Thursday, December 16, 2010

Great News for Leather Trades!

The Leather Trades Building, long time dormant building should finally be getting its long awaited facelift!  The building, listed on the historic register, will be converted into apartments by large apartment manager Dominium out of Minneapolis. 

The Tudor Building Scared People.
 This is great news for the 15-16th blocks of Locust which have had to look at the building in its current state ever since Pyramid Construction started doing preliminary work for its planned condo project.  It was a reminder of the effect the Tudor Building had on prospective buyers at the Lofts at 2020.  People would look at the ragedy building and ask if the neighborhood was stable.  After Pyramid started pulling windows out and doing some demolition, the Leather Trades had the same effect on people looking at the Printers Lofts, the Annex, and Terra Cotta. 

The New Tudor added density and businesses!

After the Tudor Building was completed, it added a whole new dimension to the area with more density, and some sorely needed commercial space.  The additional buildings across the street add even more.

More density and one more completed building to downtown at 16th and Locust is just what the doctor ordered!

Monday, November 22, 2010

FHA Approves Lofts at 2020!

St Louis lofts financing
Congratulations to the Loft Owners at 2020 Washington in getting their building FHA approved! 

Last week the FHA Commissioner, David Stevens was in town to speak to a group of Realtors.  We were there for a few reasons;  a free lunch, a pep talk, and to impress upon the FHA Commissioner how lending restrictions on condominiums need to be revised. 

For review:  an FHA Loan is made available to allow new home buyers to buy a home with a 3.5% downpayment (instead of the 20%+ that conventional banks require).  In February 2010, it was required that only FHA Approved Condo Projects could receive FHA loans.  Since FHA financing was practically non-existent when most of the downtown condominium projects were built, but now accounts for nearly 40% of the available lending, many of the buildings that were not originally approved had to go through the process.  We had been encouraging that since May 2008 (see My Day at the FHA part 1 and part 2). 

Despite all our encouragement, only the Syndicate Condominiums and the Dorsa Lofts have become FHA approved since February and they did mainly because of continued involvement from the developers.

When the topic came up at the luncheon about improving access to FHA for Downtown condominium projects, there was a loud applause from the crowd.  Most Realtors want better opportunity to sell in Downtown St Louis but have had to tell buyers with less than a 20% downpayment to look elsewhere.  That has been HORRIBLE!  Unfortunately, the Commissioner Stevens answer was not terribly inspiring.  He said that due to condos having the highest default rate and pressure from right wing groups to reduce federal loan programs, "no further liberalization of lending terms can be expected." 

While that news stinks, it forces the issue even more that CONDO ASSOCIATIONS NEED TO GET FHA APPROVAL!!! (Especially Printers Lofts, Annex Lofts, Terra Cotta Lofts, Railway Lofts, Bankers Lofts, Westgate Lofts, Garment Row Lofts, Lucas Lofts, & the Marquette Building).  Also Knickerbocker and BLU, coming up for expiration next month, need to get re-approved.

At Premier Realty Exclusive, we have resources to help in the process, but the Condo Associations of these buildings have to do the work, otherwise they limit the buyer's able to buy to those having a 20% plus downpayment.  These days, that's a tall order.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Inspired City Living! The FINAL 20!

When many of the Downtown Loft Condo projects stalled and a few developers lost all, the Syndicate Condominiums continued on and is down to the final 20 units on the market! Not as edgy and rustic as the bulk of the downtown loft projects, the Syndicate offers a straight line modern interior with some really cool amenities like an artists room, media room, art gallery, inside access to the Culinaria grocery store, and a phenomenal 18th floor rooftop deck with 270 degree views of the downtown skyline.

One of the problems getting into a condo in the past few years has been financing. Lenders are starting to crack down on buildings with too much commercial space and too many rentals, the Syndicate hasn't had a problem. Its actually been the opposite. Most of my Syndicate client get the 'nChamp' financing allowing a reduced interest loan (1.5 off the prevailing interest rates). The building is also FHA approved for prospective buyers that don't have as much of a downpayment.

