To win city approval to tear down the Pevely Dairy complex, St. Louis University leaders insisted the historic buildings were unsuitable for conversion into a new health care center.
That was a year ago last week, when the St. Louis Planning Commission overrode the city’s Preservation Board by voting to allow SLU to demolish the Pevely buildings, which were vacant.
The only immediate hurdle the commission left in SLU’s way was the requirement it get a building permit for the approximately $75 million SLU Care structure before tearing down the main Pevely office, the complex’s structure most prized by preservationists.
In short order, SLU razed a parking garage, the milk plant and the red brick smokestack with “PEVELY” written vertically in white brick. Demolitions left the approximately 8-acre site littered with rubble next to the one remaining building at South Grand Boulevard and Chouteau Avenue.
Yet, nothing has happened at the site, where SLU had hoped to have a new structure built as early as October. The university hasn’t even obtained a building permit.
The only recent activity was the loss of the large Pevely sign on top of the last building. The sign’s “P” fell to the sidewalk in October as a crew attempted to dismantle the sign. The remaining letters were soon removed.
Not surprisingly, rumors have surfaced about SLU’s intentions at the Pevely site. The speculation is:
• SLU has abandoned its plan for a SLUCare ambulatory center on the site.
• SLU is planning a complex much larger than its proposed expansion of its SLUCare physicians’ practice.
• SLU has no plan beyond clearing the site and leaving it empty, as it has with other property it acquired in the area.
University officials did little last week to clarify their plan for the site. A spokesman said in an email that “planning and negotiations are ongoing.”
“Beyond that, we don’t have anything to add at this time,” SLU spokesman Clayton Berry said.
However, an internal SLU report in January by SLU’s Department of Internal Medicine indicated that the university’s plans remained in flux. The report mentioned “the very large tract of land immediately north of St. Louis University Hospital ... cleared in preparation for the possible construction of a new ambulatory care center.”
“At the time of this writing, no plans have been finalized with regard to the exact location of the building, who will occupy it, or how it might be financed,” the report said. “Nonetheless, this initiative remains very important to the future of SLUCare and the University Medical Group.”
After the university bought the property in 2011, the architect for the proposed SLUCare project said the Pevely headquarters site would become green space and a driveway for the new center. At one point, SLU said it hoped to complete the center as early as this October.
SLU owns the Pevely site and other property near the adjacent SLU hospital. An exception is the Missouri Belting building, an empty factory completed in 1911. Its owner was unavailable for comment on whether SLU wants to purchase the property; the university had included the building in a site plan for its SLUCare project.
Alderman Joe Roddy, whose 17th Ward includes the Pevely site, said he believes SLU will eventually redevelop the area as a medical center.
“As far as I’m concerned, a development will happen there at some point,” he said. “It may not happen for a couple of years.”
Preservationists who had hoped to save the Pevely buildings criticized Roddy for supporting SLU’s plan to demolish the complex, which was on the National Register of Historic Places. Roddy said last week his position is unchanged despite the site’s current unattractiveness.
“Yes, it’s an unpleasant situation to drive by every day,” Roddy said. “But the long-term viability of that whole neighborhood is dependent on the success of that medical center.”
The alderman added that SLU is an important institution that chose to stay in the city when others departed for the suburbs.
“The health of these institutions that have stayed in the city is absolutely critical to the neighborhoods around them,” Roddy said. “Sometimes, we just have to take the long view on this stuff.”
At the center of the Pevely dispute is the fate of the company’s office building at Grand and Chouteau. The four-story building, which dates to about 1913, is valued by preservationists as a prime example of the city’s industrial past.
SLU’s president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, told the Planning Commission a year ago the university had considered preserving the historic building. But SLU’s architect said the building’s closely spaced structural columns made it unsuitable for any medical use.
Paul Hohmann, an architect, preservationist and blogger at Vanishing STL, had hoped that SLU would adopt a developer’s previous plan to redo the Pevely complex as apartments and retail space.
Shortly after the developer sold the property to SLU in 2011, the university said it intended to replace the Pevely buildings with a medical facility.
Hohmann said he believes SLU could still redo the last Pevely building as residences, much as Washington University plans to rehab its Parkview Apartments building on Skinker Boulevard. City records show Washington U. applied this month for permits for a multimillion-dollar rehab of the six-story building completed in 1923.
“I would certainly make the suggestion that SLU do the same thing on the corner of Grand and Chouteau,” Hohmann said. “I would be shocked if they did.”
Yet, preservationists may have a second chance to save the last Pevely building.
Michael Allen, the head of Preservation Research Office, a consulting firm, said Friday that the city ordinance that allowed SLU to demolish the others buildings now requires the university to begin the demolition approval process anew for the final building.
“I think everything is back to where we started before December 2011,” he said. “Everything is reset, and the university is going to have to return to the Cultural Resources Office and somehow make a better case.”