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Owner asks for permission to demolish Cupples 7

(screenshot via Google Maps)
This screenshot from Google Maps shows the roof of Cupples 7 at 1014 Spruce. The building's owner has applied for a demolition permit, saying it's safer than having the building come down on its own.

Saying he has no choice, the owner of a crumbling building in the Cupples Station warehouse complex has applied for a permit to demolish the building.

Developer Kevin McGowan, who owns the building at 1014 Spruce St. known as Cupples 7, filed his application on Nov. 9th.  Streets around the building have been blocked off since late September due to safety concerns.

McGowan says he's never torn down a building he owns, and hates to have to tear down Cupples 7. But he says he's got no choice.

"Essentially right now, it's four brick walls standing close to 80 feet tall. A big wind, some water infiltration of the mortar, some freezing, it won't take much" to bring down those walls, McGowan said.

"Millions of people walk by that building every year going to those Cardinals games, going to the hockey games, going to the various courthouses, even living across the street and next to the building in apartment buildings," he said.

Andrew Weil, the acting director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, said the application was not unexpected. But he says the demolition will take away from the character of the Cupples complex, which sits just west of Busch Stadium.

"This section of the street where Cupples 7 is the only section that really has the intact streetwall on both sides of Spruce , and so it gives you the real feel for the original appearance of the complex," Weil said. And the fact that all but two of the buildings have been redeveloped "demonstrates the eminently useful and redevelopable nature of these buildings." (In addition to Cupples 7, Cupples 9 remains boarded up, but plans are in place to re-open that building next fall.)

In September, Weil and other preservationists urged McGowan to carefully weigh the cost of demolition versus preservation - a request Weil repeated today.

"At the end of the day, if we invest millions of dollars in demolishing this building, we're investing millions of dollars in a vacant lot that's not going to return anything to the city," he said. "If we reinvest the same amount of money in stabilization and essentially moth-balling, then potentially that's money that's wisely invested in a future redevelopment project."

McGowan says even in better financial times, Cupples 7 was a hard project to finance because of the stabilization work that would be required on top of rehabilitation. Given the current economic climate, he says, financing is now impossible - and it's at least $2 million cheaper to demolish Cupples 7 than to stabilize it.

Because the Cupples complex is a historic district, the demolition permit will require several layers of review. McGowan was not sure how long the process would take.

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

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