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

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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}

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    It would be cool to see that area actually built & not under construction. I just don’t want to see a bunch of 4 & 5 floor low rises put up because they will just get torn down when more people inevitably move to STL. If it becomes a better area, demand will go up to live there. I am sure St Louis will eventually be fully urbanized (it is a lot now) but I see nothing but potential. I have been here 31 years, always potential, slow progress.

  • Steve Kluth

    The elevated and depressed lanes connecting the north and south sides of the city are not going away. That being said, I agree the on-off ramps linking the MLK bridge should be removed as there are other ways to get to/from 70 northwest and the new bridge better connects Illinois in that direction. A roundabout at the west end of the bridge and redesigning the streets connecting it to downtown could better direct traffic locally and also better connect car and bicycle traffic through the area. Most of the late night entertainment district has moved west along Washington Avenue and that movement should be encouraged by eliminating the 3 PM bar time (grandfathering current businesses for a few years). The Landing could then transition to a commercial/ residential district that is more an extension of downtown. All non-historic buildings below First Street should be removed (it’s flood plain) along with all parking and replaced as parkland. New buildings should be built over the surface lots with any new parking garages hidden from view as much as possible by commercial or residential uses facing the streets.

    • STLEnginerd

      “All non-historic buildings below First Street should be removed (it’s
      flood plain) along with all parking and replaced as parkland.”

      Why? Particularly the Parking Garage between Commercial and Sullivan as that is the only non historic structure I know of. Parking garage like it could satisfy much of the parking needs currently provided by the surface lots. And it would be much better than the proposed garage on 4th. The land is only useful as either parkland or parking because of flooding issues but why shouldn’t it be used as parking then.

      1st street and Commercial are both well above any practicle flood stage. Even if you conclude that parking below commercial is not desired, why not just make them raise the foundations to that level instead of mandating parkland? Lacledes landing is not struggling for lack of green space. It’s problems are it isolation and too much parking.

      “Most of the late night entertainment district has moved west along
      Washington Avenue and that movement should be encouraged by eliminating
      the 3 PM bar time (grandfathering current businesses for a few years).”

      Or they could just give everything in Downtown the 3PM option… or 24 hrs for that matter.

  • STLEnginerd

    Why is it the main thrust of the plans seem to be focused on tearing down EXISTING garages, and then rebuilding them somewhere else.

    Then Arch garage is one example. The conversation goes like this.

    “We have to tear down this garage its a barrier no one will build if its there.”

    “OK we can tear down paid for infrustructure so you can see the value and invest here.”

    “Well there won’t be enough parking. WE CAN’T build without parking.”

    Lets assume we grant this premise (which I don’t) why are they also planning to tear down the garage between commercial and sullivan. Due to occasional flooding the land isn’t much good to anyone for commercial purposes, which is why the garage makes sense there as evidenced by the renderings massive setbacks from the railroad track, and what appear the be retaining walls/ platforms. (rendered in white)

    In fact based on the rendering it appears that the commericial street entrance to the landing will be closed… WTF!!!!! So MILLIONS will be spent to add ONE connection from the Landing to the Arch (at 1st street) Seriously for the money the city/region will spend on this they could build 3-4 residential/mixed use buildings on the vacant land in the landing with 100% public money, and they would have better results. Its maddness.

    Not to mention there is NO ASSURANCE that any construction will happen once the garages are gone, only vague proposals. (BPV Redux anyone?)

    I am all for an equally sizable proposal to improve the landing (*cough* elavated lanes *cough*) but this proposal is the parking equivalent to rearranging the deck chair on the titanic. This won’t stop the iceberg.

    “Stupidity is doing the same thing more than once and expecting different results” – Albert Einstien

  • Colleen Kirby

    I work in an office on The Landing and I want to be optimistic about things, but we’ve got a long way to go. Connectivity is a HUGE concern, we’ve permanently lost a ton the past several months and will be dealing with temporary losses for a few more years yet during CAR. Until access in/out and parking is addressed once the Arch garage goes, development is likely to be slow. We do have a beautiful office, affordable too, with lovely wood beams, exposed brick, large windows. I used to really enjoy it down here, but the last year has been jackhammers, closed streets, and utility shutoffs. Again, I’d like to be optimistic about what will be when it’s finally “finished” and individual investors arrive. I hope this wasn’t just a ton of wasted time and money.

    But I’ve always found it telling that the area hasn’t even been able to sustain an actual souvenir shop. There was something along those lines about 7 years ago in Metro’s building but it closed. I am almost embarrassed when I see families and tourists walking around. There’s just about nothing to do. Wander the semi-desolate streets. Admire the architecture, sure. Even the frozen yogurt shop couldn’t make it with all the construction. And there’s basically no reason to walk down here if you live/work in downtown proper especially having to crossing under the ominous highway (and good luck finding the safest spot to do so).

    We will see how the next couple years develop…

  • MikeKay

    Chattanooga, TN has a great downtown on the Tennessee River with a walking bridge going over the river; a great (and I might add safe) vibe all around. Nice boutique shops and condos facing the river. I hope Laclede’s landing will be somewhat family-friendly too.

