In 2016, news broke that Green Street, a developer known for industrial buildings and refurbishing older buildings into new offices spaces, was looking to redevelop the then-vacant, and decaying, Armory of the 138th Infantry of the Missouri National Guard in Midtown into office and retail space. The building was constructed in 1938 and, over the years, was home to military equipment, indoor soccer, tennis, as well as concerts by Ike & Tina Turner and Grateful Dead.
The initial phase 1 plan, which would redevelop the Armory, was valued at $46.5 million. Future phases consisting of a hotel and more commercial space, would see their scope changed over the next 6 years. Delays plagued the project. Rumors on office tenants and renderings for what the larger Armory District would be made of came and went. The total development price tag fluctuated. Then came 2020 and the pandemic that changed habits, resulted in countries closing, and people being on edge. Eventually, some began to suspect that the Armory project, and greater District, was nothing more than one of those development plans that fails to get off of the ground because of its grandeur.
In December 2020, it was announced that the Armory District was revived, at least the redevelopment of the historic building, as Rec Hall would become the building's tenant. It would offer a large indoor space with games, several bars, restaurants and so on. The tentative opening date was set for the Summer of 2021. That date came and went. Spring 2021 brought us a rendering of twin towers featuring 500 apartment units and integrated parking in an estimated $160 million investment. February 2022 brought the towers before the Planning Commission for zoning approval and later, demolition on the buildings that occupied the tower space began.
August 2022 brought us the latest version of the Armory plan. Rec Hall was out, and a new concept created by Green Street, called Brick and Bev, was in. This would plan would feature similarities to the Rec Hall plan but include additional business concepts in the basement and very much become a hub for nightlife in Midtown. This is the concept that has been built and opening day revealed the reimagined Armory to the public in all its glory.
The sheer size of the interior of the building is surprising. I recall how the interior felt when I toured the building back in 2019. The high ceilings, exposed metal roof trusses, and the wooden roof make the space feel open. The decent sized crowd of people helped fill this large space and the mixture of indoor yard games, arcade games, bars, and an area for food helped activate the space a bit more and led to areas of congregation. The second level was closed for a private party until later in the evening, but that area seems like it still has a little bit more work to be done before it's as busy as the main level.
It was good to see people having fun in this building. It's a much-needed amenity for this part of town that is beginning to emerge as the heart of a new St. Louis. City Foundry brought us a unique food hall, local retail shops, a grocery store, new entertainment businesses, the region's first mass-timber office building, and removed a significant chunk of blight from Midtown. Steelcote Square is bringing a Target and TopGolf to Midtown along with developing new housing to transition the area away from industrial to mixed usages. Now the Armory can deliver on a late-night entertainment venue that can host concerts and bring people together, young or old, in a fun way.
In the future, the Armory and City Foundry will be linked via a pedestrian bridge between the upper (westbound) and lower (eastbound) levels of 64/40. While a timeline for this hasn't been established, it is known that this bridge would be built as part of the Brickline Greenway. Providing a pedestrian connection also helps both the Foundry and Armory feed off of each other's energy and create a "mega development" of sorts that spans both sides of the highway.
One fear echoed by some I know is that the Armory would cannibalize Ballpark Village and the Grove. The reason for this belief: Ballpark Village, phase 1 in particular, has a similar format while the Grove is home to numerous restaurants and bars. In my opinion, I do not see the Armory cannibalizing either of these as the vibe and intention differs from those completely. Ballpark Village is themed around the Cardinals with it appealing to the greater Cardinals Nation. The Grove has become a St. Louis stable for bars and restaurants in recent years, which appeals to people from all over the Metro area. The Armory appeals to the social crowd of people who want a place where they can stay out late (on weekends, the Armory is open until 2AM), drink, get some food and have fun.
Plus, like the Foundry, being located just a few blocks away from St. Louis University means college students will keep these two developments busy throughout the schoolyear. One benefit the Armory has that the Foundry doesn't is easy access to the MetroLink station at Grand. This means that more potential customers, who prefer to take transit, are just a few steps away.
Time will tell how well the Armory does, but I think people will continuing coming down to the Armory for years to come, especially once it's connected to the Foundry.
According to a report from the Business Journal, an additional 5 venues will be announced early next year for a projected opening in the Spring. A Tennis Hall of Fame will also be added into this building, an echo back to the past, along with the relocation of the Moto Museum from Grand Center. The additional venues will be spread out in the building from the basement to the rooftop. With the unique mix of venues, and plenty of space to socialize, it's safe to say the Armory will be unique in its own right.
I left the Armory having enjoyed myself and plan to return many more times in the future. But, if you all know me, I think the experience would be enhanced by a crane, or two, for the apartment towers and the eventual activity another 500 apartment units will bring to this once forgotten about corner of Midtown. The status of those buildings? Unclear and likely to change as the economy wobbles.
Additional photos of the Armory on opening night, and renderings for the residential towers, are featured below.
If you want to know more about the Armory (hours, menus, age restrictions, parking, etc), visit ArmorySTL.com.