Roberts Zombie Tower, other Downtown Properties Set for A New Life

Roberts Tower and Old Post Office Plaza - St. Louis, MO

It's likely been the most attractive zombie building in the Midwest since completion in 2010. The 25-story modern glass and concrete Roberts Tower creates a visually stunning facade with enough presence to balance the adjacent historic gravitas of the Old Post Office and Board of Education buildings. It is the first high-rise residential building contructed in downtown St. Louis since Mansion House in 1965. And to this point it's also been a failure. Now, an infusion of cash from two developers appears ready to reanimate the tower and other stalled Roberts Brothers projects.

According to the St. Louis Post-DisptachUrbanStreet Group, of Chicago, and North American Properties, of Cincinnati, are investing approximately $16.5 million in the residential tower, Roberts Mayfair Hotel, the Roberts Lofts on the Plaza and three empty buildings fronting Locust Street. The investment represents an investment and not a purchase of the properties in question, though details have not been disclosed. The $70M tower was put up for sale ealier this year. No asking price was made public.

The tower, once slated to become 55 luxury condominums, but never built out, will become 132 rental apartments. The condos were to range from 1,145 to 4,119 square feet. Squeezing the rental units into the building could be a challenge, but there is space for smaller units, popular in today's market. The building's footprint is listed as 7,000 square feet, resulting in perhaps as much as 140,000 livable square feet across floors 3-25.

{the Roberts Tower – the first residential project to change downtown's skyline since 1965 – photo by Flickr user goat314}

{the view looking east from the Roberts Tower's 25th story penthouse – photo by Frank DeGraaf}

Roberts Mayfair Tower_Frank DeGraaf
{the final result was as good or better than initial renderings – left photo by Frank DeGraaf}

The development plan for the tower is good news, as its 132 units may be added to the proposed 254 one and two bedroom units in the early stages of planning for the Arcade building and 120 units set for the Chemical Building. That's a total of 506 units added within one block of Old Post Office Square and within three blocks of the 8th & Pine MetroLink station. Downtown east of Tucker, in effect the core central business district, is home to 3,721 residents per the 2010 Census.

Roberts properties and residential conversion - STL
{the Roberts Tower will add 132 units, the Arcade building – 254, the Chemical Building – 120 and the Locust properties potentially more}

L&N - Chemical - Laclede Gas
{the Chemical Building (center) may be downtown's most attractive vacant building (it's not a Roberts Brothers property) – photo by Nick Findley}

The challenges faced by the Roberts Brothers empire have been well documented by the Post-Dispatch – foreclosures, failure to pay workers, lawsuits, bankruptcies, the sale of many hotel properties across the nation. A Shula's 347 even opened for a short time in the tower's commercial space before workers were no longer paid and it closed.  It's been an ugly couple years. Once brimming with big development plans, the brothers have more recently been restructuring and selling their holdings.

It remains unclear which, if any, properties have been sold and to what degree the Roberts maintain ownership. The Orpheum Theatre, once hosting the occasional event, sits empty. News of the recent investment dosen't mention the venue. The Roberts Mayfair hotel, adjoining the tower, is under new management by Rim Hospitality, their first property in Missouri, and a spokesperson for UrbanStreet has stated that an analysis of the development potential for the Locust Street properties is underway.

While the Tower and Mayfair are big news, it's the future of 917-923 Locust that could most change the physical appearance of downtown. In 2008, a Roberts proposal to demolish 919 and 923 Locust was approved by the city and a new driveway and lobby would have been built to service a hotel conversion of the larger 917 building. 917 Locust (the Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney Warehouse) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is eligible for historic tax credits. 919 and 923 are not listed, but are likely eligible as well. In September 2011 the three buildings were put on the market for a total of $3.75 million (917 Locust for $2.1 million, 919 Locust for $1.1 million and 923 Locust for $550,000). Now the buildings have a new owner, or at least financial support behind their redevelopment. With any luck, the new money will find a way to preserve all three.

917-921 Locust Street - St. Louis, MO
{from left to right – 923, 919 and 917 Locust Street}

Roberts_Hotel Indigo-Locust
{a Roberts Brothers Hotel Indigo proposal by Killeen Studio}

Roberts_Hotel Indigo-Locust3
{early sketches of once Roberts Brothers proposed Hotel Indigo by Killeen Studio}

Roberts_Hotel Indigo-Locust4
{floor plan from early Roberts Brothers plan for Hotel Indigo at 917-923 Locust Street}