Home » STL Region » Recent Articles:

Five Years Since Pyramid Properties Ceased Operations

Five years ago today major St. Louis developer Pyramid Properties, led by John Steffens, collapsed, leaving a long trail of unfinished properties.  From May 2010:

City leaders and Pyramid’s former partners say the transfer of properties is remarkable given the size and scope of the properties involved and the timing of the deals in the midst of the Great Recession.

“It has worked out far better than I expected,” said Jeff Rainford, Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff. “The fact that people were willing to not race to the courthouse steps is the only reason this didn’t end up a total disaster.”

Instead of filing lawsuits or filing for foreclosure, many of Steffen’s lenders, investors and former partners suspended disbelief and instead participated in a workout process that began days after Pyramid closed its doors. (St. Louis Business Journal)

With the properties untangled many have since been completed by others, including, but not limited to:

ABOVE: Art display windows facing 16th Street
Leather Trades, building completed as artists apartments, shown above: art display windows facing 16th Street
The Metropolitan, now artists lofts
The Metropolitan, now artists lofts
South Grand Senior Apartments finished and occupied
South Grand Senior Apartments finished and occupied
Former Dillard's became The Laurel Apts, Embassy Suites Hotel and Robust Wine Bar
Former Dillard’s became The Laurel Apts, Embassy Suites Hotel and Robust Wine Bar
St. Louis Centre became the MX. Pi Pizzeria was the first to open.
St. Louis Centre became the MX. Pi Pizzeria was the first to open.  MX Movies, Snarf’s Sandwiches, The Collective, and Takaya New Asian have since opened for business.
One City Centre got a new entrance and a new name reflecting the address change to 600 Washington
One City Centre got a new entrance and a new name reflecting the address change to 600 Washington
The former Carter Carburetor Company headquarters building is now the Grand Center Arts Academy.
The former Carter Carburetor Company headquarters building is now the Grand Center Arts Academy.

The above properties show that even in a down economy projects can happen. Still, the future of a few other former Pyramid projects remains unclear or just getting started:

The Jefferson Arms remains vacant although different developers are trying to  put together a deal to rehab the property.
The Jefferson Arms remains vacant although different developers are trying to put together a deal to rehab the property.
The Arcade-Wright buildings
Dominium Development, the Minneapolis-based company behind the Leather Trades & Metropolitan artists loft apartments hopes to repeat the formula in the attached Arcade-Wright buildings
The Mercantile Library is now at UMSL, the former building remains vacant.
The Mercantile Library collection is now at UMSL, the former building downtown remains vacant.
River Roads Mall was razed before Pyramid collapsed, the site remains vacant. This former bank, adjacent to the mall site, also remains vacant. More on River Roads next week.

Considering how much property Pyramid had tied up in complicated financial transactions it’s remarkable what has been accomplished in the last five years. Hopefully the  remaining projects will be completed in the new few years.

— Steve Patterson


Readers Favorite St. Louis Brewery: Schlafly

The three breweries came out ahead of Anheuser-Busch InBev together received nearly 80% of the votes in the poll last week:

Visual of the results from the poll of readers
Visual of the results from the poll of readers

Here’s the detailed results of the non-scientific poll:

Q: What is your favorite St. Louis brewery?

  1. Saint Louis Brewery (aka Schlafly) 51 [31.1%]
  2. Urban Chestnut Brewing Company 47 [28.66%]
  3. 4 Hands Brewing Company 32 [19.51%]
  4. Anheuser-Busch 24 [14.63%]
  5. Unsure/No Answer 5 [3.05%]
  6. O’Fallon Brewery 3 [1.83%]
  7. Exit 6 Brewery 2 [1.22%]

Remarkable given the short history of smaller brewers in the US.

The battle between craft breweries and big beer stretches back to the 1990s, when the idea of buying a beer brewed by a small, independent brewery first took off. In 1991, annual volume growth of microbrewing was 35 percent. Four years later, it had leapt to nearly 60, according to the Brewers Association. (US News — Hopslam: How Big Beer Is Trying to Stop a Craft Beer Revolution

Indeed, Tom Schlafly later recalled the start of Schlafly beer after the son of a former law partner convinced him a market existed:

It was Dan who finally convinced me that a microbrewery would be viable in St. Louis. For a number of reasons, we concluded that the best plan would be to start with a brewpub.

