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Del Taco developer to prepare designs for restoration

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 18, 2011 - South Grand's flying saucer may not be flying away after all. Instead developers are looking to bring back more of its original look.

Rick Yackey, developer and owner of the former Del Taco building at 212 S. Grand, said in a public meeting at the building on Wednesday that he is working to restore the building to its original architecture and he has hired an architect to ensure this is a presentable space for retailers.

"I am in the process of redesigning, and I am going to try to put in some of the original integrity without destroying the integrity of the saucer shape that everyone has come to love," Yackey said.

This update provided a relief to those advocating for the preservation of the building all summer. In June, the Del Taco franchise, which had nine years remaining on its lease, went into bankruptcy and left the building at the corner of Grand and Forest Park Avenue vacant. Yackey and Alderman Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward, have since worked on the future of the site.

"This process was sprung upon us without notice. Del Taco had nine years left on their lease, and the last thing you expect is for them to leave," Davis said. "Here we are with the challenge before us to find an appropriate use for this building and to make sure the developer does the due diligence to ensure that this site has the best use."

Yackey said he has received interest from several retailers, including local chains such as Kaldi's Coffee House and Pi Pizzeria. The first step in this process, according to Yackey, is to make the building more attractive for potential tenants.

"For me and my partners, it really gets down to economics; is it feasible for us to build out and will we get a return on our investment?" Yackey said. "Right now it is looking promising so we are going to continue with our drawings, continue with the layout of the parking and the other things that we needed to address to attract a tenant."

Yackey said that his group is going back to those retailers interested more in the site than the building to show them conceptual ideas of what the space could look like. Yackey declined to identify the retailers.

At the meeting, Davis announced another meeting for 6 p.m., Sept. 14 at the building. Yackey plans to present his designs and updates  for public display and feedback.

Davis stressed patience with this project as she reminded the 12 people at Wednesday's meeting that proper development takes time.

"We need to have the patience and understanding of working with developers until it is right, that is a very normal process and nothing happens over night," Davis said. "I was glad that [Yackey] was able to take the time and the additional expense to make sure it was right."

This plan to use the building for new development instead of demolishing it for a new building gave some area residents a sigh of relief and victory.

Local business owner Randy Vines, who arrived to the meeting on Wednesday with buttons and T-shirts touting "save our saucer," felt "very encouraged" after the meeting.

"It sounds like they are making efforts to preserve the building and I am very pleased in this new direction as many of the preservation battles in St. Louis have been lost. This is one success story and I think this is going to be a big win for the city," Vines said. "Buildings like this, though they represent eras that are not widely embraced by a lot of people, will one of these days be just as important as the turn-of-the-century buildings that people have come to love. It is important that we value all eras and all examples of various architecture styles to preserve for the future."

Jonathan Ernst, a student at Saint Louis University, is a summer intern at the Beacon.