Built St. Louis > > Recalled to Life || Midtown > > The Continental Building

Repeated efforts to restore the Continental and put it to new use had failed. The first was an effort in the mid 1970s to locate a Midtown state office facility in the Continental, in conjunction with the Wainwright revitalization downtown. The highrise was rejected in favor of a new but dull brick building a block east. In the early 1980s an organization named ConGrand attempted to market and restore the Continental, but failed.

But in 1997 came word of a new scheme, headed up by a partnership of several organizations under the direction of businessman R. King Carter, who planned to gradually revitalize the Continental, beginning with environmental cleanup and then renovation, as part of Midtown's burgeoning Arts District (anchored by Powell Symphony Hall and the Fox Theater). The group let its option to buy the building from the city for one dollar expire, however. The option was take up by Pete Rothschild and Stephen Trampe by August 1997, who then retained an architecture firm to being renovation planning.

Next Site || More Continental Building > > >

The Post-Dispatch reported the news in an article transcribed by Mike (japhy@ix.netcom.com), reproduced below:

Copyright 1997 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 14, 1997, Thursday, Five Star Lift Edition
Business Section, Pg. 01C; LENGTH: 686 words

HEADLINE: High-Rise Hopes
Developers Aim to Restore Continental Building
BYLINE: Charlene Prost; Of The Post-Dispatch Staff

Developers Pete Rothschild and Stephen Trampe are hoping to tackle the Continental Building, a soaring, 22-story Art Deco landmark in Grand Center that's been boarded up for 18 years.

They want to renovate the lower floors for offices, shops and restaurants, and the upper floors for apartments. The estimated cost: between $ 20 million and $ 25 million.

"If there is going to be a right time to do this project, I think it is now," Rothschild said this week.

"If it can be pulled off, we will do it. And if we are able to do it," he said, "I think that will get the ball rolling for others...who will say that if those two crazy people can do such a difficult building, I certainly can do mine."

Last week, the Continental's owner, the St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority, gave Rothschild and Trampe a year-long option to buy it. They now plan to explore the physical condition of the building, the feasibility of what they'd like to do and the availability of financing.

"We'll sell the building to them for $ 1, but only after they have pulled together the financing, and we know the project will happen," said Michelle Duffe, the city's director of real estate. The building is at 3615 Olive Street, just west of Grand Boulevard.

"I'm feeling very positive that they can do it," Duffe added. "And St. Louis University, and some other groups, have given their endorsement."

More than a year ago, businessman R. King Carter and some associates signed a similar deal. They also wanted to develop the Continental for commercial and residential use after clearing out asbestos, a job they estimated would cost $1.5 million. Carter's firm, Environmental Assets, specializes in that type of work.

But Carter said this week that he let the option expire because his firm got involved in other projects and because it had difficulty finding tenants. Without tenants, Carter said, he couldn't get financing to do the renovation.

"We found some tenants - a restaurant for the first floor, banks and smaller commercial firms - but no large tenant that would have taken up 25 percent of the building," he said.

Rothschild and Trampe, meanwhile, think their chances are better.

"The St. Louis University campus now runs right up to the door of the Continental," Trampe said. "KETC (Channel 9) is finishing its new facility. The Pulitzer museum is about to go up. The Sheldon Concert Hall is expanding. ...There's an incredible amount of development going on there." The Pulitzer museum is an arts facility being developed by Emily Pulitzer, a board member of Pulitzer Publishing Co., owner of the Post- Dispatch.

"Interest rates are good now," Trampe said, "and I think the community's will to do a project like this is there."

To help with the financing, they want to use several tax incentives: a 20 percent federal tax credit for investments in historic buildings, plus federal and state credits for low-income housing.

They also are hoping the Missouri Legislature revives the idea of a state tax credit for historic buildings. Such a credit was in a bill that Gov. Mel Carnahan vetoed last month. (***Mike notes: The tax credit passed two weeks ago!)

Rothschild, who says he has "always loved the Continental," thinks the housing, combined with commercial space, can revive it.

"I think there is a very broad-based market for quality residential development in the city," he said, "and I can just imagine a whole spectrum of people living there - graduate students... professors... people working in Clayton or downtown."

Trampe said the building is structurally sound, although its once-ornate interior has been stripped and vandalized.

St. Louis architect William B. Ittner designed the building for Edmund Mays, president of the old Continental Life Insurance Co. Mays and his family lived in a penthouse there.

The building opened in 1929, but never was a big success, although companies such as Falstaff Brewing, Chrysler Motors, Sinclair Coal and Portland Cement called it home. The last major tenant, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Missouri, moved out in 1973, and the boards went up in 1979.