Location, Style, and amenities all in its favor, the Syndicate Condominiums is worth a look for anyone considering an urban lifestyle.

Click on the pictures for a contact form to set up a tour of the building or any additional information!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Latest Developer Indictment

According to the Post Dispatch's paper today, Sam Glasser, the man involved with the sale of many downtown buildings was arrested Monday from a sealed indictment accusing him of a bank fraud scheme with already jailed developer Matt Burghoff.

Based on the story, it sounds like it would be tough to pull together a conviction. 

There are lots of people who've gotten the short end of the stick in their dealings with Sam that are probably happy to hear this news.  As attorney for the defense said in the paper, they are "anxious for the facts to come out in this case."  Knowing Sam as a guy to cover the bases, when they do get the facts, I'd be suprised to see a conviction.

What would be a suprise would be if he was the last real estate developer to get indicted from actions during the real estate boom.   Matt Burghoff, Clayton Hargraves, John Steffens and Sam Glasser were guys that the banks pandered to for a while, now they're scrutinizing things and wondering what happened.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Post Office Plaza's new destination

The silence surrounding Roberts Tower downtown has been rather deafening until today. We still don't have details about the condominiums, but news of the new tenant just surfaced.

I'm pretty excited, because as a NFL coach, Don Shula was renowned, as a restauranteur, he's been equally successful.  At some point, news of a nationwide company choosing to begin its regional presence downtown won't be a big deal.  Today its a sign to other entities that our downtown meets the criteria in which a business can thrive, despite an economic downturn.

What is really nice, is that soon, like the Terrace View for City Garden, Shula's 347 can serve as a logical destination for residents and tourists enjoying Post Office Plaza. 

As a huge fan of independent restaurants, news of a chain might seem less important, but having a mix is even better. 

Bon Apetit!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Happy Birthday Eero Saarinen!

Finally made it to the arch. My hope was to glean from the speakers at this evenings panel discussion which one of the 5 prospective plans for the arch grounds are most consistent with those of Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley.

The speakers tonight includued an archivist, a historian, an architect involved as a student in assiting the jury in the 1947 competition, a project manager working for Eero Saarinens office and lastly, Susan Saarinen, the daughter of Eero Saarinen who is a landscape architect herself. Informative and insightful as it was, the presentation didn't include any information about the current contest.

What I did get which was totally unexpected, was a rush of excitement for what we have the opportunity to witness and enjoy: a long deserved makeover of the archgrounds and respective property across the river. I say 'deserved,' because the arch grounds are a National Park, and based on every other National Park I've been to, it just doesn't stack up. Interestingly, looking at many of the designs from the 1947 contest including the winning design, their plans were much more than what we were left with.

All along I've called for people to participate in this. That's important. While the judges for this year's contest are undoubtedly qualified to process the challenge before them, and it is a challenge, they aren't motivated by what's BEST FOR ST LOUIS like we are. Public input is allowed ONLY THROUGH MONDAY!!! Seeing bicycle and pedestrian trails linking the Missouri portion of the park with the new attractions planned for the east side was exciting for me. Seeing the new venues for the archgrounds like concert space, fountains and all kinds of other improvements was fantastic. After my trip last month to San Antonio and seeing how well they tied their downtown to the Riverwalk, its clear that we can do so much with the Arch grounds that exponentially improves our viability as a tourist destination and a place for us to build community.

After the presentations, I took my time to try to take in everything about the new plans . My initial front runner is the plan from Weiss / Manfredi Team Concept. They have a St Louis connection in SWT Design out of Webster Groves, and seemed to have a good realistic plan. Some of the plans were hard to understand and will take more time to read.

