Tucker Boulevard project may boost downtown

2011-01-14T02:00:00Z 2012-12-18T17:27:55Z Tucker Boulevard project may boost downtownBY TIM BRYANT > tbryant@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8206 stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • When rebuilt and extended, Tucker Boulevard will become a direct link to the new bridge over the Mississippi River and deliver a stream of new traffic, businesses and development to downtown St. Louis.

That is the belief of some real estate experts, who add that the new bridge could rejuvenate the old industrial area north of downtown.

Among those who anticipate a benefit is Sam Salameh, owner of a chain of small groceries. He said his recently completed Crown Mart grocery, additional stores and a gas station at Cass Avenue and North 13th Street will get a boost from the new bridge and Tucker extension. The stores, opened in 2009, are a block closer to Tucker from the market they replaced.

"When the bridge comes through, it's definitely going to be beneficial," Salameh said. "It's going to increase sales and, hopefully, help the neighborhood as a whole."

The road projects include a new intersection at Cass and Tucker, in clear sight of Salameh's stores.

Developer Paul McKee, the force behind the proposed NorthSide project, noted that the Tucker extension would run through the former Schnucks market site at Cass and North 11th Street. He called the new connection "absolutely huge" for the area's redevelopment.

Tucker will go through the middle of the nearly 12-acre Schnucks site, producing developable property on both sides of the new street, said McKee, who owns the site. He said he, the city and the Missouri Department of Transportation cooperated to add the intersection to the street project.

"We worked with MoDOT and gave the city the right of way to go through the Schnucks site and up to the new bridge," he said.

The bridge and the rebuilt Tucker will direct commuters from Illinois to the middle of downtown, said Larry Marks, a principal of consulting firm Development Strategies.

"I think it's a tremendous infrastructure piece that's been needed for a long time," he said.

Work on the Tucker project's first phase, paid for with $16.7 million in federal stimulus money, is scheduled for completion in October.

A big part of the job is demolition of the viaduct that formed a tunnel over the one-time Illinois Terminal Railroad right of way beneath Tucker. Electric trolleys used the tunnel from the early 1930s to 1958. Work is under way to fill in the tunnel with dirt and car-sized blocks of Styrofoam.

Also part of the first phase is a Tucker extension that will curve east at about Biddle Street, then north to Cass, where it will meet ramps to and from the bridge. When completed in 2014, the $667 million, four-lane bridge will carry Interstate 70 over the river and connect to the current freeway about a half-mile north of downtown.

Once the first Tucker phase is done, work will begin on the yearlong project to rebuild the street between Gay Street and Washington Avenue, said deputy city engineer Joe Kuss. Once the entire $34 million project is completed, Tucker will be a four-lane, landscaped thoroughfare between Washington and the bridge construction area.

That will make all of Tucker more attractive to redevelopment, said real estate experts, adding that the most feasible spots for large towers are the southwest and northeast corners of Tucker and Locust Street. Small structures and parking lots occupy those locations now.

Richard Ward, vice president of Zimmer Real Estate Services, said Tucker "in some ways will be a new front door to downtown."

"Tucker will be the only way to get in and out of downtown from the new bridge," he said. "I wish I'd invested in some property around there."

Among those who already own property on Tucker is Steve Smith, whose Lawrence Group is redoing the old Missouri Pacific railroad headquarters as the Park Pacific apartments, offices and retail space. Behind the building, at Tucker and Olive Street, Lawrence Group is putting up a parking garage to serve Park Pacific and areas nearby.

When the for-sale housing market collapsed during the recession, Lawrence Group substituted the garage for a condo tower the company had planned at the Tucker and Olive site. Smith said he didn't think about the new bridge when planning the Park Pacific project. But he added that he now realized that the street project and bridge meant more development potential for the Tucker corridor.

The project may also add life to the industrial area near the bridge. Factories and warehouses dot the area north of downtown, but many buildings are empty and much land is vacant.

Steve Symsack, a vice president at Coldwell Banker Commercial, said the bridge and the new Tucker would improve access to the area between I-70 and the Mississippi.

"The area has been tough to even see," he said. "With a totally different access point into St. Louis, people are going to say: 'Hey, I could live there. I could work there.' It won't be just manufacturing. I think it's going to be very cool for multifamily development to complement what's happening on the other side of 70."

By "the other side of 70," Symsack meant the proposed NorthSide project. NorthSide's future is unclear; but Marks, who has done consulting work for the project, said the Tucker extension and new bridge would boost McKee's plan and could help the 3,000-acre strip of riverside industrial property that runs for miles north of downtown.

Ward doubts the bridge area east of I-70 will attract many residents. He noted that the bridge's Tucker ramps would be west of the freeway and compared the area to Chouteau's Landing, the largely vacant industrial area beneath the Poplar Street Bridge.

"Chouteau's Landing is still crumbling," Ward said. "Just because you can see it from an interchange doesn't make it developable."

Craig Heller, a loft developer downtown, owns an old factory building on Cass, four blocks south of the new bridge site. He said he was unsure what effect the span would have on the area.

"We'll know once it opens," he said. Heller said his building, a factory formerly used by the Hammond Sheet Metal Co., remained vacant with no redevelopment plan in sight.

"I wonder a lot of times why we bought it," he said.

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