Updated: Jan 23, 2019
Before Pier Property Group brought a great deal of attention to this industrial area to the Northeast of the Grand and Chouteau intersection, you would've thought it would remain industrial and be forgotten about. The decay was visible especially since the tallest structure, the Steelcote Paint Company Building, stood tall and vacant with clouded windows and vandalism from Interstate 64, Chouteau and Grand among other locations. It was a building that appeared ready to be demolished and in 2016, SLU's redevelopment plan even labeled it as slated for demolition for non-residential new construction. Thankfully, Pier Property Group stepped up and acquired before it was too late.
In early 2018, Pier Property Group acquired the 42,000SF building and planned an $8 Million project to redevelop the building into 33 lofts dubbed "Steelcote Lofts". It would be PPG's 2nd historic restoration project behind the Woodward-Tiernan Paper Factory (Woodward Lofts) building at Tower Grove and Vandeventer. The proposal to restore the building was a new concept which took an old warehouse building, in a heavily industrial area in, and make it trendy. I honestly thought PPG was crazy because they were a newly founded company at the time but they knew what they were doing. As construction began on the project in October 2018, the changes were immediately visible. All of the windows were removed, the graffiti was power washed (for the most part), a skybridge, over Steelcote Square, was demolished, the building was gutted and other trees and junk were removed from the property as the construction process picked up speed.
I first drove by the project on December 2nd just to see what the current status of the building was. Of course that was after the windows and other things mentioned above were removed but it still looked bad. The reason it looked bad to me was because of the new tuckpointing and relatively dirty façade that needed a cleaning (and still does). While the area is still residential, the Steelcote Lofts building will soon be joined by 111 more apartments, a brewery/distillery and about 10,000SF of commercial retail space. PPG's plans for this industrial area encompass a block bounded by Theresa, Papin, Steelcote Square and Gratiot and will ultimately include 143 apartments and lofts ranging from micro to full size (I'll talk more about those later). Clearly PPG is bullish on this area which gave me the idea to reach out to founder, President and head of the company, Michael Hamburg, for a had hat tour. He agreed and this is where the story begins.
Click the arrow to see the building in August (from Trivers Associates).
Being the nosy person that I am, I decided to drive down to the site on January 16th to take some photos of the exterior of the building from different angles. The building still looks the same from the outside with plastic in the windows and a large yellow tube draped over the Southern façade, which allows the construction crew to throw out junk from construction. You can tell that clearly this is a former industrial building by the utilitarian design and the very limited ornamentation. The only true ornamentation is the Steelcote logo on the roofline facing Downtown. On the Western façade, the Steelcote sign will be relit when construction is completed. It's a simple building with an interesting future to say the least.
To the North of the main structure, the "iconic" three shaft smoke stack is being restored along with the other one floor building. This single floor building will eventually become the building's leasing center and the lot behind it will become a secure parking lot for guests and residents to the Steelcote Lofts.
Walking over to Papin and Steelcote Square, you will see the Columbia Oil Building. Soon, this building will become home to 15 micro lofts and a 5500SF brewery/distillery retail space dubbed "Steelcote Crossing". The small building's project cost is $4 Million but adds to the up and coming neighborhood. In between the Steelcote Lofts and Steelcote Crossing buildings is a vacant lot that will eventually be home to a patio for the retail space. Basically, a beer garden concept. You can see said lot in the panorama at the beginning of this post. The Steelcote Crossing project should be completed by the Fall of 2019 and will begin construction in Early March.
Walking around to Theresa Avenue, this large brick building will be demolished for Pier Property Group's first newly constructed building. Dubbed "Mill Creek Flats", the 6 floor building will add 96 apartments, 10,000SF of retail space, parking and other amenities to this area for a price tag of $20 Million. The new building will be designed in a way to where the "Steelcote" sign will still be visible from Grand. It's shocking that a new residential building will be built into this industrial area but is no surprise considering the fact that PPG is bullish on this part of Midtown. The Mill Creek Flats Building should begin construction this summer (2019) with construction ending in Late 2020.
Overall, Michael Hamburg labels this new neighborhood as "The Steelcote Square District". These developments all help each other out in terms of making this industrial area viable as a mixed use neighborhood. The total 15,500SF of retail space is meant to add amenities for residents and visitors while creating foot traffic in this area. Trivers Associates is leading the design of all three buildings in this area and continues their partnership with PPG. Renderings of the above projects are at the end of this story.
THE OFFICIAL TOUR
I arrived on site at 3PM sharp for the tour, which began on Steelcote Square. We walked up some stairs to the future entry way into the building itself. We were under a rusty awning from the building's previous life as a factory for Steelcote Paints. Just from this entry way area, which was off the ground by about 4 feet, you could see down to the Union Pacific Railway and see a sliver of the Council Tower apartments. This can all be seen in the photo above. After this, we headed inside.
It was windy this day which meant it was a relief to go inside of the building. Once inside, I could clearly tell that this was still a work in progress, but it made sense considering the building is slated for an Early May 2019 opening. With 5 months to go, the construction crew, from Pinnacle Contracting, are hard at work on framing up future walls for resident areas as well as apartments. The crew was not there when we took the tour. The lobby's windows are boarded up so light was practically non-existent in the lobby, which explains why there are no pictures of the lobby area. Just so you know what was going on in the lobby area, framing was being put in place for future drywall.
So we headed up the stairs to the second floor where light was abundant even with the windows being covered in plastic.
