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Del Taco building in beginning stages of makeover

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 13, 2012 - While traveling down Forest Park Avenue or South Grand Boulevard, people may have noticed something missing from the saucer-shaped Del Taco building: everything but the roof.

The building is being gutted to make way for two tenants: a Starbucks coffee-shop with a drive-thru, and a Chipotle restaurant.

Richard K. Yackey, the building's developer, said he hopes the building will be operational by early October.

"There's really nothing left. There's three little walls and some window frames, but everything else is gone, other than the roof," Yackey said.

In addition to the building being gutted, the gas storage tanks in the ground and the soil beneath were removed earlier in the spring.

Total renovations will cost about $1.5 million, which includes adding on about 1,300 square feet to the building's 3,200 square feet. Floor-to-ceiling windows will be featured on the front of the building. Yackey said it's costing him $100,000 just to replace the roofing, which is 12,000 square feet. Starbucks will take over the section of the building closest to South Grand Boulevard; Chipotle will be on the east side of the building.

The initial plan was to have the building operational four months ago, but the financial side proved to be more challenging than expected with the poor economy, Yackey said.

The $1.5 million project was not exactly what Yackey had in mind one year ago, when he wanted demolish the building to make way for a larger, more marketable building and site.

And the building would have been demolished, if there hadn't been a public outcry from area preservationists and community members who pushed for the building’s survival last summer, said Ryan Reed, a preservation specialist with Landmarks Association in St. Louis.

Although the Del Taco building had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places a handful of years ago, Reed said saving the saucer-shaped building was still challenging. While having a building on a list doesn’t necessarily save a building, he said he was thankful it creates some safeguards.

Yackey said he chose Starbucks and Chipotle because both companies would be reliable tenants being financially sound. He could see both tenants greatly benefiting the area. The area has a high student population with Yackey's own student housing project, The Flat at 347, next door, and Saint Louis University's student housing nearby.

"It's a great amenity to this whole area," he said.

Yackey said he's happy with where the project is headed, despite knowing demolition would have cost him about $500,000 less — and he would have a larger building.

"The project by itself doesn't make sense. It's not a lucrative deal, let's put it that way," he said. "(But) I'm happy because I have two good tenants ... Ultimately, it helps my (student housing) project next door."