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St. Louis building boom expected to continue in 2019; urban bloggers share their favorite projects

Building boom can be measured in number of cranes in the sky.
Chris Stritzel City Scene
Cranes dot the St. Louis downtown skyline at Ballpark Village and beyond.

St. Louis has had a banner year for construction in 2018. The number of building permits issued was up in 17 of the city's 28 wards. The value of new projects totals more than $1 billion, and dozens of projects are on the drawing board, or ready to break ground, in 2019.

We checked in with several bloggers who track the city’s construction projects throughout the year for their take on the current building boom. Enthusiasm and a sense of momentum are the underlying themes in their blogs. There is criticism for Paul McKee and the city’s handling of his Northside Regeneration project in north St. Louis. But, there is hope and optimism that the new site for the NGA with stimulate community-driven growth.

For Mark Groth, the current building boom is fodder for his 10-year-old blog calledSt. Louis City Talk. He’s an enthusiastic transplant from Illinois who started out writing about changes in his south St. Louis neighborhood.

“It’s fun to dream about the big projects, too, and look down your block and say, ‘Boy, if that building were renovated — it’s been empty for five, 10 years — what a difference that would make for the neighborhood.’”

Groth is a biologist at Bayer Crop Sciences and a father of three. His blog is a labor of love he produces with his wife. They publish their top-20 favorite construction projects every December.

This year, a $70 million retail-and-apartment proposal near the DeBaliviere MetroLink station is on his list. But Groth is torn between spending millions on one project versus spreading the development money around. “What we really need on the south side, in my opinion — and the north side for sure — is smaller developments,” he said. “But it’s hard not to get enthralled with these huge projects and think about the future and the potential.”

One of those mega-million projects is Ballpark Village. Phase two — which is underway — includes a residential high rise. Chris Stritzel, founder and writer at City Scene blog, visits the construction site weekly for progress updates. “Most of the time I just like to stand up on the garage and watch the crew move stuff, because it’s not every day that you see that size of a project downtown.”

When Stritzel saw an animated fly-through video about plans for Ballpark Village 10 years ago, he was hooked. He was 8 years old then, but he started documenting projects all over the city and hasn’t stopped.

Stritzel sees the increase in development downtown as a positive sign that St. Louis is on the verge of a rebound. He plans to attend college here so he can continue to blog and be a part of his hometown’s renaissance.

Stritzel’s enthusiasm isn’t limited to Ballpark Village. He also has his eye on the Cortex Innovation District, near the Central West End. One of the projects to watch in 2019, according to Stritzel, is called Cortex K. The first of the the three-phase office building development is expected to break ground in the first quarter.

“A majority of recently opened office buildings in Cortex have been nearly 100 percent occupied when they open,” Stritzel said. “Cortex K, at the intersection of Clayton [Avenue] and Sarah [Street] is going to spill over into the Grove. Sarah Street is going to change dramatically between Forest Park and Manchester.”

A few miles west of Cortex is Washington University’s East Campus transformation. From that quarter-billion dollar project all the way to the new Arch museum, blogger Greg Johnson sees a treasure trove of development.

“Between those two projects, you’ve got a seven-mile stretch — about a mile wide of the central corridor — where most of the fascinating projects are happening right now,” said Johnson who writes for NEXT STL.

Johnson is lead pastor at Memorial Presbyterian Church on Skinker Boulevard, but has had a keen interest in urban development since majoring in architecture in college.

Johnson can’t pick a favorite project from the long list in the central corridor. But he’s enthusiastic about The City Foundry, The Armory, the eastern end of the Grove and Union Station’s aquarium, to name a few.

But it’s not any individual development that will really change the city’s vibrancy, he said. “St. Louis has a problem where we have amazing neighborhoods, but they’re missing connective tissue between them. It’s often just abandoned lots,” he said. “We’re seeing those get re-connected now, and it’s an exciting time to be in St. Louis.”

For many urban enthusiasts, transportation is the key to connecting neighborhoods. Jacque Lumsden Knight is one of them. She’s a professional urban planner who also finds time to blog about projects she’s working on at NEXT STL.

“My favorite project this is year is the downtown multi-modal plan,” Knight explained. “It prioritizes modes of transportation by corridor. So we have specific corridors prioritized for walking, biking, public transit and then motor vehicles.”

Knight and her fellow bloggers share an undeniable enthusiasm for St. Louis and the people who live here. Their passion for urban projects is contagious, so it’s worth keeping an eye on what they see on the horizon for 2019.

Follow Melody on Twitter @melodybird