Washington University Eyes Vacant Church’s Chicken Site for Next Loop Project

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According to nextSTL sources Washington University is working with a local design firm to envision a new future for the former Church’s Chicken lot on the southeast corner of Delmar and Skinker Boulevards in The Loop. Potential development of the prominent site has been discussed for decades.

Interest intensified after the fast food restaurant kicked the bucket in May of 2013. The property owner, represented locally by the St. Louis County Realty Company, has been exploring development plans and seeking a lease agreement with interested parties. A source close to the project told nextSTL that a deal is near, but details have yet to be finalized.

The owners were reportedly caught off guard when the Church’s franchisee bought out of the lease early. Once closed, the site was quickly enclosed by standard issue Washington University metal fencing. The building was entirely painted and local artist Peat Wollaeger was commissioned to adorn the facade with stenciled stained glass (get it? Church’s?). Peat was recruited to paint the construction wall of the nearby Lofts of Washington University project as well.

Untitled{after closing, the restaurant was painted, then decorated, and a fence went up quickly}

Early proposals for the property are said to be an eastward continuation of the school’s recent $80 million mixed-use student housing project a block to the west. The circa 1970 restaurant on the 0.42-acre lot would be demolished. According to a nextSTL source with knowledge of the planning process, the vision then calls for a mixed-use building to be built featuring underground parking with residential, retail, and possible office space.

The nearly completed $80 million mixed-use project by Washington University, is comprised of three residential apartment buildings for undergraduates on Enright Avenue. Two mixed-use buildings featuring 22,000 sq. ft. of ground-floor retail with apartments on the upper floor front Delmar Boulevard. The project includes living space for 600 students. Rent is approximately $12,500 per year for two or three-bedroom units with underground parking.

Architectural historian and director of the Preservation Research Office Michael Allen told nextSTL that the develop concept would be a significant improvement for the site. He also noted it holds some historical irony, “This would be a 180-degree turn across time for Washington University, which in the late 1960s tacitly supported the demolition of urban-scaled buildings at this intersection for a Danforth family-owned Jack-In-The-Box franchise. Alas, damage inflicted in the city fabric often takes decades to heal.”

Churchs Chicken_Delmar{last May the restaurant’s signs were taken down and the building emptied}

City of St. Louis records state the most recent property owners paid $390,000 for the Church’s parcel in November of 2006. Those records have mistakenly listed Church’s Chicken franchisee Falcon Holdings as the owner for years. Some still remember this particular sale as “eminent Joemain” gone awry. It has long been rumored that Loop patriarch Joe Edwards offered significantly more for the property, before he was inexplicably rebuffed.

Edwards owns numerous properties along Delmar in The Loop, including Blueberry Hill, the Pageant, Pin-Up Bowl, Moonrise Hotel, historic Wabash Railroad Station, and others. In 2013 the city collected $12,206.32 in taxes on the lot.

Washington University representative Jill Friedman denied a deal for the property was imminent. A message left for St. Louis County Realty Co. was not returned.

Contacted for comment, Friedman sent this official reply, “Washington University is an active and engaged partner in efforts to enhance the economic growth and quality of life in the St. Louis region. For some time, the University has maintained dialogue with the ownership of this site, exploring concepts for its potential use. However, there is no agreement to transfer ownership, nor is a transfer of ownership imminent. Further, there are no formal development plans for the site. Regardless of whether the ownership elects to pursue a development strategy for this site that involves the university, we remain hopeful that this economically strategic and highly visible corner be enhanced in a way that is beneficial for the Delmar Loop and the surrounding community.”

{the Lofts project nears completion – image by Richard Bose}