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Board approves compromise on Pevely Dairy demo

Updated 10:30 p.m. Dec. 19

Saint Louis University says it's considering all options after the city's Preservation Board denied its request to demolish most of the Pevely Dairy complex and replace it with a new $75 million ambulatory care building at the site.

The board authorized SLU to demolish the old milk plant and garage as long as the university received a building permit for the new medical facility. But university officials say they can't build that facility unless they also take down the corner office building with the red Pevely sign on the roof - a request the board denied.

"I appreciate your role in preserving the city's past," said the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, the president of St. Louis University, "but I also hope that you appreciate our concern for the future health of our citizens. Saving the lives of our St. Louis citizens is far more critical than saving bricks and mortars of an old industrial factory complex."

The problem, said developer Steve Smith with the Lawrence Group, is that the corner office building is too small to hold state-of-the-art medical equipment. And constructing the facility elsewhere on the property won't work because the vacant office building will be in the way.

"Go behind the empty building and there’s a brand new spanking new ambulatory surgery center there. Is that where you want to take your son or daughter? I don’t think we can invest $80 million in that proposition," Smith said.

He said the university had not decided whether to appeal the board's decision, and he did not rule out building the new facility outside the city limits.

The compromise demolition proposal drew mixed reaction from the preservationist community. Andrew Weil, the interim director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, called it admirable, though not ideal.

"The recommendations of the Cultural Resources Office comply with our ordinance, they respect the neighborhood, they respect the neighbors who submitted their opinion in abundance to the record, and they respect the history of the area," Weil said.

But Lynn Josse pushed the board to deny all four demolition permits.

"If a historic complex that is protected by ordinance does not meet your needs, then do not buy it," she said to applause from fellow preservationists. "I have heard arguments that this complex is not usable for an ambulatory care center, but I have not heard any arguments that suggest it is not usable for other purposes."

Smith, the developer, says financing isn't available for residential and office projects because the need isn't there.

Our original story:

St. Louis city’s Preservation Board will meet tonight to consider an effort by Saint Louis University to demolish the Pevely Dairy complex at Grand and Chouteau.

The university wants to tear down the three buildings - an old milk plant, a garage, and the office building at the corner of Grand and Chouteau with the red Pevely sign on the roof - and the iconic smokestack, for medical office space. A 2009 fire destroyed a fourth Pevely building before the complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

City officials initially denied all four demolition permits. SLU appealed, and asked for a months' delay to better develop its plans for the site.

The board tonight will consider a proposal that leaves the smokestack and office building standing but allows SLU to demolish the garage and milk plant. The city's  Cultural Resources Office says in its recommendation that the office building was the main reason the complex made it onto the National Register, and the loss of the garage and milk plant "would have an acceptable effect on the urban design and the streetscape."

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.