The St. Louis University law school is heading downtown in a move that could provide a boost for the city's core.
The school said Tuesday it will relocate its law school, along with 1,100 students, faculty and staff, into an 11-story building at 100 North Tucker Boulevard. It's the sort of influx — with fresh, young faces — that supporters expect will bring new energy to the corridor. But also, they say it offers a chance for the region to showcase itself to a mobile section of the population.
"Maybe we'll get to keep more of them. Maybe they won't move to Chicago," said developer Amos Harris, president of Brady Capital.
SLU expects to open its downtown campus by August in the Joe and Loretta Scott Law Center, named for the St. Louis couple who donated the 260,000-square-foot building. The structure features a ground-floor auditorium, three-story parking garage and seven usable floors.
The university has been working for several years to expand its existing law school but had yet to break ground. The planned $35 million expansion gained the support in 2009 of the Anheuser-Busch Foundation, which contributed $3 million to the effort. At that time, officials hoped to begin the new project within two years.
Students learned of the downtown plan Tuesday morning in an email from Annette Clark, the law school's dean.
"The whole school has been talking about it since," said Katie Watson, a second-year law student, as she stood outside the current law school building at Lindell Boulevard and Spring Avenue in midtown.
Clark, in an interview Tuesday afternoon, hailed the move as the beginning of a new era for the school. She talked about the importance of being close to the courts and many of the region's top law firms. Students, she said, should see the benefit. "That kind of proximity leads to opportunity," Clark said.
Mayor Francis Slay, a 1980 graduate of the SLU law school, said the school will bring a dimension unlike that of another office building filled with workers. "This really adds to the mix of what downtown is about. It adds to the diversity of downtown," he said.
The unexpected announcement also means an early meeting of one of the long-term goals set by the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, which wanted to attract a new college or university operation.
"It was something we hoped would happen by 2020," said Maggie Campbell, president of the organization.
Like the mayor, she's optimistic that some of the students and faculty will move downtown to be closer to school. But even if that doesn't happen, she expects the character of the area to change.
"It's going to enliven the neighborhood and bring out some vitality that's missing right now," Campbell said.
It certainly promises to bring a new crop of young people to the area.
Alex Antal, 24, is a part-time student in his third year. He's a South County resident who doesn't travel downtown very often. But he'll soon be spending 10 to 12 hours a day there, in class, studying, or working at his part-time job in the law library.
He has no reservations about making the switch from midtown to downtown.
"Some people might be apprehensive," he said. "But I don't think it will be any better or worse than where we are right now."
That's not to say that there aren't some concerns. It's not surprising that parking is one of the things at the top of many students' worry lists. They wonder whether a three-story parking garage will be large enough to meet the school's needs.
"It might be an issue," said Kelli Keefe, a second-year student.
That appears to be the case, at least during peak hours. Clark said the school is exploring options in the surrounding area to find more parking for students and staff. The school also plans to provide a shuttle service between the law school and the midtown campus.
SLU officials have not said what would be done with the existing law school building.
The downtown building's donor, Joe Scott, is the owner of Creve Coeur-based Scott Properties, which leases more than 2 million square feet of office, medical, retail and warehouse space in the St. Louis region. Scott owns the sprawling Crown Valley Winery in Ste. Genevieve County, where he also maintains a tiger sanctuary.
Scott's business empire also includes time share developments in Orlando, Fla., and Gatlinburg, Tenn., through his company, Summer Bay Resorts, according to the company's website.
Scott purchased the Tucker property, once owned by AT&T, in 1999. In 2007, he moved Summer Bay employees into the structure, which is still listed on the company's website as the address for its Midwest operations. It is unclear where those employees are now.
Clark said the law school will have entire building by the time they are ready to move in.
Jessica Bock of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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