ST. LOUIS – Following a FOX 2 report on a signature building in downtown St. Louis becoming a danger to the public, the City of St. Louis took emergency action to secure the 110 Railway Exchange Building at 7th and Olive Street on Wednesday morning.
The building is known as the old Famous Barr department store. It was the long-time home to Famous Barr until Macy’s took over in 2006. The store was one of the most important places in St. Louis. It had elaborate window displays and Christmas decorations during the holidays, as well as a restaurant that was famous for its French onion soup.
A City of St. Louis code enforcement team boarded up the open access through shattered storefront windows and kicked in plywood they had surveyed a day earlier. Just before that massive board-up effort, nearly a dozen St. Louis police officers swept all 22 floors of a building that occupies an entire square block of downtown.
“We did remove 4-5 people today when we went out to board it up,” said John McLaughlin, a retired police sergeant who is now a coordinator for the City of St. Louis’s Problem Properties Unit in the Department of Public Safety. “Throughout the last 2 weeks, it was about 10-20 people.”
Downtown resident Joel Bauza recently captured “lights on” in a building that has been empty for nearly a decade.
“It’s creepy,” he said. “If there’s more people coming in and out, it’s only a matter of time before something happens or there’s an accident of some kind.”
“We’re worried about anybody getting in there and getting hurt or anybody doing anything illegal,” said Ed Ware, manager for the City of St. Louis Building Division.
He confirmed that at least parts of the building still have electric power. Ware also admitted the board-up effort was essentially a “band-aid” in terms of securing the building.
“The more permanent solution is finding the responsible party for the people and making sure they’re taking care of it and securing it properly,” McLaughlin said.
The building’s owner is Hudson Holdings of Delray Beach, Florida. There is no one in St. Louis really keeping an eye on the place, aside from a police department that is already stretched thin.
Though the City of St. Louis has declared emergency “condemnation for occupancy,” that does not mean the building needs to be demolished.
“The building is solid,” Ware said. “It does have a great future if someone can come in with the right funding. It’s a beautiful building. Architecturally, it’s a gem downtown. It breaks your heart to see it in this condition.”
“You always want to believe. Everybody likes an underdog,” Bauza said.
Greater St. Louis Inc., which works to grow the economy in the St. Louis area, sent out the following statement from its Chief Downtown Officer, Kurt Weigle:
“Ensuring downtown is the safe, walkable, and vibrant neighborhood at the heart of our metro is critical to the growth and success of the entire St. Louis region. The people who did this should be held accountable. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of property owners to maintain the safety and security of their property. When those property owners are derelict in their responsibility, the city must hold them accountable, and we appreciate Mayor Jones and the City for taking swift action to address the issues with Railway Exchange.”
The city has yet to get a response from Hudson Holdings, which has paid, in full, more than $320,000 in yearly property taxes. The company now faces fines of up to $500 per day, plus the cost of repeated board-ups.