A New Tower Without Government Interference

Apologies to Clarence the angel, but there’s a new adage this Christmas: Every time the government of the City of St. Louis respects the laws of that its residents enacted for the public good, the St. Louis Business Journal runs a predictable anti-government editorial.

That’s the case this week, when after the Preservation Board concluded by a 4-3 vote Monday that the developers of a proposed residential building downtown had to preserve parts of the street-facing elevations and increase glazing on the tower above. As I wrote last week, these are the conditions that the board is legally allowed to set. Before the developer can figure out if the conditions can be met, the Business Journal is already crowing that the board’s decision could prevent the building from being built, thus robbing downtown of economic growth.

By the way, the editorial writer’s jibe placing the Preservation Board in the “alphabet soup” of city agencies is laughably rote. When I next hear of the “PB” and I’m not at a hip toast bar, I’ll be sure to look up.

Rumor simultaneously is circulating that the developer will be leaning on Alderman Jack Coatar (D-7th), in whose ward the proposed site is located, to push through a redevelopment ordinance that exempts the building from the city’s preservation ordinance. If this happens, it would be an unfortunate retaliation against the very ordinances passed by the Board of Aldermen to regulate disputes over how to allow the city to change.

The preservation ordinance was written not just to set standards for what buildings should be protected, but to define what criteria the public body governing preservation (the “PB”) should employ to determine when it is acceptable to suspend protection of a protected building and allow a new project to occur. That is exactly what the Preservation Board did Monday – it did not obstruct demolition, and instead lived up to its mandate and set conditions on demolition.

The particular condition set is not an easy one, but the preservation ordinance already anticipates that. There is a lawful right to appeal any decision of the Preservation Board to the Planning Commission (the “PC,” I guess). The Planning Commission can review decisions by the Preservation Board, and issue its own decisions as an appellate body. In case anyone would think that this is arduous, remember that this is the same body that allowed St. Louis University the right to demolish the Pevely Dairy after the Preservation Board ruled against that. There are parking lots and vacant lots around town that also testify to the Planning Commission’s less than, well, anti-development (is that really the right phrase?) stance on appealing Preservation Board decisions.

And the Preservation Board itself is not exactly UNESCO (there’s the alphabet soup). This is the Board that deigned that a parking lot is the highest and best use of the northeast corner of Lindell and Taylor avenues in the Central West End (in 2009) and that Joe Edwards could build the Moonrise Hotel as long as he retained – actually demolished and loosely replicated — façade of the Jones Funeral Home (in 2007). Its members include a prominent local development attorney, a public relations consultant who has represented corporate clients, an architect who has designed many new buildings for developers and who has pushed the city for more lenient standards for new design in historic districts, among others. This is not a radical body, and its decisions reflect what I’d argue is a very healthy respect for the capitalist real estate market.

If the developer is disgruntled by the Preservation Board decision, an appeal to the Planning Commission is in order. That’s the path that was on the law books when the developer decided to chase this dream, and that the developer’s attorney should have anticipated needing to follow. Again, it’s a well-defined path that is far too liberal for a preservationist like me.

The Board of Aldermen should respect what small measure of architectural regulation the city does have, and not capitulate to whims expressed by a newspaper that probably would editorialize to abolish the Board of Aldermen if it did anything to upset any investor. Members of the Board should remind themselves that they are elected by the residents of the city, who have very reasonably asked for some small number of laws to regulate the quality of the urban environment. In the day and age of President Donald Trump and Governor Eric Greitens, anti-government sentiment is rampant, and the St. Louis Business Journal has fanned the flames.

Perhaps, though, if the “alphabet soup” of the Preservation Board and Planning Commission is too much for the market, we can remove their authority – while also removing that of the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) and Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) that will make recommendations for abating the real estate taxes of the new building. We could also remove the hand of the Board of Aldermen (BOA), so that there would be no political meddling in this development. There would be nothing to stand in the way then, for or against the new building – it could rise without any government impediment or subsidy, as the St. Louis Business Journal editors urge.

