Townhomes Proposed for Vacant Central West End Lot on Sarah Street

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215 N. Sarah - St. Louis, MO

The Lawrence Group is proposing to build 13 for-sale townhomes on two vacant lots at 215 N. Sarah Street in the city’s Central West End. The site totals approximately 22,000sf and sits adjacent to that developer’s 4100 Lindell project.

The developer is asking that variances be granted for lack of retail on Sarah, adding a curb cut on Sarah, and introducing a different setback along West Pine. The project was presented to the West Pine-Laclede Neighborhood Association in September and received a favorable reaction. According to one source, Park Central Development Corporation will support the request for variances.

215 N. Sarah - St. Louis, MO

215 N. Sarah - St. Louis, MO

The growth of Cortex and the adjacent medical complex is bolstering the Central West End housing market. While several large apartment buildings are under construction, new for-sale townhomes and condominiums have been rare in the market.

Projects like this will help dictate future neighborhood development patterns. If the project is granted variances, construction is expected to begin spring 2016 and be completed in seven months. Total project cost is estimated to be $5M. Project addresses include 4101 West Pine Boulevard and 215-221 Sarah Street.

The Central West End Form Based District was meant create a retail corridor along Sarah Street, something of a Euclid Avenue on the east end of the neighborhood. The code has yet to have a big positive impact on retail opportunities here. The recently completed West Pine Lofts was granted a variance to not include street front retail. Around the corner, 4108 Lindell Boulevard was allowed to demolished for fewer than a dozen parking spaces facing Lindell.

{existing view looking northwest from Sarah Street}

{existing view looking north from West Pine Avenue}

{existing view looking southwest from Sarah Street}

West Pine Lofts - St. Louis, MO{now completed West Pine Lofts across Sarah from proposed townhomes}

The concept of Sarah as a retail street makes some sense, but has always faced challenges. Home to The Block, Scottish Arms, New Market Hardware, and now Retreat Gastropub, the strip’s retail growth is limited due to existing apartments, condos, and the CET office building, all lacking street level retail space.

If the vacant lots along Sarah could have been infilled with mixed-use projects and added first floor retail, there was big potential. This is what the form based code sought. However, variances are diluting this potential and likely precluding any chance of a robust retail corridor.

Where small scale retail fits in this part of the city is an unresolved challenge. With Saint Louis University owning several corners (surface parking lots) and other land along Vandeventer, it will not become a retail corridor despite the wonderful Gerhart Block renovation project.

The Lindell Marketplace could be reimagined, but would likely continue to be home to chain stores and not be a small scale, walkable, integrated part of the neighborhood. Elsewhere along Lindell is a poor fit due to building type and scale. Forest Park Avenue doesn’t work well either. Other north-south streets are established residential.

A re-made Laclede Avenue east of Sarah has potential as a street nearest a blank slate and with great connections to SLU and the Central West End, and being near, but not staring at, IKEA and its sea of asphalt. The Cortex development is focused on concentrating retail development on east-west running Duncan Avenue a couple blocks to the south. If true-mixed use can begin to fill the empty spaces there, retail could find success.

215 N. Sarah - St. Louis, MO

215 N. Sarah - St. Louis, MO

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  • Brian

    Just a thought, but how about a bold modernist design for these buildings?

  • We need to realize that not all new development needs a retail component. In a slow-growth City such as this, forced retail could actually hurt the project/neighborhood as a) no tenant can be found, b) no preferred tenant can be found, or c) it’s a carousel of different somewhat-successful-to-failing tenants.

    I’d like to see a commercial map to determine what streets — either existing as commercial or with strong potential for commercial — exist, so that no one’s ever more than say, a mile from access to one of them. If, for instance, both Forest Park and Lindell serve as mixed/commercial nodes, then is it really necessary for that stretch of Sarah to be built up as such? Not to say it can’t, but it shouldn’t be forced upon developers.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I think this was a big part of the purpose of the form based code. Not every new development needs retail, but the product of study and planning thoughtfully determined that developments here should include retail. Of three developments since that code was adopted, there has been three variances granted. With Cortex and redevelopment east, perhaps retail pops up elsewhere, but then perhaps the form based code should be revisited. It seems that the code is simply in place as a bargaining chip.

