14 Story, 200 Unit Infill Proposed for Optimist Site in Central West End

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4494 Lindell proposal - St. Louis, MO

The next phase of Central West End Development starts now. A proposal by Covington Realty Partners of Clayton envisions razing the existing Optimist International headquarters building at the corner of Taylor Avenue and Lindell Boulevard in the city’s Central West End. A $50M, 14-story, 200-unit apartment building would rise in its place.

Resident parking would be built on several levels and be hidden from the street. The available rendering shows parking access from the existing rear alley. The developer envisions a more contemporary design than recent proposals offering faux historic finishes, or brick facades to mirror the area’s most common building material.

Located along the proposed Lindell streetcar line, the development could add 300 people to a two-block area already set to welcome up to a thousand new residents in the next 18 months. The site of more than a billion dollars in development in addition to the billion dollars of expansion planned by the nearby medical center, the city’s central corridor appears to be starting a new phase of development. To date, infill projects have been focused on vacant lots or underutilized buildings.

The Park East Tower was built on a parking lot. Two apartment buildings with awkward retail space made way for the new BJC headquarters. The Doctor’s Building was demolished, and combined with a large adjacent parking lot to make way for the mixed-use building that will be home to a Whole Foods. Further east, a gas station has made way for apartments. The 4643 Opus project will replace a two-story vacant office building.

CityWalk on Euclid - St. Louis, MO{City Walk is currently under construction nearby at Euclid and West Pine Avenues}

These haven’t been particularly disruptive developments. There have been few hard choices, other than materials used, parking options, and the like. Now, as development heats up and land prices increase, buildings in use for decades and still in use today will be targeted for redevelopment. Proposals to replace other buildings are currently being considered by developers.

The recent 4643 Lindell proposal was put through the wringer by an active neighborhood advisory group (ultimately forcing the developer to add a full level of additional parking) that expressed concerns about material choices, windows, streetscape design, and mostly parking. The Covington proposal is unlikely to be met with the same type of scrutiny south of Lindell, where the project falls within the purview of the Park Central Development Corporation.

4643 Lindell - The Opus Group{the 4643 proposal by Opus eventually won approval from neighborhood residents}

With no retail, significant parking allocated for residents, fewer NIMBYS, and a development corporation that gave a project like Aventura the green light, the project may win official approval quickly. There will, however, be opposition. The Optimist International building is recognized as a quality example of Mid-Century Modern architecture. The style has become the focus of preservation efforts in St. Louis, with the city recently funding a survey of MCM architecture.

Immediately across the street from the proposed development is a surface parking lot owned by the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It was once the site of the MCM San Luis apartments. Preservationists fought to preserve that building and the effort raised awareness of the significant MCM legacy on Lindell. The San Luis was demolished in 2009.

The Optimist International headquarters consists of two buildings, the older of which dating from 1961, is a Neo-Expressionist building designed by the firm Schwarz & Van Hoefen. An addition was constructed in 1979. It seems likely that the city’s Cultural Resources Office would recommend preservation of the building as it is considered to contribute to the Central West End Local Historic District. Such a recommendation has not always swayed the city’s Preservation Board, which can vote to take or leave the CRO recommendation.

3494 Lindell Boulevard - St. Louis, MO{the Optimist International headquarters at 4494 Lindell – image by Toby Weiss}

The developer has previously presented the outline of the proposal to Park Central and nextSTL is told that the refined proposal will be presented to that organization’s development committee next week. If it finds support here, the CRO would present a recommendation to the Preservation Board, and consider public testimony.

While preservationists and urbanists often huddle under the same umbrella in St. Louis, proposals like this are likely to find widely varying opinions. Here, preservation has most often been the best option for the urban environment, as a demolished building is frequently replaced with a parking lot, grass, or a fountain. It’s been noted that the San Luis, as well as the Midtown Saucer building, which was saved from the landfill, are not urban structures.