  • John

    In an ideal world, I’d like for the developers to move forward with this new residential building project with the historical façade included into the structure of the building. With that being said, if the only two options were for the historical building to be razed and the new building erected vs the historical building just staying as it currently is, I’d vote for the new residential building to be built. If this historical building was beautiful and truly iconic of the City Of St Louis, then I think some more thought would need to go into the pros and cons of erecting the new building, but it doesn’t seem as though this historical building even looks that unique as compared to today’s architecture, much less historically beautiful. While a bit of history might be lost with the razing of this old building, I think the pros of having perhaps several hundred high earners entering the St Louis market as tax payers (as opposed to, say, them moving to another mid-major market city instead), much outweigh the ‘cons’ of losing a building with a little bit of curbside appeal. Right now it seems as though many people are moving to downtown which, as someone who lives in STL County, is fantastic to see and I hope to see more of that wave continue. In fact, I think if more and more people move downtown, the business side of downtown will take off too (just imagine how much more energetic and exciting downtown would be with a filled to capacity AT&T Tower). Again, in an ideal world it would be nice for the old façade to be incorporated into the structure of this building, but if the developer walks away and this lot remains an unremarkable looking building that provides only a few jobs, I think that scenario would be a depressing (albeit not ‘fatal’ by any means) outcome for the downtown area, especially given the amount of momentum it’s been experiencing as of late.

  • John

    The St. Louis Business Journal is just another example of LIBERAL, FAKE “news.” I applaud this site for calling them out for their lack of journalistic integrity. There is nothing wrong with having building preservation standards, and there are plenty of examples of shoddy construction projects that “skated through the process” without having to jump through regulated hoops.

    I am “all in” for a new residential tower downtown, but it won’t be the single economic panacea to “save” downtown. If the developer cancels this project so quickly, I think it is reflective on the flakey developer, not the preservation board nor government in general. I’m tired of whiney developers that are first to complain and first in line for WELFARE handouts in the form of tax abatement and TIFs.

    • Nick

      I certainly wouldn’t call the Biz Journal liberal

    • jhoff1257

      I’d argue nextSTL is far more liberal then the Business Journal. Have you ever read one of their editorials? That is not a liberal paper lol.

      • John

        Respectfully disagree that good urban design and preservation are not conservative minded, but I do think liberal journalists with hidden agendas are ruining the media. My point is that the Business Journal article whining about preservation standards seems hypocritical. Big government is bad…smart government is good.

        • jhoff1257

          I’m so sick and tired of this shtick about the “big bad liberal media.” It’s so overplayed in this country, and it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with what’s being discussed here.

          I personally know many conservatives that think the types of ideas that are discussed on this website are all a socialist plot to engineer everyone to live in cities and ride buses or whatever BS these “people” can come up with. Just go listen to Glen Beck’s rantings about Agenda 21 or whatever that UN resolution was a few years back. I’m sure there are reasonably minded conservatives that think these are good ideas but they’re certainly not mainstream in that party. Just take a look at the current administration’s budget priorities with regard to cities. And don’t forget that Senate Republicans cut the NHTC program in half and House Republicans attempted to eliminate it (and the LITC) entirely. Only because of heavy lobbying were both programs saved. Let us also not forget that the Missouri HTC program is under constant threat from Republicans here at home too. So if Conservatives support cities and these types of programs and ideas, they do a shit job at showing it.

          Now before this delves into an awful back and forth about politics, I’m going to take off. Have a nice Christmas.

          • STL Forever

            I agree. The liberal media is way overplayed in this country. And they were so right about the election…LOL! And it looks like you delved into politics and skated! Haha! Merry Christmas!

          • jhoff1257

            Yeah I was a little hung over after the Christmas Eve party and was feeling edgy lol. John, if you’re reading this I meant no disrespect to you. You’ve been around here for awhile and usually are pretty spot on with your assessment of things.

            Anyway, have a wonderful New Year everyone!

          • David Hoffman

            Bravo!

    • David Hoffman

      Liberal news does NOT EQUAL fake news. So sick of conservatives spouting this lie.

    • Justin

      Just because you disagree with an editorial’s point of view, that doesn’t make it fake news. Bias does not equal fake. There’s a big difference.

  • Jakeb

    When developers don’t get everything they want they *always* say the regulations have killed the project and sometimes that is even true. Many times it’s not.

    Maybe it’s true here and maybe it isn’t. We’ll see. Just assuming it’s true strikes me as being a little gullible and naive.

    If this project is so easily killed, maybe that’s because the market for the end product is soft, and it needed to be killed.