My goal from here is to spend another hour or so reading and listening to the entries on the web and then submit my input to the National Park Service The form they have at the Arch has specific questions that the webform does not have, like "What do you value about the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial?, and How do each of these designs respect what you value about the Memorial? I'm not sure how important these questions are to the judges, but I'll probably try to answer their questions.

After the evening, I meandered my way through downtown, trying to connect the many perspectives shared in the design competition with the current layout of the Gateway Mall, visiting several attractions like CityGarden, and Serra's Twain before catching the train home. Just like an election day, we only have a finite period to share our ideas about the contest. Its important to get informed now.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cherry on Top!

As a life long St Louisan, I've spent more time in a given week driving on Kingshighway Boulevard than I've spent at the Arch in my lifetime. Despite the seeming disparity, the relevance that the Gateway Arch has on our collective lives is important to consider. Especially important now.

Starting on Tuesday, the top 5 design teams in the international competition to re-create the Gateway Arch grounds will be unveiled at the Gateway Arch. This display will be open through September 30th, with a traveling display to be available through September 26th. A winner should be selected on September 24th.

My hope is that most St Louisans will consider it part of their civic duty to participate in the competition by stopping by the displays and getting informed about what we could be left with. Obviously the architects, and dignitaries will be there. What ultimately becomes of the Arch Grounds will have more of an impact on our City and its ability to attract tourists, conventions, and even new jobs and residents; its important for ALL St Louisans to be there and be in the know about our options.

Had that been the case when Eero Saarinen's design won the 1947 Design Competition, it's feasible that more of his design would have been implemented; a design that included much than the current Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

I'm trying to decide now what I'm going to do. The unveiling will be Tuesday at 9am. It will undoubtedly be a feel good event with the Mayor and all the City Folk in attendance, but on Friday at 7pm, there is a 100th Birthday for Eero Saarinen with presentations from historians, architects involved with the last contest, Saarinen's daughter and others. Being there to hear the inspirational statements from the Mayor would be nice, but the possible commentary on the new designs by persons involved with the earlier design could really be powerful.

Who knows, I might show up twice.  Either way, the amount of effort I'm seeing from the NPS and others shows me that its important for us to weigh in and talk to others about what could potentially be a major impact on our towns future.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Other Shoe Dropped

When Pyramid Construction, the St Louis Loft Developer, went under back in April 2008, word on the street was that there was some inappropriate shuffling of funds between all the projects that were in the works. Today the Post Dispatch reported that John Steffen, the President of Pyramid Construction was going to be indicted of bank fraud for cashing out on tax credits that were supposed to be held as collateral for a loan. Given the extent of the Steffen empire downtown, I'd expected a more elaborate scheme to be uncovered. Looking at Casenet, there have been several suits filed by banks, maybe this is just the beginning, or maybe after all the dust has settled, this is the only case that can be made. I'm hoping for the latter.

While the overall business of John Steffen was evidently not sustainable once the market slowed down, he really had a vision for this town. He was a leader. People believed in him. He described his vision for a 'Paris on the Mississippi' with panache, and like Quarterback turned Dancer Kurt Warner, he had the perfect story of starting his career as a carpenter and building a huge business from scratch. When I had my first experience with Pyramid, they had a construction company, an architectural firm and was about to purchase a real estate brokerage.

When Pyramid purchased a Blue Ribbon Realtor brokerage and re-branded it under the Pyramid umbrella, it didn't really make sense to me. That was when I started to question the direction of the company. It was a Central West End broker with limited downtown experience. Most importantly, buying a brokerage is really buying human capital; there's really no way to ensure that the agents perform or even stay with the company after its sold. [Warren Buffett, if you're reading this, Premier Realty Exclusive is one notable exception]. As a relatively new businessman, I figured they knew what they were doing.

