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Developers see lofty goals fulfilled

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Developers see lofty goals fulfilled

By Charlene Prost

Of the Post-Dispatch

07/23/2004

They are taking on long-neglected downtown properties and using tax credits and other assistance to make the numbers work.

Tracy Varley grew up in Sunset Hills, and she's lived in an apartment in University City for the last 10 years. But when the time came to own the place she calls home, she bought a condo in downtown St. Louis.

"I looked in the county, but what I wanted didn't exist," said Varley, 35, who'll move to the Lofts at 2020 Washington, one of Pyramid Construction Inc.'s renovation projects.

"I've got a huge space, no walls, 14-foot ceilings. I've got windows ... nine to 10 feet high with fantastic views and a lot of natural light. I've got parking in the building," she said. "And I'm meeting people who really make you feel part of the pioneering community downtown."

Varley, who works downtown and is co-director at Mad Art Gallery in Soulard, is typical of a growing trend. And Pyramid is banking on it to continue.

With the Lofts at 2020 Washington - the old Sporting News building - and the Elder Shirt Lofts finished and nearly filled, Pyramid is renovating two more buildings, including the Paul Brown.

Next month, Pyramid will start work on the Bankers Lofts. Later, it will move construction crews into four other buildings, including the Arcade/Wright. All will wind up with some housing.

Taken together, what's finished, under way and about to begin adds up to 464 apartments and condos and an investment of more than $120 million. That's in a downtown where some 1,400 apartments and condos have been started in recent years; another 1,000 or so are on the drawing boards.

John Steffen, Pyramid's president, said the market can handle that many units and more.

"We're getting a wonderful array of demographics, from empty-nesters to young professionals and students," he said.

Varley is typical of another trend as well, said Matt O'Leary, Pyramid's vice president for commercial development. "About 90 percent are moving in from the suburbs, mainly St. Louis County," he said.

Like other developers at work downtown, Pyramid is taking on long-neglected buildings and using historic tax credits and other public assistance to make the numbers work. They also try to keep the historic character of the buildings.

Take the Paul Brown, for example, built as an office building in 1925 and 1926 and designed by noted architect Preston J. Bradshaw with an ornate, two-story barrel-vaulted lobby.

"It's still in good shape," O'Leary said, "so we're keeping the ornate plaster ceiling, marble floor and marble wainscoting, brass elevator doors. Residents will use the lobby ... and we'll put retail in the storefronts."

As part of the $53 million project, they're restoring marble floors and molding in corridors upstairs as well as wood doors and frames left from the building's office days. Some will be covered with drywall inside the apartments when they don't fit the newer layouts.

"But when you walk down the hall," O'Leary said, "it will still look like an office building from the 1920s."

The 222 apartments will be a mix of modern and old features. "We'll keep the original hardwood floors," O'Leary said, "and the windows are amazing. Even small bedroom units will have six windows and fabulous views."

The monthly rents range from about $600 for 600 square feet to $1,600 for 1,742 square feet. The building will have about 130 parking spaces inside.

At Bankers Lofts, Pyramid is spending $23 million to revive a building vacant since 1989, when the former Boatmen's Bank closed it. Another bank had remodeled the 112-year-old building in the 1930s, adding a banking hall inside.

O'Leary said the banking hall, its vaults and teller windows will be recycled into retail space.

On the upper levels, 69 condos will have original tongue-and-groove wood ceilings, timber beams and exposed brick walls.

"They'll have ceiling heights of mostly 11 feet, except on the second floor, where they'll be 15 feet," O'Leary said. "And they have really enormous windows - eight-feet-tall throughout except on the second floor, where they're about 10 feet."

Sale prices there run from about $150,000 for 1,100 square feet to $500,000 or more for 3,000-square-foot, multi-level units at the top with rooftop decks. About 100 parking spaces will be inside the building.

Pyramid's most challenging redevelopment project, the Arcade/Wright with a two-level, Gothic-style shopping arcade inside, won't get under way until maybe next year.

Steffen said it likely will be a mix of high-end condos, offices, a hotel and retail.

Reporter Charlene Prost

E-mail: [email protected]

Phone: 314-340-8140

2020 Lofts

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Railway Lofts

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Elder Shirt Lofts

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1015 Washington

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Curlee Building

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Dorsa Building

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Bankers Lofts

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Paul Brown Building

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Arcade Building

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Wright Building

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