    We have a LOT of new residential projects in the pipeline for downtown already including BPV, Railway Exchange, Jefferson Arms, etc. As I mull this over in my mind deciding how I feel about it, the question that I keep coming back to is there a real need for this project?

    • jhoff1257

      The residential market downtown is obviously strong. If it weren’t we likely wouldn’t be seeing BPVII or Jefferson Arms or the dozens of smaller (and some other large ones) being undertaken. Other then that I agree 100% with you. If keeping two brick walls standing up is enough to kill the whole thing then it probably wasn’t worth much to begin with.

      And that might not be a bad thing, these developers were behind 212 in Clayton and that building looks terrible. I was passing through Downtown Clayton on my way to the Loop last night and was very, very unimpressed. If something like that replaces the Isaac Taylor building that would be a true loss.

      If I were the city, I’d say we’ll give you permission to take the whole thing down but in exchange for that, they don’t get a dime in incentives. I wonder if keeping the facade would allow any use of historic tax credits? Probably not, but it might be worth exploring.

      • STLrainbow

        I agree with almost every word here. This situation kind of reminds me of the proposal a couple years back to demolish the Optimists Building in the CWE and replace it with a residential tower. It was denied and other, arguably better, projects in the area followed. Same thing here, if there is inherit demand downtown for more high-rise apartment towers they will be built elsewhere if this does not move forward.

        And I think the demand is there…. for one, as BPV tower fills up with pre-leases look for a relatively quick follow-on for another tower or two or three on the remaining parcels.

        • STLrainbow

          I forgot to mention I especially agree with you about the soulless 212 tower in Clayton…. this proposal may be a bit better on the Broadway side but the other three looks to be a pile of uninspired garbage.

        • jhoff1257

          Yeah, this has happened with the Kansas City Power and Light District. They opened up One Light a few years ago, just topped out Two Light and will most likely be moving forward with Three pretty soon. The developer is Cordish, just like BPV. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one (or maybe more) of those 3 half blocks on the north end of BPV turn into more residential.

      • John

        Great point…the downtown residential market is obviously trending upward which is a fantastic trend to witness. I even read in an article a few days ago that the city population was finally not declining anymore for the first time in decades and the downtown population is experiencing hyper growth from a population perspective, which could perhaps set a new positive population trend for the city. Isn’t the Millennium Hotel Building currently vacant? Perhaps this is a short sighted idea, but if that is indeed true then perhaps these developers would be better suited to rehab that particular building into apartment/condo units if they are indeed so gung ho against the building having an older façade at the front entrance.

  • Jakeb

    Is there a desperate need for this new building?

    This is the question that keeps popping up in my head, and I’m thinking the answer is ‘no’. This why I feel so ambivalent about the project.

  • Nick

    The Moonrise Hotel is a great example of where demolition of an old structure is probably a good thing. It’s an incredibly unique, cool hotel with a rooftop bar that is a destination for the region. I think few people would feel its existence is a shame. I haven’t read the Biz Journal’s editorial but I’m sure their sentiment is somewhere along the lines of not preventing things like the Moonrise from being built.

    • Imran

      Umm, you do realize that the Moonrise incorporated a part of the historic facade Of the historic building on that location, a decision that clearly contributed to the coolness of the final project.

      • Ihanaf
      • Nick

        Yeah I got that, thanks for the condescension. Maybe you didn’t pick up that the author is being critical of the end result.

        • Imran

          I was surprised that you were using the Moonrise as an example. If the developer in this case goes with what the PB directed, he could very similarly incorporate a part of 303’s facade and the end product would be that much more unique. What am I missing ?

          • Imran

            My bad. I thought you were disagreeing with the PB’s direction to incorporate the 303 facade.

          • Nick

            All I was pointing out is that the author seems to be unhappy with the existence of the Moonrise in spite of the incorporation of the (faux?) facade of the previous building, which I think is silly as that place is awesome and now practically a St. Louis landmark.

          • The idea behind the Moonrise retention of the street wall was a good compromise, and given the tepid look of the hotel, a wise decision by Edwards and city staff to agree upon. The execution of the idea was somewhat sloppy, though. It’s not awful, but the top of the funeral home lost a lot of detail in its new incarnation.