During the fallout from Pyramids demise, many who were directly involved with John Steffen felt that he would land on his feet. I wasn't so sure, but based on the loyalty he engendered and the extent of his political connections it was plausible. That's my hope today. In dealing with Pyramid, I wasn't a huge fan, but John Steffen is a guy that we need in the world making a difference. If it is true and the collateral was sold by Steffen, I view it as an act of desperation trying to keep a flailing company alive. Steffens lost his home, all his assets...loosing his freedom would punctuate an already dreary descent from his position of prominence in the St Louis Downtown renaissance.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tell Me What To Say!

st louis lofts
I'm a huge fan of leadership through inclusion.  Having a vision is one thing, but getting people to walk with you in support is the fundamental characteristic that demonstrates the abilities of a leader.  What's especially sad is seeing some insane cause where there's tremendous community support like was the case in Nazi Germany, then seeing an opposing good cause where people just aren't willing to stand up and participate.

The Partnership for Downtown St Louis came up with the latest vision for the future of downtown.  That's really good, because by the time the goals for the last major plan for Downtown (Downtown Now!) was being completed, there seemed to be an absence of vision and planning that accounted for over planned growth in condo surplus exceeding 7 times the highest annual number of units sold.  Thankfully that planned growth didn't occur at the time and most of those projects remain viable for the future.

Right now the residential plan for Downtown St Louis is to have 20,000 residents by the year 2020.  It sounds like a lot to me.  Breaking it down, that's an additional 800 persons per year.

I was invited to a meeting coming up in a few weeks to get together with others in my profession to discuss this plan.  I've read the whole Downtown Next Plan, and find that there are many good thoughts.  I'm happy to participate in the meeting and hear what others have to say.  For some reason, I'm at a loss for what to say about my role in such a meeting.  The plan also includes increasing the number of downtown jobs by 20% and a whole host of other ideas.  It seems to me that the "build it and they will come" philosophy is what will work.  If we do establish better public transportation, if we do remove a bulk of the hideous train tracks from southern downtown and replace it with the Choteau Pond greenway, if we do get another 20,000 workers downtown, people will want to be a part of downtown.

So that's where I sit.  I'm asking for help.  Email me at if you'd like to remain anonymous or private, but help me to be a useful member of this committee by sharing your ideas on how Downtown Next can be implemented. 

I'm waiting!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sound Off

Sorry for short notice, but there's a meeting tonight for Downtown residents to have discussion with "problem club" owners to see how they can resolve their differences.  It's located at the Downtown Partnership Office (720 Olive Street, Suite 450, St. Louis, MO 63101) & is at 6pm.  Anyone with concern about the negative B.S. going on Downtown should be at this meeting.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What's Next Depends on YOU!

Tonight there was an update to the downtown partnership site adding a new feature, the "Friends of Downtown" Joining quickly, I'm looking forward to getting my access codes to the member login page etc. and may describe some of the benefits for a future post. In looking over the site, the information that I was most interested was the "Downtown Next: The 2020 Vision for Downtown St Louis" What made this most attractive, aside from the catchy name, was that the plan it replaced was so wildly successful. Downtowwn NOW, a different quasi government entity created by Former Mayor Clarence Harmon was the author. At the time, I wasn't hopeful. I remember thinking that we'd get a few new signs downtown and maybe a new catchy ad campaign. The phenomenal period of growth and redevelopment that took place between 1999 and 2009 was totally unexpected. I remember viewing the plan and some of the Downtown Partnerships propaganda about the results through the years and being impressed with how things were coming together and thinking, "what's next?"

Aparently I wasn't alone.

Developing a new plan was something discussed at some of the outreach committees through the Partnership for Downtown St Louis. The reports are attached below. My feeling on the reports are that they really need to be discussed more. Looking at the credits they gave on the back, I didn't feel that there were enough people participating, that they weren't the right people, and that there was enough time and energy incorporated. Guessing that the Partnership was just trying to get the very large ball rolling, the challenge still exists to get people talking about the report and encourage the type of participation that the report is calling for.

