by Dan Rafter
The challenge in St. Louis’ urban core has long been the same: Renters looking for modern, high-rise apartments had no option.
That appears to be changing.
Construction is underway now at Two Twelve, a 26-story mixed-use building in the heart of downtown Clayton in the St. Louis market. The building, owned by CA Ventures of Chicago and White Oak Realty Partners of Rosemont, Illinois, will include a mix of retail and 250 high-end apartment units.
For Kyle Wilson, managing director of building designer HDA Architects of Chesterfield, Missouri, the new luxury apartment tower is just the start of what he predicts will be a growing number of such properties in the urban areas of the St. Louis market.
“I think the trend is already here,” Wilson said. “We are the first of these high-rise apartments going up here in a long time. But we are already seeing more transit-oriented developments being built throughout the area, around our existing metro stops. There is demand for transit-based residential here, and developers are filling that need.”
A long history
Two Twelve – the project’s official address is 212 S. Meramec Ave. in downtown Clayton – will open for residents this summer. When it does, it will mark the end of what was a long process of finally bringing a new high-rise apartment tower to the St. Louis urban market.
Wilson said that the idea for Two Twelve first surfaced in the early part of 2007, when the project was spearheaded by developer GTE Properties, which originally named the development The Crossings.
In 2008 and 2009, development came to a halt. That’s when the country fell into its deep recession. The time for developing anything new, and especially a building type that had not been built in the St. Louis market for years, had passed.
But now that the national economy is fully in growth mode, and the demand for urban living located near public transportation is soaring? The times had suddenly become perfect ones for a project like Two Twelve, Wilson said.
GTE is no longer involved in the project. But White Oak Realty and CA Ventures have proven to be dedicated partners in the project, making sure that construction finally began on the high-rise. Construction crews began working on the project in the fall of 2015.
“The markets opened again. The apartment market came on strong in St. Louis again,” Wilson said. “The vision that was always there became doable again. The project survived the down economy. Now was the time to get it done. The goal was to become that first new high-rise apartment tower in the St. Louis market in quite a long time. The goal was to lead off what we think will be a lot of new apartment development here.”
Wilson said that the project did pose some challenges. The main hurdle? Bringing something new to the market.
Wilson said that most of the new apartment projects that have been built or are in development in St. Louis’ urban areas are of the four- or five-story variety, often with central courtyards. No other project besides Two Twelve brought sheer luxury verticality, with expansive city views, back to the St. Louis market, Wilson said.
“The demand is there for this type of development,” Wilson said. “This will give renters a new choice in this market.”
Two Twelve is an example of a transit-oriented development, a dense high-rise located within a short walk of public transportation. These developments – referred to as TODs – are in high demand in urban areas across the Midwest.
A growing number of renters want to live that urban lifestyle, walking to trains, buses, shops, theaters and bars, all without having to jump into a car.
“Permanent car ownership is not as necessary in a development like this,” Wilson said. “You can use public transportation, and only use a car when you need it.”
Residents might rely on services such as Uber or Lyft or other car-sharing programs as an alternative to owning a car on a full-time basis.
Wilson said that TODs are already playing a big role in new-construction activity throughout the St. Louis market. He said that several four-, five- and six-story apartment projects are rising around St. Louis’ MetroLink public transit system.
“We are often a couple of years after what other cities seem to get in front of,” Wilson said. “This is the show-me state. People want to see that something works before they put a big push behind it. We have seen TODs work in a lot of other Midwest cities. Seeing those things succeed has helped spur a push for TODs here.”
Amenities will also play an important part in attracting tenants to Two Twelve. The development will include fitness centers, a lounge, party room, outdoor deck, pool, grill stations and a variety of areas for entertaining.
In many developments such as Two Twelve, the focus shifts away from the units themselves to the expansive common areas, a way to build a community inside these high-rise properties.
Two Twelve, of course, boasts these important common-area amenities. But Wilson said that the units themselves also feature high-end finishes. They are larger, too, than what you might find in a similar building in an urban market such as downtown Chicago, he said.
“St. Louis apartments generally have more square footage than in other urban markets,” Wilson said. “So we had to find that fine blend between what works in other cities and what works in St. Louis. We had to hybridize that blend into this tower. You still have the expansive city views, but you are not sacrificing space to get those higher-level finishes.”
When Two Twelve opens to renters this summer, then, it will mark the end of a long process. What kept Two Twelve alive even during the worst days of the Great Recession?
Wilson said that those who always believed in this project were optimists. They could see past the economic struggles of the country to the day when demand for such a project would soar throughout the St. Louis market.