Awaiting Redevelopment, Chouteau's Landing Continues to Crumble. My Idea to Kickstart Development
Before the Recession hit, a plan was created by Chivvis Development and The Lawrence Group that would reimagine the Chouteau's Landing area of Downtown. 4th Street would be lined with shops, offices and residential units in a mixture of old and new buildings. The main area of Chouteau's Landing, East of Interstate 55/44, would be home to office, retail, lofts, residential, green space and a hotel. All would be in new and reused buildings. The plan was hard not to like but when the recession came, the plans were put on a shelf as Chivvis Development closed up shop.
Since 2009, multiple fires tore through one of the Crunden-Martin Buildings in the district and the Powell Square Building was demolished. In addition to this, squatters and vandals have been inside the buildings which is one of the reasons for the fires. It's a sad scene to see when crossing over the river via car or train. A vast area of untapped potential situated just South of Downtown. 4th Street, which was marketed as the first phase of the project, never fully developed and so it continued to sit vacant. Some of the buildings are occupied with one, 900 South 4th, being brought back to life, but another two are facing the wrecking ball further damaging the "Historic" 4th Street corridor. These buildings are some of the last of an old Downtown business district that thrived back when St. Louis was a top notch manufacturing town.
Today, Midtown Locust Properties is maintaining the building that houses Imo's at 904 S. 4th and they are also the firm behind the 900 S. 4th restoration. But they are sort of land locked. A land owner, who owns the Meineke Tire Shop at 600 S. 4th, owns a majority of the remaining buildings and parking lots from Cerre Street to Lombard Street. Two of those buildings are owned by a different entity but the others are owned by the owner of Meineke. What's worse is that the owners address is registered to a Dent Devil shop on Manchester Road in Ballwin. It's another classic example of a landowner letting buildings rot to where he can get them demolished for more profitable parking.
It's a wonder how business like the Broadway Oyster Bar, Angry Beaver, BB's Jazz Blues & Soups, the Field House Museum, Nephews Grill, Game 6 Honky Tonk and Imo's Pizza can stay open with abandoned structures, multiple train and highway bridges and lack of pedestrian traffic. Most recently, Beale on Broadway closed suddenly but no official reason was given. Some believe that it was due to loss of business by potential customers going to Ballpark Village or to Broadway Oyster Bar and BB's Jazz Blues & Soups. The area just isn't a destination as the original plans called for it to be. Midtown Locust's 900 S. 4th project will add a few apartments to the area but an influx of maybe 2-8 people isn't enough to keep the bars and restaurants open.
The only reason these businesses stay in business is due to 1. Close proximity to the stadium for game day crowds. 2. Notoriety (Broadway Oyster Bar) and 3. Being located along two of Downtown's busiest thoroughfares. If one of these points didn't exist, there would certainly be more abandoned storefronts. Personally, I believe the only business holding this area up is the Broadway Oyster Bar. Even on non-game days, it draws a crowd for it's live music and the visitors see the other businesses in the area and may make another visit down to go to one of the other businesses. I have also been told that Game 6 Honky Tonk also does fairly well on Friday and Saturday nights.
When 900 S. 4th opens in a few months, another retail space will be added but whether or not another bar is thrown into the mix is up to the prospective tenant. But other things are needed besides bars and parking lots. The addition of apartments at 900 S. 4th could be a test to determine the vitality of this area for future apartment developments. Even though it is a couple of apartments, it could determine whether or not there is demand for apartments on this end of Downtown. If it goes well, I would hope, and expect, Midtown Locust would build a new structure at 902 S. 4th like the one seen in the rendering at the bottom of the story. Include a few more apartments and another retail spade and you could start to have a domino effect for the 4th Street Corridor. Ultimately, the greater redevelopment of the corridor is reliant on the landowner from Ballwin selling his holdings to a real developer.
As for Chouteau's Landing, it's such a vast area that the success and failure of 4th Street isn't enough to determine the fate of this area. There just isn't enough data to come out of 4th street to set in motion a redevelopment process of Chouteau's Landing. In fact, Chouteau's Landing's success and failure can either help or hurt the redevelopment of 4th Street. To put it simply, both districts need each other in some way. The complicated, and risky way to kick off the redevelopment of Chouteau's Landing, which is part of my idea, is for a developer to come in and dive blindly, head first, into a pool that's either deep or shallow. Deep as in the redevelopment of a building is successful and profitable or shallow as in the redevelopment was a flop and a waste of money. Doing so is the only way to determine the viability of the area for future growth.
