Thursday, September 27, 2007

Downtown Residents, Unite!

St. Louis lofts
Tonight at the Dubliner is the quarterly residents meeting of the Downtown St. Louis Residents Association.

When buyer's walk around downtown looking for a loft home, lots of questions come up. Is it safe? What development is going on? How stable is the neighborhood? What is the appreciation?

Participation in DSLRA is all about these questions and placing the influence of the residents on what happens downtown. Plus, the added benefit of involvement, is the benefit of being a part of the tight knit downtown community instead of just living in it.

The meeting starts at 7, but Two of the downtown aldermen will be present, so show up early. Help DSLRA help YOU!Flyer

Meeting Agenda

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Corporate Relocation, Downtown Style

Centene Corporation announced its plan to move to Downtown St. Louis and into Ballpark Village.

In hearing about the original plans of Ballpark Village, it seemed that there was a missing piece. Cordish and Cardinals exec's talked about the site attracting people all year long, not just during baseball season. They also mentioned that the towers that seemed to excite so many were really optional, and that they would be built as part of the protracted development AFTER all the parking, retail and entertainment was established. At the time, it seemed as if we needed another element, like a corporate headquarters. Having a few, or maybe 1200 more people showing up for work, dining in the restaurants, using the space will undoubtedly help such a monumental project to really establish itself into the area.

There's certainly going to be those who agonize over the fact that approximately $102 million worth of subsidies are a part of the $250 million overall deal. I tend to agree with the mayor on this one. This move, assuming it comes together completely, is one big piece of the urban renaissance taking shape. The payoffs for the region and the city will surely outweigh the costs.

Now we can focus on getting pro-soccer and the NBA!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Train, The Train!

Downtown has lots of meetings. One important one is scheduled for this week regards the prospective expansion through the city from north to south. At this point, we're just talking about a study. Community involvement is key. The meeting is in south city tonight and downtown on Thursday. Click Here for the Meeting Flyer

Show us and be a part of our strong steps forward as we establish a world class public transit system in St. Louis.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Economic Web of Downtown St. Louis

Downtown St. Louis
Downtown St. Louis used to be a pretty dreary place. The places that I walk today with prospective loft buyers are the same streets I walked as a much younger college kid looking for a wild night out. When I walk downtown today, the first thing I see are, like many people, loft buildings with big banners and ads enticing people to embrace an urban lifestyle in St. Louis. Unfortunately, to many, only these lofts seem to stand out as a single lonely blip on the radar of what's new in town.

But wait, could there be more? Can St. Louis have more than just a few loft buildings and a big steel arch?

Fifteen years ago, with the population of residents downtown at anemic levels, the downtown economy pretty much boiled down to the 80-90,000 people commuting in to work daily, the St. Louis Cardinals, and a few late night clubs. Factories were mostly shuttered, and retail was pathetic. Tourism existed, but why? The entire downtown area folded up at 5pm.

Dramatic plus that our urban renaissance has created is that the glut of class "A" and "B" office space downtown has disappeared. Buildings once open at barely surviving capacity have been reinvented as lofts and hotels.

The ongoing increase in population downtown has prompted a new need for services and retail that doesn't close at 5pm. This need has been slowly changing the downtown streetscape to a blighted appearance to that of a trendy metropolis.

Some major key investments by the community was the building of Americas Center, Edward Jones Dome, and Scottrade Center. Despite having a world class convention center, most large convention committees try to assess the area surrounding the convention center as well. Conventioneers complained of no life, sparse restaurants, and very little entertainment.

Bringing both residents and retail into our downtown area has helped our convention bureau to generate a buzz about our town and to lure the type of large scale events that are coveted by cities across the country.

With residents, housing, retail, entertainment and tourism all on the rise, what comes next? The final piece of the puzzle is more commercial. Fifteen years ago, any merger involving a downtown business or even lease renewals seemed to have a familiar tone. Businesses and jobs were abandoning the city for St. Louis county, or worse yet, outside of the region completely. With a more positive environment and housing among the most affordable in the nation, companies can begin to eye downtown St. Louis as a strong contender to start or move their business in. Just within the past 6 months, St. Louis is experiencing the obvious benefits of our improving community. Currently AG Edwards and Wachovia are merging and instead of another St. Louis based corporate headquarters leaving town (TWA, McDonnell Douglas, etc.) the retail security division of Wachovia is moving here. We have already experienced the influx of more new residents into the St. Louis community. Another possible situation with Centene in Clayton, considering a move out of the region, is also considering a move Downtown.

The real gift is that this cylce can continue to repeat itself until our downtown is the thriving downtown that it once was.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dinner and a ball game!

