$11M Mixed-Use Project Proposed for Sarah and Laclede in City’s CWE

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The Independence Center is proposing a mixed use project for the northwest corner of Sarah Street and Laclede Avenue. They propose 38 apartments on two levels above 15,000 square feet of clinic and retail space. Independence Center would like to place a 12,000 s.f. clinic and a 3,000 s.f. floral shop on the first floor. The project would replace a vacant corner lot.

Bond Architects of Clayton is the designer. If the project is allowed to move forward, PARIC would be the general contractor. The 45,000 square foot building is expected to cost between 10 and 11 million dollars.

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The Independence Center already owns the apartment building immediately to the west of the site (at left in image above). The Independence Center provides housing, support and services for men and women with mental illness.

To move forward, the project may require three zoning variances. First, a project of this magnitude has a zoning requirement of approximately 70 parking spaces, and the Independence Center is proposing only 25 spaces off the alley, plus another 15 surplus spaces from their building next door. Given that few Independence Center residents drive, there is likely to be only minor objection to such a variance.

The proposal in its current form would require two other variances, however. One exception would be required for the use of stucco on the upper levels–a material not allowed under the neighborhood’s Form Based Code. Another variance would be required to allow a clinic facing Sarah. Doctors’ offices are not considered retail under current zoning laws.

Retail has proven a challenge for this stretch of Sarah. The 6 North retail space across the street has remained vacant for several years with little interest. Independence Center proposes a mix of retail and medical, with the clinic itself desiged within ordinary shop bays, giving the appearance of retail.

If the project is approved, Independence Center will sell their existing building a half block west on Laclede and move those services to the new building at Sarah. This new outpatient clinic location is expected to serve approximately fifty clients daily, which is slightly more than their current location. The organization has provided services and housing in the neighborhood for over three decades with very few complaints.

Independence Center has spent approximately $40,000 so far on environmental studies, surveys, core samples and architectural work. They are working on bridge financing. The neighborhood association has endorsed the project conditioned on (1) finding an alternative to stucco on the exterior and (2) extending retail along the entire Sarah streetfront. It is not known whether Independence Center will be able to make that latter requirement work with their program requirements. To maintain its 12,000sf clinic while also meeting the neighborhood’s wish for retail along Sarah would leave the first floor with quite shallow retail spaces fronting Sarah–perhaps twenty feet deep–with clinic use behind. It is unknown whether such a compromise is manageable. The clinic use is what makes the entire project financially feasible, according to the Independence Center .

Independence Center describes itself as a community-based rehabilitation program for adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses in the St. Louis area, built on the Clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation. Independence Center has received the American Psychiatric Association’s Best Program Award, the Eli Lilly Re-integration Award, FOCUS St. Louis’ What’s Right With the Region Award, HUD’s Peer Recognition Award and the Johnson & Johnson Dartmouth Achievement Award.

Despite the neighborhood’s continued gentrification, the southern half of the Central West End has continued to be a vital place for adults with illnesses, disabilities and special needs. Long anchored by hospitals and dense with social services, the neighborhood is walkable and accessible to many. While new student housing and luxury apartment buildings continue to be announced, other projects have worked to keep the Central West End a diverse and inclusive neighborhood for all residents. The 6 North development across Sarah was one of the first 100% universal design apartment buildings in the United States, with all 80 of its units and common areas fully accessible to both disabled and non-disabled persons.

Next steps for the Independence Center project will be for Park Central Development Corporation to consider a revised proposal, after which the project will require zoning variances before it can proceed.

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  • John R.

    Any word if there has been progress on this proposal? I see the for sale sign is still up at this prime corner.

    • Alex Ihnen

      This project is reportedly dead. The non-profit was pushed to include first floor retail per the Sarah Street form based code. Retail wasn’t something they wanted to manage or incorporate.

  • kjohnson04

    I’m surprised there’s been no talk about an outrageous number of parking spaces. That’s good. Is it to much to ask, though, to add another floor or two. At least match the Dorris Warehouse across the street? Add some serious density?

    • Adam

      I assume because they expect a substantial portion of the residents to be non-drivers. Maybe?

      • kjohnson04

        You’re probably right. But if retail takes off, the next thing will be “I can’t find a place to park,” despite a bus line being nearby.

        • rusty

          If you are referring to the #10 it has 30 min headways, 40 min off peak. That level of service isnt getting many people out of their cars. This site is close to the soon to be constructed metrolink station, which will make the area much more transit accessible.

          • kjohnson04

            The 42 also. Sadly, Metro believes that buses should run 40 minutes apart in growing areas.

          • rusty

            The 42 runs primarily in north st louis, not a growing area at all. I wish metro had better headways, which means more busses and more drivers (unless you are going to cut service elsewhere). The only way you are going to get that is more funding, say, from the state of Missouri perhaps.

