Development across St. Louis shows few signs of slowing down, even amidst a global pandemic and economic uncertainty. While there may be some evidence of reduced demand for office space as many companies adapt to remote work, residential development is chugging along at a rapid pace. Commercial leases have seen the largest impact during the COVID crisis, but residential payments have, at least so far, been consistent. Within St. Louis City, there are several hundred new rental units poised to enter the market over the next couple years, and that’s just including those currently under construction.
This incredible amount of residential demand might feel bizarre for a city hosting reports of record population decline. These reports hardly tell the full story of St. Louis demographics and historical population shifts, however. For those unfamiliar with some of the history of St. Louis, here is a little bit of a refresher to provide some context.
The city shed tens of thousands of generally more white, affluent residents to the county over the past several decades, while urban renewal programs simultaneously demolished Black-owned businesses and homes. Today, the cycle looks and feels different, in that the central corridor (generally referencing to the area stretching from Clayton to Downtown) is seeing incredibly high levels of residential occupancy and development to support high-paying tech and medical jobs. Just a few miles north, however, the city is seeing an exodus of Black residents who are leaving neighborhoods historically lacking investment that have been ravaged by urban renewal programs, redlining, and more.
This context is important to remember as we discuss the changing face of St. Louis. It is an uncomfortable juxtaposition as we have much to be proud of in the new and growing industries that pay well and require degrees that provide demand for more luxury housing. A healthy city must have possess and nurture these assets to attract residents and development. And yet, a healthy city also must support and revive its neighborhoods like in North St. Louis that it has done so much harm to.
That note is important when discussing the Skinker-DeBaliviere and DeBaliviere Place neighborhoods, which house a dense, urban mix of residents across the income scale. Bordering Washington University, Forest Park, the Central West End, and Delmar Boulevard, these neighborhoods and specifically DeBaliviere Avenue contain those with extraordinary wealth to those with very little. The rapid growth of the Central West End and Washington University, however, have certainly been skewing the neighborhoods toward the wealthy end of that spectrum.
Alongside the demographic shifts underway in the neighborhood are physical, tangible changes in housing and amenities. Brick-clad duplexes are demolished in favor of hulking complexes with hundreds of units, like Tribeca on Pershing. These developments, again, often resemble healthy aspects of a growing city with more prosperous residents. This it is why I preface this article with the juxtaposition and struggles of St. Louis disinvestment in predominantly Black communities. I hope to suggest that while we can and often should be happy with developments like these, we need to be conscious and wary of investment patterns and racial discrimination to actually make the city whole. As great as large mutli-family complexes can be for urbanism, growth in central corridor occupancy will not and has not been making up for population decline in North St. Louis.
While Tribeca itself shifts the fabric of the DeBaliviere Place neighborhood with a multitude of new residents in luxury units, there is much, much more in the pipeline. Few places in St. Louis are experiencing quite as much change as the Skinker-DeBaliviere and DeBaliviere Place neighborhoods. Three massive developments are underway right now, which will bring hundreds of expensive units and replace existing infrastructure. The three developments include The Chelsea on Pershing, the Expo at Forest Park on DeBaliviere, and The Hudson, also on DeBaliviere.
The Chelsea on Pershing is the most far along, bringing another luxury apartment community by Lux Living to Pershing. Lux Living also completed Tribeca in 2018, bringing “smart” amenities to the neighborhood, including a robot butler that would bring beer and other snacks to residents in their apartments. Although Mission Rock Residential recently acquired Tribeca, the new Chelsea community will look and feel very similar and remain operated by Lux Living, at least at the onset.
The Chelsea will seem to retain similar structural themes and design elements, with a greater emphasis on brick than its Tribeca sibling. It will likewise rise seven stories above ground, add 152 apartments to the street, and several other impressive amenities. Some noteworthy additions include a two-story fitness center, “lobby bistro”, arcade bar, golf lounge, and even a rock-climbing wall.
Lux Living hopes to open the Chelsea in late 2020, introducing some of the most unique apartments in St. Louis at one of the most uncertain times in recent history. Such a bet is supported, at least, by one of the most dense neighborhoods in St. Louis, rivaling even parts of New York City. DeBaliviere Place certainly has high residential demand and can likely support a coffee bistro, something it oddly lacks. With the relative density of the neighborhood, significant amount of mid-to-high income residents, and urban streetscape, there has been a strange lack of retail and commercial for years along Pershing, Waterman, etc. Outside of Pura Vegan Cafe and West End Bistro, residents had to make their way to Delmar or to the Central West End for the nearest dining options.
Just a two or three minute walk west of the Chelsea is the site for The Hudson (310 DeBaliviere), at the intersection of Pershing and DeBaliviere. Construction has already begun on the foundation for another large residential apartment community on what was formerly the St. Louis Italian Restaurant and Pizza Co.
