Washington University plans $80 million Loop project

2012-02-27T00:15:00Z 2013-01-21T11:52:47Z Washington University plans $80 million Loop projectBY TIM BRYANT • tbryant@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8206 stltoday.com
February 27, 2012 12:15 am  • 

Washington University plans to remake a central part of the Delmar Loop with an $80 million project consisting of stores and apartments for about 550 students.

The project comprises a four- to six-story building of retail space and apartments on Delmar Boulevard at Eastgate Avenue and three new mid-rise apartment buildings on Enright Avenue nearby. Design work will begin soon, and construction could begin in January 2013 with occupancy in August 2014, university officials said.

Cheryl Adelstein, the university's director of community relations and local government affairs, said the project will provide an opportunity for upperclass students to live off campus and help fill the need for more and varied stores in the Loop.

"This is, ultimately, a neighborhood," she said.

University officials plan to make the project public tonight at a work session of the University City Council. All but the eastern edge of the project's site is in University City. The vacant lot at Delmar and Eastgate and an adjacent commercial building are in St. Louis.

Washington University owns all the affected property and plans no further acquisitions. The plan calls for demolition of two three-story apartment buildings constructed in 1928 at 6255 and 6263 Delmar plus the razing of small apartment buildings, erected in 1970, in the 6300 block of Enright.

The row of storefronts that adjoin the small apartment buildings and a city parking garage on Delmar between Eastgate and Westgate avenues will be left undisturbed.

First up in the development plan will be construction of the mixed-use building on Delmar. Thereafter, two of the three planned apartment buildings -- with underground parking -- on Enright will be built. Timing of the construction of the third apartment building will depend on demand, university officials said. Together, the buildings will have about 200 one- two- and three-bedroom apartments to replace the existing 120 university-owned residences that will be demolished. The university plans to finance the project itself.

St. Louis Alderman Lyda Krewson, whose ward covers the city portion of the site, supports the project. She noted that many university students prefer apartment living near the Loop.

"The Loop is where students want to live," she said. "It gives them the experience of living in a neighborhood."

Adelstein said the university has run out of room to build additional student housing on campus. Officials said the Loop project will give more students the opportunity to live off campus but stay in housing run by the university's residential life office.

University City Mayor Shelley Welsch and prominent Loop businessman Joe Edwards also support the university's Loop plan.

"This is just an incredible project," Edwards said.

Welsch said adding hundreds more students to the area will help Loop stores prosper.

In addition to the Loop project, the university plans to spend $20 million over the next six years to renovate 25 small apartment buildings it owns in the Parkview Gardens neighborhood north of the Loop.

"This is an old part of our community," Welsch said. "It is dense but it can be denser."

University officials said they examined several sites in the area but pinpointed the Enright and Delmar locations as a good place to provide more housing and help meet the Loop's growing retail needs.

A recently completed study -- by HR&A Advisors of New York and H3 Studio and Research Planning Group, both of St. Louis -- found that Loop areas in University City and St. Louis could support 155,000 square feet of additional retail space. A growing Loop population will need more neighborhood services -- such as a pharmacy and a dry cleaners -- plus a grocery about the size of Culinaria downtown, the study said.

Adelstein said efforts are underway to find retail tenants for the new Delmar building, which she said will have a "Loopish" appearance to suit the existing streetscape.

Edwards said the planned addition of 20,000 square feet of store space in the Delmar building will provide the opportunity for a single large store or several small ones.

"Storefronts of varying sizes are one of the features that make the Loop an interesting place to shop," he said.

Kelly von Plonski, owner of Subterranean Books, at 6275 Delmar, said she agrees with the retail study's findings but hopes the Loop can maintain its focus on locally owned shops.

"We have a number of people who come in from out of town and are so excited to find the Loop and the bookstore, in particular," she said. "They've lost a lot of their indie shops."

She acknowledged that some Loop business people could accept a national store in the area if it was the chain's only outlet in the St. Louis region. The planned Loop Trolley to connect the Loop to Forest Park will promote commercial and residential development between Skinker Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue, von Plonski added.

Tim Borchers, the trolley's technical manager, said streetcar projects across the country are proven economic stimulators in areas near their tracks. A Loop Trolley feature will be its maintenance building in the old Delmar High School. Borchers said it will have a public viewing area for people "to see the normal day-to-day-life of a streetcar."

Fund raising for the $44 million project continues. But the federal government provided a nearly $25 million grant in 2010 and Loop Trolley officials hope to begin construction of the two-mile line this year.

Washington University, which competes for students with other elite, private universities across the country, features the Loop in its recruiting material.

"We have wonderful neighborhoods around the campus, including the Loop," said Rose Windmiller, vice chancellor for government and community relations. "We've looked at the Loop as a place to make strategic investments."

John Hoal, principal of H3 Studio, said the university's new project should lead to more public-private development in the area. He added that while the Loop currently lacks its "fair share" of professionals and faculty members as residents, other cities would be thrilled to have such a lively area.

"We're incredibly lucky in this community because we actually have it," he said.

Tim Bryant covers real estate and construction for the Post-Dispatch. He blogs on Building Blocks. Follow the Business section on Twitter @postdispatchbiz.

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