In St. Louis, Houses Vacant for Decades are Turning Into $370,000 Homes

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4159 McRee - St. Louis, MO

Why can’t we stop talking about the UIC Botanical Grove project? Because it’s exactly the type of incremental, varied, and thoughtful development that builds a sustainable and vibrant city. There’s no clear cutting of existing buildings. There’s no closing streets. Empty lot by long vacant building, UIC is remaking what locals know as McRee Town. The next transformation will be 4159 McRee, vacant since at least 1993.

Several years ago McRee Town was nowhere, a few city blocks north to south, stuck between Interstate 44 and extensive rail yards. It’s eastern half, six city blocks, was razed for 122 new single family homes and another 21 rowhomes. A dozen or more lots remain undeveloped. While successful in some measure, the development removed varied uses, corner stores, and historic buildings – exactly what gives the development of the same footprint to the west its energy.

4159 McRee - St. Louis, MO

4159 McRee - St. Louis, MO

For those familiar with the area, it can be a bit surreal to walk along Tower Grove Avenue, or McRee and not see an empty parking space, to view a packed wine bar, a sought after Montessori School and French patisserie. The city is undoubtedly changing, and it can be too much to really get a handle on at times.

Then one focuses on a single building and realizes that a house vacant since at least 1993 has been pre-sold and will see a top to bottom complete renovation. If we need reminding, the city’s asset is the built environment, buildings that can stand entirely neglected for 21 years (and often longer), and be brought back to life. The current societal environment that makes this possible is what’s transforming St. Louis.

There’s a growing market for urban living, but projects like this wouldn’t be possible without a visionary developer, a buyer that believes in the future of the city, and of course, historic tax credits. Big changes are coming to St. Louis, but if you get a chance, drive by 4159 McRee and take a moment to consider how unlikely and transformative a single building can be.

4159 McRee - St. Louis, MO

Another recent rehab by UIC in Botanical Heights:

UIC Botanical Grove rehab

UIC Botanical Grove rehab

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  • Chris Naffziger

    I’m sure people will bemoan the gentrification of McRee Town, but my God, did anyone see that neighborhood before UIC started? It was a horrible place, and many of its residents no doubt would agree, and left, as the abandoned building attests. Are we to leave McRee Town the way it was out of some sort of sense of social justice against gentrification? Or do we work to rebuild the tax base of the city by renovating houses that sell for $370K? That house will pay a lot of taxes over the next fifty years, taxes that will hopefully go to everyone in the city.

    • m

      St. Louis needs gentrification. And it’s coming fast, so watch out folks! We’re cleaning up the city!

      • dempster holland

        don’t forget the help from the rest of us through tax credits and other
        financial assistance

        • matimal

          Is that the same “rest of us” who receive billions in mortgage interest deductions and depend on roads your gas taxes don’t remotely pay for? A thank you to the carless Americans and foreign bond buyers who DO pay for your roads AND mortgages would be nice instead of ungrateful snipping. You can’t keep getting more than you pay forever, dempster.

          • dempster holland

            Gentrifiers who own homes also get the mortgage interest
            deduction and if they own cars also benefit from roads.
            No need to get upset when I point out an additional bene-
            fit given to people who spend substantial funds on fixing
            up old properties

          • matimal

            It’s not about who benefits, its about who pays. St. Louis declined because people could benefit from it without paying for it by moving beyond city borders. Much of St. Louis’ problems were NOT of its own making. St. Louis has to try to make up for the outside disadvantages of subsidized mortgages and roads.

    • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

      Pretty amazing turn around in the works. I look forward to the day when there’s a consistent connection from the deep southside, through TGS/Tower Grove Park, up Tower Grove Ave. in McRee, FPSE,The Grove and onward into the CWE and a reinvented Forest Park Parkway and Cortex district.

      I really don’t hear a lot of cries of “gentrifiers!” in STL. And never in relation to UIC’s McRee Town revitalization. Maybe I’ve got my ear in the wrong place? Or, more likely, maybe folks in St. Louis don’t see it as the disruptive, displacive force it’s considered elsewhere.

    • matimal

      who is bemoaning ‘gentrification’ in St. Louis? I’ve never heard any such thing.

    • moe

      I agree. It was roughshod neighborhood for sure and it’s revitalization came about from a number of parties working together….McBride, City, MoBot, TGE, Southwest Gardens, etc.
      However, well $370 is great for the seller and for many, it’s not always best for the long-term, usually elderly residents of older neighborhoods as their values and property taxes rise. And with the fools in Jeff City attempting to cut the Circuit Breaker program, many are in danger. One can look at that as good picking for developers and new buyers or bad news for the poorer residents.
      A fine line indeed. It just demonstrates that there is no best answer for the question: is this good or bad.

  • John R

    I’d love to see a lot of the energy of McRee and Tower Grove also hit 39th Street and the Tiffany neighborhood. Also, I think the old Liggett Tobacco complex one day could make for a fascinating redevelopment opportunity.

  • Brian Ballok

    It is definitely a different feeling, this notion of gentrification in St. Louis. I think Chris is touching on the outlying problems that surround the realities of displacement that communities nationwide are experiencing. The very mention of the word is a catch all for irresponsible community development, one that, in most urban areas, connotes a specific demographic. What is true, in terms of what Alex alludes to from his title posting, is that an absolute planetary difference in housing affordability may not be the best way to reintegrate a vacant neighborhood into the diverse city neighborhood fabric that exists in St. Louis.

  • pat

    While it’s great what UIC is doing, but it’s naïve to think that any of what they are doing would be possible without what McBride and Sons did!

    • John R

      Cities sure are complicated creatures. Regardless of whether that development was a good, bad or mixed thing, it happened. And we’re fortunate that some very creative people came in to make the broken remainder of the neighborhood a special place.

      • Pat

        It’s just the headline trumpets the rehab effort which is great, but it misses that the market still wants new. McBride and Sons sold out in one day. It was developed almost 10 years ago and is ready to come off of tax abatement. The residents have been paying taxes and supporting local businesses since. UIC has been working almost since the new homes were built and in a few years might complete the second half of the neighborhood. Something radical with mass had to be done, but this article reads like it is dissing the new development.

  • rgbose

    I think there’s a lot of room in St. Louis between buildings falling down and people being pushed out of neighborhoods.

  • WhatWouldLouTheszDo?

    Lived at 4162 McRee from 72-84. Took from 75-84 to go from ideal area to war zone. And 30yrs to even begin to return. Lesson. Preserve what you have. Its easily lost and extremely difficult to reclaim. The stories I could share. And im only 43.

  • WhatWouldLouTheszDo?

    Thank you UIC for what your doing. I live in Tower Grove Heights now but have joked for years that someday I wouldnt be able to afford the old hood..lol.Even trade right now?