An artist’s rendering of St. Louis University’s ambulatory care center incorporating the old Pevely smokestack and main building. (click for larger version)
January 04, 2012Preservationists who have been working to save the historic Pevely Dairy complex are pleased a city board has denied Saint Louis University's request to demolish the complex's main building. The iconic smokestack also will remain standing.
SLU announced plans in November to demolish the Pevely Dairy plant that sits at the corner of Chouteau Avenue and South Grand and build a multi-million dollar ambulatory care center in its place. The city's Cultural Resource Office denied the university's request for the demolition permit based on the fact that the complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The St. Louis Preservation Board then voted 3-2 at its Dec. 19 meeting to uphold that decision.
"We think the Preservation Board made the right decision under the current ordinance," said Randy Vines, a co-owner of STL-Style on Cherokee Street who is one of many individuals behind the efforts to preserve the Pevely Dairy complex.
It wasn't a fight he and other preservationists expected to win.
"We were fully prepared to walk out of there with our heads down," he said. "This was a long shot and going against SLU was very intimidating because they have a lot of political muscle. This ruling is a genuine victory for the preservation movement in general. It shows that just because you are a very influential entity in the city, you're not above the law. You still have to follow the rules just like everybody else."
Clayton Berry, a spokesman for the university, said if SLU isn't allowed to move forward with the project per the plans it has presented, its ability to deliver cutting-edge health care to the area will be compromised.
"SLU intends to invest $73-$80 million in this new facility – creating jobs and bringing more people into the city – but we won't be able to do that if the project is not allowed to advance as planned," Berry said.
Andrew Weil, acting director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, says it doesn't have to be all or nothing.
"It's never been my goal or any of our goals to prevent SLU from building a new doctor's office," he said. "We want them to build everything they want to build. The problem we had was the vast amount of vacant land that SLU owns in the immediate adjacent area. We just wanted them to acknowledge they have other vacant land and to use that."
Preservationists, architects and other individuals contend that the Pevely complex can be reused or rehabilitated in a creative way and that a compromise can be reached. They say there can be an ambulatory center alongside the historic landmark – it doesn't have to be one or the other.
"I just think that with the slightest amount of creativity and flexibility they could do everything they want to do at the site," Weil said.
Vines echoed that sentiment.
"This building certainly stands a chance," he said. "It could be turned into apartments, a hotel or something else and there's still ample room on the same site to build a brand new state-of-the-art ambulatory center."
Under the plan presented to the board, SLU suggested the Pevely headquarters building would become a small strip of grass with a sidewalk and five shrubs near the ambulatory center, Weil said. There also would be a driveway for dropping off patients to the medical center. Weil said just because the university can't get that doesn't mean it should scrap the entire project.
"If they're going to hold their own project hostage over a small strip of grass and five small shrubs that would be unfortunate," he said. "This decision does not have to have an effect on their plan to build the building. This small corner (Pevely) building is totally ancillary and a tiny fraction of the overall 10-acre site."
SLU doesn't see it that way.
"To develop the kind of state-of-the-art medical facility that we are planning, we must have the flexibility to expand, and we must provide easy ingress and egress from the facility," Berry said. "The building at the corner of Grand and Chouteau does not allow us to accomplish either of those things. The university must be allowed to take that building down for this project to move forward."
At least one thing preservationists and the university can agree on is saving the iconic smokestack, which has "Pevely" spelled on it.
Although the Preservation Board said SLU cannot demolish the historic corner building, it sided with the university on tearing down two other Pevely structures – an old milk plant and a parking garage. But the board put a condition on those permits saying they would only be issued after SLU applied for building permits to redevelop those structures.
"The board has done that in the past and does that to avoid demolition and no subsequent construction," said Betsy Bradley, director of the Cultural Resources Office.
SLU can resubmit a demolition request for the corner building, but city ordinance requires the university to wait a year before doing so, Bradley said.
Berry said the university plans to explore all of its options.
"Monday's decision was not the end of the line, and we believe we will ultimately prevail," he said.
Vines said he and other preservationists know they'll have to keep fighting the fight, they just hope a compromise can be reached.
"We have a great opportunity to leverage the city's two greatest assets – its institutions and its built environment – to create something truly visionary at this important corner that respects our past while looking to the future," he said.