Seeing the void where the skybridge once stood was a good start and all the construction that recently started is a welcome addition. The part of the reports that seem most urgent probably wont rely on the decisions of some deep pocket developer, but rest on the shoulders of our elected officials. Creating more effective transportation and seperating more bicycle traffic seem like a huge part of the equasion that I can easily see get swept under the rug by the powers that be.

Take a look at the reports. Call your alderman and shoot a message to the Mayor, Lewis Reed and our representatives on the State and Federal Level.

The best deal about the report is that, by comparison, the 'heavy lifting' is already done. Downtown has been revived, home owners live there and we have a great start on the commercial development needed. At this point we just need to tie the whole package together, and that will need more planning and vision along with the interest of the people downtown and throughout the region. Executive Summary

Full Report

Friday, June 11, 2010

Catching Up on Downtown

The past month has been an exciting time in the history of downtown development.

Most exciting was the funding of the three projects at the end of last month; the Laurel, St Louis Centre, and the Park Pacific. There were so many valid reasons for the delays, but having these few projects resurrected is particularly valuable. Interestingly, when the real estate market started to slide and the economy tanked, it seemed as if real estate was the front and center cause of it all...then banking took the center stage. While the pieces were being sorted out, the biggest problem locally was the construction trades. It seems that the industry of new construction was severely bloated back in 2006 and that the difficulty in finding a "happy medium" is falling mostly on the many unemployed construction workers. So seeing financing go through and some of these people get back to work is a sight to see and hopefully a sign of new things to come as we continue to wait for Ballpark Village and other notable projects that could complete the transformation of our downtown.

The project below always seemed such a small part of downtown's transformation, but it started to become the symbol for the times as we were repeatedly promised its removal. I was at my boys school picnic when this was being celebrated. Thanks to technology and everybody wanting to capture this on video, I have my choice of perspectives. What's really cool is that its done and we don't have to hear people whine about it still being there.

This blog was on a bit of a hiatus due to some technical changes with the blogs host,which was a drag, since aside from all the new developments, turned 5 in May. Back in 2005, there didn't seem to be any sources of information on downtown that shined a light on the positive changes going on. Now there are many. Even having many, there still could be more. The shift in how the commercial news media portrays their stories for more drama and intrigue seems to paint downtown in a negative light more than other neighborhoods. There are also lots places where the negatives are primarily focused upon, that's good too. My only problem with the way things were in 2005 was that by only having the negative features of a community to see, some might get the idea that downtown St Louis isn't a great place to live.

So besides seeing the most popular eyesore in Downtown St Louis coming down, we can see the wheels of progress continuing to move forward DESPITE a global
recession. As the economy continues to pick up, we hope to see the downtown continue to prosper even more quickly than it is now.

Good luck to everyone participating in the Race for the Cure on Saturday!

Monday, April 19, 2010

More Density Downtown

When the plans for Avenida lofts were announced way back in 2006, I was skeptical.  After all, the Avenida, located at 1225 Washington, was the third building in just over a year that Jacob Development was starting and the first wasn't even 25% sold (from memory).  The second, the Bogen, was a huge project and hadn't begun sales.  At the time, the number of spaces projected for development in the following year was a staggering 2265.

Obviously things didn't work out for the condos and the project was scrapped for a time, but fortunately, the momentum going on in Downtown St Louis procured another plan very quickly. 

It was good news to hear the plan for mixed use commercial building with rental lofts and a couple new themed restaurants and even better to see construction starting up.  Just last week, we started seeing ads for apartments at the newly named "Warehouse 7 Lofts." 

Hopefully the project will, as expected, bring continued enthusiasm for downtown living as another piece of the downtown puzzle is put into place.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Is It That Bad?

Back in my college days, Washington Avenue was the bomb!  The nightclub scene sort of migrated around between the landing, Wash Ave, and Central West End.  Most buildings downtown were essentially vacant except for warehouse space, some "true loft" dwellers, and the group of constantly changing nightclubs.  It was at that point, really a supreme low point in value, that Dave Jump started buying underutilized and undervalued buildings downtown. 

