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Grand Plans for Grand Center

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Grand plan in the works

Residential development, arts buildings and four parking garages proposed

Heather Cole

fox3.jpg

Photo from www.builtstlouis.net

Grand Center Inc. is hiring a developer and urban planner to work on a $250 million redevelopment program, which includes 168 units of housing.

Although in its early stages, the program already is raising the ire of some Grand Center anchors, including the Fabulous Fox Theatre, which has filed a lawsuit to block part of the housing development.

At a May 27 meeting, the Grand Center board authorized Grand Center management to sign an agreement with the creators of the new development program for the district, Chicago-based McCaffery Interests and its subcontractor Chicago Consulting Studios.

Details of the agreement are being negotiated, but the developers could be paid up to about $2.5 million if all the suggested redevelopment projects are completed in Grand Center, said Ken Christian, real estate director for Grand Center. About $50,000 would be paid immediately for expenses the consultants have incurred working on the project over the last few months. Grand Center Inc. is a not-for-profit community development corporation whose mission is the redevelopment of the midtown arts district.

The next job for McCaffery and Chicago Consulting is to get specific projects ready for approval by the board, Christian said.

That includes figuring construction costs, finding interested tenants and determining what obstacles might get in the way of completing a project. After that, developers and financing would be sought, with McCaffery having "first offer" opportunities to develop some of the projects.

The program calls for two square blocks of residential development, new contemporary and performing arts buildings, an African-American history museum, a visual and performing arts high school, and four new parking garages.

Fox is objecting to some of the residential components in the plan and filed a lawsuit May 19 in St. Louis Circuit Court to prevent the construction of residences on surface parking lots owned by the theater. But others, including Saint Louis University's Kathleen Brady and developer Steve Trampe, said projects proposed in the plan would bring much needed retail and residential development.

The new plan is "terrific," said Trampe, who owns the Continental Building and is redeveloping the Medinah Temple in the area. "There are a lot of components that you look at and wonder why hadn't somebody thought of that before. It integrates the different uses in the district."

The plan calls for 114 town homes, 54 row homes and several single-family homes would be developed in the area bordered by Delmar Boulevard to the north, Washington Boulevard to the south, North Grand Boulevard to the east and North Spring Avenue to the west.

Residential development is needed to build a "real" neighborhood, Christian said. "If all you have is a destination, you lose having a 24-hour life." Residential development also is needed to attract and support retail for the area, he said.

The area slated for residential use, however, includes 161,000 square feet -- 320 spaces -- of surface parking currently used by the Fox. The Fox intends to build a 1,500-space parking garage on the lots across Washington, north of the theater, said Harvey Harris, one of the owners of Fox Associates, which consists of the Fox Theatre, MetroTix and Fox Theatricals. The lawsuit said the redevelopment plan would threaten $3.3 million in tax increment financing slated for Fox's proposed garage.

"The housing is not going forward as far as we're concerned," Harris said. "That's what we filed the suit about -- it's not to block the housing; it's to protect the parking." He said he is hopeful the matter will be settled out of court.

Room without a view

Paul Reuter, executive director for the Sheldon Arts Foundation, also is hoping for changes to the development proposal. "We were surprised to see two parking garages, which can't be (built) where they're proposed."

A garage immediately to the south of the Sheldon would block the Sheldon's loading dock for buses, trucks and deliveries. A second five-story garage just to the west of the Sheldon would block the windows of the Sheldon's event space, which the Sheldon rents out. Those rentals provide 20 percent of the Sheldon's $2.8 million budget, Reuter said.

Amy and Amrit Gill, whose Restoration St. Louis has done around $60 million in development in Grand Center, said they haven't done any critical analysis of the plan itself, but were concerned with the way it was developed. "Grand Center would have avoided a lot of hurt feelings if they tried to build consensus," Amy Gill said. Instead, stakeholders in the district found out about the concept plan after "somebody got a hold of it and faxed it all over town."

Saint Louis University has been involved since the beginning of the concept plan, said Brady, who is vice president for facilities management and civic affairs at Saint Louis University. The university is pleased with the development slated for property owned by the university at the northeast corner of Grand and Lindell -- a mixed-use development to be called Gateway Commons, with retail on the ground floor and residential and parking on upper floors, she said.

A second phase of the plan calls for a multi-plex theater on what's now the parking lot for a state office building at the site, Brady said. "Our students don't have retail opportunities right around campus. We're anxious to see mixed use to enliven the area."

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