JBuck’s business is booming at the new downtown location! And what a better spot to open a place… only 400 yards away from the ballpark! What took so long?? The downtown location has many great features. The roof top dining area is great place to have a private party and can be rented for any occasion. The main dining room has many of the buildings original features such as original pocket doors and original flooring.

Here is a little fact about the restaurant named JBucks. Ted Geiger the owner of the restaurant approached Jack Buck many years ago with the idea of opening a Jack Buck “themed” restaurant. Mr. Buck at the time was not too keen on the idea, stating he felt he would have to be there all the time. Well Mr. Geiger did not take no for an answer. He went to Jack’s daughter Julie and asked her knowing a father could never say no to his daughter! Well Jack finally came around and said “yes” as long as it would be named “JBuck’s” J standing for Jack, Joe and Julie.

Now the restaurant is as well known as the name it represents one of the world’s best broadcasters! Kudos to The DSLP and Mr. Geiger for bringing yet another fine eating establishment to the ever growing downtown area!

Too Big For One

Downtown Growth
The vision for Lofts in the Lou was simple. To have a site that promotes the downtown renaissance, looks at pressing issues to the downtown community, and offers insight on real estate matters that one seeking to buy or sell in downtown St. Louis would find helpful.

Downtown's storied growth in the past few years is taking some pretty large strides right now. It's been overwhelming. Where can we even start?

My real estate team, consisting of Lisa Grus, Dean Ritchie, and Howard McAuliffe, decided that it was time for them to get involved in sharing their views and adding it to the vision of what this blog is about. Starting today, look for an expanded point of view and hopefully more useful information about the awesome downtown neigbhorhood.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Help the Balancing Act

According to the mayor's blog post, the city's TIF commission will be meeting soon to discuss whether new developments should receive the benefit of Tax Increment Financing.

I'm not sure why, but I tend to be a sucker for giving public money incentives to people trying to make better use out of our city and its property. I know the downside and I know some downtown residents that can think of better uses for their taxes.

I'm also a sucker for our civic responsibility and a good meeting (The city is hosting one next month). There may be lots of time to talk after the decisions are made, but the right time would be at the meeting. Show up!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

Buy lofts in St. LouisTwo subjects that often come up in my day to day work with loft buyer's in St. Louis: The subprime mortgage meltdown and the number of new construction lofts downtown.

Interestingly, the two subjects are related.

The beast is that loft buyer's that sign contracts for new construction often times have a significant wait before the finished product is available. The lending industry is always changing its guidelines. It's a daily thing, but lately it's become more dramatic.

When I reserved my loft at the Dorsa, I worked under the assumption that I would use 100% financing via a conventional loan and then a "piggyback" 20% loan. Who knew. Today, "piggyback" loans are part of the banking industry's steping away from the sub-prime lending business.

The positive thing, as a rule, is that most loft buyer's have exceptional credit and can still qualify for this type of lending. One lender I spoke to today that works a lot downtown said that some of the larger banks were offering incentive discount financing to counteract all the negative hype.

The beauty. Where do we start?

As a rule, traditional bank underwriting says, "If it makes sense, do it." That type of conventional wisdom gave way to the lending mantra of the new millenium, "If it doesn't make sense, do it--or else our competition will". This overindulgence by banks seeking growth and profits is not just about home buying as the news media may have us thinking. Easy money has been a big part of the business world as well, especially in the world of merger's and aquisitions and development.

In development, getting financing is viewed that the plan provided has been reviewed and is acceptable. That it will be a good project since the bank approved the idea and is giving the money. In our era though, banks overly eager to lend has put developer's in some places where they have inventory that they can't sell. The plan just didn't live up to its vision.

Prior to the recent media outrage over subprime mortgages, lenders quietly started tightening up on their standards. Developer's used to require only 25% of the building to be reserved before construction lending began. Now developer's are faced with having 40% UNDER CONTRACTS. Hopefully along these lines the contracts will be scrutinized a bit more carefully as well. Having the developer sell units to themselves or their dead relatives shouldn't fly.

In last weeks St. Louis Business Journal, a decent article described the supply and demand of lofts downtown. The only problem with the article, was that it played to they hype, and it failed to recount the recent history of developments in St. Louis.
Out of the 1528 units projected to be completed between 2008 and 2010, how many of these projects will succeed with the tighter lending practices? How many will be delayed by 1-2 years? How many will be revamped into a more marketable Class A office space?

Looking at the city's development website, or past copies of the "Downtown Report" published by the Post Dispatch, we see lots of projects that are slated to be completed but due to the market, are pushed off or cancelled all together. Pyramid principal John Steffen was quoted as saying that "the final decision (on whether a project is residential, condo, commercial, etc.) will be based on market demand."

The bottom line is that the so called credit crunch is a GOOD THING! It may sting for a bit, but the result is financial responsibility and sanity, and that's just what the doctor ordered.