Watching the rennaisance downtown has been fantastic. 

In 2004, when we started working in the downtown residential real estate market, things were still fairly bleak.  Even with all the activity, many of the buildings hadn't changed in form or function since my college days in the early 90's.  Walking the streets with buyer's, we'd hear comments like, "it looks like you've still got a long way to go" as we passed by a boarded up building.  Some people were attracted to the idea of finding a diamond in the rough:  loft living amongst an otherwise deteriorating neighborhood. 

Now, despite a much nicer downtown, commercial values are dropping back down and Dave Jump appears to be speculating again. 

In talking with a former Pyramid Construction officer, the Jefferson Arms was going to really solidify the neighborhood as a rental building with a movie theater and street level retail.  Positioned at Tucker and Washington, the former "Jefferson Hotel" was one of the finest convention hotels in St Louis at one time, but hadn't received much attention since then when it was converted to the Jefferson Arms Apartments.  After the collapse of Pyramid, Sherman Associates, a partner in the Syndicate Development, was said to be aquiring the Jefferson, but the building ended up in foreclosure last summer.

In talking with the folks downtown back in the boom times, some folks idolized Jump, others demonized him.  I, like the article says, just saw him as a savy investor;  buying low and selling high.  Other than that, he stepped in to help save the City Museum at one point, providing much needed capital to keep the enterprise going.  Hearing he's the owner of the Jefferson Arms gives me a comfortable feeling for a few reasons, but mainly that he had a role in what has been a tremendous turn around of downtown.  Also, as a local business man, he has more interest in seeing the property turn around than its prior bank owner.  It seems like the Jefferson has sat vacant long enough, so it would be great to see the wheels in motion to make use of this old gem.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Laurel and Park Pacific get Help Soon

Interesting source of funds. 

Ever since the real estate market began to slow down in 2006, new people I meet get an overly sympathetic look on thier face when I tell them I'm a Realtor.  While things aren't 'what they were', things are still going.  Who I really feel for are the men and women in the building trades.  Unemployment in those areas are staggaring. 

The AFL-CIO Trust seems like a good way to help stimulate funds to get some of the union builders back to work, but is it sustainable?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Loft Prices Surge

There are few things I hate more than the over-generalizations the media has been so graciously making about the real estate market in the past few years. Headlines like "HOME PRICES DROP" have been common place. It all goes back to the fact that news media has placed more focus on attention getting drama than on true reporting. I guess that sells more papers.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, JOIN EM! is what I say.

Looking at the sales for the first two months of the year, the number of sales increased and the average price increased by nearly $7,000, which is meaningless considering that doesn't allow for the size condition or location, but hey, "Loft Prices Surge" is a great headline, so there!

Also encouraging is that the number of sales jumped, and the days on market dropped by over 100 days. It underscores how bleak things were in early 2009.

Unfortunately the price per square foot has dropped. The good news, is that we are going to be seeing more short sales until prices raise to 2006 levels, and banks may be absorbing some of those drops as well as paying realtor commissions.

In truth, prices aren't really surging.  Some great deals are out there, and its best to hang onto your space and ride this market out if its possible. 

The data is below. Here's to the turn around!

             2009 Sales   Listing $    SqFt    Listing Pr/SqFt    CDOM      Sale $      Selling Pr/SqFt
                (12)         $190,244  1364      $147                314       $179,692        $139

2010 Sales                Listing $    SqFt     Listing Pr/SqFt   CDOM      Sale $      Selling Pr/SqFt
   (21)                      $197,090  1346      $150                207       $184,954         $132

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life As We Know It

Downtown St Louis saw an investment of 4.4 billion dollars in reinvestment between 1999 and 2008.  During most of that time, the acronym "FHA" used in conjunction with home loans was mostly unheard of (see My Day at the FHA part 1 and Part 2).  Having been developed during that time, there was no percieved need for loft buildings to be "FHA Approved" at that time.

