipedia). By contrast, the City of St. Louis was only 3.5% Hispanic/Latino in 2010 (Wikipedia). The St. Louis region likely has a much lower percentage than the city.

Though this focus wouldn’t work for our dead/dying malls I bring this up because it shows how one developer has found a way to match vacant real estate with an often marginalized market. National brands are beginning to recognize the Hispanic/Latino market:

The 50 largest spending companies put $3.4 billion into Latino advertising in 2013, according to the most recent figures available from industry publication Advertising Age, which measured spending on Spanish-language ads on broadcast and cable networks and in Spanish language publications. Procter & Gamble Co. was the top spender with $334.8 million, followed by AT&T with $124.7 million. Target came in 28th, with $51.5 million. (LA Times)

Most real estate brokers & developers, blinded by their conventional wisdom, couldn’t see any use for this mall.

One of the new monument signs around the exterior
One of the new monument signs around the exterior

This is a good lesson on how the status quo establishment may not offer creative solutions — such reminders are a very good thing. I look forward to returning over the coming years to see Plaza Mayor continue to evolve.

— Steve Patterson

 

IKEA Will Be Posting Jobs Soon

April 14, 2015 Big Box, Featured, Retail 6 Comments

It has been a little over four months since IKEA officially announced they were opening a location in the St. Louis region — specifically in the City of St. Louis. The big blue & yellow box is now fully formed.

IKEA as seen on WB I-64
IKEA as seen on WB I-64, not really visible EB
As seen from Vandeventer Ave
As seen from Vandeventer Ave

The St. Louis IKEA is supposed to open this Fall. In August we’re planning one last visit to the IKEA in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook on our drive back from a weekend in Chicago. When the store opens here we’re planning to get a new king-sized mattress & platform bed.

If you’ve never shopped at an IKEA before I recommend at least four hours to see it in full. Since I first walked into an IKEA in August 1990 I’ve wondered what it would be like to live close to a store. The visits to the seven locations I’ve been to involved either filling my vehicle or getting just a little something to fir in my carryon bag. For the first time I’ll be able to take public transit to an IKEA, maybe just for lunch and to browse their creative displays.

IKEA St. Louis is already hiring some managerial positions, they’ll be hiring for additional positions soon. If you’re interested, you can sign up to be notified.

Is it just me or have existing furniture stores increased their TV advertising?

— Steve Patterson

 

Coming To Ballpark Village In Early 2017: 24/7 Neighborhood Market by Walmart

Walmart will soon be expanding in the St. Louis region with the addition of its smaller format Neighborhood Market stores:

Currently, the Neighborhood Markets are as large as 45,000 square feet. With the new strategy, they will range from 15,000 to 45,000 square feet in size. The company intends to continue testing with the “Wal-Mart On Campus” and “Wal-Mart To Go” models, and believes that the expansion of the Neighborhood Market banner will not hamper the growth of the new stores, which are still in the testing phase as of now. (Goodbye Wal-Mart Express Stores, Hello Neighborhood Markets!)

By offering grocery basics, pharmacy, and other essentials these stores compete with Walgreens/CVS, Target, etc.

www
Monument sign at a typical Neighborhood Market.

From a Walmart press release:

In February 2014, Walmart U.S. increased its original fiscal 2015 projected capital investment by $600 million to a range of $6.4 to $6.9 billion due to an acceleration of approximately 150 small format openings. However, as a result of the timing of certain planned small format openings, Walmart U.S. now expects to open approximately 240 small format units in fiscal 2015, and carry over approximately 20 units into fiscal 2016. 

The company also indicated that during the testing of its Walmart Express format, the analysis showed customers rely on these stores for a variety of reasons, including grocery fill-in trips, last-minute dinner plans and picking up prescriptions. These patterns closely align with how customers also shop the Neighborhood Market format, which has become a recognizable brand that customers identify as a high quality, local grocery store. Therefore, the company will rebrand Walmart Express as Neighborhood Market and will utilize this brand for all small format stores, regardless of square footage. 

“We know that our supercenters are an important format for the stock-up trip, but we want to be thoughtful about our investment, ensuring that we align the space to evolving customer needs,” said Walmart U.S. President and CEO Greg Foran.  “To do this, we will moderate supercenter growth in fiscal 2016.  Our investment in Neighborhood Markets will go forward because they continue to show strong results across the box and they provide our customers with convenient access to grocery, pharmacy services, and other quick-trip needs.”  

Fiscal year 2016 capital investments are projected to range between $6.1 and $6.6 billion.  The forecast includes new stores, remodels, conversions, relocations, logistics, e-commerce and technology infrastructure, and reflects the additions of new units that will expand Walmart U.S.’s retail space by approximately 15 to 16 million net retail square feet. The company expects to open between 60 and 70 supercenters and 200 to 220 Neighborhood Markets.  (Walmart)

One location in our region will be at the NW corner of Ballpark Village — 8th & Walnut.

The NW corner is the lower right
The NW corner is the lower left right

Laclede Gas will soon be moving its headquarters into the former General American building across the street.

“We’ve watched the success of Schnucks’ Culinaria store and decided we can offer more items at lower prices”, said Neighborhood Market regional manager Gregory Pope.  

The Neighborhood Market by Walmart will occupy the ground floor of a new multi-level parking garage structure.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Downtown’s Papa John’s Pizza To Reopen In Different Parking Garage

After Papa John’s Founder & CEO John Schnatter commented on the Affordable Care Act during the 2012 presidential campaign I stopped patronizing the downtown location — then located just 4 blocks East. My taste buds, waistline, and wallet were grateful.

Pape John's was located at Tucker & Pine until July when it closed for repairs to this parking garage.
Pape John’s was located at Tucker & Pine until July when it closed for repairs to this parking garage.
Workers building out the interior of the new Papa John's 2 blocks South in the Park Pacific garage.
Workers building out the interior of the new Papa John’s 2 blocks South in the Park Pacific garage.

It will be nice seeing a business in these storefronts facing Tucker, the spots facing Pine are occupied. More space remains available facing Tucker & Olive.

Renovation work at the garage where Papa John’s had been located (see Parking Garage Undergoing Time-Consuming Multi-Million Dollar Restoration; Businesses Closed, Jobs Lost) has slowed to be almost nonexistent. Yesterday the security guard told me what I already suspected — there was far more damage than originally thought. The owner isn’t sure how much more they want to put into it but a couple of guys are still around working — but nothing like the crew when the work first started.

How long can the owner keep a garage that’s producing zero income?

— Steve Patterson

 

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