Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quick Alexa Update


I recently learned that The Alexa - the redevelopment of the Chemical Building at 8th and Olive - is still on track.

The developers, Heisman Properties of Los Angeles, have financing for the project in place and expects to begin construction in early 2010.

Originally marketed as for-sale condos, the plan now calls for 132 market rate apartments with ground floor retail space and possibly some creative office space on the second and third floors.

Just one more piece of the Old Post Office District puzzle falling into place. Once The Alexa is underway, that leaves only the Arcade Building as the last remaining undeveloped building in the area.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Centenary Tower Up for Auction


The Centenary Tower at 1530 Locust is scheduled to hit the auction block tomorrow at noon at the Civil Courts building.

The 100-unit apartment building was vacated more than two years ago by its former owner, Centenary Housing of Portland, Maine. The top seven floors of the 10-story building contain the apartments, while a YMCA occupies the lower floors. The YMCA's portion of the building is not included in the sale.

Built in 1925, Centenary Tower primarily served as housing for seniors and the disabled for more than three decades before it was shut down due to unsafe conditions.

It will be good to get this building under new ownership and hopefully filled with residents again at some point. With redevelopment of the adjacent Leather Trades Building coming soon as well, the 1500 and 1600 blocks of Locust could have a bright future ahead of them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Big Changes Coming to Union Station

According to the Post-Dispatch, Marriott is planning a significant expansion of its hotel at Union Station.

Doug Dean, the Marriott's general manager, said the hotel renovation will restore some of the inn's original 1890s configuration. He noted that the original front desk was off the atrium, remarkable for its glass-block floor. All 539 rooms, including the 67 in the station's original "headhouse," will be redone. Dean declined to specify the overall cost, saying it remained "a moving target."

Four meeting rooms and a restaurant will be built near the new lobby. One floor above, the existing restaurant will be used mainly for private events. Beginning with a ballroom freshening done by November, the renovation project will be completed in late 2011, he said.
The expansion will extend the hotel’s meeting and restaurant space into the western portion of Union Station’s retail area, concentrating retail shops along the eastern concourse. My hope is that this will result in fewer low-quality retailers. Union Station needs to keep the few remaining quality stores it still has - such as the Cardinals Clubhouse - boot the bad stores, and work hard to pull in good new ones like it once had.

Also:
Frances Percich, Union Station's marketing manager, said "serious" discussions are under way with two retailers, including one that would be new to St. Louis. She declined to name them. Percich said the station will continue to market itself as a tourist attraction with numerous spring and summer events.
I have no problem with Union Station being a tourist-focused destination, but there's no reason why it can't appeal to locals, especially those who live and work downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

It seems to me that the various entities that have managed Union Station over the years have always underestimated its appeal to local residents. I think there is a decent segment of the population who would like to visit Union Station periodically for dining or shopping, but are completely turned off by the one problem that Union Station has never addressed:

LACK OF FREE PARKING.

Simply validating parking for visitors who dine or make purchases at Union Station would have a tremendous impact on the number of locals who spend time there.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mosaic Expanding; The Time Moving

According to the Business Journal, downtown hotspot Mosaic is planning to expand again, this time adding a private dining space that will accomodate groups of up to 120 people.

The private dining space will be located catty-corner from Mosaic, in a retail space on the ground floor of the Renaissance's conference facility currently occupied by trendy boutique The Time.

According to the article:

The Time’s owner, Jennifer Gray, is vacating the storefront after nearly three years. Gray said she’s considering several options for continuing her five-year-old business, including opening elsewhere in the city of St. Louis.
Hopefully she will at least stay in the city, if not downtown. Downtown definitely needs more places like The Time.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Downtown Housing: Gaining Residents, Ready for More Units

The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis issued its Mid-Year 2009 Housing Report, which yielded some encouraging figures.

The first bit of good news is that downtown gained nearly 400 residents in the first half of 2009.

The second bit of good news is that nearly 300 condominium units were converted to apartments, stabilizing the occupancy rate of for sale units.

Here's a quick rundown of the numbers:

Population
− 12,409 residents: 5,000+ new residents since 2000
− 3% increase in residents over December 31, 2008

Residential Occupancy
− 89% for all units
− 86% for sale units
− 90% for all rental units
− 90% for market rate rental units
− 89% for below market rate rental units
These statistics indicate that the downtown market would be able to accomodate the addition of more residential units. Hopefully we'll see projects like The Alexa, the Ballpark Lofts, the Jefferson Arms and the Leather Trades begin construction in the near future.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

St. Louis Lands NCAA Midwest Regional

Thanks to the efforts of the St. Louis Sports Commission, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and SLU, March Madness will return to St. Louis in 2012, when the city will host the NCAA Midwest Regional!

