There is no denying that Downtown has been on the upswing for nearly 20 years. The original push of investments into the Ballpark, Cupples District, and Washington Avenue set Downtown up for a brighter future than where it was headed. Years of abandonment, demolitions, and fires took it's toll on Downtown and still those gaps in the urban fabric remain. Parking lots and grassy lots occupy sites of former commercial buildings, a sign from when St. Louis was one of the largest cities in the United States and then the quick downfall from our peak in the 50s. So many projects have been done to date that someone like me can't mention them all, and that's a good thing. Optimism in Downtown is high and it's expected to get higher as major announcements make their way through the news feeds and blogs in this City.
On a quiet corner in Downtown, catty-corner from the Federal Reserve and the old St. Louis Centre (now Mercantile Exchange), sits a building that is quite forgettable. The old Mercantile Library Building never used to look like this. In fact, it was the result of a 60s recladding that saw the original ornate brick façade scraped off and replaced with a façade that, at the time, was state of the art and "cool". It's one of the many Downtown buildings that received a recladding in the 50s-70s. Many of the buildings that once had different facades on them now have their original look back. However, the Mercantile Library, Farmers and Merchants, 1015 Locust, the Dorsa Lofts, and other smaller buildings retain their non-original cladding.
The Mercantile Library Building has held it's place as a very large building on the block bounded by Broadway, Locust, 6th, and Olive. The only other buildings on the block are the Millennium Center, LaSalle Building (Hotel Indigo), and the Paradowski Building (part of Hotel Indigo). While all the buildings sit in the shadow of the Railway Exchange Building and Metropolitan Square Building, they all service a purpose and with all of them soon to be activated, it could make for an entirely different feel.
In 2015, news got out that Brandonview LLC (headed by Brian Hayden) would redevelop the building into parking and apartments. After the success of their 720 Olive project (former Laclede Gas Building) and Gallery 1014 project (former Alverne building), it was now time to turn attention to the Mercantile Library. The plans for the building called for a parking garage, floors with different vibes, 50 apartments, and some retail space. Amazingly, Hayden's company did not ask for a tax abatement, TIF or any other type of credit to get the project done. It's one of only a few projects to do so in St. Louis and goes to show that not all developers need incentives to get a project rolling. So far, the total cost of the project, based on building permits from the city, totals $2,129,585. That seems a bit low for a building this large.
The renovation of this building has been known by many. First, the sidewalks and a lane on Locust have been closed for work. Second, a majority of the old windows were removed and replaced with new, larger windows. Third, large balconies were added to the building further changing it's appearance. Finally, a large STLLUXURY sign hangs over the old Boatman's Bank sign on Broadway signaling that the end is near for the construction on the redevelopment project.
On September 8th, an open house was held at the Gallery Villas. The public was welcome to come in and see what was done with the place. It is one of only a few projects in St. Louis where no renderings were ever released showing what the finished product would look. To many of the people who were there I talked to, they live in Downtown, were intrigued and wanted to see what's up since this has been under construction for about a year. Others were authentically interested in renting a Villa/Apartment.
When I walked in, the first thing you realize is how bizarre everything is. We were all on the third floor of the building. It's like you're in a parking garage but instead, there are entrances to apartments that look like Suburban style homes, sidewalks and turf. Even the tagline for the building is, "Suburban Living in the heart of the city." as well as, "We are BurbCity". Clearly they are marketing this towards people who prefer suburban living but want to be in Downtown. The goal is to make the building feel a bit more like a neighborhood than your typical apartment building. There were 7 Villas on this floor. Each with their own garage. Yes, a garage within a garage. The larger garage is to serve residents of Gallery 515 (the Millennium Center) and the Federal Reserve.
When walking into a unit, the high ceilings and tons of natural light are welcome. The finishes in the building are quite standard for projects Hayden does. Granite countertops, brown cabinetry, and hardwood floors. Everything had a very open plan. Space in these units almost feels like it was used the wrong way. In my opinion, the units were filled with lot's of dead space that could've been taken away to maybe squeeze in another apartment. The units' balconies were also generous. Each being large enough to have a grill on as well as some chairs. They also offer some great views of the city that surrounds it, as you can see below.
I walked through the 4 units that they had on display that day and they were all relatively the same. 1 was a one bedroom, 2 were two bedrooms, and another one was a three bedroom. The other three units were not open for tours but they face the Railway Exchange Building and the Metropolitan Square Building. Besides this, there really wasn't much else to see in the building.
The units at the Gallery Villas range from 1082SF, for a 1 Bedroom, to 2100SF for a 3 Bedroom. Rent also ranges from $2300 per month to $5980 per month. More information can be found on their website: http://www.stlluxury.com/gallery-villas
It will be great to see another Downtown building brought back to life as well as more apartment units filled. The more people Downtown, the better off it will be in the long run. As our abandoned building stock continues to diminish, the time is coming where new construction will become more common. The Moxy Hotel is the first true example of this. Redeveloping another abandoned building also means that it can help activate a corner or two. Right now, building management is listing the retail space at 6th and Locust. They want a pharmacy there to help fill the void in that category Downtown.
If the developer is reading this, please clean the façade up on the Gallery Villas. It needs a good cleaning and don't just use wood board to patch up certain areas. Also, replace the last remaining pieces of glass, the ones that remain are not very stylish and look as though the building it still partially empty. This is one of the more high profile projects in Downtown, do it right. It's great that you're doing this without incentives, but sometimes going that extra step can help out everything in the long run. In the end, it's a decent project with an odd approach. The approach seems to be working as 6 of the 50 units are pre-leased. If an odd concept works, I say let it be. Anything to help Downtown out in the long run is a major plus.
For their next project, Brandonview LLC is eyeing the Masonic Temple on Lindell in Midtown and the concept there could be similar to this, but that project is a ways down the line.
Below are videos that I took during this event. The first one is a quick one that shows the parking garage area. The second one is of a one bedroom apartment.