  • Adam

    I’m okay with the stucco, but ANY color other than beige or tan or whatever that is… PLEASE! White or a nice light blue would be wonderful. Why is St. Louis so averse to color?

  • Steve Kluth

    What’s the problem with stucco? It beats the walls that look like sheetrock I’ve seen on some nearby new buildings. It also looks like the ground floor will have a brick facade. Personally, I think the look adds character to the CWE, a mix of St. Louis brick tradition with a Mediterranean twist.

  • Andy

    I am not a fan of the stucco as it would not fit in with the facades of the buildings around that area. I am not one who is stuck on recreating the look of the buildings that already exist but if it is going to be one that stands out, then I would like it to be something more interesting than stucco.

    Additionally, I don’t have a problem with the use as a rehabilitation center and housing for adults with mental illness.

    What I do wonder about is if the entire project would fall outside of property taxes. If that is the case then that is the same as offering 100% tax abatement on a corner lot in one of St. Louis’ better neighborhoods.

    • Presbyterian

      Yes, as a non-profit organization, the entire project would be tax exempt. They do plan to sell their existing building down the street, putting that building back on the tax rolls.

  • STLEnginerd

    So I think a big factor in garnering public support would be addressing what kinds of mental illness are being dealt with here. I suspect though I don’t really know that the people here would be nonviolent type illnesses that simply require regular coaching and counciling. Maybe I don’t know enough about mental illness and as such educating people of these things is important. Under the assumption that these people pose little to no threat to the current residents.

    I also don’t think its a waste of valuable land, by that line of thinking wouldn’t all the SF housing in CWE be a waste because it isn’t dense enough. It consumes the vacant land in a desirable district which in turn makes the remaining land that much more desirable.
    I have no probrlem with the stucco. Every building doesn’t have to be made of brick and glass and the CWE has many examples of different styles of architecture so the whole historic contect really doesn’t work there when there are MCM building scattered throughout.
    I really tend to blanch at the idea that approval should be contingent on an inocuous board’s opinion of its artistic merit. Quality of build, and form relative to the street are other matters however.

  • Lisa Cagle

    How might tax abatement factor in here? Or subsidies?

    • Presbyterian

      This project is not asking for any tax abatement or subsidies. Independence Center is a not-for-profit, so the property will not be on the tax rolls. But once they sell their existing clinic on Laclede, that property will go back on the tax rolls.

      • Lisa Cagle

        Thanks for the quick response!

  • moe

    I’ve noticed the for sale sign and the North 6th up for lease and am disappointed at this corner. True, it is at the outskirts of the SLU area and any other ‘draws’. In time, that will change.
    I like the building but would like to see another story added. Not sure about the viability of a florist shop at this location, but hey..give it a shot. There is not much talk about the financing but I could actually support tax abatement and grants for this type of project.

    • Presbyterian

      I believe the florist will be under the umbrella of Independence Center and will serve as a job training and employment site for clients.

      • moe

        Well if that is the case, then I know where I will be getting flowers from.

  • tonydoss

    I live in the area and I never knew who occupied those apartments, I think it is a good idea, minus the stucco, not sure how any retail will survive, the coffee shop, which I frequented, did not last, the small market that was there prior to the coffee shop did well, I think the neighborhood did not like the fact that it sold liquor. Resturants and a bakery just a half a block north did not survive, parking is not an issue. I hope to see it come to life.

  • Mathew Chandler

    I don’t like how there is a parking minimum, there should be a parking maximum.

    • agsd

      Right up. Parking minimums suck!

  • Alex Ihnen

    The conversation space here isn’t meant to have people restate a position ad nauseam without adding anything more to our understanding or perspective. Please keep this in mind.

  • Imran

    Not bad. Has the right form at street level. I guess they could set it up in such a way that retail could be expanded in the future as/when demand increases. I also like the shiny, polished asphalt idea 🙂

    • Brian

      I also like how the power line magically disappeared. Can they do this in my neighborhood, please?

  • Ashley Diaz

    I live extremely close to this site and have never had a problem with the residents of the building west on Laclede. I do object to the stucco variance. The neighborhood has a strong brick aesthetic and that is something that should not be compromised. I would also like to see at least some first floor retail available, even if it is just a coffee shop or small boutique.

    At any rate, I would be pleased to see some well-done infill on this property. My dog will miss the green space but he always has the SLU Sculpture/Dog Park to get his fill of grass.

  • wimple

    What a waste of prime real estate.

    • Ashley Diaz

      If you feel this way, what other opportunity would you propose for this site?

      • wimple

        For one, how bout some market rate housing for people that will contribute to the tax base, not a halfway house in what should be a vibrant neighborhood

        • Ashley Diaz

          First, there’s plenty of market rate housing on its way to this part of the CWE. That’s quite obvious. The tax base, while it could always use more money (always), won’t be crippled by allowing this project to fill this vacant lot. I’m not even sure about any tax abatement this property would receive if this project moves forward. So your argument isn’t really ripe yet.