          • Nick

            Like you say, I think it’s a good compromise. I’m not sure what they could’ve done differently to make it less sloppy. The hotel itself conforms with what you’d expect from a modern hotel, if not actually a little more intricate than usual.

          • Nick

            I’m not gonna lie, I’ve gone back and forth about how I feel about the proposed demo downtown. Initially I was all for it to make room for a building that could bring in hundreds of new residents. After a few days thought I’m not so sure anymore. One, the existing building is a nice brick building that could still potentially be functional. More importantly, however, I think we are starting to overbuild residential in this city. For a city not gaining population we sure are building a lot of new apartments and condos. Long story short, in my mind it’s not clear cut what should happen. In the end, if the developers walk away from the project because they can’t incorporate the existing facade, my feelings won’t be hurt.

          • CMS

            Just like Shoeless Joe…If you build it, they will come. Gotta get some traction going in a struggling downtown.

            Take a look at what is happening around the new Turner Field, Coors Field, or even Wrigleyville. These “Ballpark Communities” generate extreme revenue.

            Saint Louis is lucky enough to have countless examples of historic architecture. We cannot save them all. Historically, if we let preservation dictate progress our skyline would look much different (especially without the Arch).

          • Jakeb

            I get the sense that you are not very familiar with downtown. You come to ball games, in and out as quickly as possible, and that limited experience is what informs these comments.

            Are you aware there are hundreds of residential units already in the pipeline not counting this proposed building?

          • CMS

            Good guess, but I live and work downtown.

            Are you really suggesting that the city would not benefit positively from this project? Sure there are other developments planned, but it’s foolish to say we are covered just because we have other projects planned.

  • CMS

    Preservation of historic architecture is a good thing. No doubt about it. However, when preservation interferes with progress, I start to wonder. Saint Louis City has been in decline since the 50s and now that there is a legitimate opportunity to address this problem through the development of this project and the BPV tower, we are going to let preservation control progress?

    We should not be forced to live with buildings that no longer address the needs of the city. The existing structure was built for industry, not the high pedestrian foot traffic that surrounds the stadium. Downtown needs change. It drastically needs new buildings that attract people to the city and create a live, work, and play environment. The area surrounding Busch Stadium is ideal for this type development.

    I don’t expect to change the mind of preservationists reading my comment, but I am an opportunist, and all I know is that 33-story towers don’t pop up in Saint Louis too often and chasing this project away does absolutely nothing for our city.

    • jhoff1257

      “The existing structure was built for industry, not the high pedestrian foot traffic that surrounds the stadium.”

      So Washington Avenue needs to go to then? Those buildings were all built for industry and seem to do just fine with all the foot traffic surrounding the large dome and convention center. Personally I think this is a great compromise. They get to take down over 95% of the building, preservationists get to keep the most noticeable part of the original building and downtown gets a brand new tower. There are several examples in far more forward thinking cities that have required developers to do similar things. The Hurst Tower in NYC comes to mind. Personally I think keeping the historic facade in addition to a glass tower is more unique then just another glass box you can find going up in literally every large city right now. BPV isn’t affected by any of this and a groundbreaking is imminent on the 36 story, and stunning, Studio Gang tower in the CWE. The St. Louis market is improving and it’s time residents started demanding better. Why can’t we have both? If the developer wants public incentives then the public deserves a say.

      • CMS

        Obviously adaptive reuse of historic structures can be very successful, but that is not what is proposed. The scope of this project is simple. Demo an existing building and construct a 33-story high rise.

        Also, I don’t think incorporating the facade of the existing building is a feasible suggestion. It would essentially become a very expensive parking screen. This suggestion would make more sense in a larger market with greater demands, but here in Saint Louis, it is likely enough to kill the project.

        I am also excited for the Studio Gang tower, but this will do very little for downtown.

        Question: If the high-rise project is dead, what do we do with the historic building we deemed more important?

        • Jakeb

          I’d be curious to know what the net cost would be to keep the facade versus the cost of complete demolition and clearing?

          • CMS

            Option 1 (Maintain the Facade) – Selectively and strategically remove pieces from the building mixed with adding structural supports to insure the facade remains intact.

            Option 2 (Demo in its Entirety) – Take wrecking ball to the building and clean up the mess.

