First Look: $9M Renovation Proposed for Optimist Building in City’s CWE

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3494 Lindell Boulevard - St. Louis, MO

At the same time The Koman Group is proposing a new development at 34 N. Euclid, the firm is aiming to reinvent a noted Mid-Century building just down the street in the Central West End neighborhood. Envisioned is a remaking of the 1961 Optimist International office building at Lindell Boulevard and Taylor Avenue.

On the market for an extended period of time, the half-submerged basement and one full above-ground level corner building, and newer three-story addition have been considered a challenge to repurpose. While a tenant mix has not be revealed, the 33K sf complex would be redeveloped as office space. Koman will reportedly seek $1.5M in tax increment financing (TIF) for the project. New Market Tax Credits are also being sought.

The total project cost is expected be $9.3M and begin as early as February 2016, taking up to a year to complete. The older building is just short of 19K sf, with the addition adding 14K sf. The renovation would accommodate multiple tenants and is being planed as spec office space.

4490-94 Lindell site plan - St. Louis, MO

TIF is a subsidy that allows a developer to keep a portion of any new, or incremental, tax revenues generated by a project after completion. With TIF in the City of St. Louis, property taxes can be frozen for up to 23 years and 50% of any new local sales or earnings tax can be used to reimburse a developer for project costs. According the the project’s TIF application, the $1.5M subsidy is estimated to be fulfilled in approximately 12 years, depending on actual revenue.

In May 2014, we reported on a proposed 14-story, 200-unit apartment building at 3493 Lindell. That project somewhat surprising failed to gain support for tax abatement from the Park Central Development Corporation. While the city would benefit if development no longer assumed tax abatement support, this proposal to add perhaps 300 new residents to the area disappeared without it. The existing buildings have been off the city’s tax roles since being developed by the non-profit Optimist organization.

4494 Lindell proposal - St. Louis, MO{the past Forum Studio designed proposal for 3493 Lindell}

The Optimist International headquarters consists of two buildings, the older of which dating from 1961, is a Neo-Expressionist building designed by the firm Schwarz & Van Hoefen. The three-story addition was constructed in 1979. There is certainly some support for saving the buildings as contributing to the collection of Mid-Century buildings along Lindell.

The project rendering (top) shows significant changes to the facades, aiming to preserve the building’s form, while providing significantly more light to interior spaces. The resulting image certainly looks nice, but perhaps there’s a tinge of irony that a TIF may be supported to alter a building that was just recently saved by a lack of tax abatement support based on the desire to not subsidize the loss of an architecturally notable building.

Regardless, its good to see investment continue in St. Louis, and long stagnant buildings be re-envisioned. The Optimist building would mark another important urban investment by Koman, which has been shifting its focus from suburban Creve Coeur to projects like 700 Market and Kingshighway/Lindell. This project proposal, as well as Koman’s 34 N. Euclid project will be presented to the Park Central Development Corporation at its upcoming August meeting.

Other projects under development in the Central West End include The Orion with 177 apartments and a Whole Foods grocer Mills Properties at West Pine and Euclid, and a 12-story, 217-unit Opus building at Lindell Boulevard and Euclid.

3494 Lindell Boulevard - St. Louis, MO{the Optimist International headquarters at 4494 Lindell – image by Toby Weiss}

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  • Eddie in Norcal

    I’m surprised to see so little enthusiasm for Koman’s proposed revitalization of the Optimist building among commentators on this site. Wasn’t there an outpouring of regret over the loss of the San Luis Apartments and the near bulldozing of the AAA building, the latter for a CVS of dubious architectural merit? The Optimist building is one of a cluster of MCM structures that define that particular stretch of Lindell Blvd., once demolished, I highly doubt that similar MCM buildings will arise. The Forum proposal appears to be a rather mundane, mid rise apartment building. While the density is appreciated, aren’t there other potential sites in the neighborhood for a 15-story residential building?

  • Chris

    Should have torn it down a year ago. Yet again some people just can’t stop letting old building get in the way of new progress.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I’m not too passionate about this one either way, but I’d think I’d rather have the apartment tower. The existing building is 2-3 stories on a prominent corner in the only neighborhood in the city where new construction is adding density. And its renovation will be subsidized (TIF or tax credits, etc.) just as the new construction would have been.

      • STLEnginerd

        I wonder though why renovating such a small building requires 1.5 million in tif money. I think I would want to look at some projection for how quickly this would return the building to parity with normal tax rates. If it was more than five years after completion of construction I would be a little uncomfortable as I don’t think the site being renovated or not will significantly impact the neighborhoods momentum so I dont see the rush to get it developed when in five years the need for tax subsidy could be much less or non existent.

        I’d rather subsidize improvement in cortex, grand center, midtown, and gaslight square. Then this neighborhood will pretty much take care of itself.

        • Alex Ihnen


          • Don

            Alright, you have completely flipped me on this. While the renovated buildings will be visually appealing, the subsidy and lack of density on this corner are the real issues here.

          • John R

            How many jobs is this projected to house? I think more than the 35 Optimists but not sure what to expect if fully (or nearly) leased.

    • jhoff1257

      That wasn’t really the case here though. The proposed apartment tower didn’t get built because Park Central refused to give the developer a tax abatement. It’s not like preservationists got in the way this time around. If I recall most were in favor of building the high rise.

      • Alex Ihnen

        And it appears that the TIF for the proposed renovation above is equivalent to more than a 20 year tax abatement. Working on a little update…

    • While I would be one of the first people to strongly defend the Optimists Club Building from demolition — it is a far superior work of modern architecture to the lost San Luis Apartments — such opinion what is driving this new proposal.

      The more modest approach to this site reflects the slow growth of the St. Louis city market. There is not demand or capital enough to support the sort of high-rise once proposed for the site. If there were, the alderman’s refusal to support tax abatement would not have stopped the plan.

      After all, down the street, Phillips 66 just demolished a gas station to build…another gas station. Opus scaled back the Lindell and Euclid tower until now we are getting a mostly panel-clad (panels are, well, let’s just say inexpensive), short, unexciting box. Demand and land values are growing still slowly even in the Central West End. The Optimists Club is probably architecturally stronger than the replacement that the current market would support.

  • Don

    The rendering for the Optimist facelift are great. It would be wonderful to see that building saved and modernized.