Preservation Planned for SW Bank Corner Buildings, Demo for Walgreens In Between

BMO Harris_SW Bank

Rumors of plans to demolish the Soutwest Bank building, now home to BMO Harris Bank, have been swirling for years. The rumors were just that as BMO Harris sought feedback from the city, local officials, and neighbors. That effort appears to have culminated in a plan the bank will to take to the city’s Preservation Review Board.

At a public hearing tonight, BMO Harris outlined a plan that would preserve the corner building, dating from 1905, a move widely expected. The building would undergo a full historic rehab, including removal of the paint, and a small addition constructed to the west. With banks requiring less physical room, the majority of the space on the site is unused. The corner building would provide enough square footage for the redesigned bank.

Much less expected is a pledge to retain the corner building at Botanical Avenue and donate it to the Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation. While the building at Southwest Avenue is a landmark for many drivers, the Botanical building is an important anchor for the neighborhood and surrounding residential streets.

BMO Harris_SW Bank 4

In between the two corner buildings demolition would make way for a Walgreens. Initial images show a building very similar to that at Clayton Road and Big Bend Boulevard, though with taller windows. Ingress and egress is still being planned, but would reportedly include curb cuts on Kingshighway.

A standalone restaurant would be constructed near the west side of the property, set back from Southwest. A potential tenant has not been disclosed. The Walgreens across Southwest would close. The plan is set to go before the Preservation Review Board at its meeting July 25.

BMO Harris_SW Bank 5{the Kingshighway facade currently presents continuous storefronts}

BMO Harris_SW Bank 3{light blue offers a guess as the site of the planned Walgreens}

The building at Southwest and Kingshighway was the scene of an attempted robbery in 1953. That event would become famous with the 1959 film The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, staring Steve McQueen. The site is part of the Reber Place National Historic District, which prompted the need for BMO Harris to submit plans to the Preservation Review Board, allowing various stakeholders the opportunity to provide feedback.

BMO Harris_SW Bank 2

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  • Mark S

    The preservation review has been “deferred” according to the agenda/minutes posted to the next meeting? Not sure how that works.

    I also wanted to mention, the discussions about pedestrian friendliness or lack thereof of Kingshighway miss the point. There’s plenty of parking behind this complex of buildings to allow auto access. The question for me with such developments is a question of scale. By demoing a bunch of storefronts that _can_ be inhabited by smaller businesses, you are also destroying a certain type of community and livable scale. Storefronts allow a certain way of life for people. When they’re gone, and replaced by big box stores, we have no choice but to be subservient to corporations who want to drain our communities of money –their profits do not stay local by any means– and offer less-than-stellar opportunities for employment. When storefronts are abandoned, as they often are, we are left with a building that is probably only usable by another big-box store. Finding tenants for such buildings isn’t as easily done in St. Louis where every fiefdom is willing to offer property tax deferrals for the promise of sales tax revenue.

    Several blocks away from my house is Keller Apothecary, which inhabits a small storefront. If this storefront had not be preserved, this business would have no place to be without constructing a freestanding structure. Walgreens may have the cash for this, but not some small business starting out.

    Also, it should be noted, businesses along Kingshighway are totally accessible from the inhabiting neighborhoods behind. There’s plenty of people who live in these neighborhoods with money to spend. It doesn’t have to only be a means of transport. There are plenty of businesses and even development along this stretch of road. Garcia Properties is not too far away and just renovated a significantly sized office building.

    • Mark S.

      Edit: When big-box stores are abandoned, as they often are, we are left with a building that is probably only usable by another big-box store.

  • Tysalpha

    I’m kinda surprised (well not really) by how vehemently folks are obsessing about the store fronts. Kingshighway is imminently unwalkable. It’s not even a “stroad”, which Nextstlers rightly abhor. And no other sections of Kingshighway are walkable. It’s not like this is the one section that remains needing change to make it the quaint charming little street “everyone” wants it to be. The entire thing is stroad or highway/stroad hybrid.

    Looking at the aerial shot, what hits me is this: If we’re going to imagine what should be, it’s the Southwest Avenue side that should be built out with small storefronts. It’s a narrower street, it has less traffic and a slower speed limit. It has small walkable storefronts and businesses just a block or two further southwest. In essence, everything about Southwest avenue is perfect for quaint walkability, except the current bank parking lot and the current Walgreens site. So why not let Walgreens build on KHwy, have it AND the bank share curb cuts on KHwy, and then build store fronts along Southwest on both sides of the street?

    • Tysalpha

      Something like this, with a road diet for Southwest Ave, street parking and/or bike lanes, and widen sidewalk.