In 1990, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law that allowed microbreweries (defined as breweries that produced no more than 2,500 barrels per year) to hold retail liquor licenses for the brewery premises. They were not allowed to sell beer anywhere else. In 1991, we were issued the first microbrewery license in the state of Missouri and opened The Schlafly Tap Room on December 26 of that year.

Soon thereafter, owners of other bars and restaurants began asking us how they could offer Schlafly Beer and were amazed to be told that the Missouri General Assembly wouldn’t allow us to sell to them. Responding to these requests, in 1993, I successfully lobbied the General Assembly to amend the Missouri microbrewery law to allow us to brew up to 10,000 barrels per year and to sell our beer to licensed wholesalers. In August of that year, several bars and restaurants in St. Louis began serving Schlafly.

In 2003, we opened Schlafly Bottleworks where we now brew most of our beer including almost all of our packaged beer. In 2008, we brewed approximately 25,000 barrels of beer and owned two restaurants, The Schlafly Tap Room and Schlafly Bottleworks. In 2009, we brewed over 30,000 barrels. We reached this point without amending the law that restricted microbreweries to 10,000 barrels of annual production. How did we do this? Easy. We’re now licensed as a winery. That’s right. In the eyes of the law, Schlafly Brewery is a winery.

Like microbreweries, Missouri wineries are allowed to hold retail liquor licenses on their premises. Unlike microbreweries, however, wineries are not subject to an annual production limit. Because we make cider, we can qualify as a winery (cider being considered wine because it’s made from fruit juice). As bizarre as it might seem that a brewery could be licensed as a winery, it’s even more bizarre that Schlafly is now the largest American-owned brewery in St. Louis (Anheuser-Busch is now owned by a Brazilian-Belgian conglomerate) (CraftBeer.com)

Dan Kopman became Tom Schlafly’s partner in St. Louis Brewery. Recently they sold a majority stake (60%) in the company to a group of local investors, Kopman still runs the operation. Interesting they started with a Brewpub, the Tap Room.

Many comments on the original post focused on the fact I only included breweries as listed by stlhops.com so brewpubs like Civil Life and Perennial were not choices. I did this to avoid controversy….

I’ve learned there as many terms in the beer business: microbrewery, brewpub, craft brewery, etc…

That last one is defined as:

An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional.

Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.

Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor. (Brewers Association)

And craft beer sales continue to climb, taking away sales from the big guys:

Click image for source
Source: Craft Brewers Association, click to view

Note how the Craft Brewers Association distinguishes between:

  • Regional craft brewers
  • Contract brewing companies
  • Microbreweries
  • Brewpubs

I still have a lot to learn.

A close second on the list was the 2-year old Urban Chestnut Brewery which just announced a second location that will be larger than the Schlafly Bottleworks:

Once the new brewery is open, Urban Chestnut initially will be able to boost its annual production by about 15,000 barrels of beer. The new facility will eventually have capacity for 100,000 barrels a year. (One barrel equals 31 gallons, or about 330 regular-size bottles.) (stltoday

Another brewer not on the list was William K. Busch Brewing Co.:

Brentwood-based William K. Busch Brewing Co., founded by Billy Busch, a son of former Anheuser-Busch leader August A. “Gussie” Busch, introduced Kräftig lager and Kräftig light in November 2011.

“We did the first year without TV, and we want to take the company to the next level,” Busch said.(stltoday)

Currently Busch’s new company is smaller than Schlafly, but it wants to brew a couple million barrels a year, still a small sum compared to the brewery founded by his ancestors.

— Steve Patterson


Wayfinding In St. Louis

The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission has been rolling out a new wayfinding system in the region for a couple of years now. From a January 2011 Post-Dispatch editorial:

The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission has launched a $2.9 million initiative to design, build and install an attractive and comprehensive system of street, road and highway signs. The idea is to direct tourists and residents to a rich array of sites and attractions in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The project has been in the works since 2008. So far, about 300 signs — highway, street-level and pedestrian — have been installed or are slated for installation. The signs aren’t cheap: Fabricating and installing a large highway “guide” sign costs more than $20,000. (stltoday.com)

For example:

Wayfinding sign on Arsenal just east of Grand

Lately these have begun to turn up downtown.

