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}

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  • Presbyterian

    I look forward to seeing these plans as they develop. The footprint is just large enough for a Walgreens or CVS, but they’d probably have to vacate the alley to squeeze in the requisite drive-through lane. Any retail could do well at this location, though. This would be one more stitch weaving together the two sides of the Loop.

    And now if we can just eliminate that gas station…

    • MiguelTejada82

      Why get rid of the gas station?

      • Presbyterian

        A fair question. The gas station is a very auto-centric use that breaks up an otherwise pedestrian-oriented retail strip. Until the gas station is replaced by retail, there will always be two Loops — the ‘main’ Delmar Loop west of the gas station and the East Loop to its east. It’s a psychological barrier.

        The long-term plans for the neighborhood do call for retail or mixed use at the site. When that happens, I think the change will be significant.

        • MiguelTejada82

          Fair point, there’s a similar dichotomy along Broad St. in Philly, the Hess at Lombard more or less divides “Center City” from South Philly at that point.

  • Paul Hohmann

    Here’s coverage from April 1970 “The Paper” (Today’s Skinky D Times) about the Jack in the Box controversy: http://sdtimes.org/files/Download/SD_Times1970_04.pdf

    Interesting that a Wash U student group opposed demolition of the building.

    • DanieljSTL

      What a beautiful building that once stood there, too….

      • Travis

        It looks like the attractive building that was demolished was on the west side of Skinker by the phone company building.

    • Geoff Whittington

      What a great look back Paul. Thanks. I enjoyed the St. Roch’s item too!

    • Anglophile

      Holy **** the city looked gross back then. Was it standard practice for people to just dump their garbage in alleys?

      • Eric

        I assume that’s one reason why people fled for the suburbs back then.

    • Nathan Bookhout

      Not going to lie, I read every page of that paper. I could’ve been a STL Policeman and made 7-10,000 a year!!

    • Geoff Whittington

      There is an ad at the bottom of page 4 for V.C. Schoemehl. Our former mayor was a painter and paperhanger? Perhaps we should call PA 1-5372 and ask.

      • Nathan Bookhout

        I couldn’t raise the operator….

      • Dan McGuire

        That ad was for Vince Senior, the Mayor’s father.

        • Geoff Whittington

          Thanks Dan.

    • rgbose

      Is the Dempster Holland who wrote about the fire at 433 DeBaliviere the very same one who posts here on occasion?

      Sad; “DeBaliviere area businessmen are hopeful that a new building will be constructed in place of a neighborhood landmark at 433 DeBaliviere”

      And 44 years later, still a parking lot.

      • dempster holland

        That was me–a frustrated journalist

        • rgbose

          Cool, I’d love to hear more about what it was like back then.

          • dempster holland

            Single family west of Des Peres pretty much the same. East
            of Des Peres and x north of Waterman had lots of six-
            families which have been demolished and replaced by town
            houses Handy A&P grocery store at Delmar and Rosedale.
            Crime was growing problem during 1960s. Some people
            moving in from suburbs were obnoxious “we are saving the
            city” types. But generally the same type of neighborhood
            it is now

  • WashUSenior

    What could work here retail-wise? A convenience store/pharmacy? More restaurants?

    Also, now that Wash U is housing so many of its students off-campus, the university needs to advocate to make Skinker safer for cyclists and pedestrians. The street doesn’t need its turning lane. Perhaps the lanes could be shifted over and a cycle track with direct connections to Forest Park and the Forsyth cycle track included in the design. Think of the hundreds of students that would use it every day to get to and from class and local residents getting to local businesses by bike. I read in the Skinker-Debaliviere local newspaper that there has been a discussion around installing a cycle track on this portion of Skinker. It’s a great idea, let’s forge ahead!

    • rgbose

      WashU is planning to put pedestrian lighting on Skinker this summer.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Just my opinion, but I think the Loop needs a pharmacy and general store. A local biz would be great, but today that likely means a CVS or Walgreens.

      • Wayne

        Yes. The lack of such a store is a noticeable gap for those of us that live or work on the Loop.

        • Luftmentsch

          Family Dollar on Delmar is not far at all, and it’s very well run and stocked almost like a Walgreen’s.

          • Steve Kluth

            If only they filled prescriptions. I’d love to get my one non generic scrip for only a dollar.

      • DanieljSTL

        I spend some time fishing and hunting in Houston, MO every year. In their old business district, there’s a pharmacy that appears to be an original apothecary, but says, “Powered by Walgreens” underneath the old sign. It’s essentially, a full service walgreens on a much smaller footprint, and looks fantastic in an original storefront among the remaining, essentially, ghost-townesque row of buildings.

        I wonder if the Medicine Shoppe or something like a corner drugstore “powered by walgreens” would be a good fit.

        I tried doing a google streetview of the shop, but it’s not available. Picture something like the Keller Apothecary on the corner of Chippewa and Brannon.

        • Todd

          The store in Houston was formally owned by USA Drug which sold to Walgreens a year or two ago. That is not their standard footprint but the Leases were still in place so they continue operations where a prototypical store doesn’t exist…typically very small markets.

      • Randy

        WashU should work with Walgreens and Theranos to pilot the first Theranos wellness center in St. Louis at this location. They are just starting to expand out of the SF Bay area.


  • Jeff Leonard

    “… kicked the bucket …”. Nice.

  • John

    Something that will add vibrancy to the street. Think of how the lines for Strange Donuts, Pappy’s, and Sweetie Pie’s go all the way outside.

  • mc

    YESSSS! One less hideous 1960s creation on Delmar. Hoping something architecturally beautiful goes up that complements the area. Underground parking is essential. Washu has the money to do it. Hope another cafe is included in the project. Hope it includes outdoor seating. Something European style.

  • Anglophile

    Few phrases in the English language get me more excited than “mixed use building with ground-floor retail and underground parking.”