The economic impact of hosting this event ranges from $8 million to $10 million, depending on which teams are playing. 2012 will mark the fourth time in nine seasons (including this season) that St. Louis has hosted the Midwest Regional.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Businesses I'd Like to Have Downtown: A Quiet Pub

Downtown already has plenty of sports bars, clubs and smokey dives, and a wine bar is even slated to open soon next to Left Bank Books. But what I'd really like to see is a nice, quiet(er), homey place in which to sip a pint and enjoy good conversation with friends. Preferably smoke-free.

Two perfect spots: the first floor of the LaSalle Building and 923 Locust, if the Roberts Brothers were to decide not to tear it down for a pointless driveway at Hotel Indigo.

Monday, September 21, 2009

1918-1920 Washington Available for Lease

Located in red-hot Downtown West, across the street from the Tudor Building and just west of two other mixed use projects currently underway, space is currently available in the recently-renovated historic building at 1918-1920 Washington Avenue.

The 1,692 sf space is listed for lease at $13.00 psf and offers basement storage.

The building is listed by Duffe Nuerenberger Realty: Cindy Washington,(314) 494-6566 and Susan Sauer, (314) 571-7654.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Arcade Building vs. St. Louis Centre

Two buildings enter; one building leaves...

Which building would you rather see renovated first: the Arcade Building or St. Louis Centre?

Let's take a look at both, and what their redevelopment would mean for downtown.

The Arcade Building - The last remaining building to be redeveloped in the newly-reinvigorated Old Post Office Square (I'm assuming The Alexa is still going to proceed at some point). The historic two-story shopping arcade could lure upscale retail, boutiques, etc. Residential units would provide even more customers for the Culinaria and other retailers, as well as more users for Old Post Office Plaza. Add office space to the mix, and you have a building that would add life to the surrounding area seven days a week.

St. Louis Centre - A major eyesore directly across from the convention center. Renovating this building would go a long way toward improving the perceptions of the thousands of tourists and conventioneers who visit St. Louis every year. The first floor is large enough to accomodate the large, national retailers that downtown has lacked for years now. A redeveloped St. Louis Centre will also make the nearby Mercantile Library Complex much more attractive for rehab.

Hmmm...

In its current condition, the contrast between the Arcade and the adjacent Paul Brown Building is very stark - completely dead to the east; thriving and bustling to the west. A renovated Arcade Building would be absolutely amazing to see and would cement the Old Post Office District as one of liveliest spots downtown.

Right now, The Laurel (the redevelopment of the former Dillard's department store attached to St. Louis Centre) is moving forward, which will eliminate one of St. Louis Centre's unsightly skywalks. This could potentially encourage the redevelopment the leasing of vacant space in buildings such as 555 and 501 Washington. If all of this were to happen, the void currently created by St. Louis Centre becomes much less noticeable.

I definitely want to see both buildings renovated, but the Arcade is the one I'd like to see renovated first.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Businesses I'd Like to Have Downtown - Alpine Shop

I've never felt the need to patronize chain stores like REI for outdoor gear when we have a great store like the Alpine Shop based right here in St. Louis.

But right now, their only locations in town are in Kirkwood and Chesterfield, not exactly convenient for those who live in the city.

How about a downtown location? I have to think that downtown's demographics match up favorably with the Alpine Shop's target market.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Random Lease Roundup

Ralcorp Holdings Inc. leased 20,151 sf in the Bank of America Plaza at 800 Market St.

Daniel J. Cook and Anne F. Leners purchased a 5,000 sf office condo at 701 N. 11th Street.

Pete Rothschild purchased the "Peach Building" at 1115 Pine.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fashion Week

Deb Peterson of the Post-Dispatch had a brief blurb on Attilio D'Agostino, head of St. Louis Fashion Week (This fall's Fashion Week will take place October 12-19):

D’Agostino...said part of his goal is to help turn the Lou into a destination for the best designers in the world to reach their Midwest customers.

He said he also wants St. Louis to be a place where emerging designers, models, photographers and fashion brands can be launched.
St. Louis has a growing national reputation in the fashion world, thanks to people like D'Agostino, stars like Kimora Lee Simmons, and the talented grads of Wash U.'s highly-regarded school of design.