In the next phase of development in the city, as more difficult decisions are presented, tough choices will be required, and prioritizing patterns of development will be necessary in a way not currently familiar in St. Louis. Many of the easy decisions have been made, but proposals like this one will demand new conversations and force residents to choose what type of city St. Louis will become.

4494 Lindell proposal - St. Louis, MO


Update 05/08/14

At its meeting last night, the Park Central Development Corporation’s Central West End-Midtown Development Committee endorsed the Covington proposal above. However, the group declined to support tax abatement, and is asking that financing and a building permit be acquired before demolition of the existing Optimist International building begins. The decision is meant to allow the development to move forward, but not subsidize the demolition of a recognized Mid-Century Modern landmark. It’s unclear at this point whether the developer is prepared to move forward without subsidies.


The blue circle represents the Covington proposal at Lindell at Taylor:

4494 Lindell Boulevard Request for Demolition by nextSTL.com

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  • Don

    My only criticism of this first proposal is the lack of sidewalk access on Taylor. I’d like to see a design that would encourage retail in the future for at least some of the space. I’m assuming the space now is meeting rooms/ group rooms, gym, etc. That’s all important, but so is at least the possibility of retail in the future.

    This is just the first proposal and I expect push back from CRO with the preservation board weighing in, and the usual suspects from the neighborhood complaining about this or that. I hope for ultimate approval with the Taylor elavation open to future retail.

  • opendorz

    It’s great to see another high-rise dwelling proposed for STL, but alas it’s also another rectangle with little or no architectural imagination. I wish some developer would design and build something truly inspiring that would set a higher bar for what passes as acceptable.

  • DanieljSTL

    I hate seeing historic buildings razed, especially when there are plenty of vacant lots and not so historic properties that can be used instead. That statement applies to all properties in STL, unless, of course, the subject property is mid-century modern. I know it’s an important period of design, but I feel that anything that was created after the 1940’s can easily be recreated today. In my opinion, there’s nothing majestic about metal wrapped windows and straight vertical and horizontal stucco lines. Any contractor today could recreate the MCM look with little effort.

    It’s the gothic, victorian, georgian, and art-deco (I’m missing a few periods) properties that need to be preserved. There are few tradesmen left who can reproduce some of the facade artwork and interior millwork we see in so many beautiful properties in STL.

    Imagine the cost to reproduce a building like STL City Hall today…. Or some of the churches, or CWE mansions… Are there even enough skilled tradesmen left who could pull it off? Is there enough old-growth quartersawn red oak left to pull off an elaborate foyer like the ones that graced every mansion and commercial property through the 1930s?

    If this one is torn down for the purpose of redevelopment, count me in as someone who won’t be lined up with a “Save The Optimist Int’l” poster on demo day. I’ll be across the street cheering on the wrecking ball in the name of urban progress.

    • Alex Ihnen

      An interesting take on the demarcation of skilled labor v. mechanized architecture. It’s easy to see that some valuation like this could define preservation going forward. Maybe also worth noting that culturally, “preservation” has different meanings. In many places buildings are rebuilt several times from the ground up and are considered preserved. In the US, we equate original with preservation.

      • DanieljSTL

        I read on through the comments and understand your point about earlier designs (victorian, etc.) looking boring and ugly years ago. Maybe it’s because we see so much of these still that they don’t seem significant.

        To me, it’s more about intelligent design, vs. something that looks like any 8th grader could recreate with a ruler and pencil.

        http://www.oldhouseguy.com/ does a great job of explaining the aesthetics of architecture, and why older houses and buildings catch our eyes as unique and “fancy” vs. newer methods of construction. See his take on windows and siding.

  • imran

    According to the business journal article, there will be a below grade parking garage with 300 spots. Yaay for below grade parking. Not so much for losing a unique building.

  • JCougar

    I’m fine with this. I lived next door for three years. I don’t have anything against preservation per se, but I just happen to find the MCM style very unattractive in general. Also, the bushes in front of this building and the charcoal-colored brick wall were never maintained very well. Dead bushes, cracking wall…it really made the whole corner unattractive.

