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From the January 13, 2006 print edition

New formula for Chemical Building

$22 million rehab completes last piece of Old Post Office district
Lisa R. Brown

The new owners of the 17-story Chemical Building downtown plan to turn the more-than-century-old office structure into luxury condominiums and apartments.

Civitas Development of Los Angeles, a joint venture between Heisman Properties and Crossland Capital Partners, also of Los Angeles, closed on its purchase of the building Jan. 3 for $6.6 million.

Principal Rob McRitchie said Civitas will spend $22 million to acquire and redevelop the 177,000-square-foot building located at 721 Olive St. "This building represents some of the best historical architecture in the downtown core," McRitchie said.

National City Bank is the lender, and St. Louis-based Paric Corp. is the general contractor. An architect has not yet been selected for the redevelopment project, which is expected to begin in April and span 12 months.

The Chemical Building was designed in 1896 by architect Henry Ives Cobb and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The name of the building will be changed, McRitchie said, but a new name has not yet been determined.

Underground parking will be added and the ground floor will have retail space available for lease. Floors two and three will be used as office space and will be offered to current tenants in the building, who will relocate from higher floors. "The intent is to give them the first right of refusal so they will be able to stay," McRitchie said. The current occupancy of the office building is 45 percent. Dooley's Ltd. is on the ground floor, and Sean Dooley, senior vice president, said the restaurant will remain at the site where it has been for 38 years.

Floors four to 12 of the Chemical Building will have 68 market-rate apartments, and the top floors will have 36 for-sale condominiums. A price range for the units has not yet been determined. However, McRitchie said the units will not be loft-style construction, which has been prevalent in downtown conversion projects in recent years. "It will have high-end features and finishes and a lot of amenities," McRitchie said. "The market has matured enough to add an extra layer of sophistication." He compared the plans for the Chemical Building to the Lawrence Group's redevelopment of the Marquette Building at 314 N. Broadway, which is selling condos for more than $200 per square foot.

McRitchie said the planned high-end residential development will complement other developments under way nearby, including the $77 million rehab of the Old Post Office building across the street.

Eric Friedman of St. Louis-based Friedman Group Ltd. represented the Chemical Building's former owner of 31 years, the Chemical Building Partnership, in the sale. The partnership was comprised of the Trust of Melvin Dubinsky, the Trust of Harold Dubinsky, Dan Siegel and Alan Pervil.

"We had worked with this developer before, who really understood the building's potential," Friedman said. "This is an exquisite building. It has views looking west all the way to Grand Avenue."

Civitas' other development in St. Louis is the $25 million redevelopment of the 194,000-square-foot A.D. Brown Building at 1136 Washington Ave., which it purchased in December 2004. Built in 1898, it was once the headquarters of the Hamilton-Brown Shoe Co.

Civitas is halfway finished with renovations at the former A.D. Brown Building, what is now called The Meridian, and units will be available for occupancy in June. There are 98 loft condominiums, including five two-story penthouse units. Prices at The Meridian range from the low $120,000s to $750,000 for a penthouse unit. The price per square foot in the building ranges between $150 and $200. McRitchie said Civitas already has sold 80 percent of the units in the 10-story development.

Civitas specializes in converting historic downtown office buildings into apartments and condominiums in California, Michigan and Missouri. McRitchie said the developer selected St. Louis because of the availability of state historic tax credits. "We believe in downtown St. Louis, and we like the core central business district."

Civitas received $3 million in state and federal historic tax credits for the Meridian project. McRitchie said Civitas will seek between $5 million and $6 million in state and federal historic tax credits for the Chemical Building redevelopment.

St. Louis Development Corp. Executive Director Rodney Crim welcomes the out of town investment in downtown St. Louis. "We are encouraged that the California group has identified a couple of opportunities for development," Crim said. "We think that their development of the Chemical Building, as well as the development of the A.D. Brown building, definitely adds to the momentum that's occurring in this renaissance of development in St. Louis."

lrbrown@bizjournals.com

2006 American City Business Journals Inc.