Unsafe building
3:35 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

Crumbling building leads to downtown street closures

Updated with comments from the city, preservationists.

Pedestrian and car traffic will be restricted at Spruce and 11th streets in downtown St. Louis indefinitely because the historic Cupples 7 building  has become structurally unsound.

The city of St. Louis  closed 11th Street from Spruce to Poplar, and a half-block of Spruce east of 11th street after Tuesday morning's rush hour. Officials say severe damage to the roof has exposed the interior of the building to the elements.

"Unfortunately, we no longer feel confident in this building’s structural integrity," said city building commissioner Frank Oswald in a statement. "To the untrained eye, the building seems stable at the street level – but years of a severely damaged roof have taken a toll on its stability."

The city condemned the building for occupancy in 2008, and records show building code officials issued another 11 violations in 2009. Owner Kevin McGowan did not return phone calls for comment, but has told the city in the past that he cannot afford to make repairs to the warehouse.

Rodney Crim, the executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, says there's little the city can do to force the developer's hand.

"The lawyers will be very aggressive in taking any action that is available to them to keep the building safe and to address the violations," Crim said, but he would not provide specifics or give a timetable for action.

Andrew Weil, the acting director at the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, says the incident is disturbing, but not surprising. He hopes it prompts the city to crack down on "demolition by neglect."

"If a property owner leaves a building empty and deteriorating with the roof caved in,  it's essentially a tacit acknowledgement that they're attempting to destabilize the building," Weil said.

Cupples 7 was part of a nine-building warehouse complex. It's one of two Cupples buildings that has yet to be restored, and the city says it's the only one without a restoration plan in place.