St. Louis Preserves Historic Hotel

With an infusion of capital from a new owner, the historic Chase Park Plaza hotel in St. Louis is kicking off a $95 million renovation that will transform its adjacent Park Plaza residential tower into additional hotel rooms, corporate apartments and high-end condominiums. Dallas-based Behringer Harvard bought a majority stake in the 1.2 million sq. ft. complex last December. The $180 million deal includes planned redevelopment costs.

Behringer is the third financial partner for the landmark property's co-owner and operator Jim Smith of Kingsdell LP, who initially acquired Chase Park Plaza in the late 1990s. Smith's first backer, William Stallings of W.S. Stallings Corp., was convicted in unrelated fraud cases and filed for bankruptcy in the early 1990s. The second, Dana Corp., a Toledo, Ohio-based auto parts maker, filed for bankruptcy in March 2006, due to troubles with its core business.

Through all of the drama, Smith managed to engineer a $125 million renovation of the historic Chase Park Plaza hotel, which today ranks as one of the finest hotels in the world. Now he and Behringer are turning their attention to the residential component. The Art Deco complex takes up most of a 6-acre block at the northeastern edge of the 1,400-acre Forest Park, the Gateway City's version of New York's Central Park. The 11-story, 250-room hotel was built in 1922; the adjacent 30-story apartment tower was added in 1928.

Through the years, the property has played host to big-name celebrities, from Elvis and Nat King Cole to Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra, and every U.S. president since the 1920s. The residential tower, which sits in the city's tony Central West End neighborhood, is populated by business and sports notables, including St. Louis Cardinals personnel. They've all been told to pack up and leave, however, so renovation work can begin.

The entire tower will be gutted, says Jason Mattox, executive vice president of Dallas-based Behringer Harvard. “It's getting a stem-to-stern renovation,” he says. “The only thing we're keeping is the structure itself. The floors and exterior walls are all that will survive.”

In St. Louis, the first two floors of the Park Plaza tower will include a new lobby, meeting space and residential amenities. Floors three through five will be converted to 90 additional hotel rooms, taking the total up to 340 rooms. Floors six through eight will house 48 furnished corporate apartments.

The rest of the space will be developed into 87 high-end condos, called The Private Residents at Chase Park Plaza. The condos will range from 1,100 to 4,400 sq. ft. and sell for $400,000 to $2.5 million. More than half of the units have been pre-sold.

Condo units will be completed in the fourth quarter of 2008 and first quarter of 2009. Chase Park Plaza hotel was one of the first projects to take advantage of the Missouri's historic rehabilitation tax credit program. The project received $20.3 million in tax credits in 1998. Few states offer such support for renovating historic buildings, according to Smith. “It allows developers to recoup a lot of money and has driven a lot of redevelopment in the city of St. Louis. It makes a huge difference and allows a lot of things to happen.”

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