FHA insured home loans have always treated condominiums different than single family homes, having an complicated approval process.  Once approved, FHA loans could be done on a building with "limited review," meaning that the underwriting was simplified and minimal information from the association was required to complete the loan. IN THE PAST, if a condo buildning wasn't approved, but was acceptable, it could go through the SPOT APPROVAL process, by which most loans downtown were done.

In life, the only guarantee is change.

In a past life, watching the ripple effects of government decisions trickle down often meant watching how the affected businesses would respond to the governments mandates.  When the FHA changed thier guildelines, it seemed as if they were trying to make things easier overall.  After all, why should EVERYONE wanting to buy a condo in an acceptable building have to go through a "spot approval" process over and over instead of just doing a bit more work and approving the whole building?  Their goal was to simplify the approval process, stating that any Direct Endorsement lender could do the approval.  What we're hearing is that these same Direct Endorsement lenders are passing the buck to condominium associations. 

In 2008, when I visited the FHA offices, I asked why a condo association or realtor couldn't just arrange for the approval.   My question seemed to be confusing.  "Why can't the lender just do it?" was the confused response.  Of course, knowing lenders, I couldn't think of too many lenders that wanted to go through the public service of having a whole buildng approved just to do one loan. 

The attached picture file shows the requirments needed and most of the buildings downtown should do EVERYTHING THEY CAN to try to comply with these requirements to get thier building FHA APPROVED!  

Looking at the requirements I have some questions.  More will be revealed when I get the answers. 

The basic fact that seemingly alludes condo associations is that the more difficult a condominium is to purchase, the longer it can take to sell and the stronger the buyer's chances of getting a better deal

While some buildings will have more buyers looking for FHA loans than others, it would benefit ALL buildings and downtown as a whole if condominium associations act now to get FHA approval for the next two years.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Downtown Farmer's Market?

Old Post Office Plaza was completed downtown, my feelings about it were that it could be a great part of the city, or not.

With the sculpture in it, I thought of the public plazas in Greece where Plato was taught by Socrates. I envisioned Tai Chi and farmers markets.

I've been hearing rumors about the later use and am hoping for the best.

My own neighborhood has a very nice farmer's market in Tower Grove Park that has become a weekly event for many of the neighborhoods surrounding the park (Shaw, Tower Grove South, Tower Grove East, Compton Heights & Southwest Garden). They've done a great job of not only presenting a nice market with entertainment, food and refreshments, but have also promoted the event to have a sizable following.

Having a farmer's market downtown really is a win-win. Lots of Downtown residents go to Soulard Market, but having the market move to Downtown could be a potentially good thing for Downtown workers and visitors too.

The real benefit of a Farmer's Market Downtown is the community aspect. Something needed downtown. Just a decade ago, downtown's residents were viewed more like a parasitic entity. News stories would refer to the "loft dwellers" and not the downtown neighborhood. Lots of community exists downtown, that's one of the major selling points to living there. It exists within buildings and at restaurants, bars and coffee shops. What a Farmer's Market could potentially do is bring the community out into the open.

When the Partnership for Downtown St Louis hired its new President, Maggie Campbell, I reviewed the news clips promoting her past experience. One of the items was a Farmer's Market. At the time, I figured that with Soulard Market being so close, that it wasn't likely for downtown, but did think about either Schlafly Tap Room's parking lot and / or the Old Post Office Plaza as being good locations.

Right now, things are just rumored.  The idea seems like it would work if it gets the support in needs by the residents. 

Friday, February 05, 2010

Bad News for the Cynics

For years, I was as negative as the best of them. St Louis was a town I was somehow stuck in and my feelings were well known. Growing up here, I just knew there was someplace else for me.

I'll have to admit, the changes citywide that have taken place, as well as my lifestyle and age, all have a fair amount to do with my change of heart. St Louis is still a work in progress.

