ST. LOUIS • One small hurdle aside, St. Louis University got city approval Wednesday to demolish the historic Pevely Dairy complex.
The city Planning Commission, in a series of lopsided votes, opened the way for razing all of the structures. SLU wants to replace them with an approximately $75 million outpatient center for its SLUCare physicians practice.
At the center of the matter is the fate of Pevely's main office building, at South Grand Boulevard and Chouteau Avenue. The four-story building, which dates to about 1913, is valued by preservationists as an excellent example of the city's industrial past. It and the other structures on the approximately eight-acre Pevely site are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The commission's action came on an appeal by SLU of the city Preservation Board's denial of the university's requests to demolish the office building and the smokestack on the site. SLU also contested the board's decisions, made Dec. 19, to allow demolition of the complex's garage and milk plant only after the university obtained building permits for its SLUCare center on the Pevely site.
At the conclusion of its nearly two-hour meeting Wednesday evening, the Planning Commission voted to remove the building permit conditions for demolition of the milk plant and garage.
In a separate vote, the commission decided 8-1, with one abstention, to apply the building permit condition to demolition of the office building. Patrick Brown, Mayor Francis Slay's liaison to the board, cast the only "no" vote.
SLU's president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, said the favorable vote gives the university a way forward in providing needed health care in the city.
"It's one step toward getting to put a shovel in the ground," he said.
Steve Smith, president of Lawrence Group, which is designing the SLUCare center, said a building permit will be sought just before the project is ready to break ground. SLU officials hope to begin construction this year of a four- to six-story building at the Pevely site.
Micheal Allen, head of Preservation Research Office, a consulting firm, said the building permit condition on the main Pevely building "is pretty meaningless."
"SLU basically gets a blank slate," he said. "The rest of the complex will be down by then, including the smokestack."
Allen said he was surprised by the commission's decisions, given that the Preservation Board's votes in December represented "one of its most nuanced decisions in a group demolition package ever."
University representatives said in December that they planned to preserve the smokestack. But they told commissioners Wednesday evening that the smokestack is dangerously deteriorated and that merely tuckpointing the brick structure would cost $500,000.
SLU announced Jan. 24 that it will relocate its law school this year to downtown from the university's midtown campus.
In remarks to the commission before the votes Wednesday evening, Biondi did not tie the Pevely matter to the law school relocation. But he said the decision to move the law school is "a clear sign" of SLU's commitment to the city.
Ivy Pinkston, a commission member from the comptroller's office, said the city cannot ignore SLU's law school relocation as a commitment to the city.
Biondi and other university representatives said they had considered preserving the main Pevely building. But Smith said the building's small floors and closely spaced structural columns make it unsuitable for any medical use.
A goal for the new building is that it provide, with the Doisy Research Center across Grand, a gateway to the SLU medical school complex. "When we're done, this will be an entrance to the campus," Smith said.