It's great to hear about St. Louisans who are willing to think big and do their part to put St. Louis on the map.

Way to go, Attilio!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Businesses I'd Like to Have Downtown - Companion

St. Louisans have been flocking to sample the delicious breads and other baked goods from Companion's three bakehouses - in the Central West End, Clayton and Ladue - for years now.

In fact, Companion was recently named to USA Today's list of "10 Great Places to Harvest a Bounty of Artisan Breads."

To me, a downtown location almost seems like a no-brainer, especially if positioned in a location that is convenient to both office workers and residents.

If downtown is going to reach its full potential, it's going to take commitment from local businesses, as exhibited by Schnucks with the new Culinaria. How about it, Companion?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Sold!


The Wall Street Journal is reporting that an unidentified buyer has signed a contract to purchase the Railway Exchange Building from Macy's Inc. for $35 million in a deal that is expected to close within six months.

Macy's will keep its department store open on the lower floors, leasing the space from the building's new owners.

The 21-story, 1,162,000 sf building currently has a vacancy rate of approximately 20 percent, the Journal reports. That number is lower than I would have thought. As for the Railway Exchange's redevelopment potential:

The building likely will be redeveloped as a mixed-used structure that could include a hotel, offices and residential space as well as retail, people said. Just what makes sense likely will depend on which real-estate sector emerges first from the downturn.
It will be interesting to see what the new owners have in store...

Update from Building Blocks: Link

North Riverfront Improvements


Mayor Slay's blog features updates on some upcoming improvements to the North Riverfront: a new road that will improve access to the bustling Produce Row and $50 million in improvements to the Municipal River Terminal, which could potentially bring new logistics jobs to the area.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Don't Do It, Sam!

According to St. Louis Gossip Guy Jerry Berger:

Sam Koplar was spotted checking out the Clayton real estate market with what friends say is a possible move of Koplar Enterprises from its downtown Jello-tower of indecision.
Koplar is currently located in the Gateway Tower at One Memorial Drive.

Based on a past interview in St. Louis Magazine, Sam Koplar seems to have an appreciation for the city and the need for a thriving urban core:

Sam talks about bringing the younger generation back into the city and making it more urban. He has his grandfather’s attitude: Out with the old, in with the new. He wants to tackle developments that will make St. Louis stand out as a big city. He says he doesn’t understand peers who graduate from college and move to the county as if they’re ready to retire.

“It’s like that movie Groundhog Day out there,” he says of the monotony he thinks that life affords.
Moving his family's business out of downtown to Clayton certainly won't help matters any.

Come on, Sam - Don't do it!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Low Quality Camera Phone Photo of the Day, 9/4

Tables and chairs have been added to Old Post Office Square.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Another New Restaurant

Good news for fans of Indian food: Mr. Curry's Indian Restaurant will be opening soon in the former Curry in a Hurry space on Olive between 6th and 7th.

Low Quality Camera Phone Photo of the Day, 9/3


210 N. Tucker is getting a new canopy over its front entrance. Hopefully it will spruce up what is an otherwise bland building.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Grist for the Rumor Mill

Just in the last two weeks, I’ve heard rumors of a major clothing retailer looking at space near the Culinaria and a national pharmacy chain scouting out locations east of the Old Post Office District.

I’d be interested to know if Ace Hardware is still considering a loft district store. Perhaps the success of the Culinaria will prove that the market for downtown retail is much stronger than many originally thought.

Of course, those who work and live downtown have known all along that the area is ridiculously underserved from a retail standpoint. There is money to be made in downtown St. Louis for retailers that possess a little vision. Let's hope more retailers out there - both local and national - are willing to seize the opportunity.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Restaurant Updates

Joe Bonwich’s Off the Menu blog made mention of the opening dates for two new downtown eateries: Gourmet to Go is set to open in the St. Louis Place Building on Monday, September 21, and will feature sit-down space. Peruvian restaurant Mango is slated to open its downtown location in the original Mosaic space in the Hadley-Dean Building at 1101 Lucas on September 11.

The Business Journal is reporting that Sweet Basil – a Thai restaurant – is slated to open in a 2,000 sf space in the Mark Twain Hotel at 9th and Pine in January 2010. It will join Planet Sub, Labeebee’s and MyBar and Pizzaria.