Subscribe for 99¢

To bring downtown’s iconic Chemical Building back to life, the new owners of the long-vacant structure are thinking small.

Small as in “micro-apartments,” according to Scott Cresswell, chief operating officer of Morgan Communities, based in the Rochester, N.Y., area.

Morgan Communities purchased the building at the end of August for $4 million, becoming the latest in a string of owners to have a go at rehabbing the 17-story red brick and terra cotta structure at the northeast corner of Eighth and Olive streets.

“We’re trying to finalize what we’re doing with the building,” Cresswell said. “Ultimately right now, we’re heading in the direction of building micro-units.”

The concept has been used in cities such as New York and Seattle and was proposed recently in Miami. It would be a first for St. Louis, where density tends to be lower than other large metro areas.

Cresswell said Morgan Communities thinks it may be able to squeeze about 700 “highly amenitized” units into the 1896 structure designed by Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb. They would probably be less than 500 square feet, although he emphasized Morgan Communities hasn’t yet finalized its plans for the building.

Plans call for starting construction early next year and wrapping up by 2019, and Cresswell said the developer intends to apply for historic tax credits to help finance the project.

“We like the city right now,” Cresswell said of St. Louis. “We think there’s a lot of opportunity to create value.”

It would be Morgan Communities’ first foray into Missouri. But the firm has a large national presence, with some 35,000 units in cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Baton Rouge, La. Some of its projects have also rehabbed older structures, including rehabs in Cleveland’s historic warehouse district.

The interest in the Chemical Building is welcome for a structure that has sat conspicuously vacant for years in the heart of downtown. Its last two owners purchased it out of foreclosure.

Local developers Amy and Amrit Gill were the last to publicly express interest in the building, putting it under contract last year, but backed out a few months later. They’re focusing on a boutique hotel project in the Union Trust Building next door.

Its prior owner, Waterfall Asset Management of New York, bought the building out of foreclosure two years ago.

In 2012, LandWhite Developers had bought the foreclosed property from Centrue Bank and attempted to put at least 120 apartments in the building as part of a larger $34 million project.

In 2006, before LandWhite, a similar plan was in motion for the historic building when a Los Angeles-based investment group bought the building with plans for luxury condominiums. Civitas Development LLC renamed the building Alexa but the recession later stalled plans and the group filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010.

Business Briefing e-newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.