      • Tim E

        I guess my question after looking at google earth, is why did the form based code even come up with the idea that west side of N. Sarah street needed retail? Was it the commercial presence already existing on the east side of N. Sarah?
        .
        I can certainly understand the walkable, street side coffee shop, florists, local business. I just see a lot of commercial, fair to mid size structures, a lot of parking within three to four blocks of an empty lot that will get some infill housing.

        • John R

          I believe part of it was the existing commercial conditions along with knowledge that Cortex would be exploding and that Sarah would provide a valuable corridor in an ever-increasing area of vitality on the eastern end of the CWE..

  • Luftmentsch

    7 North had some retail when it first opened. I think there was a stationary store and a cafe. Went bust. For whatever reason, the good citizens of Stl don’t wanna support small scale retail in walkable environments.

    • jhoff1257

      I don’t know that I’d agree with you on St. Louis residents not supporting small scale retail in walkable environments. Euclid, U City Loop, Manchester thru the Grove, South Grand, Cherokee, Wash Ave to some extent, downtown Maplewood, Kirkwood, Webster Groves and Main Street in St. Chuck in the suburbs. Plus some smaller scale districts like Park Ave in Lafayette Square, parts of Benton Park and Soulard, and others. Sure, these areas could improve more, and nearly all of them are and we could certainly do better in other areas. But overall, I think St. Louis has some pretty great walkable districts. More so then most other Midwestern cities.

      • Luftmentsch

        The examples you give are mostly laughable – unless we are talking exclusively about restaurants or maybe t-shirt and hat stores. I like the Loop and Cherokee Street, but these are not magnets for shoppers. There’s a reason they can’t attract national clothing stores, or even a City Target. Washington Ave? Seriously? I like Levine’s Hats as much as anyone, and the underwear store is fabulous, but….where is the great retail? How many generations of rent-free or subsidized stores have to die before we are allowed to, yes, make some generalizations about St. Louis and its habits?

        • Alex Ihnen

          Small scale walkable retail and places that are “magnets for shoppers” aren’t exactly the same thing. National clothing stores, a City Target? I don’t associate those with small scale walkable retail. STL City is definitely lacking in retail options in some basic categories, but walkable retail – including dining – has some strong support. You could include Maplewood, Kirkwood, Webster, and parts of Clayton too – where more clothing, etc. can be found.

          • John R

            I’m enamored of the corner store on non-commercial streets in the midst of an otherwise residential district…. here in TGS e.g. we have a coffee house. a dog groomer, a small market, a baby boutique (and probably others I can’t recall at the moment) in historic mixed-use corner buildings. Hopefully more will come as well, but some of the prime spots have been converted to all residential and might be difficult to re-convert.

            We also other small biz in isolated corner commercial buildings in isolated non-commercial districts such as a comics book store, a hardware store and a couple restaurants.

          • Luftmentsch

            Healthy retail = mixed retail. You cannot keep creating new retail corridors in the city simply by adding more restaurants. And that means, yes, destination stores or shopping districts, i.e. “magnets.” People have to be willing to park their cars and walk to get the stuff they’re currently buying at the Galleria, Home Depot, Walmart, etc. I see that in Minneapolis, Chicago, and other midwestern cities. I don’t see it here – unless you count my wife and I, who dutifully walk to the Family Dollar on Delmar, much to the bemusement of our more classy neighbors.

          • John R

            I just don’t see where you’re coming from on this…. our issues primarily involve creating more density and daytime population counts that can support a wide array of retailers than it is of a populace adverse to walking.

          • Luftmentsch

            1. Density won’t help if office workers and residents refuse
            to take public transportation, demand (and get) proximate parking, and refuse to walk more than 1/2 block in any direction.

            2. The call for “more density!” begs the question. Why don’t
            more St. Louisians want to live in a walking environment? Downtown real estate is still basically in the doldrums (ask Craig Heller). Most other neighborhoods have pointedly rejected greater density. The CWE is an exception – sorta – but all
            you have to do is read old discussions here to realize that, even in our most urban neighborhood, resistance to new apartment towers has been strong.

