Cortona at Forest Park Set to Open at the Highlands

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The Cortona at Forest Park is a ~278 unit apartment complex rising in the Cheltenham neighborhood.  Visible from busy streets like Oakland and Hampton Avenues, and even Interstate 64, the apartment complex is scheduled for a February, 2014 completion.

This is an exciting part of town right now as there are several large projects in the works in the Hampton/I-64 area.  One is the construction of the Tri-Star Mercedes dealership that is underway.  This ~45,000 square foot project is an exciting addition to the former property of Fox 2 News at Berthold and Hampton that has been abandoned and empty since they left town for the staid burbs around 2008.

The other exciting development is the St. Louis Zoo’s purchase of the former Forest Park Hospital across Hampton.  The demolition of the hospital is underway right now and is making way for a 19 acre addition said to include a zoo-themed hotel, additional animal habitat and major new exhibit, pedestrian bridge and gondola going over I-64.

So it is exciting to see additional housing options popping up in this part of town. Additional residents will only boost the activity seen around here.  And hopefully the addition of residents and visitors will boost the happening business and entertainment district around Clayton and Tamm in Dogtown…led by my favorite soup joint in westside St. Louis at Nora’s at 1136 Tamm Avenue.

I am all for infill.  If we are ever going to see a gain in residents (which we haven’t seen since the early-mid 20th Century), we need to meet the housing needs for a diverse set of people seeking all kinds of different lifestyles.  I am of the opinion that new infill does not always need to be historic in appearance, in fact I think we need modern new designs melding with the old brick, stone and wood classics.  Take UIC’s Botanical Grove work in the Botanical Heights area as an example.

Or the many examples of quality construction and design from various eras in the Central West End.

Nothing is more beautiful than the best of two era complementing each other.

We need diversity in housing that offers people modern living amenities that compete with what is available in the suburbs and newer Midwestern cities that offer much more contemporary options than St. Louis.  Many people just don’t like living in old buildings.  They can be drafty, inefficient, laid out weird, wired with antiquated electric, etc.  Some people want the newest, most efficient kitchens, baths, windows, HVAC, lighting, floor plans, etc.

I think that is what the Cortona will bring…and with some interesting finishes to give the development a modern look.

The site is not a typical neighborhood setting like you can get in most parts of town, it is part of the larger Highlands office park that exists on the spot of the former St. Louis Arena.  There are a couple residential buildings called “The Lofts”, a hotel and restaurant, a building housing BJC operations and two other buildings with various tennants including financial, media and construction firms, etc.  A Jimmy Johns, Yoga studio and Comet Coffee and Microbakery are in the first floor facing Oakland Avenue.

{I’d use this greenspace for soccer}

{the Hampton Inn}

{office with first floor retail}

The wavy contours of the buildings are intended to emulate the roller coasters of the Highlands amusement park that once sat here.

So there will be those who’ll certainly criticize this as contemporary “business park living”, and I see the point, but I live in a traditional turn of the century St. Louis neighborhood and I don’t have as many walkable amenities as this (yet).  The location is awesome as one of the greatest urban parks in the country is across the Interstate.

The property manager for the Cortona, Mark Milford, reached out to me and gave me a sneak peek. He shared a lot of great info on the development, like the name, which was a nod to Cortona, Italy one of Steve Brown’s (Balke Brown) favorite places when he studied in Rome. Mark is a suburban St. Louis guy who’ll be living here soon.

The complex was still under construction upon my visit, so I’ll spare those photos. The first floor is scheduled for completion in February, 2014 and an additional floor will come online each following month.

The building is 5 stories, sits on 4.79 acres and has many, many modern amenities including an awesome 0.5 acre center courtyard area with a pool, outdoor 24′ fire table and center pit, BBQ grills, cabana with showers, bar and 3-tiered pool (lap pool, tanning ledge and hot tub).  Modern stuff like USB ports on the electrical outlets, recycling and trash chutes, etc.  There will be an Enterprise car share on site, and private covered/structured parking for its residents; there are 314 parking spots for the 278 units.  There is a dog run, a common space for parties that overlooks the courtyard, fitness center, multi-purpose game room, etc.

{future 3-tiered pool, private cabana, outdoor grills/bar, social areas}

{parking structure and dog run in the foreground}

{Cortona will not have access to or from Wise Avenue to the south}

{an pre-construction rendering of Cortona at Forest Park

Apartments range in size from studio/1 bath 575 sq. ft. to 2 br/2 bath 1299 sq. ft. All the luxuries of modern living one would expect are here, including great views of the city to the east.

This development is coming on line about the same time as The Aventura Phase II in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood to the east.  The styles are quite a contrast.  The Cortona is interesting and modern, the Aventura…well, if you pay attention to early commentary from the outspoken St. Louis lovers, you will have heard it referred to as “Straight Outta Ballwin”, plastic suburban schlock, cheapest possible, a private complex closed off from the surrounding neighborhood, a big middle finger to FPSE, etc.  I have chosen to keep my opinions of the Aventura off the Internet, but will gladly share if you buy me a beer.

{a little bit of the burbs right here in the middle of St. Louis}

The worst thing about this development is it is highly visibility along I-64 and it’s lack of context in a really cool neighborhood that is on the rise and has St. Louis’ beauty and soul all over it. Anyhow, congrats to the Cortona for adding a fresh, modern element to St. Louis’ new housing scene.