          Second, it is extremely important to incorporate this type of housing into vibrant neighborhoods. Community-based rehabilitation programs need to be anchored in strong communities and near good hospitals to encourage these individuals get the help they need. Having a NIMBY attitude toward programs like this leads to gross gentrification and banish good programs to bad neighborhoods. We need to encourage a diverse community in our most vibrant neighborhoods. We cannot ignore the reality of mental health problems by sending this kind of program to a less vibrant neighborhood.

          • wimple

            I dont live there, its not nimbyism. Its just smart development. The crazies will have access to all the same amenities if the center is a few blocks away. This is a vacant lot in a fantastic location. We need smarter land use. This location should build value for the surrounding neighborhood, not stagnate it. This city abounds with halfway houses, we shouldnt give up one of the best mixed use opportunities in the Central west end for yet another.

          • Ashley Diaz

            Well, I do live here. This lot has sat vacant for the four years that I’ve been in the neighborhood without any development. Having great in-fill on this site will build value for the surrounding neighborhood. Certainly the housing just west on Laclede has not stagnated the value of surrounding property, as we’ve only seen it go up in recent years. Having this type of community program and facility on this site will benefit the entire neighborhood.

            There are other vacant sites that can be used for mixed-use. Take for example the empty lot across from the post office just half a block east. That site has been vacant for as long as I’ve lived here as well. Or what about the vacant lot that sits next to the post office, the former site of an old warehouse that was razed in 2012? My point is: there are plenty of empty lots in this part of the neighborhood that can be used for mixed use. We shouldn’t ostracize this program based on null principles that it isn’t economically viable for the neighborhood because there are other opportunities for the site. That type of argument is simply without merit.

          • wimple

            There are plenty of vacant lots to build THIS project on. This particular lot is too good of a location for this, its not high value enough. The lot by the post office would be perfect for this project, the lot in question is perfect for high end mixed use.

          • Ashley

            You clearly don’t venture to this part of the neighborhood often. The site I am talking about across from the post office is half a block away so this site at Laclede and Sarah is not really any more “perfect” for any other project than the one proposed. Additionally, the Center already occupies the building next to the proposed site for its expansion. Therefore, the site at Laclede and Sarah is “perfect for this project.”

          • wimple

            I go there often, on foot so I actually experience it. I know its half a block away, from a pedetrian perspective the site of this proposed project is much better than the site half ablock away. Wen it comes to mixed use and pedestrian friendy half a block can make all the difference.

          • Imran

            I’m not clear about the argument you are making. Are you pushing for higher end retail at the site? Or are you just opposed to pedestrians coming in contact with patrons of the Independence center? Would you be okay with Independence center occupying the upper floors as long as there is a, say, bread co at street level?

          • Presbyterian

            You do seem to like that phrase halfway house, which this it not. Are you unaware of the stigma?

          • Ashley Diaz

            Not to mention that this anonymous is referring to these human beings as “crazies.” Completely unacceptable. These are real people with real problems who need real support from their community.

          • moe

            Ashley…I would comment, but anyone that describes the mentally ill as ‘crazies’ doesn’t deserve a response.

          • Sook Deek

            Referring to a human being as a “crazy” is “completely unacceptable”? lulz. You must be new to the internet.

            I regularly refer to women as ho’s and bitches. Let me guess…that is “completely unacceptable” as well. Damn, you are crazy.

          • wimple

            What is it then?

          • Sook Deek

            I prefer the term “Bum Holding Tank” myself

          • Imran

            Maybe if the ‘Crazies’ were living in your neighborhood you would come to see them as regular people. Lots of under-used lots on Lindell to build higher end mixed use.

          • wimple

            I live in a neigbrhood with a homeless shelter and multiple churches that offer services to the homeless. Doesnt bother me one bit, but im not stupid enoigh to think they raise property values. I live in a pretty affordable neighborhood, but it has some houses that go for over 300k, and that homeless shelter aint helping move those places.

          • asdfadsf

            Wimple, you have really good points, but some of your rhetoric sounds a little stigma-y.

            I can echo what wimple is saying. It’s amazing that the neighborhood association hasn’t thrown up their arms in NIMBYism. I rent in a neighborhood with a sex offender rehabilitation place, and a church frequented by homeless. I am fine with it. But if I owned, and therefore cared about the value of the land I would be fighting those kind of things hard…

            On the other hand this plan is totally different than a homeless shelter or foot kitchen.

            I can see why the neighborhood association is demanding small retail on the lot, I really hope that the project is able to do that.

            It’s important for us all to be compassionate, but there are a lot of complex issues that go into this development.

            I for one hope this infill development happens!

          • Mike F

            “Crazies”? You, sir, are an ass.