ST. LOUIS • A developer is pouring $30 million into renovating a Cupples Station building downtown, while in the same complex of 19th-century warehouses a similar structure continues to sit empty and in danger of collapse.
It’s a tale of different buildings and different owners with starkly different approaches. Both buildings are within a city historic district and are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cupples 9, a seven-story warehouse built in 1894, had been empty for years when an affiliate of the Koman Group, a Creve Coeur-based developer, bought the building out of foreclosure last spring. Clayco Inc. is Koman’s general contractor to restore the building’s red brick exterior and renovate the interior of heavy Douglas fir beams and columns as modern loft-style offices.
Koman already has two Cupples 9 tenants: Osborn & Barr, an agriculture-focused marketing firm, and Mackey Mitchell Architects, a St. Louis design firm founded in 1968.
Mackey Mitchell announced this week that it will leave its longtime home near Union Station and by late this year take over about half the fifth floor at Cupples 9, which is a block west of Busch Stadium.
The firm, begun in 1968 by Gene Mackey, plans to lease about 11,000 square feet of Cupples 9 space, about 4,000 square feet fewer than what it occupies now at Power House, an office building just south of Union Station. Mackey Mitchell designed that building, where it has rented space for 24 years.
Dan Mitchell, the firm’s president, said Mackey Mitchell plans to retain all 45 employees when it moves Cupples 9, which has 12-foot ceilings, large windows and exposed brick walls. The firm is planning “a more linear” seating arrangement to enhance employee communication, creativity and collaboration, Mitchell said.
“We’ll have a kind of bench-style configuration with more community space or team space dispersed through the studio,” he said.
Mackey Mitchell chose Cupples 9 after examining numerous buildings downtown, in the Central West End and near St. Louis University before opting to remain downtown, said Mitchell, adding that the firm’s Power House lease expires next February.
Osborn & Barr, as Cupples 9’s anchor tenant, will occupy floors two through four.
Dan Farris, Koman’s senior investments manager, declined Thursday to discuss details of the Cupples 9 redevelopment. He said more information about the project will be announced in about two weeks.
A block west of Cupples 9 on Spruce Street is Cupples 7, which has experienced only decay since 2005, when developer McGowan/Walsh bought the building and announced plans to convert it to lofts and commercial space. The project never got off the ground.
Ballpark Lofts III LLC, the building’s current owner, applied last year for a demolition permit, which the city’s cultural resources officer, Betsy Bradley, denied. The city’s Preservation Board upheld Bradley’s decision. Pending in St. Louis Circuit Court is Ballpark Lofts’ appeal of the Preservation Board’s ruling. A hearing on the appeal is scheduled for Thursday.
Joining the appeal is Montgomery Bank, which lent Ballpark Lofts more than $1 million to buy Cupples 7. The loan is in default. The bank has an agreement with the St. Louis treasurer’s office, which would pay off the loan, then work out a payback agreement with Ballpark Lofts. Such a transaction would occur only if Cupples 7 is demolished first.
The treasurer owns a parking garage next to Cupples 7 and is concerned the garage would be damaged if the old warehouse collapses. Barricades the city put up around the building in September impedes access to the garage, the treasurer office’s lawyer has said.
Much of the building’s roof has collapsed and most of the interior is in ruins. A structural engineer hired by the owner told the Preservation Board last year the brick walls are unstable. Bracing the walls and “mothballing” the building for possible redevelopment later could cost $8 million to $10 million, officials said.
Osborn & Barr’s move to Cupples 9 will result in a two-floor vacancy at Cupples 8, another of the old warehouses that McGowan/Walsh renovated as offices and condos.