ST. LOUIS – The first metal plates are being installed at the beloved Railway Exchange Building in downtown St. Louis to stop looters and squatters from getting into the condemned building.
Previous board-up efforts at the former home of the Famous Barr Department Store have failed.
The place looks, feels, and even sounds more secure along the entire east side, where the metal plates have now been installed. The process will continue until the other three sides are covered.
The 1.2 million sq. ft. building occupies an entire city block at 6th and Olive. It is 110 years old and is beloved for its terra-cotta exterior and its ornate Christmas displays. Macy’s closed the store in 2013.
Nine months ago, we first showed you someone openly looting the building, dragging wire and other scrap metal across downtown with seemingly no fear of arrest or prosecution.
Those days appear to be over. St. Louis police arrested an 18-year-old man and woman for allegedly “ripping down plywood” to get into the building earlier this month. Both have been charged with first-degree trespassing in St. Louis Circuit Court.
Downtown Alderwoman Cara Spencer pushed for the move from plywood to metal. She applauded the arrests.
“With the plywood, we saw a lot of SawzAlls and a lot of activities of just kind of being able to take a little hand tool and pry it off,” she said. “With the steel construction, I’m really hopeful this will be a lot more secure. With the recent legislation we’ll be passing on Friday, we’ll be able to invoice the owner for this. This is not something the city will have to bear the cost of in the long run.”
The City of St. Louis is hoping to lure a developer to breathe new life into the building.
It has already paid a heavy cost trying to secure it with repeated board-ups, putting out fires, removing a decrepit pedestrian bridge, and losing a fire department canine, Balko. Balko fell to his death during a search of the building in March.
The cost of the metal upgrades will be capped at $100,000, far less than the $245,000 initially authorized by the City of St. Louis.
Rodney Anderson, who works in security at another downtown building, said the new metal plates were certainly an upgrade over the plywood.
“You can stick something between those (wood) boards and pry them off. That metal, you can’t. You’re going to need tools to get them down,” Anderson said. “So yeah, I think that’s a good idea right there.”
The City of St. Louis Building Division has also posted a new, updated notice of condemnation against the building’s Florida owner, Hudson Holdings, citing new ‘major violations’, including fire damage and roof defects.