Wednesday, January 07, 2009

McGowan's Tower

St. Louis Magazine recently ran a great profile on developer Kevin McGowan, president and CEO of Blue Urban. He's been great for St. Louis and his business continues on while many of his colleagues have fallen by the wayside. He's done some great work downtown and I appreciate his vision.

The article touched on McGowan's desire to build a signature skyscraper downtown, something that has been discussed in urbanist circles for some time now:


(McGowan) is even passionate about building a new skyscraper that symbolizes St. Louis to the world. McGowan was ready to announce the project a year and a half ago, but he's put it on hold until the economy rebounds. Still, he's adament that it will come to fruition.

"We built something that the world knows, but the Arch is a glass ceiling in development in St. Louis, in that we don't build anything higher," he says. "The shadow of the tower I propose will extend to Chicago, Dallas and beyond."

Does it make me a pessimist if I don't think this is a good idea?

While I would certainly love to see a new office tower like the one Mr. McGowan describes, filling such a building would be a difficult undertaking, and doing so would likely result in the emptying of other downtown class A buildings. The construction of Met Square, for example, flooded downtown with office space and resulted in a game of musical chairs, with many downtown firms leaving their existing space for Met Square. In many ways, the downtown office market hasn't fully recovered.

For McGowan's tower to be a true success, he would need to attract large users from the suburbs and beyond, which Met Square was largely unable to do. I would guess that he would probably want to incorporate residential units and maybe even a hotel, which would help prevent another Met Square-like situation. I'm not saying it can't be done; it would just be difficult to do. I wouldn't bet against McGowan though.

8 comments:

Chris said...

I think he's planning on some of it to be residential. I agree that he must be careful; Met Square did hurt downtown. Also, I hope he builds it far enough west that it doesn't damage our iconic skyline from the riverfront. I would love to see a taller building in St. Louis; whether we like to admit it or not, skyscrapers are the modern equivalent of medieval church towers--a sign of civic success and power to other cities.

Dr. Danielle said...

I'm kind of torn on this topic. Paris has the eiffel tower and no buildings in Paris were allowed to be built taller than just a few stories. Obviously we can't fairly compare Saint Louis and Paris, but I think that a building taller than the Arch could be tacky if it is not placed in a careful location west of the riverfront.

JMedwick said...

There is a balance to be found, even with a new tower taller than the Met Square.

While I know that the Met did hurt downtown, it is important to remember that the areas most hurt were the older, early-20th Century office buildings which dotted downtown, leaving downtown filled with 1970's and 1980's office towers surrounded by empty older buildings.

Since 1989, many of those once abandoned buildings have been redeveloped (the Marquette is a prime example) or demolished (the Marquette annex). The key question on whether a new office build would have the same effect is whether downtown's remaining buildings are in good enough condition to continue to be attractive as office space. In 1989, I don't think you could say that about the Marquette Building.

Chris said...

When he originally floated this idea out there I remember him making it clear that he would be bringing in a HUGE anchor from outside St. Louis, though things have certainly changed over the years. I am also skeptical of his ability to do so because of the scope and publicity that it would have to draw. I live in one of his buildings and have been impressed with him all around, but what he is talking about is pretty ballsy.

JMedwick said...

^ While a firm from outside St. Louis moving into the tower would be great (maybe a Chinese company looking to establish a North American HQ or such), one could fill such a building pretty quickly even getting a few of the bigger suburban non-Clayton firms into downtown (think Energizer, Citi Mortgage). Heck Husch/Blackwell will be looking for a good sized space (figure 250,000+) within the next two or so years. They would make an attractive secondary tenant.

Matt Kastner said...

While I agree with your skepticism, we have made a lot of progress as a city over the past few years, but has been a relatively gradual climb. At our current pace we are never going to get to the finish line. We need to make some big strides and big projects are the way to do that (One day Chouteau Greenway... one day.). This project could end up a net loss, but if the city is going to take the next step we have to draw more businesses. The only way to do that is create more space for them to occupy. I guess I am saying, bring it on. Still, I wouldn't put money on it working.

Anonymous said...

If you build it they will come...

Anonymous said...

It's a good idea to be built far from the arch. The arch is our symbol of how the river pursued westward travel. And the observation from the arch would not be impressive with such a tower drarfing it. This sounds like a great idea.