The building that has the most sway in the success of the district is the old Crunden-Martin building. It's the largest building in the area and certainly the most visible from the intestate highways. Despite it's full city block coverage (Cedar, 1st, Gratiot and 2nd), the building features an atrium running down the center of the building which eases the burden of figuring out how to cut space into the building's core to reduce floor area to make something viable. Next up, it's for sale for a non-disclosed, but surely hefty price for the area, but at the same time brings a plethora of potential uses. It's also a series of 6 buildings connected at some point in time. So if one usage isn't deemed feasible, there are multiple buildings within the same block that can be used for other usages. Some that come to mind are affordable housing, a hotel, office space, high end apartments and artist loft spaces.
Each could all share the central atrium in some way while having rooftop amenity decks providing amazing views of Downtown, the Arch, the River and the City in general. the ground floor could be home to multiple retail spaces and lobbies. However, the second building, connected via skybridge and to the West of this location has suffered the most damage due to fires and abandonment. It may not be structurally stable for redevelopment but that would have to be determined by a potential buyer. That specific building is also deemed endangered due to the upper two floors and roof no loner being existent. To the South, a smaller building could also be included in the package to buy the buildings and redevelop them. This smaller structure seems like it would make a good residential building with street level retail space.
Just those two things alone would have the possibility of being successful and spurring more development around here. Further, the reactivation of a large swath of what would've been the Lombard Loft District under Chivvis Developments plan, could lead to future new structures being built to fill out the remainder of the area. As for parking, build a garage where the old Powell Square building once stood at 2nd and Cedar. Overall, the redevelopment of 3 major buildings here could run higher than $100 Million. The reason for the high cost stems from the large amount of floor area, the idea that an inner structure could be rebuilt within the Western Crunden-Martin building and streetscape improvements. With a parking garage, the cost climbs to above $130 Million.
That's why I say that this is either a success or a failure. It's a big gamble but you can't just jump in to the area expecting to be successful by developing a small building that's hardly visible. You have to take a giant leap and dive into the buildings that have the most potential to spur the most development, and those are the ones I have featured here. It's go big or go home. That's why Chivvis' plans were so significant because Chivvis attempted to dive right in and would've succeeded if it wasn't for the economic downturn. Regardless if the project isn't as successful as one hoped, the large investment would very likely spur interest from other developers who would come in and eventually develop the surrounding buildings and land, that includes those building's South of the MacArthur Bridge which would ultimately lead to a successful investment.
AN ONGOING EXAMPLE
Across the state in Kansas City, a similar development to the one that I presented here has started construction. The West Bottoms Flats project will consist of redeveloping 4 old buildings in the area just West of Downtown Kansas City. Cleveland based MCM Properties is the developer for the project which will add 265 apartments to what is currently a sleepy area with antique shops and haunted house attractions. Construction began earlier today on the $65 Million project which follows some of the ideas I have here.
Retail, parking and luxury apartments are part of the plans to redevelop the West Bottoms but the affordable housing, office and hotel space ideas have been left out of the West Bottoms project. While Kansas City's market is different than St. Louis, these two areas have many of the same characteristics for a development like this. The buildings a large, are designed the same and are sandwiched between railroad lines and an Interstate Highway. The proof of redevelopment success or failure in the West Bottoms could be a window into how a potential redevelopment of Chouteau's Landing goes.
In the end, something has to be done about this area. CBRE is marketing it on sites such as LoopNet and their own. I included a link to a PDF for those interested. With the amount of land being offered, there is no reason why this can't become the next big district for Downtown. If built to where there are more people walking around this part of Downtown, I guarantee business will thrive and infill will eventually follow. In addition to this, the Downtown to Soulard connection would grow stronger due to an influx in business and development here. In general, 4th Street, Broadway and 7th Street would thrive and become a neighborhood with their own vibe.
For now however, Chouteau's Landing continues to crumble and anxiously awaits a developer to bring it back to life. Meanwhile, the fate of 4th Street remains dependent on keeping the Broadway Oyster Bar and Game 6 Honky Tonk as anchors that draw people down here in addition to, dare I say, the White Castle and BP gas station. Without them, this area would be 100% a parking lot and ,if nothing's done, that's where it will go.