Unlikely Reuse Planned for Forgettable Vacant Building in Shaw

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4066 Russell mixed use proposal - St. Louis, MO

In July, we reported on an unexpected and unique residential conversion in the Shaw neighborhood. A dilapidated auto repair property lacking any redeeming qualities at all will see a complete transformation into a single family residence. Unknown at the time was what would happen with a similarly forlorn adjacent building.

It now appears that the one story, cinder block building dating from 1965 will be transformed as well. The building is in private hands, but according to the city website, property taxes have not been paid since 2011. The proposed renovation is by the same couple purchasing the auto repair building from the city’s vacant land bank.

As with the residential conversion, the existing building is a non-contributing resource in the Shaw Historic District. The property has little in common with its more historic neighbors, and thus is granted significant leeway in the renovation. The aesthetic is modern, but utilizing some materials found on other structures in the neighborhood. The renovation would be very similar to that of the auto repair building.

4056 Russell, Shaw - St. Louis, MO

Tenant space in the 1,400 sf building is marked for two. A cafe is shown in roughly the front two-thirds, while a smaller space occupies the rear of the building. A surrounding patio space would accommodate 20 outdoor tables.

In all, the proposal is an unlikely and welcome reuse of a building no one would have objected to being demolished. It’s smart reuse and will be a needed retail asset to the Shaw neighborhood. The only misstep is the proposal to add four parking spaces on a 96ft by 66ft (6,300 sf) corner lot. The city’s Cultural Resources Office should endorse, and the Preservation Board should not allow, the sacrifice of a city lot for such a use. Sadly, parking and poor land use doesn’t catch the eye of the city like a vinyl window, or an anachronistic street lamp.

To be more accurate, the codes by which the CRO must abide do not concern parking and land use in a smart manner. From the Preservation Board agenda: Off-street parking should be provided for new or renovated properties when feasible at an amount of one parking space per unit. Parking to be provided in rear of property when possible. If parking is visible from street, it must be screened with appropriate material as described in section 2G.

Using this framework, the CRO has determined that the proposal complies. “Parking for the commercial building will utilize the existing parking lot at 4066 Russell, which will be considerably smaller in size. Approximately one-quarter to one-third of the current paved area will be green space.” Off-street parking provided? Yep. One space or more? Yep. Parking screened from the street? Yep. We should employ a smarter, better process in determining parking, particularly in local historic districts. This project is undoubtedly a huge win, but it could be better.

4056 Russell before_after

4056 Russell, Shaw - St. Louis, MO

The adjacent auto repair building project:

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*image added September 2015 – from St. Louis City Preservation Board agenda

4066 Russell

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*progress image added September 22, 2016

4066-russell

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  • Presbyterian

    I’m glad to see this corner reutilized.

    They could enhance this project by eliminating curbs and using pavers instead of asphalt. Then you’d have a nice plaza on which people happen to park. I’m sure that’s an added expense, but the effect could be very nice.

  • Dean

    It is an existing parking lot that is being cleaned up. If money was as free following as comments, they would build on that lot.

    There are two other corners with under or unutilized buildings which would benefit that intersection much more with there stabilization and redevelopment.

    As a homeowner on Russell I would prefer to see those buildings redeveloped. Over building a new building in that corner. As the neighborhood gets even stronger it will be easy to building on that corner.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Fair enough. Building a parking lot is a better indicator that money is free flowing – maybe $50K? I’d rather see it put to just about any other use. As you say, though, the asphalt there today will be reduced in size – that’s a good thing.

      • moe

        I just like it. It’s a plus for the neighborhood. And at least 4 parking spots is not leveling and putting in a 20-spot lot. We have to be realistic. Some parking is needed.
        I’m not sure what to make of the comment “rents can’t be that high considering the location”. This is a major street in a up and coming neighborhood.

        • Matt Kastner

          I work in commercial and residential rent real estate, including in Shaw. I am saying that based on personal experience in Shaw itself. Residential rents have improved at a nice clip in the neighborhood, but any commercial space that comes available does not rent for much. Obviously this space will be able to fetch more than most being new. While I am a huge believer and advocate for the neighborhood, I also know that its a tough sell to any bank if the buildings income does not justify the cost. Even if the Thurman underpass were to be opened up, Thurman would never be a major street in the sense of something like Grand. So the rents are never going to be at a premium rate there. That was all I was saying.

          • Eric

            I think there was some misunderstanding in the discussion. When referring to “rent,” were you referring to the commercial space? I can’t comment on the market rate of rent in the neighborhood – either residential or commercial – as that isn’t my expertise. What I can say is that the principal building is a single family residence, and the secondary building is owned by those residents. It’s my understanding that the new occupants of that space currently live in the neighborhood, and are looking to downsize to the 2-bedroom residence. As to whether they mean the outbuildings to be a “money-maker” or simply to take care of their mortgage, is unknown. While I would have liked to have seen some of the other proposed commercial projects come into this space, I have warmed up to what’s become a mixed-use development, spearheaded by people who already know and love the neighborhood

      • Tysalpha

        Parking on this stretch of Russell is at a premium; there’s just no way residents would support a commercial project that didn’t include some parking. As made clear during the original hearing where a microbrewery was proposed.