      • Sam

        I’ve talked to several people about this and it’s not so much preserving the storefronts along Kingshighway as it’s more about not wanting to look at a parking lot. Could the developer put the parking in the middle with storefronts facing inwards? I’m all for adding storefronts along southwest, but have you seen a site plan? They aren’t putting storefronts anywhere. It’s a Walgreens and a restaurant building surrounded by parking lot. Also, traffic coming in and out onto Kingshighway there will make the traffic situation worse not better. Mostly I’m just disappointed in the effort BMO put in to this plan. They had a chance to come up with something really great to put at a highly visible intersection at a boundary with the Hill, across the street from the local library branch and the Operation Brightside garden, and very near to Tower Grove Park, the Botanical Gardens, and the beautiful surrounding neighborhoods.

      • Imran

        Just look the aerial image you have posted. Compare the community that exists around the auto-centric northwest corner to what exists around this site. Tearing down a human-scaled historic street wall to prioritize automobile access along Kingshighway with visible empty asphalt lots will degrade the community. I think your ideas along Vandeventer are great by the way.

        • Tysalpha

          Thanks! To build on your comment… That should probably be the goal for Vandeventer / Southwest, either way.

          I totally get that breaking up the solid block on Kingshighway isn’t good. It’s just that as busy as Kingshighway is, I don’t see pedestrian-scale working. Or rather, it’ll always be an uphill battle. The easier battle in terms of consumer/customer buy-in, IMO, is recreating that stretch on the cross street because it’s already lower volume. I’m totally promoting a compromise idea, admittedly.

  • Joan Scott-Lange

    Why another Walgreens?

  • Adam

    they don’t need 2 curb cuts. one curb cut with an entrance and exit lane is more than sufficient. i hope the Pres Rev Board limits them to 1.

    • Bob B

      The Preservation Board will strictly deal with the demolitions and not design. It is not the functioning the Preservation Board to fiddle with designs of projects that aren’t in Local Historic Districts.

      • Adam

        Well that’s disheartening… hopefully, then, the board just denies the demo.

  • Bob B

    Removing paint due to years of deferred maintenance hardly constitutes a
    “full historic rehab”. If they are constructing a new modern entrance to the
    exposed south facade and not restoring the original storefronts or reopening the original corner entrance it most certainly is NOT a historic Rehab. BMO granted special meetings to select groups prior to last nights meeting offering insights into their plans. Sadly, the neighborhood as a whole only has a week to digest the project before the
    demo’s are to go before the Preservation Board. As a resident of the
    neighborhood I am saddened by the rush to eliminate more of our historic
    fabric to placate a developer.

    • Sam These drawings are from 2013, but the only thing that has changed from then is that the portion of the building at Kingshighway and is also being saved and the Walgreens is now 14k sqft instead of 16k. Also the Walgreens entrance was moved from the parking lot to the NE corner abutting the sidewalk on Kingshighway.

      At the meeting last night the regional president of BMO stated several times that this project would add value to the neighborhood. How does tearing down most of a historic storefront and plopping a Walgreens in between while leaving an abandoned building across the street add value to our neighborhood?

  • Imran

    Yeah, let’s take the last coherent line of storefronts at this intersection and find a way to ruin it.

    • It’s not a loss. There’s zero pedestrian traffic there, because Kingshighway is one step down from being an interstate, and that’s not going to change. Better to have the buildings generating some tax revenue than sitting empty.

      • Sam

        Yeah, let’s settle for moving a building across the street leaving the former site abandoned and then tear down some buildings in a historic district and replace them with mostly parking lot. Also, what new taxes are you talking about? If you abandon one location and open in another do you magically generate more taxes?

      • Adam

        “…that’s not going to change.”

        the St. Louis attitude in a nut shell. the reason things don’t change in St. Louis, yet change everywhere else.

        • Bob B

          You nailed it..”it’s not something now so why care?” There is no foot traffic because the bank has been sitting on the building for years stifling any sort of growth. There are 5 potential storefronts with ample parking that could be used..but nope. Level it for a Walgreens. Typical Stl.

        • It’s not going to change in our lifetimes. St. Louis is autocentric because the majority of people who live here like it that way. No amount of arguing or education is going to change that in time to make St. Louis a functional city while we’re still above ground. If you want to live in a place that really cares about this stuff, move to Portland or Boston or Barcelona. Otherwise you need to learn to be happy with what you can get.

          • Adam

            Nice opinion. I disagree. If other cities can bring about such change in my lifetime then so can St. Louis. The only thing holding it back is attitudes like the one you’ve expressed. Most people probably thought we’d never again see development in St. Louis, but we are. I might agree with you if this stretch of K’way—adjacent to homes, a major park, a library, and pedestrian-scale storefronts—had always been a stroad, but it hasn’t. It was turned into a stroad and it can be turned back into a street that accommodates both cars and pedestrians. South of the K’way/Southwest intersection it’s not so different from the S. Grand/Arsenal intersection. Everybody thought the sky would fall there as well.

  • Michael C

    If a Walgreens goes in, parking must not been seen from the street. Parking must be in the rear of the building ONLY.

    There are many other empty lots that would better fit a Walgreens. It is a shame that the built environment is being destroyed.

    • Sam

      A posted a crappy image above. Parking on all sides except in front of the Walgreens itself. Terrible.