As we came out of the stairwell, the second floor is still very much under construction. Graffiti remains on walls and support posts, drywall is limited and framing is evident. According to Michael Hamburg, when he bought the building, each floor was covered with junk and trash from squatters and years of abandonment. Along with that, graffiti covered up a majority of the walls within the building. The floors themselves were pretty messed up, according to Michael, so the construction crew had to cover the old floor with 6 inches of new concrete in order to even it out and make it safer for residents and the construction crew.
The third floor was in the same condition (construction wise) as the second floor, so we didn't stop off there to get a look. We went straight to the 4th floor and took a look.
The 4th floor was mostly drywalled with the painting process beginning in parts. The fire sprinkler system, which is found in orange piping throughout the building, is also installed. Floors 4 and 5 also have a higher ceiling height than the lower floors. On this level, we went into a one bedroom apartment that was coming together, but still a long way from being finished.
The first thing I noticed, when I entered the unit, is how light and airy it felt already. Even without the large windows in place, you can feel that this space will be special and unique to whoever lives there. The windows take up about 2/3 of the wall in the kitchen/living room area and span the entire wall in the room. Another observation of mine is the striking similarity to the Woodward Lofts in the Grove. That project and this (Steelcote) are being developed by the same company, Pier Property Group, and were designed by the same firm, Trivers Associates, so it makes sense they would be the same in the some aspects.
However, they aren't the same. Woodward has a terrazzo floor while Steelcote will have polished concrete in the units. Woodward utilizes darker finishes in the kitchen while Steelcote will utilize bright colors. Paint at Woodward is gray while Steelcote will have some gray but will be accented with bright yellows and dark blue colors as an ode to the former Steelcote Paint Company. Finally, the windows at Woodward are the same kind that will be used here, both in design and functionally (opening). The windows should be installed soon.
After leaving this unit, we headed up to the fifth floor where we got a look at one of the two bi-level units at Steelcote.
These units are still a work in progress but are very open. A hole has been cut into the concrete above to make way for a stairway so residents in this unit can access the bedroom upstairs. Meanwhile, the first level of the unit will include the kitchen, living room, a bathroom and a closet as well as the main entrance. The same goes for the neighboring unit on the same floor (which is also bi-level). The bi-level units are one bedroom each but include a unique feature accessible only by them, a private rooftop patio.
The patio is accessed via the "overrun" of the brickwork used to support the Steelcote sign. Just beneath the sign is where the bedroom will be along with the access to the patio. The patio will have views of Midtown, SLU, Prospect Yards, The Medical Center and the Steelcote Square District. If residents peer over the sides of the eventual railings that will be put up here, they will be able to see Downtown and the Central West End. However, not all is bad for the residents of the other 31 units. They have a rooftop patio too, just on the different side, which is where we go next.
The main residential patio over looks the entire area to the East and parts of the North and South. The Air Conditioning units will be hidden behind a fencing so residents will still have access to a large rooftop area that overlooks Downtown. If that doesn't suit their desire for views from the rooftop, they can head over to the opposite side of the way they came up and get the same views as the people living in the bi-level units. That side will be separated by both Air Conditioners and fencing in order to keep resident;' private life private and allow the rest of the community to enjoy living here.
It's amazing how far you can see from a building that is only 5 floors tall, but you don't have nearby buildings to block the view.
More photos of the views are below...
Below is a picture of the second rooftop area and the way the residents of the bi-level lofts will be able to access their patios. The Steelcote Sign is on top and will be replaced.
After the rooftop view, we headed downstairs to complete the tour.
We ended up back out under the rusty awning where our tour started, but instead of walking down the stairs to go home, we walked over to the other part of the development, the single floor auxiliary buildings. According to Michael Hamburg, these structures were in bad shape structurally, so entire brick walls had to be rebuilt to prevent collapse. These are practically new buildings using existing bricks of the existing structures. New tuckpointing is also visible throughout this part of the project.
Another interesting tidbit is that the photo that shows the green piping will eventually be covered up by an elevated walkway so residents who park on the backlot can enter through the front door. That back lot will also house the entrance to the 15 space underground parking garage, which the main elevator will serve.
Following this, we talked about PPG's future two projects in the area, the Steelcote Crossing project next door and the eventual Mill Creek Flats project. It was basically a recap of when they should begin, which is stated in the pre-tour section of this post. Beyond that, I can say that Pier Property Group isn't done in this area in terms of new developments, so we should be hearing something about that soon.
I see the Steelcote Square District project being a catalyst for future projects in this odd area to the Northeast of the Grand and Chouteau intersection. When I looked out the windows in different units, you can see the potential and the surrounding land and buildings. Even though Union Pacific's railway cuts through Midtown and, in many ways, divides Midtown in two, I can easily see this being fixed if correct measures are put in place that allow pedestrians to access the Grand Avenue viaduct without having to walk down to Chouteau and then turn onto Grand. This can be done through stairs and an elevator at Gratiot and Grand. But back to this specific project.
At first glance, it appears the building is a diamond in the rough, but as time goes on, I am almost certain that it will be a glimmering light of hope for this area. The past still lingers here, but as a City, we shouldn't mope on the past but instead should look forward to the future. Instead, the past should guide our future decisions so that we don't repeat them. In this case, this project doesn't repeat the needless demolition of yesteryear but instead does what's right by today's standards and that is redeveloping our existing building stock. In the future, this gamble will be pay off big time, especially as other projects are announced nearby.
In the end, I look forward to visiting the Steelcote lofts when they near completion and look forward to the progress that will be made on the Steelcote Crossing and Mill Creek Flats project in the future.
RENDERINGS (INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR)
All renderings courtesy of Trivers Associates and Pier Property Group.
Pier Property Group's Website: https://www.pierpropertygroup.com