A developer plans to redo the historic, longtime home of International Shoe Co. in downtown St. Louis as a 140-room boutique hotel.
Fe Equus Development, of Milwaukee, bought the building at 1501 Washington Avenue on Feb. 12 and is beginning on the $47 million project’s design. Tim Dixon, the company’s owner, said Tuesday that he hoped to open the hotel in August 2017.
Dixon said he and his investment partners planned an independent hotel on Washington Avenue.
“We don’t bring a brand,” he said. “We develop a brand within the city.”
Among other Fe Equus projects is the 100-room Iron Horse Hotel in an old warehouse in downtown Milwaukee. Dixon said his hotels were “food centric.” He said the St. Louis hotel, which he has yet to name, would offer food and drink on the main floor.
“We like to say we’re a great restaurant with rooms upstairs,” Dixon said.
Planned hotel features include a rooftop swimming pool and a top-floor ballroom. The hotel’s food, beverage and event space will “become the ambassador to our rooms,” he said.
Dixon said downtown’s strong residential market factored in his decision to put a hotel in the loft district. The 10-story Washington Avenue building, opened in about 1905, was home to International Shoe, where playwright Tennessee Williams’ father worked as a manager in the 1930s. The building has been vacant since a charter school moved out in 2014, officials said.
Financing the hotel had yet to be completed, but Dixon said the project would use state and federal historic preservation tax credits.
JLL, a Chicago-based commercial real estate firm, represented IBC Investors LLC in the building’s sale to Fe Equus. John Warren, a JLL vice president in St. Louis, said Fe Equus had “a unique plan and a solid track record for creating innovative urban environments that can help transform neighborhoods.”
Aries Capital is the investment partner working with Fe Equus on the St. Louis project, JLL said.
Dixon said he was aware of other boutique hotels downtown, adding that he believed the market could support his project, too. The Magnolia Hotel, formerly the Mayfair, opened in 2014 on North Eighth Street. Developers Amy and Amrit Gill recently bought the 122-year-old Union Trust building on Olive Street and plan to redo it as apartments and 130 boutique hotel rooms.
Gary Andreas, a hotel analyst based in Chesterfield, said downtown St. Louis could support three boutique hotels “as long as development costs don’t price them out of the market.” To succeed, such a hotel needs a nightly room rate “well north of 200 bucks,” he said.
Andreas said one category of a boutique hotel customer was the business traveler who wants to be near a downtown’s office core. Another is the leisure traveler who wants to stay in a more residential area “a bit off the beaten path,” such as the area of 1501 Washington, he said.
Current financing markets for hotels “aren’t too bad,” Andreas said, adding that some investors were eyeing St. Louis.
“There are people out there crunching the numbers and feel the time might be right for (room) rate explosion,” he said.