        Maybe someday in the future, if more buildings convert from 2-family to 1-family, and 4-family to 2-family, the parking issues will dissipate. But we’re not there yet, if ever.

        Now with respect to this plan and the corner conversion to a residence, I like it! And I appreciate the care and obvious love the couple feel for our neighborhood. I don’t know how successful a business can be there… but if the owners aren’t expecting to make a killing on rent, it could be a good incubator for someone looking to get into a neighborhood business.

        • Mark

          I often feel like I’m living in an alternate universe when I see people write that parking anywhere in St. Louis is at a premium. Expectations for parking, I guess, are definitely relative. But for a city that once held 3 times as many people as now, St. Louis offers a generous amount of street-side parking already.

          • Tysalpha

            When the city held 3 times as many people, most of them didn’t own a car. Or if they did, it was one per household.
            But as you say expectations are relative… and Shaw isn’t anywhere near as densely parked as CWE, for example. And maybe for that reason, in the neighborhood there’s an expectation that one should be able to find a parking space in front of (or almost in front of) one’s house. One house away or across the street? Ok. Two houses away? Grr…all right. Three houses away? Too far. Who is parking here that doesn’t belong!?

          • Robbie

            The density and diversity of Shaw housing (ie. the mix of single family, multiple family, and apartment buildings) is one of the reasons it’s such a great neighborhood, and I’d hate to see that go away. And, unlike CWE, there aren’t really public garages, so it seems street parking will always be in high demand. We’ve had some talks with Enterprise CarShare about the possibility of expanding to the neighborhood for just this reason – the more people who can get by with one car / family, or none, the more parking spaces there are for residents and business customers.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Also, it would be great if people would use their garages/parking pads. Some homes no longer have parking pads – perhaps they should be required. Garages often end up as storage sheds, especially when they fall into disrepair – and they’re expensive to rebuild. Perhaps there’s a cheaper design that could be developed for neighborhoods like Shaw (like the carport with a garage door). I remember driving through South City after one of the big snow falls this past year…virtually every home had a garage, and there were no open spaces on single family streets. I think people expect two spaces in front of their home whether they have a garage or not.

          • moe

            There’s a reason for that. During the summer, it is usually laziness and/or alleys that are unkept. Would you drive down an alley everyday knowing that you might get a flat from shards of glass or a nail? It’ just easier to park in front.
            In the winter, like you witnessed, it’s because of safety. People have to get to work and the alleys are very dangerous to back into and out of when full of snow and because of that, they are also ice covered for days and weeks after a snowfall from the freeze/thaw of snow. Alleys are not maintained.

          • moe

            And also, today’s alley is full of dumpsters and wires and poles. they weren’t made for today’s large trucks/suvs and add to that drivers that get nervous in closed areas….again…why would you?

          • Brian

            I’ve been parking in my garage for neigh on 30 years now. If there is
            glass or nails in the alley, I clean it up. When it snows, we shovel
            the alley. It is all about choice an commitment. We live on Arsenal
            & have seen too many cars destroyed by careless or drunk drivers, so
            we park in the garage. People somehow managed to do it 60 years ago,
            so why not now? Back then, urbanism was not a choice, it was a fact.
            Garage too small? Rebuild it like we did. We are not superheroes, just
            two Southsiders raising 5 kids who take care of their business.

    • Matt Kastner

      If these were public funds, that would be one thing, but this is private money. Comments on how to improve the project are good, but if you really want to see those other buildings developed, don’t blame these people. Thank them. This project is going to significantly improve that corner, which will make it much more likely that those buildings will soon be developed. This one is the highest impact change that can be made on that corner. The two buildings on the west side of the intersection could be better, but they already look fine. Those are the low-hanging fruit which will be an easy sell to fixup if this gets pulled off. Frankly, I don’t know how this project will be a real money maker, even with subsidies. Construction costs are going to be high and rents can’t be that high considering the location. I just don’t understand the negativity when we should all be very happy that someone is willing to take on what is overall a very nice project. I know the building on the NW corner has been for sale in the past so if you think money should be spent on fixing that up, I would applaud you if you took on that project.

      • Alex Ihnen

        This is exactly what everyone commenting here and elsewhere have said. The sum of all negativity I have seen is “it could be better”, and only after everyone has sung the praises of the development and remarked on how wonderful it is that that this building will be reused. So comments on how to improve the project are good, and everyone is thankful that this plan has come along.

        • Matt Kastner

          I get that. I am sure that pretty much everyone is happy this is happening. But I was specifically addressing Dean’s comment about how he would rather see other buildings on that corner done first. I was just stating my case as to why I disagree in that I think this is best route for the whole corner to get built out.

          • Dean

            Matt
            I was stating that I would rather the other corners be developed over building a new structure on the corner where the parking is being resurfaced.