Lux Living’s second active construction in the neighborhood is considered transit-oriented-development (TOD), located just steps from the Forest Park Metrolink station and bus connectors. TOD is being actively pushed for across the transit corridor in St. Louis, with examples including the Sunnen Station Apartments, Everly on the Loop, and a 10 acre community to be developed by Pearl Companies next to UMSL.
The Hudson is set to bring added density and more options for residents in the city looking for a car-free lifestyle. With 150 units proposed and direct access to the Metrolink, residents will not need a car if they work within the central corridor or otherwise near a station. This is an amenity that, while growing in popularity in St. Louis, is still rather difficult to find given the limited size of the light-rail Metrolink. TOD is critical for good urban landscapes, helping people achieve healthier lifestyles, avoid traffic-filled commutes, and interact more with local businesses and their neighbors. St. Louis is somewhat behind on TOD, versus cities like Chicago, New York, or Boston. Granted, these cities are larger than St. Louis, but their metro systems are easily accessible to residents in urban settings and provide people the option of living car-free.
While we do not know exactly what amenities will be offered at The Hudson just yet, we have some information to work off of. Plans include a retail space at the corner, below what appears to be an amenity deck on the second floor in the rendering above. In a dense setting like what is being built on DeBaliviere and Pershing, mixed-use setups with retail go a long way toward increasing quality of life. For residents without cars, or who don’t want to go far for their services, dining, or casual necessities, nearby commercial spaces fill a critical void and add to a more urban, lively feel on the street.
The residents at The Hudson will have other options beside the corner retail space, however. While they can choose to walk down Pershing toward the cafe planned in The Chelsea, they will find even more just across DeBaliviere at Pearl Companies’ own TOD apartment project. The Expo on the Park will be directly adjacent to the Metrolink platform as well, but will stretch down DeBaliviere all the way to Waterman as well as down De Giverville.
The gallery just above showcases the Expo at Forest Park development from Forest Park Parkway (first), from DeBaliviere and Pershing (second), from Forest Park Parkway again (third), and on De Giverville (fourth). This development is a behemoth, bringing 471,000 square feet of new construction and 287 new units, nearing the number of new apartments at the new One Hundred skyscraper in the Central West End. Current plans also call for 30,000 square feet of retail space across the two buildings (separated by De Giverville).
Those familiar with the area may have already noticed the demolition of the strip mall previously located on DeBaliviere, cleared to make way for the Expo development. The retail component of the new buildings will go a long way toward ensuring this section of DeBaliviere remains active and dense, but with a different feel than before. There were several smaller businesses in the old strip mall that may or may not find new homes. While the Expo at Forest Park undoubtedly creates a nicer, more modern atmosphere that will look and feel much more urban, these businesses are being pushed out of a very dense neighborhood and could struggle to recover.
The good news is that, for current residents, the new retail spaces will reportedly include a grocery store. Similar to the surprising lack of restaurants and retail space for the number of closely packed residents, there were also no grocery stores within walking distance to most houses and apartments in the Skinker-DeBaliviere and DeBaliviere Place neighborhoods. The nearest would likely be the United Provisions on Delmar or the Straubs in the Central West End, neither particularly convenient to access without owning a car. This is also the kind of retail that will be useful for residents across the income scale, assuming the grocery chain chosen is not ultra-luxurious or reflective of a very granular specialty.
With nearly 450 units in the Hudson and Expo at Forest Park projects and the additional 150 at The Chelsea, the DeBaliviere strip is poised to see a large influx of wealthy residents and an entirely new streetscape. This amount of residential development eclipses or matches almost anywhere else in the region, including the Central West End and Downtown.
While DeBaliviere Place and Skinker DeBaliviere have their own unique neighborhood assets and a “feel” that is different from that of the traditionally more urban Central West End, I suspect that the line is going to blur more than ever as the neighborhoods near the CWE quickly densify. With luxury apartments hosting hundreds of units and activated retail spaces, this corridor might soon resemble the kind of urban spaces found on Maryland and Euclid, or other special corridors filled with pedestrians, restaurants, and other commercial spaces.
This development is an intriguing, generally healthy aspect for St. Louis. My caution is less about this development as a whole, but more about the kinds of investment St. Louis is seeing. We can and should cheer for density, urbanism, and TOD, as long as we also advocate for urban policy and investment that creates places for the kinds of small businesses lost in the demolished strip mall, or the residents not even a mile north of these developments just past Delmar. These apartment communities will not end the reduction of population in St. Louis, rather, they will just slow them down. That is a good thing that they will do so, and I am happy to see St. Louis offer urban amenities not usually found in this region that others might simply expect in a top-tier city. But, as stewards of the city, let us at least be aware of the juxtaposition of the luxury and the poverty, and seek to simultaneously invest in industries unlike healthcare and tech that are accessible to those without degrees. That will be the day that St. Louis makes itself a truly better city.