Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Meet Me in Revitalized Downtown St. Louis - New York Times

According to the New York Times: The glass-fronted St. Louis Centre is being redeveloped by the Pyramid Companies.

It is great to see cities trying to make an effort by revitalzing their downtown areas. For too long, residents fled cities for the suburbs while politicians dithered and did nothing to bring back valuable intellectual capital as well as meaningful revenue streams.

Publicly-run urban planning ideas in the 1970s became beached whales. What is needed are privately funded ventures such as the one being undertaken in St. Louis, right now.

The developer of the complex is Pyramid Companies, the largest of a handful of concerns that have led the downtown turnaround. The company owns or controls about three million square feet of space, making it the largest private landlord in the downtown area.

“If downtown development is a 30-piece jigsaw puzzle,” said John Steffen, president of Pyramid, “then the Centre is the piece which brings the whole picture into focus.”

In addition to the complex and its multistory parking lot, Pyramid has acquired the vacant 500,000-square-foot Stix, Baer & Fuller department store just north of it and the 240,000-square-foot Mercantile Library Building diagonally across from it at Sixth and Locust Streets.

Pyramid’s plan calls for stripping the four-story Centre building to structural steel and converting it to about 120 residential condominiums, ranging in size from 750 to 3,500 square feet, and 110,000 square feet of street-level retail space. He also plans to eliminate the sky bridges that connect the building to its former department store anchors, Famous-Barr (now Macy’s) and the Stix, Baer & Fuller building.

“Because we’re not using historic tax credits, the condos will have features like balconies and terraces and all-glass window walls,” he said. “Right now, there really isn’t anything like that in downtown St. Louis. They will be unique and we should be able to charge a premium for them.”

Mr. Steffen also plans to simultaneously redevelop the Stix, Baer & Fuller building and the Mercantile Library Building along similar lines. Both of those projects, however, will use state and federal historic tax credits.

He said that construction would start after the first of the year and be finished by 2009.

The total cost of the project is $270 million, with part of the financing coming from Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, a Norwalk, Conn., development firm.

St. Louis Centre, which has been largely vacant for many years, was conceived in the mid-1980’s as a way to revive the ailing downtown St. Louis retail district by recasting it as a suburban mall. The complex, which occupies an entire city block, had space for about 150 specialty stores.

The original developer was Melvin Simon & Associates, the forerunner of the Simon Property Group, based in Indianapolis and one of the largest developers of malls in the country.

Numerous other cities around the country also bought into this concept with generally disappointing results.

“The thinking back then was if you built it, people would come,” said Bruce A. Kaplan, president of Northern Realty Group in Chicago, which specializes in downtown retail leasing. “But they didn’t. Almost all of the downtown malls from that period failed.”

The reason, he added, is that suburbanites preferred to shop closer to home, leaving downtown malls dependent primarily on daytime office workers.

“But you can’t make it on office workers alone,” Mr. Kaplan said. “You need people who live in and around the downtown area, you need tourists, you need business travelers and conventioneers. Then the synergies start to happen. But in St. Louis and a lot of other secondary markets, none of that was there.”

It's nice to see that good ideas are finally being implemented.


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