Large wayfinding sign (right) at the 14th Street exit from I-64
Large wayfinding sign (right) at the 14th Street exit from I-64
wayfinding olive
Wayfinding sign at Olive & 15th
wayfinding olive
Wayfinding sign at Olive & Tucker
Wayfinding sign at Tucker & Washington
Wayfinding sign at Washington between 13th & 14th

Until the other day all the signs I’d seen have been like the ones shown above, or larger highway exit signs. Them I finally spotted, at Citygarden, a sign to help pedestrians downtown.

Wayfinding sign at Citygarden

But it was placed in the middle of a planter bed so I wasn’t able to get close enough to evaluate its effectiveness. Great planning!

I get asked directions often and I enjoy helping others. Two common requests are for places very close to my loft: the Social Security office at  717 N 16th St and City Museum across the street at 701 N 15th St. The other day at 10th & Washington a woman asked where to find the “landmark Arch.” I pointed east on Washington Ave.  When she asked if she should then turn right I told her she’d see it.

The following describes the process that took place to establish the system:

The Missouri Department of Transportation, along with the CVC, St. Louis City, Laumier Place, Grand Center and Forest Park funded the research needed to implement the program. Three “attraction corridors” were created in determining the locations of the signs. The first corridor is Broadway, second is Grand, and third is Kingshighway, with all three connecting major attractions and districts in the city. The entire program, including the research to implement the program cost 1.5 million dollars. CVC did apply for grants but was not successful in receiving any funding. The CVC worked with MODOT to identify those organizations that would provide funding for the wayfinding program. An important goal of the program for MODOT was to reduce sign clutter on the interstates in order to comply with Federal Highway standards. (continue at Cherokee Street News)

Hopefully I’ll be able to locate another pedestrian-oriented wayfinding map to evaluate. I don’t have a clear picture of the overall system and the CVC website wasn’t helpful.

Searching the CVC website for "wayfinding" and "way-finding" produced the same results.
Searching the CVC website for “wayfinding” and “way-finding” produced the same results.

Have you seen any of these new wayfinding signs? If so, what do you think?

— Steve Patterson


Poll: Favorite St. Louis Brewery?

Eight years ago today beer drinkers rejoiced:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signature repealed the Volstead Act, legalizing 3.2 percent beer. It also paved the way for the December ratification of the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment and deep-sixed Prohibition altogether.

The Volstead Act, which is how the National Prohibition Act was widely known, was pushed hard by religious and temperance groups and passed Congress in 1919 over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson.

The prohibition movement had been active in the United States for 80 years before its adherents finally succeeded in ramming through an outright national ban on alcohol. The original movement lost some steam during the Civil War (soldiers drink; deal with it) but was revived with a vengeance by the Prohibition Party and Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. (Wired)

Remaining breweries in St. Louis were also relieved to be able to legally produce beer once again after 13+ long years.

Fast forward to today and beer is a popular beverage in St. Louis with breweries &  brewpubs in many parts of the region. Which brings us to the poll question for this week: What is your favorite St. Louis Brewery?

The list of breweries was taken from STL Hops:

The poll is in the right sidebar. Check out the St. Louis Beer Map for breweries, brewpubs, beer bars, etc. Of course, if you are 21 and choose to drink, please do so responsibly.

— Steve Patterson


Thank You Stray Rescue

Stray Rescue Welcomed Animals From St. Louis’ Shelter on July 19, 2010. At the time the front of the new facility was unfinished raw space.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (center) looks on as Randy Grim (right) accepts a $550,000 check to Stray Rescue from Terry Block, President, Nestlé Purina Pet Food-North America.
7/19/2010: St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (center) looks on as Randy Grim (right) accepts a $550,000 check to Stray Rescue from Terry Block, President, Nestle Purina Pet Food-North America.

Since that first day when the dogs were transferred to the kennels in the new facility the front has been completed.

Stray Recue
Stray Recue is located at 2320 Pine, click image to view website

Thank you to Randy Grim, the staff, and volunteers behind Stray Rescue for the last 15 years!

— Steve Patterson