Where pharmacy giant CVS got booed off the stage, architect and developer Steve Smith is winning an ovation.
In 2009, CVS sought to buy the empty, three-story building at 4100 Lindell Boulevard and replace it with parking for a store it hoped to build at the rear of the Central West End site.
Neighborhood residents objected loudly to the plan, even after CVS offered to build its store at the front of the lot, instead.
CVS moved on by trying to buy the Auto Club of Missouri’s distinctive, oval-shaped building at 3917 Lindell. That effort produced a whirlwind of opposition from preservationists who value the building’s midcentury modern design. The pharmacy chain backed off again and, last fall, opened a store on what had been the parking lot next door.
Now come Smith and his Lawrence Group with a $4.3 million plan to renovate 4100 Lindell — another example of midcentury modern architecture — as a bank and apartments. Smith hopes to begin construction this summer and have the building ready for occupancy next spring.
He said the growing Central West End needs more market-rate apartments. A bonus for Smith is that the building’s design is primarily by prominent architect Gyo Obata. (The O in HOK, the international design firm based in St. Louis, stands for Obata.)
Obata, now 91, designed the building in 1956 as an office for Remington Rand, a maker of business machines, including typewriters. The most recent occupant was the St. Louis Housing Authority, which moved in 2009 to a building near Grand Center.
Smith, who is Lawrence Group’s president, said this week that working on an Obata-designed building is “cool.”
“We’re very excited about that,” he said.
Rebecca Nolan, HOK’s management principal in St. Louis, said Thursday the firm is gratified to learn of a plan to repurpose one of its early projects.
“We are pleased that a valuable new use is being planned for one of HOK’s earliest design projects to benefit the surrounding neighborhood,” she said.
Smith’s plan calls for renovating the first floor as an Eagle Bank branch and redoing the second- and third-story offices as eight apartments on each floor. Large concrete sunshades that resemble shallow balconies are to be restored as part of the plan to preserve the building’s midcentury design.
The plan has the backing of the West Pine Laclede Neighborhood Association, whose members threw a fit over the CVS proposal for 4100 Lindell. Harold Karabell, the association’s president, said Lawrence Group’s plan merits the group’s support even though it includes demolition of the small building next to the Obata-designed structure.
Giving a little to get a lot for the neighborhood “is as good as one could hope for,” Karabell said.
“We’re very happy to see the building saved and rehabbed into a very good mixed-used project,” he added. “We couldn’t be more pleased.”
Still, the plan to tear down the smaller building has produced a ripple of concern. Park Central Development Corp.’s Development Committee supports renovation of the Remington building but also wants Lawrence Group to rehab the two-story building next door or replace it with a new structure.
Taking down the structure next to the Obata-designed building is key to providing parking for bank customers, apartment residents and accommodating a bank drive-through lane, Smith said. Lawrence Group’s site plan has 31 parking spots.
“We need to have parking for both the commercial and residential development,” he said.
Smith said he is trying to resolve the issue with Park Central and hopes an agreement can be reached to allow demolition of the smaller building while complying with “the spirit” of the area’s “form-based” zoning code that favors buildings over parking lots.
He added that spending millions on the Remington building makes sense because demand for Central West End apartments is growing. The building is near St. Louis University and the site of an Ikea store scheduled to open next year, noted Smith, pointing out that unredeveloped areas are shrinking.
“The gaps are filling in,” he said.