The City of Clayton, just outside of the City of St. Louis limits, is in the middle of a fast-paced transformation that is reshaping its skyline and densifying its streets. From the under construction Forsyth Pointe towers, the Ritz Carlton renovation, Centene Centre, a new Bank of America branch, a new AC Hotel, to a new Residence Inn, there is so much underway that it would seem unlikely for the municipality to have a geographical area only 1 square mile larger than Tower Grove South.
And yet, that list is actually incomplete. Missing is the Le Meridien on Bonhomme, opening this Fall in the middle of a pandemic and a historic decline in tourism and business travel. While that might sound crazy, the demand for nicer accommodations in Clayton has been publicly stated by officials for years. The Clayton government has sought a Ritz Carlton competitor for years, which would help shore up solidify business travel in the hottest St. Louis area office market. Moreover, the development is a top-to-bottom renovation, so it is not actually bringing more rooms on market than existed prior to its renovation.
While the exterior is nearly covered in windows bringing a nearly floor-to-ceiling view experience to all guests and abundant, fresh accent lighting gives a modern feel, the original structure dates back to 1965. HOK Architects was chosen to take what is something of a landmark in the City of Clayton, with its wavy, brutalist street facing wall and overall aged façade into a hotel worthy of the wealthy visitors gracing Clayton with their business.
The Sheraton, a value-focused Marriott brand, was slowly becoming a poor fit for the neighborhood. With high-priced consultancy firms, tech startups, and banks filling Clayton’s impressive Downtown, a market strategy based on value exclusively – coupled with a need for massive capital improvements – led to the Sheraton’s demise. The structure, which occupies a large and visible parcel in the core of Downtown Clayton, was also quickly appearing less and less impressive in the face of the development boom surrounding it. The glass-clad towers and newly renovated spaces made its age all the more apparent.
The top-to-bottom renovation and upgraded brand position to a Le Meridien by Marriott is an admirable attempt to change course and bring about an offering more suited to the Clayton market. 268 modern rooms with luxury amenities, a rooftop pool and event space, “state of the art fitness center”, and proximity to neighboring businesses are all part of a new value proposition hinging on far more than price, which is still likely to be lower than its neighbor, the Ritz Carlton.
The panoramic views of Downtown Clayton, an attempt at a stylish mid-century modern design, and a fresh brand will really complement the Downtown Business District. The changes are comprehensive, going beyond improving the amenities and finishes inside, with a complete re-design of the exterior. Even the wavy street-facing wall is seeing a modernization. The wavy design is a much brighter gray, replacing the dirty beige seen for decades. It is important to note that although this is a big change, it is still a preservation of an old design – bringing it closer to today’s standards, but respecting the original intent in 1965. The guest room windows are perhaps the most striking difference to me, replacing small windows with nearly floor-to-ceiling glass panels, which not only makes a huge difference on its appearance, but also makes for a better experience inside.
St. Louis has experienced explosive growth in its hotel sector over the past few years, and it is certainly possible that the pandemic will significantly harm the service and hospitality industry in the region. With that being said, I would highly expect this renovation to withstand the economic challenges better than the many innovative spaces in Downtown St. Louis. While St. Louis City is resilient and hosts plenty of attractions, the Clayton office segment is incredibly strong. Even as the national conversation about office space centers around the work-from-home and its devastating impacts on commercial real estate, Clayton is leasing new towers before they are even complete like in the under-construction Forsyth Pointe. St. Louis City is not yet in that position, even though it is headed in that direction.
Regardless of where the development is in the region, the good news is that the St. Louis area is strong and attractive to businesses and developers alike even in these challenging times. From the Arch to Chesterfield, not even a pandemic can halt the progress and explosive growth of the region. Let’s keep that progress going.