Subscribe for 99¢

Most striking about the Railway Exchange Building is that it’s just ... so ... big — more than 31 acres of floor space.

Only a third of that acreage is occupied. And that’s before the Macy’s department store — as the result of poor sales — closes this summer and vacates the bottom three floors.

So what might happen at the historic, 21-story building that covers an entire block in downtown St. Louis?

Another stab at retail in the building that once housed Famous-Barr’s flagship department store?

Apartments? The downtown residential rental market is strong, and the building is attached to a parking garage.

More offices? There is plenty of room in a building that was formerly the home address of the Wabash Railway and Famous-Barr’s parent, May Department Stores.

Rick Yackey, the developer who bought the Railway Exchange in 2010, declined last week to discuss its future.

Others are talking, including Amos Harris, the developer behind the Mercantile Exchange, the Laurel apartments, Embassy Suites hotel and National Blues Museum projects on Washington Avenue. The south end of the MX, formerly the St. Louis Centre mall, is across Locust Street from Macy’s.

“The key issue with Macy’s is the obvious: Nobody shopped there,” Harris said. “I’d love to have a user there who would be an actual draw.”

He said there are “a lot of people looking” at the Railway Exchange, but he added he was unaware of specific potential new tenants.

Rodney Crim, chief executive of the St. Louis Development Corp., the city’s development arm, said the Macy’s closure will allow new ideas for reusing the store space “to percolate.” Several St. Louis commercial real estate brokers touted the Railway Exchange Building last week at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas, Crim said.

In St. Louis, Kevin Farrell, senior director of economic and housing development for the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, said a possible reuse of Macy’s three-floor space is to divide it for multiple stores. He noted that “there aren’t lots of 180,000-square-foot retailers out there” the size of Macy’s.

When Macy’s announced Monday it was closing the downtown store with nearly three years left on its five-year lease, some shoppers called for a CityTarget to move in. CityTarget is Target’s foray into downtown retailing.

Farrell said he has heard of “some conversations” about Target eyeing the Railway Exchange Building. “I think there have been some general discussions with Target,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-based “cheap chic” retailer said, “St. Louis is a great market for Target, and we continue to explore new opportunities to serve guests there.”

Anne Christensen, the spokeswoman, declined to disclose where Target might locate CityTarget stores in addition to the eight already established or in the works in other parts of the U.S.

CityTargets are about two-thirds the size of the company’s typical big box stores. The retailer opened its first CityTargets last July in Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles. A second LA store and a San Francisco CityTarget opened in October. A third LA store opened in March. Yet to open this year are CityTargets in Portland, Ore., and a second San Francisco outlet.

In Chicago, Target won praise for its redesign of the first two floors of the historic Carson Pirie Scott building in the Loop. All CityTargets are in older buildings, including a former department store in Portland.

“We use our strength in flexible store design and planning to create exterior and interior spaces that are consistent with the overall Target brand, yet preserve the character, and historic nature (if applicable), of the existing structure,” Christensen said in an email.

Tim Logan of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.