Working as a realtor, we see lots of 'outsiders'. I'll never forget meeting my friend who moved here from choice! Were they crazy?!? Who could leave the beach to come here? In the past several years, its less and less suprising to hear people moving to St Louis and really loving it.

This month, St Louis made the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2010 Dozen Distinctive Destinations. Visitors to the site can register and vote for thier favorite destination. There are some nice places, but St Louis has my vote.

Obviously, historic buildings aren't for everyone, and so everyone might have differing values, but as a person aware of the phenomenal collection of preserved and restored buildings throughout the St Louis area; particularly downtown. We've heard on this blog and many others about some of the same resources we've squandered over the years, but what we have left is certainly worth celebrating. Visiting the Old Post Office, Union Station, The Cathedral Basilica, The Fox, The Continental Life Building, and EVERY loft building downtown is something that can be taken for granted. Any St Louisan that hasn't visited those places and taken a tour should consider a staycation and check it all out. What's hard about St Louis in comparison to the other 'distinctive destinations' is that we just have too much to consider. The past decade and the Missouri legislature has helped our cause by creating incentives for the development of historic structures and districts.

Making the list is great, but as a St Louisan, show your support for the great things being done here and vote for St Louis as the top distinctive destination by visiting the National Trust website today.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Happy Happy New Year!

This past New Years Eve, like most people, I hoped for better times. Real estate this year has been heartbreaking. Going through the 92 sales that took place in the downtown area (according to the MLS), most of them were sold at a sizeable drop from when they were most recently sold. One loft we sold in 2006 was sold in 2009 for 18% less. That was more the rule than the exception this year. Buyers are the true beneficiary.

On a side note, Congratulations to Blue City Spaces. They seem to have reinvigorated their sales this year by offering incentives and maintaining an active social media campaign. Nothing like the years when Loftwork or Pyramid would close 50-80 sales a piece, but their 12 sales (per MLS) last year showed they are committed to keeping the project alive intead of moving quickly to refinance and rent the property. Hopefully that continues.

There are several other things that are interesting and reassuring at this point.

1. Last Year at this time, it felt that we were continuing our slide into the recession. The bottom had just dropped out of the stock market and banks weren't lending their own money. Now it feels like we are working our way out. I'm hearing signs that banks are starting to look at being portfolio lenders, rather than just being mortgage brokers. The massive job loss is coming to a halt.

2. Despite the downturn, the urban renaissance in St Louis marches on. St Louisans are continuing to decide that they want to be downtown. Population is on the rise. While sales were the lowest (92) downtown since 2004, the rental market is robust. Businesses here, while still struggling, seems to be holding up better than the region as a whole. New additions of the Culinaria and CityGarden seem to have energized downtown and added a positive element to the regions perspective on Downtown. Plans for the Avenida Lofts have been converted to a mostly commercial renovation which is ongoing. When we began working extensively in Downtown in 2004, one really had to have an imagination. Having a vibrant downtown where people want to be is more and more a reality. The continued activity even during this recession will continue to pull people in.

My long term perspective for Downtown St Louis is good. One of the things holding up many would be downtown residents is that they want to see housing prices recover on their big suburban homes before they sell and enjoy city living. That probably won't happen tomorrow, but we're working in that direction. The housing market still has some shuffling to do, but its happening.

Now it is more important that ever for Downtown St Louisans to work together and remain active in DSLRA. While the big projects like CityGarden get the headlines, the small community based programs and volunteering can also go a long way towards supporting the effort to continue growth and revitalization.

Most neighborhood associations put on some form of housing tour annually. While the Partnership for Downtown St Louis has taken on this role each year to mainly serve condo developers, that tour has been scaled back and virtually eliminated. In its present form, it still seems based too much around new condo or rental projects and not enough around the real community. It would be nice to see a real community based neighborhood tour grow into the void. Great things could happen.