UrbanStreet to Seek Demo at 10th & Locust

917-921 Locust Street - St. Louis, MO

Years ago now, the Roberts brothers planned to demolish the two buildings at the northeast corner of Tenth Street and Locust downtown. Their initial plans were revised and revised again. Their last effort would have constructed a two-story lobby and entrance on 10th, representing a reasonably urban corner, though introducing a guest drop-off driveway as well. Needless to say, that plan disappeared along with the Roberts empire.

Enter UrbanStreet. Their purchase of a set of Roberts downtown buildings was good news as it seemed several languishing properties would finally recevied needed attention. The Roberts Tower will become 132 rental units (instead of the 55 condos once envisioned), the Mayfair will be renovated and possibly sold to the boutique Magnolia Hotel chain, Roberts Lofts have been rebranded the Lofts at OPOP (Old Post Office Plaza), and UrbanStreet is seeking a partner to run the shuttered Orpheum Theatre. What's missing so far is the fate of the buildings on Locust adjacent to the Lofts at OPOP and spanning the block from Ninth to 10th Street. According to comments in the Post-Dispatch, UrbanStreet will seek demolition of two buildings on Locust.

In a presentation to the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, UrbanStreet outlined development plans as part of a request for tax abatement on their newly acquired downtown property. According to the P-D, the company stated two of the four structures are in “demolition condition”. The developer's legal representative in St. Louis, Bill Kuehling is reported to have said the small building at 10th and Locust streets “is a pretty hopeless case” and needs to be demolished. There was no indication what might replace the corner and adjacent building.

The Tudor-styled building is something of a landmark downtown due to its uniqueness. But what's more important is its presence as a corner anchor at one of the very few intersections downtown that is fronted by buildings at all four corners. The building's demise would be a setback for the walkable, human-scale environment. These types of buildings, and this setting is all too rare in downtown. Of course the conversation could be altered by whatever is proposed as a replacement, but anything other than an attractive replacement should be rejected. At the time of the CVS proposal to demolish the Lindell AAA building, Mayor Slay weighed in, stating, "I believe that the loss of any distinctive element of our built environment must be justified by a new good at least its equal." That would seem to be a fair yardstick to use here.

Bob Burke, Partner at UrbanStreet addressed the Downtown St. Louis Residents Association this Wednesday and mentioned the challenge posed by the Locust Street properties, but gave no indication that demolition would be sought without exploring other options. Burke told residents that the focus for the Locust properties would be to activate the middle building. He stated that of the properties acquired, Locust was the biggest puzzle and that UrbanStreet was exploring ways to activate the streetscape.

Demolishing a corner building and another without a better replacement would be an odd way to activate the streetscape, but what may be most disturbing is the nonsensical developer-speak used by UrbanStreet and Kuehling. What in the world is "demolition condition"? Such a moniker goes several levels beyond the standard "not feasible" label. And "a pretty hopeless case"? Please. Nearly every building that now contributes to the resurgence and vibrancy of downtown St. Louis was once (and likely twice or more) a pretty hopeless case. The developer must be held to a much higher standard and must be made to go beyond simply declaring that a valuable asset in our built environment is in "demolition condition".

Roberts_Hotel Indigo-Locust
{the Roberts brothers once envisioned demolition and new hotel entrance and lobby}

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