The long-abandoned St. Louis Armory is about to get a new lease on life, and it’s one that developers believe will provide a central location to the next leg of growth in the city’s technology sector. They also hint that a major company will be using the facility to enter St. Louis’ business scene.
The building, of course, is a St. Louis gem that almost no one in St. Louis has been able to enter for decades. The old Armory building has been sitting, falling apart, both outside and in for years. It was hard to drive past for Megan Ridgeway, a Principal at the Arcturis architecture firm.
“Incredibly frustrating, and sad,” she says. “You feel a little bit helpless because you know you can do something with it, but you need the right visionary to help move it along.”
And that vision appears to have arrived. The massive old building is in the process of a more than $80 million facelift that developers believe will turn it into a new centerpiece for the boom in midtown St. Louis. Phil Hulse’s Green Street Development is pulling it all together.
“I think everybody down here is really interested in the big picture,” he tells HEC-Media. “So, all the universities, Cortex, private developers are really coming together to change the chemistry down here. And we’re working together rather than independently. That’s a big difference compared to what you see in the normal development world.”
That collaborative spirit, spurred by the success of the Cortex innovation district is what has this project moving after years where the building sat in decay. Hulse calls it “The Cortex Effect.” The goal is to re-build the armory, then re-connect the entire area with a massive greenway linking this, SLU, the hospitals, and Cortex.
“We’ve attracted Microsoft, we’ve attracted Square and we have approximately 400 companies that have landed in Cortex. There’s probably 5700 people working in Cortex. It generates about $342 million in salary every year. So that’s a big engine.”
The engine that will turn the old into something very new. Nearly two-hundred thousand square feet of renovated space, well over half of which will be occupied by a still unidentified tenant who developers hint could become the next major player in the St. Louis tech sector.
“It’s a big name,” Hulse says, wryly. “It will be new to St. Louis and it will be complimentary to what’s happening down here. It will get a lot of buzz when we announce it.” That announcement could come in May or June of 2019.
Heralded St. Louis chef Gerard Craft is in talks to do a restaurant. Bars are being planned as well, and for those who want to live in the area, warehouse space next door is next on the list for a facelift. Hulse says that development will have retail and apartments.
Then there’s the rooftop: a full acre of space that will become an urban garden, providing vegetables for restaurants as well as disadvantaged communities, not to mention one heck of a view.
“It’s hard to go find an acre of rooftop experience that will let you look down to the arch or back to St. Louis U, or into Cortex and the medical district of Wash-U, BJC,” Hulse observes.
But they don’t want to lose track of what this place once was.
“Interestingly enough in the years since 1938, for the shortest time in its history was it actually an armory,” Ridgeway points out.
It’s sheer size, and arena-like set up allowed it to be used for sports. It evolved into a major hot spot for tennis, and it was a concert venue, too.
“This building has seen the likes of Ike and Tina Turner perform here. The Grateful Dead has performed here. One of its richest moments in history is that it was a tennis training facility. A lot of the great tennis champions, Arthur Ashe and Butch Buchholz have come out of training in this facility.”
They’re working on a tennis hall of fame to commemorate the latter, and will have event space that could see, in some fashion, a return of live music here. What’s important, they say, is to keep the historic feel.
“I think it’s part of any adaptive reuse building to figure out, not only architecturally how you meld the historic robust structure with more progressive, modern insertions, but also how do you still honor the past of what was there,” Ridgeway says.