ULI St. Louis News

Spinnaker Revives High-Profile Downtown District

At a time when development seems limited to small‐scale, one‐building projects, the northern core of downtown is witnessing a transformation of impressive scale.

Just one year ago, visitors to the St. Louis Convention Center and commuters using the 8th & Convention MetroLink station were struck by the looming empty buildings and ominous pedestrian bridge covering Washington Avenue. Stix Baer and Fuller had moved on and St. Louis Center had failed. Empty buildings remained and revitalization seemed unattainable.

Spinnaker St. Louis, a private developer led locally by ULI member Amos Harris, formed a solution – the creation of the MX district.

The MX district, defined by Lucas Avenue to the North, Olive Street to the South, 6th Street to the East, and 7th Street to the West, is the creation of a large public/private investment. With key transportation assets, including the 8th & Convention MetroLink Station and key bus routes, Spinnaker set out to create a transportation oriented development (TOD) mixed‐use neighborhood, with office, residential and hotel, layered with a mix of arts venues and street‐level retail.

To‐date, Spinnaker has acquired and is investing over $200 million to develop the two parcels central to the MX. The first of these is the former Stix Baer building – known today as the Laurel – a LEED Certified Historic Rehabilitation. The second, across Washington Avenue from the Laurel, is the former St. Louis Centre – a failed 1985 urban mall – now rechristened the MX Building.

The Laurel at a glance:

  • 630,000 square feet
  • Situated between Lucas and Washington Avenues
  • 212 room Embassy Suites Hotel (opened October 2011)
  • 205 market‐rate rental units (opening Dec 2011 and 15% pre‐leased)
  • Garage with 320 parking spaces
  • 32,000 square feet ground floor retail, including 23,000 square feet proposed National Blues Museum

The MX Building at a glance:

  • Home to 600 Washington, a 375,000 square foot Class A office tower
  • 120,000 square feet street‐facing retail
  • Garage with 750 parking spaces
  • 6th Street Theater, a 3,000 square foot ground floor community theater (planned)
  • MX Movies, a three‐screen movie theater and screening room (scheduled to open June 2012)

In addition to the above two buildings, the southernmost block of the district is home to the 1.2 million square foot Railway Exchange Building, featuring Macy’s Department Store and T‐Rex, the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis’s new 60,000 square foot technology, culinary, and fashion innovation incubator.

Supporting the District with their own right are notable area restaurants such as Pi and Robust, both of which are slated to open new locations within the 40,000 square feet Spinnaker has dedicated to restaurants. In addition, Spinnaker is helping to develop the National Blues Museum as an anchor to the MX. The NBM will leverage St. Louis’ rich history and musical talent to tell the story of the Blues, its foundational role in the formation of Jazz, Rock, Soul, Hip‐Hop, and Country, and will foster a burgeoning tourist industry in St. Louis around music.

With the Washington Avenue pedestrian bridge now gone, the pedestrian experience in the District has greatly improved. To enhance the streetscape further, Spinnaker is replacing the standard “cobrahead” street lighting with modern LED streetlamps with a pedestrian lighting component and is partnering with local artists to install outdoor exhibits all of which helped Washington Avenue gain the American Planning Association’s designation of Washington Avenue as one of Americas 10 Great Streets for 2011.

At a time when financing is scarce, Spinnaker has utilized a broad array of private financing and public subsidies within the MX. The State of Missouri has contributed State Historic Tax Credits, State New Markets Tax Credits, State Brownfield Tax Credits and utilized its AAA bond rating to create extremely favorable financing for the District’s garage. The City of St. Louis has contributed a portion of its Federal New Markets Tax Credit allocation and has provided for Tax Increment Financing, the creation of a Community Improvement District, and the creation of a Transportation Development District to support the development. Several private financial institutions also provided allocations of Federal New Markets Tax Credits. The Downtown Foundation played a critical role in the financing of the State Historic Tax Credits by assisting in the placement of people from nearby low‐income communities into jobs in the hotel, residence, and retail. Finally, the American Communities Trust has donated seed money to the National Blues Museum and 6th Street Theater (a live performance venue), encouraged community awareness, and provided input for the project as a whole.

Throughout the process, Spinnaker has relied on the expertise of Cross Street Partners, a national retail consulting and development firm with deep experience in urban place making. The owners of the Railway Exchange Building, Rick Yackey and Bruce Development (led by Bill Bruce and his son Brian) have also played a key role in supporting the development of the District.

Looking ahead, Spinnaker is bullish on the potential the district has to spark further improvements to the downtown landscape. “This project, in particular, has been a labor of love,” shared Harris. “With the MX district situated in such a high‐profile section of downtown, we had to get it right. With the financial partners, we had little room for failure. Now it’s time to watch residents move in, welcome visitors to the hotel, restaurants and venues, and watch the district come alive.”

For more information, visit: MXSTL.com or follow @TheMXSTL.

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