            3. Where am I coming from? I think we should look honestly
            at the failures (as well as the successes) of the past 15 years in order to assess why past urban promises haven’t been fulfilled. My own sense is that the fear of crime (usually irrational) and the more general perception of “disorder” (usually about homelessness and public drinking) are the biggest obstacles to creating the urban environment that people in these discussions seem to want. Case in point: why can’t there be a convenience store in 6 North? Because some people will buy alcohol and then…. What? I dunno. Half the St. Louis police department seems to drive down that block, thanks to the fleet service nearby. But this is what you’re up against, urbanists.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Downtown has added 6,000+ residents over the past decade or so and apartment occupancy is reported to be 90%+. I’m not sure how much more quickly the market should be expected to move in a place like St. Louis. That seems big. There are problems to be sure, but it’s growing and adding big numbers. It does seem that has been and is demand for living downtown.

            What I’m more interested in is how other downtown are (or aren’t) seeing more downtown retail, whether CVS, TJ Maxx, or whatever. Why does Cleveland or Cincinnati have these options and St. Louis does not? Do more people in those cities take transit to downtown? (I don’t think so). Do they have more jobs, or residents, or tourists than downtown St. Louis? I don’t know.

          • Jeff Leonard

            Alex, as you know Columbus is my primary comparison for the questions you raise. In 1989, the city built a downtown mall to great fanfare, just like here. And just like here it failed. In 2009 it was torn down and replaced with a (so far successful) park. Retail has proved only marginally more successful there than here. But what I do see different than the St. Louis CBD is more and more people traffic, which comes from a powerful combination of a) the private sector GROWING there downtown worker counts, b) a very stable and large public sector job base (as the state capital), c) many more people living downtown (the number of new apartment buildings in the last 5 years is staggering) and d) 20K community college students streaming in every day. From all this has come a very cohesive dining and entertainment district. But not the retail. I think that will be the last domino to fall.

          • John R

            I’m not as knowledgeable about Cincy, but Cleveland has a higher population of workers and residents than STL and it can’t build market rate fast enough. The Downtown Cleveland org says there are 125,000 workers and a population over 13,000.and occupancy in the high 90s. (The specific boundaries they use are roughly equivalent to ours, imo.)

            As for transit use, I’m not sure how overall ridership compares, but RTA says about 30,000 riders use the central Tower CIty station so that is providing a decent amount of foot traffic to support a fair amount of retail in the mall and surrounding Public Square area. And now the East 9th & Euclid area is booming and has attracted downtown’s first full-blown grocer and other attractive retail. It’s all about density and demographics.

          • John R

            I need to amend that comment about being all about density and demographics…. strategy and design are also important and I do think some of our peers just have more capable and resourced downtown entities working on these things. Its not really a knock on the individuals here, but places like Cincinnati and Cleveland have much more well-funded and capable groups promoting downtown and developing and executing downtown retail & housing plans, etc.

          • John R

            In terms of downtown residential growth, I find it interesting that while DT continues to add people at a decent clip, it seems to have been overtaken by other portions of the Central Corridor in the post-recession era in terms of being the destination for urban living,,,, I think your post today on the CWE boom paints a pretty good picture of that explosion.

            Pre-recession, the bulk of activity was Downtown. It would be interesting to know why this change has happened… I personally feel it is a combo of good jobs growth in the eds & meds & tech corridor as well as a bit of DT stakeholders falling down on the job a bit so to speak. Anyway, I do think that DT does have the capacity to grow more quickly… getting new construction for one will help appeal to a market that is woefully underserved… but it may take more subsidy.

          • SouthCityJR

            I tend to agree, but wonder how we can get more large national retailers anywhere in the City. It seems like one of the issues is the large concentration of national retailers in the Galleria/Brentwood area. Seems like many of those retailers would be unlikely to add another location so close (CWE Whole Foods being the exception). That said, the City should focus on luring a retailer that doesn’t have a presence in the metro area, similar to what we did with IKEA. I’m thinking CB2, Zara, Uniqlo, Room and Board, etc.

        • John R

          Downtown is its own animal and the retail problems are with daytime population counts, not a lack of willingness to support small scale retail. Having said that, I think there are things that Downtown STL and other DT stakeholders can go to encourage more small retail biz.

          • John R

            meant “can do” in that last sentence.

          • Luftmentsch

            So, downtown needs more office workers to support retail? That’s funny, because I can remember (not so long ago) when residential development was supposed to be the panacea. There are plenty of workers downtown: They don’t walk anywhere! There’s a bike-sharing program that no one uses. There are parks where they’ve pulled up the benches (and never replaced them) because the policy of the city is to discourage loitering. Enough with the bromides.

