Major Historic Rehabilitation Project Transforms Livability in Downtown St. Louis

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The Arcade Apartments is the successful historic rehabilitation of a 500,000-square-foot architectural landmark in downtown St. Louis into a mixed-use, mixed-income property featuring 202 affordable artist lofts, 80 market-rate apartments, 130 underground parking spaces, and 50,000 square feet of commercial/office space leased to a local university.

Arcade Apartments faces the Old Post Office Square, an architecturally significant central site in downtown St. Louis. The landmark is a Gothic Revival style that was originally home to a two-story shopping arcade replicating the style of early Italian gallerias and was the largest concrete structure in the world when it was built in the early 20th century. The property is actually two buildings: the 18-story Wright Building, constructed two years after the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1906, and the Arcade Building, built in 1919 to wrap around the existing building.

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The Wright-Arcade Building closed in 1978 and remained vacant for nearly 35 years. Despite its designation as a city landmark in 1980, a series of proposals to redevelop the building stalled. In 2009, the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) declared the property blighted and authorized a 10-year tax abatement to incentivize the restoration of the building.

In 2012, Dominium, a Minneapolis-based developer that had successfully completed other adaptive-reuse projects in St. Louis, submitted a proposal for a mixed-use redevelopment. The final redevelopment agreement doubled the project’s tax abatement from 10 years to 20 years, and Dominium purchased the property for $9.45 million.

In the year prior to its sale of the Arcade building to Dominium in 2013, LCRA led a $3.8 million environmental cleanup made possible by state brownfields tax credits and a loan from the St. Louis Brownfields Cleanup Fund.

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The $118 million project involved a mix of federal and state historic tax credits and New Market Tax Credits, loans, mortgages, and investment from Webster University.

The Dominion project team paid careful attention to detail and restored as many of the existing historic features as possible from the original building, including the brick façade, terra cotta features, and a grand stair connecting levels of the old shopping arcade. Except for the preservation of the historic elements, however, the rest of the construction was a gut rehabilitation with new elevators, all-new wiring, and efficient heating and cooling systems.

The lower floors’ 54,000 square feet leased by Webster University were renovated to create 12 classrooms, two computer labs, 25 private offices, a 175-seat auditorium, café and an art museum.

The one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments vary in size from 650 to 2,500 square feet. Redesigning the upper floors for the residential units posed one of the redevelopment’s biggest challenges. The floor plans could not be repeated easily since each floor was different. The architects developed 85 layouts for the 282 apartments, along with 11,000 square feet of shared artists’ studios.

The 202 units set aside for artists in the Arcade Apartments are awarded based on income qualifications and proven commitment to an art, with a wide range of eligible pursuits. The other 80 units rent at market rates. Rents range from a low of $563 a month for artist lofts to $3,000 or more for market-rate units.

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