ST. LOUIS – The old Famous Barr Building in Downtown St. Louis, known as the Railway Exchange, has seen better days.
“The city had actually boarded it back up, and then, in a couple of hours, it had been broken into again,” said Downtown St. Louis resident Andy Crossett.
A second-alarm fire also broke out at the building Friday afternoon, leading to significant damage. But before that, one alderwoman started the day pushing for eminent domain of the troubled structure.
Alderwoman Cara Spencer, representing Ward 8 for the 2023-24 session, introduced some legislation, including a measure on the iconic building in downtown.
“Two bills,” says Spencer. “One, which I introduced last week, will authorize the city to put up steel plating. It’s an expensive way to board up, but it’s very important. We’re seeing breaches every single day.”
Friday afternoon, there was a large pile of wiring unexpectedly outside the building. One city resident says it wasn’t there at the start of the day when city employees boarded up portions of the building.
Spencer’s proposal would put steel plates up to keep people out of the building until a renovation plan is in place. It also invoices the owner for the expense and adds security to the building.
Friday morning, during the regular board of alderman meeting, Cara Spencer introduced a measure to move forward with the building.
“Today we took a further step,” says Spencer. “I introduced a bill that will start the eminent domain process. That’s the process by which the city can take control of that asset.”
We understand that the owners, Hudson Holdings of Florida, stopped paying for security two weeks ago, allowing vandals to return.
The legislation would allow the city to take possession of the condemned property.
“We can’t just let it decay away while it’s sitting here,” says Crossett. “We can’t let people destroy the place and not find a productive use for it.”
There’s quite a bit of history to the building as well.
“Railway Exchange is one of the most iconic, beautiful, and frankly important buildings to our downtown area,” said Spencer. “It’s 1.2-million square feet. It has over 5,000 windows. Enormous, and the terra-cotta is stunning.”