Downtown St. Louis’ residential revival is moving at a very quick pace. While the urban core of the St. Louis region has its difficulties, residential occupancy is not one of them. The 2019 Downtown Residential Occupancy Report indicates that there is a 92.4% overall occupancy rate, with a 23% 5-year population growth. These numbers are staggering and reflect a Downtown with a strengthening residential component, creating a more mixed-use neighborhood.
Developers have been quick to notice Downtown’s residential growth and limited availability, completing dense new infill like at One Cardinal Way and proposing hundreds of new units on Washington Ave. and Spruce St. For Downtown St. Louis, a neighborhood that has a history of residential, commercial, and hotel abandonment, the recent decade has been one of significant revitalization as it works to recover its status as a 24/7, vibrant community.
Developer Alterra Worldwide is working on one of the larger proposals for Downtown STL with the Jefferson Arms Apartments, located at 415 N Tucker on the Western edge of Downtown. The building has a long history, first having opened to the public the day before the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis under the name Hotel Jefferson. The hotel hosted two Democratic National Conventions in the early 1900s, and for years offered luxury rooms and events to St. Louisans. After having been sold to different hotel chains a few times in the mid-1900s, it was converted to elderly residences in the late 1970s.
The Jefferson Arms building has over a century of history and importance not just to the St. Louis area, but to the country as a whole and those who visited St. Louis at the height of its national reputation. In 2003, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, unfortunately just a few years before it would become vacant. In 2006, another developer, Pyramid Construction, emptied the building for planned condominiums, which never came to be. Since 2006, the building has remained vacant and deteriorated overtime, making the building one of the largest empty, abandoned buildings in Downtown.
Alterra Worldwide acquired the Jefferson Arms building in 2017, but has since received considerable criticism for its anti-union stance with construction and significant delays in their proposed timeline. It has since resolved its labor dispute in late 2020, and received an extension from the City of St. Louis as it appears they just may be ready to gear up for construction soon. The City is giving Alterra until 2025 to wrap up their renovation, which is expected to cost just over $100 million.
UPDATE (2.21.2021): Media officials with connections to Alterra Worldwide have confirmed that all taxes owed have been completely paid to the city. There is not a tax burden remaining. Mayor Krewson confirmed today to Missouri-Metro that she required all taxes be paid before signing the Board Bill.
Alterra Worldwide is also hoping to help finance the proposal with a CID (Community Improvement District) and TDD (Transportation Development District), which would ensure that a small tax would incur for purchases made on the property, or sometimes just around the property, to aid the developers with large redevelopment costs. On December 16, a Board of Aldermen panel approved the proposal 7-1, with Alderman Cara Spencer being the only dissenting vote. On January 15, the full BOA approved the project, also granting the developers $17.3 million in TIFs (Tax-Incremented Financing). As the St. Louis Business Journal reports, the developer still owes multiple years of property taxes on the building to the city, totaling just over $119,000. However, the developer has paid some of their prior tax burden now, which previously totaled around $230,000.
If this project does finally move ahead, it will offer a mixed conclusion for a huge, historic building. While the end result will certainly salvage a building that the city should absolutely preserve, the developer has shown it is struggling to bring the project to fruition, amidst their friction with organized labor and their tax burden. The project is only possible with quite a lot of financing provided by the city, at least according to the developers, and while it will eventually likely make up for the cost in eventual property and sales taxes, it is an investment with a large burden upon the city and its residents.
That said, revitalizing the city’s urban core likely will remain a top priority for St. Louis officials, and there is no doubt that significant progress has already been made to that end. Downtown St. Louis is the key to preserving an economically competitive, vibrant, and historic city, and regardless of the friction on this project, added density to the tune of 239 apartments and a 198-room Marriott branded hotel will bring life to a section of Downtown that certainly needs it.