Finally, Finally? Chemical Building Just Might Have a Workable Development Plan

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Alexa aerial

Back in 2013, nextSTL ran this headline: “Finally: Chemical Building Gets Financing for 120 Apartments, First Floor Retail”. It was a good story, and true as well. But as we know, projects can and frequently do get stuck on one of the many hurdles that must be cleared to get a development off the ground. Now the Chemical Building appears ready for yet another try, with a new proposal aiming to  transform the 17-story, 167,000 sq. ft. building at Eighth Street and Olive.

TWG Development, the same group proposing the renovation of a row of historic buildings on Locust Street, and the demo of one prominent corner building, has the Chemical Building under contract for a reported $4.25M. Planned is a $20M renovation and the transformation of the space into 120 market-rate apartments. Just more than 8,000sf of retail would be preserved on the first floor. The developer is requesting a 10-year tax abatement on the property.

Most recently, Restoration St. Louis had the building under contract and were exploring its redevelopment in conjunction with the adjacent 705 Olive. That project, a restoration of the Adler & Sullivan landmark, in underway.

The Chemical Building’s owner in 2013, Landwhite Developers LLC, bought the Chemical Building in 2012 from Centrue Bank for nearly $4 million. The bank foreclosed on the property in 2011 after Chemical Building Acquisition LLC, a group of investors from California, filed for bankruptcy. At that time the building had been stripped and prepared for conversion into the Alexa condominiums. Waterfall Asset Management of New York is the building’s current owner.

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Chemical Building

Chemical 3
{one of the Benish Restaurant and Catering Company’s chain of eight locations occupied the first floor of the Chemical Building, c. 1920}

The brick, terra cotta, and cast iron Chemical Building was designed by Henry Ives Cobb and built in 1896. Several longstanding St. Louis businesses including the Shorthand Institute, later known as the Carlton School for Secretaries, have occupied space in the Chemical Building through the years. In 1934 legendary St. Louis cafeteria Miss Hullings opened their first location in the basement of the building. Dooley’s Ltd., another popular downtown eatery, operated in the Chemical Building for nearly 40 years. Dooley’s is currently located in Grand Center near the Fox Theatre.

Although the building ranks among the more appreciated historic buildings today, it received a less than glowing architectural review in The Brickbuilder at the time it was built: It contains no special features, other than those found in other first-class office buildings. It is seventeen stories high, in what Barr Ferree is pleased to call the degenerate Chicago style; its many angular bays and the numerous ornamented horizontal lines suggest, to use a common expression, that the architect had found “a good thing,” and was tempted to “push it along.” He has left He has left no quiet spot upon which we may rest the eye, and, although we may be awed by its great height we find it lacks the impressive simplicity and imposing grandeur of its less pretentious neighbor, the Union Trust Building….The architect has given us quite a surprise by the use of very vivid red brick and terra-cotta, quite out of the ordinary in this day of lighter colors.

Downtown neighborhood - STL
{the Chemical Building today – image by Mark Groth}

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  • Goomba

    If all these plans come to fruition. The Old Post Office area will be booming in the next few years. Hopefully that will lead to more daily retail in downtown and places staying open later, which will in turn lead to more growth. A lot of people are hesitant on moving downtown, because of the lack of everyday retail. A CVS/Walmart, Target, a couple of chain stores and restaurants would go a LONG way, but I feel that we are headed in the direction.

  • brickhugger

    I toured it when it was the ‘Alexa’ in ’07, and was on the downtown house tour. Such a shame! Those units were top end, and the corner bay units were just amazing. Here’s hoping it gets done, and done right, and fully occupied right quick!
    (ps; trivia note: the architect of this building [Henry Ives Cobb] designed the original buildings of the University of Chicago campus, shortly after this building was built)

  • jkf1220

    Let’s hope it holds. Who would have believed that Paul Brown, Syndicate and Arcade would all get done before the Chemical. Those four plus the OPO and the former Board of Education building have to be as fine a block or two of buildings as any in the country.

  • Jakeb

    a magnificent gem in downtown. I hope this plan works.

  • John

    More good news for Downtown St. Louis! I am excited for this renovation project of the Chemical Building, and it is interesting to read the historical review of the architecture. I think the building was underrated for its “less is more” style.