ST. LOUIS – The future of the historic former home of the Famous-Barr department store in downtown St. Louis does not necessarily include a date with the wrecking ball.
This week, FOX 2 broke the story of the building being condemned. Still, a person in charge of promoting economic growth in the area says that the building is important to St. Louis’s future.
It has 5,000 windows, 1.2 million square feet (the second most in downtown St. Louis), and an ornate Terra Cotta exterior.
“It’s one of our biggest assets,” said Kurt Weigle, senior vice president, and chief downtown officer for Greater St. Louis Inc.
He was talking about the Railway Exchange Building (commonly known as the Famous-Barr Building), which was the scene of an emergency board-up action this week after a FOX 2 report about open access through shattered glass and kicked-in plywood for graffiti artists and vagrants.
“For the mayor to take that action is really important for preserving that building, preserving that asset, so we can get to the business of redeveloping it…cities are judged by their downtowns. Rightly or wrongly, they are judged by their downtowns.”
There have been multiple plans to redevelop the building in the nearly eight years it has been empty. There have also been setbacks, including a 2017 car-swallowing sinkhole on 6th Street. The building’s owners, Hudson Holdings of Delray Beach, Florida, blamed that and an earlier water main break for millions of dollars in flood damage to the building’s basement.
Those same owners are now being sued for more than $7 million for allegedly defaulting on a loan used to buy the 110-year-old structure. Weigle says that despite all of its problems, it is still very important to the future of the St. Louis region.
“The beautiful thing about that building, with 4 sides, 4 solid, high-quality entrances to that building,” Weigle said. “You could have 4 uses on 4 sides, 4 different streets…so, you could see that being the basis for more residential, hospitality, office, and of course retail on the ground floor.”
That remained true even with a similar plan already moving forward at the former AT&T building a few blocks away.
Hudson Holdings faces fines of up to $500 per day for failing to address issues in the emergency condemnation for the occupancy declaration.