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by Bob Moore, SLFP.com
ST. LOUIS, (SLFP.com) March 3, 2005 - The cityscape around the historic Old Post Office in downtown St. Louis has changed dramatically in the past few years. Construction equipment and work crews are now a very active part of the scene.
Over the past several months, the vulnerable Century Title Building at 9th and Locust has been demolished leaving a gapping hole where a new garage will soon rise.
Across the street, the former Board of Education Building, at 911 Locust Street, was spared the wrecking ball. The Neo-Classical 1891 Romanesque Revival building, designed by architect Isaac Taylor, has been renovated into 50 luxury apartments with first floor retail by the Roberts Companies.
In an interview following ribbon-cutting ceremonies, Steven C. Roberts, Esq. President, The Roberts Companies, told St. Louis Front Page that nobody believed that renovation of the 85,000 square foot building could be completed in just eleven months.
"This building was built in the 1890s basically for two purposes which was to serve as the St. Louis Board of Education headquarters as well as the St. Louis Public Library," stated Roberts.
When the Board of Education made a decision to close the building in the 1990s due to a dwindling student population in St. Louis, Steven Roberts and his brother Michael saw it as an opportunity for redevelopment. In early 2003, they purchased the building for $1.3 million.
The Roberts brothers quickly expanded on their commitment to the Old Post Office district. In 2003, they purchased the American Theater, at 9th and St. Charles across from the Roberts Lofts. After major renovations, it will reopen as the Roberts Orpheum Theater. Michael and Steve also purchased the Mayfair - A Wyndham Grand Heritage Hotel at 806 St. Charles Street in 2003.
"As you can see, it is an absolutely beautiful building. We decided - particularly being students of the public school - it was time for someone who's had more than just a passing interest to get involved with a project of this nature," stated Roberts.
Work on the $13 million project began last February. Roberts admitted that it was a tough project as many of the systems had not been changed for over fifty or sixty years.
"It was challenging because this is probably the first time that a building designed soley for commercial and office purposes had to be completely changed over like we did. Also it was difficult because of the age."
"We literally had to come in and strip it out," said Roberts. "The important part was that we wanted the windows to be opened up so that people could have this beautiful vista of what we call the urban canyon. There are really no views better than this anywhere in downtown St. Louis. So we are really proud to be a part of this historic renovation."
"It will be a very exciting place to be in downtown St. Louis," stated Roberts. He said a one bedroom will go for around $800 per month range with rents based on location in building - whether it has a park view, building view or interior view. The penthouse units on the seventh floor will be about $3,500. "They are very large units with mezzanines and all kind of fun things," said Roberts.
The apartments range in size from 754 sq. ft. to 2,304 sq. ft. Clear maple hardwood cabinets, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops are featured in open kitchen floor plans. The apartments also feature maple hardwood floors, marble tile floors and walls in the bathrooms and 6' Jacuzzi whirlpool tubs. In addition to state-of-the-art telephone and high speed data service in every apartment, 23 units have gas-burner fireplaces with logs.
Andrew Trivers, Trivers Associates, worked closely with the Roberts brothers to bring certain elements such as the terrazzo floors back to their historic significance. Great care was also taken to preserve the exterior of the building as well as the interior. The lower two floors of the seven-story Board of Education Building are of red sandstone with the upper floors in buff brick.
Many of the guests who toured the Roberts Lofts spoke enthusiastically about the renovation.
Monica Robinson, who works downtown, has considered moving downtown to live. She originally looked at the Merchandise Mart. "When I started working at the Renaissance Grand, I thought how great it would be living so close to work, especially with parking. Unfortunately, for the amount of money they were looking for, it was really too small," said Robinson. "I took a look at the Jacuzzi tub in the Roberts Lofts. I sure did like it. The large space is beautiful with the hardwood floors. The architecture is absolutely gorgeous. Anybody would be lucky to live here."
Sable Campbell-Jones, wife of Virvus Jones, was excited about the amenities of the spacious, luxury apartment in the former boardroom of the St. Louis Board of Education. "I would love to move downtown. I use to live at Plaza Square. The Roberts Lofts are the place to be if you are going to move back downtown."
Even St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has given some serious thought to moving downtown. "My wife and I have actually been talking about the possibility of moving into downtown."
"When you look at a place like this, it really shows you the variety of living spaces in downtown," said the Mayor. "This is a more finished look which is really my style. It has a real unique design and great views. It really is an example of the quality of work and the quality of living spaces that we have. There is something for everybody, regardless of your style or income levels."
"I'm living in a neighborhood that I've lived in my entire life. My parents are close to us. My in-laws are close and it's a great place to be. But downtown is certainly a possibility," said the Mayor.
When asked if St. Louis is getting closer to New York in terms of living space, the Mayor responded proudly, "We are better than New York. I think that we certainly have every bit of variety that New York has in terms of spaces and uniqueness. I think that the quality here is as good or better. Believe me, you don't see warehouse spaces like this in New York for this price."
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