Grand Center touts new development
The Grand Center arts district, which for years has had its share of stops and starts, is on pace for new development that will bring two radio stations, a hotel and more than 100 rental units.
Former Mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr., president and chief executive of Grand Center Inc., said putting apartments in the empty Missouri Theater and Metropolitan buildings will help the area become more than a night-time entertainment district.
The effort to bring a Hyatt Place Hotel to the former Missouri Theater building, at 634 North Grand Boulevard, should soon pay off, Schoemehl said. Grand Center is working with RSC & Associates of Chicago to put a 136-room hotel and 40 apartments in the 12-story building.
“Conceptually, we’ve got all the pieces in place,” Schoemehl said. “Hyatt is making a substantial financial commitment.”
Some traditional lenders, such as insurance companies and pension funds, are returning to the housing market, which bodes well for financing the $34 million mixed-use project, he said.
Further along is the project to put about 70 artist lofts in the long-vacant Metropolitan, at 500 North Grand, where financing should be in place by February, Schoemehl said. Dominium Development, of Minneapolis, plans rental lofts with ground-floor artist studio space.
Like the Missouri Theater project, the Metropolitan will depend heavily on tax credits. About $18 million in state and federal low-income housing tax credits, state and federal historic preservation tax credits and state brownfields tax credits will go into the $25 million project. Dominium hopes to complete the project in March 2012.
Jeff Huggett, a project partner at Dominium, called the Metropolitan’s location “awesome” but declined to discuss the building’s ownership drama.
Last year, the city-run Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority lent $500,000 to help settle a suit against a former owner, once-prominent developer John Steffen, over alleged tax credit fraud tied to the building.
St. Louis officials have said the city made the loan to avoid a drawn-out lawsuit between a bank and the state Department of Economic Development, which issues brownfields credits and other incentives key to the city’s revitalization. City officials feared that messy litigation could slow the flow of tax credits to other developments. Dominium is to repay the money when it buys the building, city officials said.
Steffen had planned to convert the building into condos before his company went out of business in 2008. A federal indictment returned this summer accused him of defrauding a bank by selling the Metropolitan’s brownfields tax credits already pledged as loan collateral. A judge dismissed the case, ruling the evidence did not prove that Steffen intentionally misled the bank.
Other planned projects in the Grand Center district, which is anchored by the Fox Theatre and Powell Hall, have proceeded without such controversy.
KDHX on the move
KDHX (88.1 FM), the community radio station now in a former bakery in south St. Louis, is raising money to rehab a four-story building at 3524 Washington Boulevard. In addition to studios, the new home of KDHX would have offices, a 150-seat venue for concerts and a cafe.
A longtime station supporter donated the building, said Nico Leone, co-executive director of KDHX. Leone said he hopes the station will occupy the new space by next fall. The station plans to raise $3.75 million to complete the relocation from Magnolia Avenue.
“The really exciting thing for us is that Grand Center has the really high-brow arts institutions,” Leone said.
KWMU on the move
Three blocks from KDHX’s future home is the site of the new home of KWMU (90.7 FM), the National Public Radio affiliate that plans to move to 3651 Olive Street from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Tim Eby, the station’s general manager, said he hopes construction on the $12 million project will happen early next year and be done a year later.
The contemporary design by WK+N and Chiodini Associates aims to enhance a plaza to be built between the new KWMU and KETC-TV immediately to the west. KWMU plans to move from a modified classroom building at the UMSL.
“We’ll probably expand by 50 to 60 percent,” Eby said. “It’s much better space because it’s designed as a radio station, as opposed to taking a classroom building and redesigning it as radio station space.”
Moving to Grand Center will allow KWMU to conduct interviews with artists and musicians who work within walking distance of the station’s microphones, he said.
Also in the Grand Center mix is the Grand Center Arts Academy, a visual and performing arts charter school in the Beaux Arts Building. The building was the former headquarters of Carter Carburetor Co. across North Grand from Powell Hall.
Financing complexities delayed construction of the school for months. The students were supposed to move in by January but will be using temporary space at the Third Baptist Church, a block south of the Beaux Arts, until next summer.
Steve Smith, whose Lawrence Group is developing the school, said construction will cost $21.4 million and the school will house 700 students from the city and St. Louis County in grades six through 12.
Smith said the long-vacant Sun Theater just west of the Beaux Arts building will eventually be part of the arts academy. A deal for the Sun is in the “very, very early stages,” he said.
“It’s a mess of a building, but structurally it’s very sound,” Smith said.
Lawrence Group also is redoing the Interiors Unlimited Building, at Grand Center’s southeast corner, as the Hotel Ignacio. The 51-room hotel, scheduled to open next spring at 3407 Olive, is next to Smith’s Triumph Grill restaurant and Moto Europa, a motorcycle dealership. With the economy still lagging, now is the time to get busy with projects, Smith said.
“From my personal standpoint, the time to be developing a business is in a down market,” he said. “We want to be open when the economy improves.”