Midtown St. Louis to undergo makeover by SLU

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Students may soon have an alternative to the Grand Boulevard bridge for getting from the main campus to the medical campus. Where a bridge once connected Spring Avenue on either side of I-64, there may rise a greenway for pedestrians and bikers. In addition, an urban retail or department store may be built within walking distance for SLU students. These are but two changes that could be part of a larger project by the St. Louis Midtown Redevelopment Corporation, a joint venture between SLU and SSM Health St. Louis. All activities would be governed by a five person board made up of three executives of the SLU community, together with a representative from SSM Health as well as an independent planner. With the goal of incentivizing development in the area, or “land assemblage,” the board would be in charge of distributing tax abatement packages to developers.

David Heimburger, SLU’s VP and CFO, notes how SLU’s campus is currently distributed “like a barbell.” The redevelopment project would certainly change that. In fact, Heimburger says that the excitement is so great, developers are actually calling him. Important to note is that the project is not about SLU investing into the 200-acre area, but simply facilitating development by outside groups. Michael Lucido, Associate VP for Facilities Services, stressed that the opportunity is one which will “bring services to students.” Development will not be restricted to retail, dining, and entertainment, but may also help meet academic needs too, through additional classroom and laboratory spaces. The City Foundry Project has already planned such additions.

Running alongside the redevelopment project is the formation of the University’s first Campus Master Plan in over 25 years. The university planning group has conducted over 50 individual interviews with deans and directors of academic programs. Lucido notes that campus interviews are still taking place, with an open forum for students hosted just this past Monday in the BSC. The Campus Master Plan will work in tandem with the redevelopment project, which will serve the needs of those both within and outside of the SLU community. Lucido has been encouraged by open forums conducted thus far with area residents, the most recent of which drew about 70 residents.

At a time of budget cuts and difficult decisions, Heimburger said the recognition of SLU as an “anchor institution” reveals how highly the city thinks of the university. The recognition allows for the project grounds to be designated a Chapter 353 Redevelopment Area, which allows for either 10, 15, or 25-year tax abatements. In certain circumstances, multiple abatements may be warranted, depending on the buildings location and intended use.

The over 400-acre redevelopment zone is currently divided into 16 actuaries which help determine which real estate abatement periods will be awarded, with the most generous being the parcels of land adjacent to I-64 or I-44.

The abatements effectively freeze real estate taxes at the pre-construction rate, saving a developer from having to pay the premium once an investment is made in a new or existing structure for up to a 10-year period. In addition, taxes may be reduced to half of the normal rate for another 15 years after that.

Another aspect of the plan is the fact that eminent domain will not be used during any portion of the project, which has helped to build good rapport with the surrounding community.

The first additions are expected to be the $550 million hospital and outpatient center financed by SSM Health on land adjacent to the current hospital structure.

Other construction will be completed by the City Foundry and Armory Projects as well as Green River Greenways, which hopes to connect the Mississippi River on the east and Washington University on the west, with the proposed pathway running through SLU’s campus.