  • KAS

    Is that a pool in the reflection of the south tower? Count me in.

  • dylanized

    They should make the new skyscraper mimic the Optimist’s styling. That would be super funky.

    • KAS

      I thought the same thing but if you look closely at the first floor rendering, it is actually pretty funky, and looks like 1961. I might really like this building. Sad to see the Optimist building go.

  • Presbyterian

    I like the Optimist building a lot. But we need density. Just require a building permit before demolition.

  • Just asking

    Omitted from article was if the project was market rate or tax incentivized out my ear to make it happen.

  • Jason Stokes

    I’m all for saving MCM architecture when possible. However, given the massive change in scale and scope – a small building changing into a 14 story building – do it. There may be better corners – including those with parking lots, but adding this level of density is worth it.

    Or just build it on the church’s parking lot across the street.

    • Presbyterian

      I believe the developer tried for the lot across the street. Unfortunately, the archdiocese wouldn’t sell.

      • m

        The archdiocese has their own plans to put a building there in the future.

  • John R

    I’d put the Optimists Building in the underutilized column as with only 30 employees and the Optimists looking to downsize; perhaps better designed than the others that have already been replaced, but far from vibrant. Also, you can see the grain silo in the background of the rendering…. they should have shifted perspective a bit to the east and had the blue and yellow IKEA showing.


    A great addition to the CWE. When walking around that area, I can’t say I’ve really ever given two looks to the Optimist building, so I surely wouldn’t miss it. I wonder if, when all is said and done, they increase the height of this building. I believe both Opus and Mills both increased their floor counts, so maybe the demand will warrant this here. Would be pretty cool to have a 20 story building there.

    • john

      I’d love to see six levels of offices or classrooms added to it. Give even more reason for people to live there if they also worked there. Some retail would be good, too. I know this isn’t really a commercial strip like Euclid or S. Grand, but it would be nice for the nearby residents to have some kind of corner store. Hopefully they don’t take the restaurant route. Too many of those already.

      • John R

        I agree that it would be beneficial to have some commercial space. There is an architecture firm in the building across the street, and I think it would be great to have the Optimists have a new home on site… I believe they mentioned they wanted to stay in the area. Even just a small ground floor retail spot would add some street life as well.

        • John

          Especially if it were something really popular like Strange Donuts where the line is always out the door.

  • Dog town Dude

    I say build it. We need the density. More people on the street and buying local goods and services. Besides, I don’t think that there are very many people working in the Optimist building these days anyways. And does anyone know if the 4643 LINDELL Development is real? I thought that got passed months ago but there is nothing, absolutely no sign of anything about to happen on that property which tells me that something is not right. Did this project die AGAIN?

    • tpekren

      Post Dispatch article quoted the developer that Optimist have 30 people working in the building and wanting to sell and relocate to a smaller office space in CWE. Assume quote it pretty much accurate considering how fast this is moving.

    • jhoff1257

      4643 is very much real and happening. Just went through a long approval process. These things take time, especially when local residents put it through the ringer several times.

  • m

    I say build it. I am a preservationist and urbanist. I personally think that mcm architecture is ugly and not worth preserving. I think we should stick to preserving older and more historic styles.

    • john w.

      Then you’re not a preservationist.

      • Framer

        Yep. It’s important to understand that Mid Century Modern has itself become an “older and more historic style”. If we tear it all down now, then the next generation will be pulling their hair out wondering why we let it happen, just like many of us today lament the loss of so much of our early 20th Century artchitecture. After all, people used to consider Victorian architecture “ugly and not worth preserving”.

        • Alex Ihnen

          We absolutely shouldn’t tear it all down. We also shouldn’t preserve it all. The question, as always, is what to preserve and what to replace. Cities can’t be static, and it would appear that there may be less architecture from the 70s-90s that we will want to save in the future, but who knows. Everything built is a good example of something. We lament its passing, but perhaps the bigger issue is whether a development creates a more economically sustainable, vibrant city. It’s tough in St. Louis where preservation hasn’t often run counter to urbanism since proposals to replace historic buildings has more recently been total schlock.

