This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 20, 2008 - Hotel developer Charles Drury and associates gave the public on Tuesday an early glimpse of their still-evolving proposal for two 16-story hotels overlooking Forest Park along Kingshighway, just south of the newly opened Kingshighway and Interstate 64 interchange.
The approximately $100 million hotel project would be the largest in terms of size and expense for Drury Development Corp. since the family-owned business built its first hotel in Cape Girardeau, Mo., in 1969.
The Kingshighway project would include two hotels, each with 345 rooms, three levels of underground parking and some surface parking. It would cover four acres, some of it on land no longer needed for the highway interchange that Drury Development wants to buy from the Missouri Department of Transportation. One issue, not yet resolved, is whether St. Louis residents might have to vote on selling the land to Drury because it might have been once part of Forest Park.
The Drurys present their plan
Some nearby residents and preservationists are concerned about Drury's intent to build much of the hotel project on land within the Forest Park Southeast National Register Historic District. If the project moves forward along the lines outlined at Tuesday's meeting of the Gibson Heights Neighborhood Association, Drury would raze five to seven houses or buildings within the district. Drury already has a contract to buy an historic, 102-year-old stone church at 1034 South Kingshighway, where the meeting was held, that might or might not be torn down.
"We don't know yet what will happen to it," said Drury, who has rescued other historic landmarks over the years and renovated them into hotels. "This is a beautiful building," he said of the church, known today as Calvary Christian Church, "and if we can save it in any way, we will bust our butts to save it."
Drury and his son, Timothy Drury, president at Drury Development, said that the hotel sketched in where the church stands would be in the second or final phase of the project. The first hotel, which would be built on land closer to Highway 64, would be a moderately priced Drury Inn & Suites. The second one would be "the finest hotel we have in our system," Charles Drury said, "as good as any Ritz-Carlton in the country."
Taken together, the Drurys said they expect the hotels to cater to a mix of travelers, visitors, families and others wanting to stay near hospitals, businesses, and other attractions in the area.
"We believe this site is deserving of a nice, high-quality project," Timothy Drury told the group last night.
The neighborhood reaction
More than 100 neighborhood residents and others interested in the project, including Alderman Joseph Roddy, D-17th Ward, crowded into the church to see the hotel plans and discuss them with the Drurys. Some were concerned about the fate of the historic Lambskin Temple just south of the church, an Art Deco-style building renovated with 16 apartments in 1988. Late last week, a website popular with preservationists reported that Drury planned to raze the Lambskin and other nearby historic buildings to make way for the hotels.
Timothy Drury said last night that the Lambskin is not within the development area.
Even so, some expressed concerns about the effect of the hotel project on the Lambskin, as well as other nearby homes and properties immediately east of the proposed hotels.
Tim Wolf, president of Patrick Development Co. that manages the nearly filled Lambskin and has been updating apartments there, said he hasn't yet seen Drury's proposal. His initial reaction, he said, is that "16 stories is not particularly consistent with the neighborhood," might block views, and "just seems awfully aggressive, given the neighborhood, and this really is a residential neighborhood."
Carolyn Toft, executive director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, said that "in addition to our concerns about historic architecture within the project area - especially St. Paul's and the Lambskin Temple - Landmarks is also interested in the major urban design challenges, including scale, context and circulation." Toft said the church known today as Calvary Christian was built in 1906 as St. Paul's English Evangelical Lutheran Church, and designed by well-known St. Louis architect Albert Groves.
"We have had a wonderful relationship with the Drurys over the years," Toft added, "and we would love to be involved in some way and try to work with them to make this the best possible project."
Some residents raised concerns about the potential noise and traffic the project might bring into what one described as "now a very quiet, peaceful residential neighborhood." Some also weren't happy about the height and scale of the hotels, saying they were just too big for the neighborhood and would block their views of Forest Park.
Others, however, said they liked the Drurys' ideas and would like commercial development with good restaurants nearby. "I think it is fantastic that you are looking to invest in our neighborhood, so thanks," one said.
"We are flexible"
Timothy Drury stressed, as he fielded questions, criticisms and other comments, that the Drury way of building hotels is to listen and work with residents and city officials. After the meeting, he handed out business cards inviting residents to call him if they wanted to talk more about their concerns.
"Reasonable people can work things out,' he said after the meeting. "We are flexible, and we are willing to listen."
Roddy, the alderman, said, "I'm here to learn, and figure out what the neighborhood wants to do, and that's what I want to do."
Drury's portfolio of hotels today includes more than 140 in 20 states. Among them are several historic buildings in downtown St. Louis, which Drury rescued over the years and renovated into hotels: The old Railroad YMCA near Union Station, opened in 1988; Union Market, opened in 1990; the Fur Exchange, Thomas Jefferson and American Zinc Co., joined together and opened about eight years ago; the Merchants'-Laclede, opened in 2005.
Charlene Prost has written about development for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other publications.