nextSTL Q&A with Ben Cherry on the Future of Laclede’s Landing

The Landing has seen a cycle of boom and bust over the past few decades. The only portion remaining of the city’s historic central riverfront, there’s just enough there that one can squint and perhaps imagine what the riverfront once was. While the half-billion dollar casino didn’t do much to revive its fortunes, the Landing may be on the verge of another boom. nextSTL recently sat down with Ben Cherry, a commercial real estate broker focused on Laclede’s Landing to get his view on the area’s potential.

Laclede's Landing cobble renovation{fresh cobbles will make navigating the landing by foot, or driving, a better experience}

nextSTL: Talk a bit about the most recent developments and how it affects efforts to create more variety of uses on the Landing.

Ben Cherry: The Landing is beginning the next phase of its development into a residential, office and commercial neighborhood. A few of the projects:

  • There are four different residential oriented projects in the works; including a building conversion and new construction – including a hotel project. We should know more about the plans soon, by summer 2014.
  • The CityArchRiver Project is spending $330M on the Arch grounds, bringing additional social function to within steps of the Landing
  • A $1.4M historical preservation grant has allowed the Landing to renovate all of N. Second Street, totally re-engineered cobblestone streets, new water lines, new fiber-optic conduit between buildings, rebuilt sidewalks, upgraded lighting, new trees, improved gutters and more
  • $60M is being spent by MODOT to rebuild Third Street, reverse off-ramps and on-ramps to Highway 70 and create a new green courtyard space in front of the Third Street buildings.
  • The CityArchRiver Project is spending $32M to re-build Leanor K. Sullivan Boulevard to include biek lanes and more pedestrian space
  • There is a new project being planned to add an additional parking structure within Laclede’s Landing to replace the current Arch Parking Lot. This will bring many of the Arch’s 3 million visitors and additional traffic into the Landing
  • The Eads Bridge is being renovated which will add to the historical ambiance of the Landing and make accessibility via MetroLink more attractive
  • If the new hotel project moves forward more than 50,000 customers could be introduced to the neighborhood each year

Laclede's Landing{a new parking garage is likely the first new development}

Render-Lacledeslanding{an old rendering shows a possible parking and residential development}

nextSTL: What are you anticipating for the Landing in 2014 in terms of leasing as well as development?

BC: As the Landing continues to grow into a multi-function neighborhood, including residential, office and commercial uses, we’ll see an increased amount of leasing activity. This may include an increase in leasing activity to markets that have previously targeted other areas. In addition to the new focus on residential projects, the Landing is perfectly suited to businesses that are now located in Illinois who want to have a downtown St. Louis presence. The hotel project has the potential to increase the visibility of the Landing and help spur additional interest. As the neighborhood grows and remaining vacancies are filled we’ll see leasing rates rise. The new multi-function tenancy will spark the need for different tenant-types including small convenience stores, coffee-shops, dry cleaners, bike rentals, souvenir shops, and more.

Additionally, Jill Beaverson was just hired as the Executive Director of the Landing Neighborhood Association.  Jill has an extensive background in economic development, having worked for the Chicago Office of Tourism, the Town of Taos in New Mexico, and several California wine brands and spas. She is also a former editor at AAA Midwest Traveler Magazine

nextSTL: What obstacles does the Landing face today and how do you approach them?

BC: There are three primary obstacles:

  • Ongoing infrastructure projects. Those noted above need to continue. Additional funding is being pursued to replicate the project now underway on N. Second Street for N. First Street. These physical improvements and better accessibility together with many of the others we’ve already completed, including a fenced dog-park, new signage, digital/podcast audio tour, improved lighting and new tree-lined sidewalks will be significant improvements.
  • Residential projects. We’ve been working hard on four residential oriented projects that will include the renovation of some of the largest buildings on the Landing and new construction. These will dramatically change the makeup of the Landing and create the balanced multi-use neighborhood that could establish the Landing as one of the most unique, diverse and interesting neighborhoods in the city.
  • Improving local and national economies. As the economy has been improving there is an expanded interest by businesses to invest in change and growth. The Landing, with its accessibility to downtown, Illinois, public transportation, highways, proximity to the casino, several hotels, and restaurants is already benefitting from the improving economic environment. The physical and foundational improvements underway put the Landing in a great position to capitalize on economic growth.

Laclede's Landing TOD{a recent TOD study highlights development possibilities}

nextSTL: You’re describing a different Landing than most are familiar with. Some remember Planet Hollywood and the area’s life as an entertainment hub, but most may consider it a sleepy corner of downtown today. How does this change?

BC: The combination of businesses moving to the Landing, the prospect of the Landing’s first residential project, all of the infrastructure projects underway in and around the Landing are a recipe for changing the Landing as we know it. Laclede’s Landing is where St. Louis was born and there’s no reason why it can’t be one of the most popular tourist attractions in our city. Laclede’s Landing in St. Louis has the potential to be what a Beale Street is to Memphis or what Bourbon Street is to New Orleans and with this renewed momentum underway, this new future may be very near.

North Gateway Wash Ave accessible path{the CityArchRiver project will bring the park closer to the Landing}

Laclede's Landing{rendering of possible residential infill north of the MLK bridge}

nextSTL: How do you see CityArchRiver’s impact on the Landing?

BC: CityArchRiver will help the Landing in a major way. The current Arch parking garage is a major barrier cutting off the Landing from the Arch grounds. Once that is torn down and trails are created, tourists can grab a bite at one of the Landing’s restaurants and then walk under Eads Bridge to visit the Arch. The whole concept behind the Arch Grounds project is to make the area more pedestrian friendly which is the same aim as Laclede’s Landing. The building owners and businesses on the Landing are looking to attract a more diverse customer base than in years past and this project will supplement that idea. The ball fields, amphitheater space and other features of the project will serve as “social spaces” to draw more people downtown.

nextSTL: What types of business are you targeting to bring to the Landing?

BC: The Landing is a great option for many different types of tenants. Since it was originally built as warehouse space serving the Mississippi River traffic, the spaces are large, loft-style environments—usually with high ceilings and lots of exposed brick. Unlike any other area in the region the Landing is a neighborhood where the historical buildings and streets have been married with modern improvements such as fiber-optic connectivity and easy access via several major highways, bridges and public transportation—including a MetroLink station. In the past year we’ve seen an increase in activity in creative/marketing firms, advertising, architectural and professional services industries. While we continue to see activity in those areas we’re also seeing more interest from regional and national retail businesses and expect the impending residential oriented projects to attract businesses such as a convenience store, art gallery, comedy club, coffee shop, breakfast café, dry cleaners, etc.

nextSTL: What is the next milestone the Landing needs to reach on its path to redevelopment?

BC: The completion of the construction project on N. Second Street and N. Third Street should be completed by August 2014, Leanor K. Sullivan should be done later in 2014. The CityArchRiver project should be done in early 2016. Each of these is a great foundational asset for the Landing. We expect to know more about the hotel project, new parking garage and additional residential projects in late summer or early fall. To help support all of this growth and improvement plans are moving forward to re-invent our existing Merchant’s Association into the Laclede’s Landing Neighborhood Association which will include residential, office and commercial tenants and building and land owners into one organization. This change just took place and Jill is assisting with the transition.  With changes in place, expect to double the number of events in 2015 as part of an expanded marketing and promotions plan.

Laclede's Landing TOD{another image from the recent TOD study}