by Michael R. Allen
On one hand, we have what could be the start of a major economic recession. On the other hand, we have the first high-rise residential building in 40 years currently rising downtown. On one hand — there is no other hand! We are left with an encouraging contradiction: as the economic news consistently drags us down, the Roberts Tower rises up from the ground on Eighth Street, tempting us to likewise raise our hopes to the sky.
Many developers talked about building new downtown residential buildings. Famously, we had the SkyHouse project on Washington, Daniel Libeskind renderings of Bottle District condominium towers, homes overlooking the baseball game at Ballpark Village, Park Pacific and Port St. Louis. Not one of these projects is under construction. Some are gone forever, in ways that are depressing. For instance, Park Pacific’s undulating Tucker Boulevard face won’t get built, while a plain0jane parking garage will be.
Amid the general atmosphere of hype of the last five years, we’ve had out-of-towners (SkyHouse, Ballpark Village) tempt us with the siren call of tall residential buildings downtown. Whoever did not get a tingle of excitement when hearing about the sundry proposals has never entered Chicago, New York or any other high-rise metropolis and been swept away by the tempting poetry of a sense skyline. We all fell for the idea that St. Louis was soon poised to proclaim its renewal as a great place to live through a boom of skyline construction.
Again, such a thrilling vision is far from reality. However, two tall buildings are reality — the Four Seasons Hotel at Lumiere Place, completed, and the residential Roberts Tower, under construction. The Roberts Brothers took three years to break ground, and may very well have slid the way of the other also-rans, but they broke ground this year on a $70 million 25-story modern high-rise residential building.
The design is sleek, but not showy (at least, now that the giant letters spelling “ROBERTS” don’t appear in renderings). The steel building fits into a small spot between the Mayfair Hotel and the Old Post Office Plaza, creating a narrow body whose main articulation is a sweeping glass south wall. The other walls are to be cast concrete, and the ground floor will open onto the sidewalk and plaza with a restaurant space. The building is solidly in good taste, unlike the Four Seasons.
The Roberts Tower design is also smart. The developers are seeking Gold LEED certification, and plan on many green technologies. From the south wall’s ample glazing to recycled materials going into the walls, carpets and counters, the building is ecologically progressive. The technologies used have not been used on such a scale in the city before.
With 55 units on the fourth through 25th floors — the lower floors will be conference and fitness space shared with the Mayfair — the building won’t put a glut of new units on the market. I have no idea how sales are going for the units, or how closely the finished building will resemble the rendering prominently displayed on the site. I do know that the Roberts Tower is a great idea and its construction could not come at a better time.