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Apartments planned for west side of downtown St. Louis

Downtown St. Louis ApartmentsPlanned or underway are rehabs of old buildings — including a firehouse — that would add more than 200 apartments on the west side of downtown.

Work began early this year to redo a 126-year-old brick warehouse built for drying tobacco as 87 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. Sherman Associates, a housing developer based in Minneapolis, hopes to complete the project at 1900 Pine Street in December.

Planned projects yet to get underway in the area are:

• Sovereign Partners’ renovation of the vacant, four-story commercial building at 1701 Locust Street as 57 market-rate apartments and nearly 2,100 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.

• Millennial Realty’s proposal to construct 86 apartments in adjacent buildings at 2030 Delmar Boulevard and 2035 Lucas Avenue.

• Rehab of a former city firehouse at 2000 Washington Avenue by Leela LLC as five second-floor apartments and commercial space in the area firetrucks once used.

All of the pending projects — with a total cost of more than $24 million — rely on tax abatement from the city and historic preservation tax credits.

Sherman Associates’ $10.5 million project, called Station Plaza, also uses state and federal low-income housing tax credits, which will allow the developer to offer below-market rents, according to the company. Monthly rents will be as low as $525 for a studio apartment.

Renovation of the six-story building near Union Station is obliterating offices put into the now-vacant building in the 1980s.

Liggett & Meyers Tobacco Co. completed the building in 1889 as a warehouse to dry chewing tobacco. According to documentation for the building’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the building had a key role in what was then the city’s thriving tobacco industry.

The apartment parking would be in the basement of 1701 Locust and in another building the New York-based real estate investor owns across the street. Also planned are a club room, a fitness room and streetscapes with new sidewalks and trees. The projected cost is $9.3 million.

Valerie Doleman, Sherman Associates’ spokeswoman, said rents approaching $2.50 per square foot are needed to support construction costs. She said the vicinity of 1900 Pine supports less than half that rate, hence the need for public incentives, including housing tax credits.

Regardless, Sovereign Partners, of New York, is proposing market-rate apartments with monthly rents as high as $1,071 at 1701 Locust, also known as the Dragon Trading building, according to documents submitted to St. Louis development officials.

The $14.2 million project would have 57 one-bedroom apartments and 29 two-bedroom units. A Sovereign Partners principal did not respond to requests for information about the project.

Across Locust, the company also owns the nearly vacant, eight-story Butler Brothers building, which covers the entire block. A plan to outfit the century-old warehouse with about 350 apartments and nearly 400 garage parking spaces has yet to proceed.

The side of downtown west past 14th Street has many empty old commercial structures, but some residential redevelopment is creeping out from the downtown core. Doleman said restaurants and stores will tag along. “As Station Plaza and other proposed developments stabilize, convenience retail and restaurants will soon follow,” she said.

Combined, the projects on Pine, Locust, Delmar and Washington would add 235 apartments to the area.

The Delmar proposal includes 95 parking spaces. An official of Millennial Realty Group, which is behind the project, did not respond to requests for additional information.

A representative of Leela LLC, owner of the old firehouse at 2000 Washington, was unavailable for comment. The construction cost is estimated at $650,000, according documents filed with the city.

Completed in 1892 as Engine House 32, the two-story building is constructed of Missouri granite, red brick and sandstone.

Getting the building on the National Register of Historic Places would qualify it for historic preservation tax credits. Whether to recommend the firehouse for the register is on the agenda of Friday’s meeting of the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Brad Beggs, a principal at consulting firm Development Strategies, said the four apartment projects would not produce an oversupply in the area if they open at different times. He said the area could likely absorb about 100 new apartments per year. But rising construction costs without a corresponding rise in rents necessitate continued use of incentives, he said.

“The good thing about what is being proposed is that these are projects at different (rent) levels,” Beggs said.

If developers can hold rents to about $1,000 or less, the downtown west area could become “about as cool as you can get” in the central corridor, he added. More people in various types of housing would enliven the area, he said. “It’s the way a downtown should be, with all the people living down there,” Beggs said.

Andrew Weil, executive director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis, said downtown’s core is running out of old, midsized buildings available for residential conversion. Most not torn down for parking are already converted, he said.

“It’s nice to see things moving west,” Weil said. “Regardless of what a building is being used for, it’s being prepared for a new life. That’s the essence of adaptive reuse.”

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, by Tim Bryant