By. Chris Stritzel
When the 2008 Recession came, St. Louis felt the shock of it pretty heavily. Multiple proposals were dumped, projects were pushed back and vacant buildings continually sat vacant in Downtown. But as the Recession came to an end, St. Louis developers were restarting developments ever so cautiously. Investors weren't so bullish on St. Louis like they were in other cities so financing was slightly harder to get but a big improvement what it was during the Recession. Fast forward 8 years since the Recession started coming to a close. Many long time vacant buildings in Downtown have been brought back to life. We have a entire street that is home to our nightlife (Washington avenue). We have abandoned buildings that have plans in the works and some that are still waiting for their second chance at life. We have numerous construction sites in Downtown, both new and historic. The Arch has been connected to Downtown via the park over highway and more.
This past year in Downtown, many new businesses and apartment/loft buildings have opened or will open up to great success and some others were announced. Most notably, historic buildings like the Monogram on Washington, Level on Locust, Peper Lofts, 705 Olive, Mercantile Library, LaSalle Building and the International Show Building have been brought back to life or are in the process of doing so. Those three will bring additional residential, hotel and retail space to Downtown. Other restorations announced and/or are ready to get underway are the Jefferson Arms, Chemical Building and 1820 Locust Street. Those will bring the same uses as mentioned above. But the other historic buildings that sit vacant have an uncertain future. Structures such as Butler Brothers, YMCA and the NLEC all haven't had any plans talked about them recently or at all. Others have plans like the Municipal Courts and the Railway Exchange but those appear to be stalled. Newer buildings that sit vacant are the AT&T Center and the Millennium Hotel. North of those structures are giant roadblocks for future development in downtown.
The AT&T Center is supposedly going to be bought by Clayco and redeveloped but no plans have been announced on that one. The Millennium Hotel just seems like the next structure to have a redevelopment plan as it is close to Ballpark Village, the Arch and major highways but no one seems interested. Besides all the negatives, the positives greatly outweigh them. With more residents Downtown then ever before, more jobs following suit and now the need for new construction in parts is driving a renaissance that is quietly (as in no cranes) reshaping our Downtown. All you need to do is walk or drive around down there. There are multiple construction fences, infrastructure Improvements and other things going on to make way for the continued revitalization of Downtown.
But the future appears to hold more than just historic reconfigurations, it also includes new construction. Projects such as Ballaprk Village Phase 2 and 300 South Broadway give us a glance at what could be coming in the future if the revilization continues. Towers of varying heights could sprout up all over the place in Downtown. A few years ago, Drury wanted to build a tower on Lacledes Landing, the chances of that happening now have gone up significantly since the lot it would be built on is not subdivided. Then you have a second tower for the Gateway Tower. The building that holds KMOV and Shipworks may have a second tower built next to it. But that could've been a marketing gimmick to sell the building. It is said that the podium base of the Gateway Tower can support another tower of the same height. The grandest of them all could be the 50 Floor Riverfront Tower that Alterra is working on.
I have received confirmation that it is indeed being designed and the general location of it but Alterra wants to get a start on the Jefferson Arms first before announcing a 50 Floor Tower. As many cities similar In size to us have seen a ton of Downtown new construction, we are taking it slow. Taking it slow is actually good because it seems developers here build for market demand and don't over build. People are moving in ever so steadily but a drastic increase or decrease in moving in could wreck havoc on future development plans. While other cities are beginning to notice the effects of a "apartment bubble" St. Louis doesn't seem to be witnessing or experiencing these effects. Our buildings, whether they be in Downtown or the general city, fill up quick, so there is demand just not a ton of demand.
In an interview with KMOX regarding city projects, I said, "As the Central West End and The Grove build like no tomorrow, they are running out of space quickly, and you don't want to displace current residents for a new project, you need land. Downtown has parking lots and vacant lots scattered all over the place that can hold new construction. Those with the ever decreasing amount of abandoned buildings Downtown means that new construction is eminent." I still believe the new construction is eminent in Downtown. All signs point to it. It's not just because the entire City is slowly coming back but it Is the fact that there is an entire generation interest in our downtowns across the nation. In St. Louis, that generation is very much at play here. Then you have people my age who see Downtowns coming back and what to live in them. It is a domino effect. These people are opening businesses, starting families and contributing to the revilization of our downtown and others so the future looks more bright.
On top of that, you have DowntownSTL Inc. a company that is dedicated to making downtown the place to be. These public private partnerships are strengthening our Downtown while making new development possible. For me, I give Downtown 4 years to fully explode into construction mode. Many of the abandoned buildings must be dealt with first and I see their redevelopments taking place, or starting, within the next 4 years. At the end of those 4 years, we will have skyline changing and infill projects going up primarily on vacant lots. Some of these developments will be small but will contribute to the density of Downtown while some will be fairly large.
And while I can't tell where the projects will be built (North or South of Market), I can tell that the outlook on downtown is improving and with just a little more work on the pedestrian experience, Downtown will be ready for the next generation of hustle and bustle on the streets and sidewalks. We already have people on the sidewalks of Downtown at night but more will join them as time goes on. Creepy streets are being lit up with lighting and restaurants and what not making people feel safer. And while it is a perpetual hell to navigate by car Downtown, I believe that in the future, you can park your car anywhere down there, or take the metro, and wander around like you would in Chicago and NYC and enjoy the urban atmosphere.
The new downtown is coming soon, and I can't wait to see what it brings.