  • tpekren

    OK, need Geoff’s teaser on this one. This is the first I have heard of four possible residential developments/proposals, rehab and new construction. Certainly aware, like many, of Drury’s proposed or possible tower and the fact that they were chosen to develop the Arch Grounds replacement garage. I assume the hotel being referred to the Drury proposed tower.
    So who are the others? What is Tropicana’s stake in all this now that they are the hotel/casino owner. Will they make an effort to reinvest? Finally, some discussion on various forums of Koman working on something, could it be for the Landing?

  • Don

    The Landing needs a transient boat dock. It’s really shocking that one of the most celebrated river cities in the country with the third largest inland port in the U.S. offers no dockage for pleasure craft coming up and down the river. Every other river city has a place to dock, and it’s crazy we don’t. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Minneapolis, even Alton, offer great places for transient boaters to dock, fuel and stay for a few days. We’ve got nothing.

    The landing with the casino and arch is an obvious location for such a dock. In fact, the old floating casino structure could make a location.

    Many more houseboats go up and down the river in the summer months than most appreciate because St Louis offers no safe harbor we never see them.

    • Woody

      I couldn’t agree more with what you have just said. At the risk of just repeating you, it is truly insane that a city built on the river and travel-by-boat has nothing to show for it in terms of an actual dock.

  • Pick Your Battles

    Now that the Musial bridge has opened, why does the MLK bridge still need free-flow ramps in Downtown? If the elevated lanes can’t come down yet, at least humanize the streets beneath it linking Downtown with The Landing.

  • brian

    Laclede’s Landing is a mess right now and I don’t think the CAR project is going to help it at all.

    I know the old days of the Landing get a bad rep from some, but it was a happening place with local businesses. It was the place for local music. Then came the Planet Hollywood, Bar, etc and the place lost a lot of what made it what it was. The casino really brought the death blow when it forced the closing of Mississippi Nights.

  • Adam

    “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.”

    I don’t get it. Beale Street and Bourbon Street aren’t mixed-use residential neighborhoods. They’re entertainment districts. So is the Landing going to continue to be an entertainment district, or is it going to be a mixed use neighborhood? I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live on Beale Street or Bourbon Street (though I’m sure others would). I don’t think either has a significant residential population. It sounds like there either isn’t a clear vision for the Landing, or Mr. Cherry isn’t expressing it very well. Or maybe he’s just trying to make it sound like anything anybody might ever want for marketing purposes.

    • Don

      I don’t know about Beale, but the French Quarter is certainly mixed use residential including Bourbon Street itself past St Anne. The 6 or 7 blocks of Bourbon from Canal to St Anne (strip club after strip club and frat boy bars) isn’t residential but it’s surrounded by residential including Royal and Dauphine. Next time youre in the quarter walk all the way down Bourbon to Esplanada and you will see the all residential part of Bourbon. Or take a cyber walk via Google Earth.,-90.064511,3a,75y,207.72h,87.43t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sCZq7DEma1I1kj0i-7pj35g!2e0

      Of course the Landing is very small compared to the FQ, so there is much less room with which to work, but I think residential is a good idea. Washington Ave was just a place for whores and drug dealers until people started living there. Retail follows rooftops.

      I personally think the Landing will remain stunted until the elevated lanes are removed. It’s time for the stakeholders to make their voice heard.

      • Adam

        Sure, I have no doubt that Bourbon Street transitions to mixed use/residential somewhere along its length. But since Mr. Cherry brought it up along side Beale Street I imagine he’s referring to the touristy stretch with bars/music/debauchery.

      • Adam

        Oh, and I should clarify that I don’t recall seeing much if any residential during my limited interaction with Beale Street a number of years ago but I could be mistaken. Or things may have changed.

    • tpekren

      Don’t know Beale street at all but have had way too many drunken stupors on Bourbon street, in the past and recent. My recent experience is that Bourbon Street has become a place for the convention crowd to freely get drunk, listen to cover music that sounds great when your actually drunk and every drunken man feels like he is king for the night by all the solicitations from the strip joint gals. The best part, the more you drink on the street the more you can ignore the mess it really is, that doesn’t include the filth on the street itself. Hopefully that is not the impression being sought for Laclede’s Landing.

  • Umm, Alex? You failed to ask the most important question!!!

    Do the Landing’s stakeholders want the elevated lanes removed?! If so, what are they doing to express that desire at local and state leadership levels?

    I know a few years back CityToRiver had a wellspring of support from owners/tenants east AND west of the elevated lanes [particularly impressed with whoever wrote that LLMA letter of support…:)].

    I’m curious if that’s still the case…

    • Alex Ihnen

      It’s hard to see all the development shown in the TOD images without highway removal. That whole effort got pummeled, crushed, defeated, and delayed by CityArchRiver. It’s yet to be seen if stakeholders will revive it once CAR is considered done.

  • T-Leb

    Believe it when I see it. Projects I worked on during summers in college are rehabbed and still sit vacant from what I can tell.

  • Presbyterian

    Laclede’s Landing has some pretty incredible potential. I’m excited to hear it’s transitioning into a true mixed-use neighborhood. And I look forward to hearing more about that residential component. The Landing could be a truly amazing place to live!