          • John

            Given how many parking lots the CWE still has, it’s shocking that so much of the new construction there is replacing buildings instead.

          • Don

            The Park East Tower was built on a parking lot.

            The City Walk/ Whole Foods development is being built on a lot 2/3 vacant and 1/3 occupied by an old Soviet style medical arts building that was 2/3 vacant and had no future. Without question, this development is the highest and best us of that space.

            4643 Lindell is being built on one of the most valuable corners in the city that has been under-utilized for decades and abandoned for at least 5 years. Again, the density this development brings is without question the highest and best use of that land and an easy trade for the current building.

            Granted, if Covington gets built, buildings will be demolished but they are currently mostly abandoned and very undesirable from a functional point of view (see my earlier comment). Again, this development would bring much needed density to one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the city. It’s a no-brainer from a highest and best use perspective.

            The lot across the street is not, and never will be an option. This lot sits on the Cathedral campus and the Archdiocese will NEVER part with it. Every. Never. The Church got exactly what they wanted when they created that lot and until they want something else, Surface lot it shall remain.

            In all of these examples the City had traded very under-utilized buildings for major high-density developments that will all be major revenue generators for the city.

            Shocking? That seems a little strong.

          • John

            Yes, shocking. Technically, City Walk is replacing an 11-story building that was demolished for a 35-story building. There are lots all over the neighborhood that need to go. I am not upset that these unremarkable, small buildings such as this or the vacant bank are going. Still, there are gargantuan parking lots at even higher-profile corners than this that should be developed sooner than later. Shoot, even right next to this building is a lot. Another one is of course the SW corner of Lindell and Euclid.

            The cumshot of them all, of course, is the intersection of Lindell and Kingshighway. That one should not be the site of any of the currently proposed CWE towers, though. No, that one should be saved for a landmark structure that will transform the CWE skyline.

          • Don

            It would be wonderful to see the lot on the south-west corner of Euclid at Lindell be developed. It is currently a part of Kindred Hospital facility. But I don’t see how that makes the development of the north-west corner –underutilized for decades and now home to a vacant building — shocking.

            As I’ve said before, the lot on the north-west corner of Taylor at Lindell is not now, and will not ever be available for development by anyone but the Archdiocese. That lot sites on their Cathedral campus and it is exactly what they want it to be today.

            The Optimist building does not have a bright future. It’s an out-dated narrow-windowed split level structure competing in a city with a glut of much, much nicer and more functional office space. There is a reason only 30 people currently work in that building and they are moving.

            I agree that the lot on Kingshighway needs to be saved for something very special — more than a typical apartment development.

            It’s easy to make the perfect solution an enemy of the good, but it’s not productive. The CWE, like the rest of the city, needs residential density. In each of the above cases, the City is trading under performing and out-dated buildings for much higher density uses that will reap the city and the neighborhood financial rewards. Each case is a very good thing.

          • Steve Kluth

            I’m another who won’t miss the Optimist building. I’m also not as concerned as much about whether the new building fits the CWE as Lindell probably has the most eclectic mix of styles in the whole metro. Well, at least as long as it’s interesting. I don’t want an ugly box.

            Also, if the diocese really wants a nice corner to show off the cathedral they should make the corner a nice park and bury the parking like the block south of BJC. There really is no park you can walk to in the CWE unless you’re brave enough to cross Kingshighway on foot.

          • Don

            Very well said.

            The simple truth is that the split-level, narrow windowed Optimist Building is unappealing from a functional perspective in a city with a glut of much nicer office space that can be had inexpensively. No one would willingly locate their offices in that building, and deal with choosing which employees go into the basement with no views and who gets the no views above ground and which principals don’t get corner offices.

            To turn down the kind of density that this development brings to save the current structure is akin to cutting one’s nose off to spit one’s face. It’s just not a reasonable choice.