            Option 1 increases labor, design input, and time. It also provides a logistical nightmare during the construction process.

            The return on investment is likely no longer feasible for the developer due to the change in scope. Projects this scale are easily put to sleep regardless of market.

          • Dominic Ricciotti

            There’s something tragically ironic about the ugly Tums buildings surrounding the lovely historic structure remaining in place while the gleaming glass tower displaces the historic and beautiful masonry of the old building.

          • CMS

            Frankentower! Haha

    • I’d argue that preservation barely has interfered with progress in the city. From the Century Building to the San Luis Apartments to Paul McKee’s tumbleweed empire to the Pevely Dairy, “progress” seems to have won most of the major preservation battles in the last 15 years.

      • Nick

        I think there are many more instances of demolitions really just being the only economically viable path forward, more so than a war of some kind between progress and preservation. The San Luis Apartment tear down was probably the Diocese trying to unburden itself of a major expense, a building they probably couldn’t sell at the trough of the Recession, just as much as it was looking for a parking lot. And I’m not one to defend Paul McKee, but would the, say, the Clemens Mansion be intact today if he didn’t own it? Since I haven’t read of any serious investors clamoring to purchase the building from him in the last ten years (and that is certainly something that would make the paper) probably not. The reality is it was an awesome building that’s in a neighborhood where no one wants to sink several million into a rehab.

        Granted this isn’t the case all of the time, but I bet more so than is given credit by many preservationists.

      • Nick

        Just looked up the San Luis Apartments…cool building…and I had no idea what used to occupy that parking lot. What year exactly was it torn down? I wonder if the Diocese attempted to sell the building before the demolition.

        • jhoff1257

          If I’m not mistaken the Diocese was hell bent on tearing it down for parking.

          • Nick

            I’d be willing to bet the real estate market in 2007-08 had something to do with the decision to it tear down.

          • jhoff1257

            Nah, it was parking, for both the Cathedral and the nearby high school. It was well documented back then. A simple look at Built St. Louis shows half a dozen or so sources that lay out the Diocese’s plans pretty clearly. After a quick glance at them, I don’t even see the words recession mentioned.

            http://www.builtstlouis.net/sanluis01.html

          • Nick

            Yes I’ve read that article. I’m saying the Diocese’s plan to turn it into a parking lot was probably contingent on the fact that the real estate market was dead at the time and they wanted to rid themselves of an expensive building. If that building had become vacant today, it would be a different story. The Catholic Church is not one to turn down a profitable business venture. The Cathedral and Rosati Kain made do with the parking situation for decades before, I’m sure they would’ve found another solution.

          • jhoff1257

            Did you read the other 5 or 6 that were linked into that one? Why didn’t they make mention of it? The Diocese wanted it for parking, it was pretty clear back then, unless you can prove your “probably.”

            Either way, who gives a shit. The building disappeared nearly 10 years ago and there’s no point in re-litigating that battle. What’s done is done. The Diocese evicted a bunch of elderly residents to knock down their home in the early throws of a recession for a parking lot. I know which side I’m on, their bottom line doesn’t matter to me, just like those elderly folks didn’t matter much to them.

          • Nick

            Always a pleasure. Happy New Year

  • Presbyterian

    Business Journal editorial: “Why do I have to jump through this alphabet soup of regulatory bodies? I should be able to build MY design for MY building on MY land … with your tax subsidies.”

  • Andy Crossett

    I just don’t understand why everything new has to result in something torn down. That is a beautiful building. Why can’t there be a win/win. Like in Toronto, new modern structures climbing above the existing structures? Keeping streetscapes while introducing the new. Losing the entire block in CWE, Laclede to West Pine, including the 34 Club and other shops and an interesting streetscape. All for a new very nice development in its place, but which is very bland in comparison to what was there before. Why not a win/ win. Keep the existing structures, or at least a facade, and keep the best of both. Its been done. http://urbantoronto.ca/news/2017/05/update-bigs-king-west-20-impresses-public-planning-less

    • jhoff1257

      Came here to say the same thing. What the “PB” has proposed would actually be a very unique and new thing in this city. Much better then a glass walled box that you can find anywhere else.

  • pkh

    Great comment. I am a business person and follow the Business Journal very closely, and you are right on. Business development is great for the city, but not at the expense of the architectural gems our city has to offer.