A Tale of Two Buildings

Things are looking up for the Arcade Building, but what will happen to the Marquette Building is anyone's guess; plus, other St. Louis follies and foibles

Maybe all things are possible. Or maybe they're not: Look at the Arcade Building; look at the Marquette Building.

For years, the Arcade, located at Eighth and Olive streets, served as Exhibit A for what was wrong with downtown, a tombstone of a building set in the graveyard the central business district had become. The only thing that outnumbered the pigeons in the abandoned, vacant building were the broken windows. Plus, the 17-story Arcade, constructed in 1918, was not destined for rehab; the corporate shell that owned the building had declared bankruptcy and said it couldn't maintain the building, much less fix it up. Even city officials, for good or for ill, started to hint that it should be torn down. The arrival of the Rams complicated the plot -- in the several-inches-thick lease agreement, proceeds from parking went to the Rams, but the Arcade's corner was exempted. If a parking garage or lot ever went there, the city would get the money from parking on game days. Any news that surfaced with regard to the Arcade Building seemed gloomy.

But that's all changed now. A contract before a bankruptcy court in New York City would sell the Arcade for about $3 million to Pyramid Construction of St. Louis. Matt O'Leary of Pyramid says the firm plans to renovate and reopen the Arcade, envisioning a mix of office, retail, residential and something called a "boutique hotel," which means using a portion of the building for an upscale hotel with fewer than 200 rooms. No one's dancing in the streets just yet, but Carolyn Toft of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis is optimistic. "We declared victory. We took it off the endangered list of buildings," she says. "We've had it on our 11-most-endangered list since God was a child. We're putting out a new list during Preservation Week, and the Arcade is not going to be on it."

The fate of the Marquette Building, in the 300 block of North Broadway, appears to be heading in a different direction. Once thought to be the prototype of the kind of rehab that needed to be done downtown, a project designed to renovate the building appears to have stalled. Back in 1998, the Marquette was bought by the office of city Treasurer Larry Williams, who sold it to a New York developer, Tahl-Propp Equities, for $925,000. Williams then arranged for bonds to finance the demolition of the building's annex and the construction of a 360-space parking garage attached to the northern side of the Marquette. At the time, the New York developers said the Marquette would be converted into apartments. Now Joseph Tahl says apartments wouldn't generate enough rent and that the sale of the building is being considered. One asking price being bandied about for the Marquette, $12 million, represents a healthy markup.

Contacted in his New York City office on Monday, Tahl is reluctant to expand on previous comments: "I've said more than enough already. All I do is get myself in trouble with my mouth." An earlier article in the St. Louis Business Journal created "too strong of an impression the building was going to be sold," Tahl says. "That impression has been corrected to some extent. Our No. 1 priority is to get the building redone. That's the direction we're leaning." Though he doesn't want to be more specific, it seems that having unfurnished apartments take up most of the building wouldn't produce enough revenue, so other options are being examined, including converting the building to furnished apartments or selling it to someone else to develop. Talk of retail tenants on the first floor -- possibly another branch of the ubiquitous Walgreens -- is a possibility. A spokesman for the city treasurer's office says merely that the project is still expected to be completed.

O'Leary, coordinator of downtown development for Pyramid, thinks retail storefronts will resurface as people move downtown in the next three to five years. The media dwells on Washington Avenue, but there are other, smaller residential areas throughout downtown, including "in the Old Post Office Square district," O'Leary says. "The big deal is the housing that's coming in. We focus too much on large projects. The stuff that should be getting play is the 10 or 12 different loft buildings that are moving forward. They're going to be creating the environment for the Arcade to get done and be filled up. The key to this whole thing is bringing housing downtown. There will be a housing component to the Arcade, but it's part of the larger picture."

MORE CHIEFS AND CAPTAINS, NOT AS MANY INDIANS: One of the first issues that new St. Louis Police Board member the Rev. Maurice J. Nutt will face is proposed promotions in the police department. Already the topic has produced virulent e-mail threads on the St. Louis Police Officers' Association Web site, with the rank-and-file moaning that the last thing the cash-strapped, outmanned force needs is more officers. One word is the promotions will consist of a new assistant chief, one lieutenant colonel, two majors, four captains and at least six lieutenants. The assistant-chief post has been vacant for close to two years. Gee, we hadn't noticed. Maybe that's proof the city can live without an assistant chief. Critics say the force is "rank-happy" and that many of the promotions aren't needed. Police Board member Ed Roth counters that such speculation is premature and that promotions have not been determined. Roth also points to a chart covering the last 10 years, showing that the entire police force in 1990 numbered 1,584 and that in 1999 it was 1,575, despite a decrease in population over that time of 62,735 city residents. The hierarchical evolution is somewhat foggier, though: In 1990 there were 20 captains, but since 1991 there has been a yearly average of 15. Roth promises that "to the extent that promotions are made, the number of senior command will be consistent with the general parameters that have been followed over this 10-year course." Whatever call is made, it's a safe bet that the reaction will be severe at www.slpoa.org.

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