          • John R

            My understanding is that daytime population count in the downtown retail world is the sum total of all the people in an area during normal business hours…. students. tourists/visitors, office workers but also residents. The mix of these different “customers” will influence how much and what types of retail we have. If I’m wrong about that I’ll refund your money.

            As for downtown, yes, we need more workers as well as more students and more residents and more visitors if we want substantively more retail… I believe the Downtown & Downtown West neighborhoods only have about 5,000 residents each, which isn’t very much to support retail on its own. I think we have about 65,000 workers in this same core walkable area (and maybe 15-20K more if you include the Amerens, Purinas, Wells-Fargos of the world on the perimiter) which isn’t great, either. I’m not sure what level we need to reach to become closer to say downtown Minneapolis in terms of retail, but if we boost our downtown count by say 10,000 workers, 5,000 people and 2,500 students by 2020 hopefully we’ll begin to see some good progress. Sorry for any bromides and have a nice day!

    • Ashley

      It’s 6 North and it was a small coffee shop that ended up relocating downtown. The building has gotten offers for small convenience stores to take the space but each one has stated they want to be able to sell liquor. The 6 North building is home to many wheelchair bound residents and there is a facility a block away with other vulnerable residents. The manager of 6 North will not allow a convenience store to operate in the building if it will sell alcohol, as to protect the residents of the block. Whether people agree with that opinion is one thing, but I think it is very caring of the building to think of its residents first over the rent profit it could make from the space.

      • Luftmentsch

        Thanks for the correction. My understanding is that McCormack Baron tried to get mixed retail into the building during its first years of operation and basically failed. That was my point. I think the residential component of the building is visionary and something we can all be proud of.

        • Ashley

          I wouldn’t necessarily call it a failure. They have just been selective among the interested. Maybe with even more residents within walking distance a small bodega will want to open up there and agree to not sell liquor.

    • Andy

      It’s 2015. I would wager to say that there are very few stationary stores left in middle markets like St. Louis that one could argue that their business is booming; especially in on a block that hasn’t had much else to attract additional foot traffic. I would not blame the citizens of St. Louis for a stationary store going out of business the same way I would not blame the citizens of St. Louis for an independent video rental store for shutting their doors 5 years ago. @jhoff1257:disqus is right – we have plenty of good examples of walk-able neighborhoods with a strong small scale retail presence. Can we improve: yes; but do not think it is fair to make a generalization about the good citizens of St. Louis and our ability to support small businesses with this as the example.

  • Presbyterian

    I’m resigned to the fact that Sarah has struggled as a retail corridor, and I do like the density. This project would be enhanced by adding some sort of fenestration (even blanks) on the ground floor facing Sarah.

    • STLEnginerd

      Reopening pine to through traffic would help.

      Probably would meet stiff resistance though.

    • moorlander

      definitely had to look up the definition of “Fenestration”

      • Presbyterian

        Sorry… I forget that’s sort of a technical term. I guess most folks don’t talk about fenestration at the dinner table. 🙂

        • shad schoenke

          I’ve only heard of ‘defenestration,’ which a way, much more interesting concept.

          • john w.

            Only if you’re a spectator, and not the subject.

  • T-Leb

    Wow, hand drawrings

  • John R

    Looking at the site, I think a variance from the commercial requirement, while not ideal, is a bit more understandable here than it was for the West Pine Lofts, where you already have a retail concentration.

    Hopefully the prime vacant parcel on the NW corner of Sarah and Laclede gets a solid redevelopment with some first floor retail… I dunno if the earlier reported project of a possible florist as part of a residential project for people with special needs is still in the works there.

    • Tim E

      Agree, looking at google earth you got this nice area of relatively intact residential west of N. Sarah. Think this proposal will fit in well and see a good use of a variance .
      .
      The loss opportunity was West Pine Lofts. However, I believe you still got opportunity to the east of N. Sarah street between Lindell and Forest Parkway that would still be three to four blocks, 5-10 minute walk at most.

    • Presbyterian

      Sadly, that earlier project died in part due to a residential neighbor across the alley to the north.

      • John R

        That’s too bad. Do you know what the objection was? Scale of the building or something else?

        • Presbyterian

          I remember the discussion, which centered on insufficient retail. At the time, though, I wasn’t sure their real concerns were being shared. Felt sort of like a smokescreen, if I recall. It was a bit of a mystery.