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  • Mike Brockman

    I really think developments like these will attract the other young crowd that currently feels more comfortable in Brentwood or Clayton. I’m all for it.

    • John

      It’s a good looking building, but nobody my age is going to move to a neighborhood without MetroLink access. All my friends have moved to the City since we graduated, but never to areas that don’t have MetroLink. The Highlands have poor urban form and I have no idea what their appeal could be. It’s like you took all the 3+ story buildings from Fenton or Chesterfield and put them in the middle of a big parking lot. This is probably what the old Chrysler Plant site will look like when it’s redeveloped.

      • DBLarsen

        Seems like a pretty broad generalization to say that nobody your age would move to a neighborhood with MetroLink access (scared to ride the bus?). And if that is the case, then the city is screwed considering the number of stations we have and the number of residential units within walking distance to said stations. The cortona is a step in the right direction, even if only for the exterior aesthetics, for new construction in the city. As mentioned by Mark above, most of what we get it faux historic and cookie-cutter suburban blah (Aventura), nothing that pushes the envelope at all. I believe that was the primary purpose of the article and the reality is that we need people of all ages and walks of life to invest in the city for it to get back to where it once was…

        • John

          Yeah, Cortona is cool looking, but the Highlands neighborhood on the whole does not have the beauty nor the great urban form of the Loop, South Grand or CWE. And although there are some people in their 20’s who are willing to move to areas that don’t have MetroLink, none of my friends fall under that category. And the #1 complaint I hear about St. Louis, seriously at least once a week (not even exaggerating there) is that we just don’t have a large enough MetroLink system. We need a N-S line to start construction, like, tomorrow morning. Seriously. How are we going to attract new residents like Denver and Minneapolis can if our public transportation isn’t competitive with theirs? Most of the new development in the City is based around Metro stations. And no, I’m not afraid to ride the bus, I just prefer the ‘Link.

          • John R

            I look at this project (and The Highlands in general) as a weigh station for those people who want more City but not too much City…. its a comfortable cul-de-sac development. I agree with you on the need to get expanded transit and real TOD if we’re ever going to unlock our true potential

        • Eric3555

          Bus is SLOW. And infrequent. And unreliable. And your route will likely be eliminated or restructured at some point in the next decade.

      • Ann Wimsatt

        Adding Metro Lines is an enormous undertaking. I had a meeting with two people from prominent STL corporations and suggested that they start running Tech Commuter Buses for their millennials recruits. Tech buses are a stop gap method for allowing young workers to live in the inner city and get to work without driving–and with WIFI and brekkie. Theoretically, St Louis could increase its millennial population even further by offering courtesy Tech Bus commutes.

        Wildly, neither of these two business leaders had even heard of the Google bus.

        http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2014/01/visual-study-just-how-bad-tech-shuttles-are-san-francisco/8221/

    • Ann Wimsatt

      It would be interesting to do a survey about where the Highland’s residents work because The Highlands seems like a good choice for someone who commutes a decent distance by car. It is a lower-crime-stats alternative to the CWE or Tower Grove and it is probably a (boomer-parent approved) alternative to the more sedate Wydown Forest.

      Kudos to the developers for getting modern and colorful. Also, the developers are also running an interesting retail program. Yoga Six and Comet Coffee are leaders in their categories in STL. Both are outstanding retailers with flocks of loyal millennial customers.

  • matimal

    How is the walkability of this development? From the photos, pedestrian access looks difficult.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Well, there’s no access to the south and no sidewalk to the west. This is an inward looking development, but as noted, there’s as much to walk to here as many STL neighborhoods – Comet Coffee (awesome), Jimmy John’s, a bar…access to Forest Park isn’t great, but it is just across the highway.

  • dempster holland

    Not to quibble, but what is the rationale for no access to and from the south or
    to and from the community colege to the east?

    • Alex Ihnen

      Traffic. The neighbors to the south didn’t want more cars on their street and the developer didn’t want non-residents or workers cutting through the area.

  • Moe

    I think a great selling point for this area as a whole would be another pedestrian crossing into Forest Park to the north.

  • Jonathan

    I’m guessing you’re not from St. Louis. The Highlands were on the grounds of Forest Park Community College; and where’d you like to play soccer, that’s where the Arena sat. Nothing there, where the Arena was, is suiting; although it would have been nice for them to outline where the walls and rink was.

    • Adam

      not sure whom you’re addressing, but the author (Mark) is aware of the site’s history: Cheltenham neighborhood (same author). also, i’m pretty sure it was never part of SLCC’s grounds. part of it was home to the Forest Park Highlands amusement park and part of it was home to the Coliseum/Checkerdome/Arena and accompanying buildings.

    • Adam

      sorry, “Cheltenham neighborhood” in my previous post was supposed to be a link to http://nextstl.com/2011/08/cheltenham/. there’s a link to the same page in the first sentence of this article.

  • Jonathan

    I’m guessing you’re not from St. Louis. The Highlands were on the grounds of Forest Park Community College; and where’d you like to play soccer, that’s where the Arena sat. Nothing there, where the Arena was, is suiting; although it would have been nice for them to outline where the walls and rink was.