Construction activity is on the rise throughout the St. Louis region. And that has kept St. Louis-based architecture firm HDA Architects busy.
Of course, HDA is far from the only St. Louis-area architecture, development or commercial real estate firm that’s enjoying the benefits of the region’s heightened construction business. The St. Louis boom is keeping plenty of CRE companies busy today.
“I’ve been here 19 years, and the last two or three years have been the busiest I’ve seen it overall in St. Louis,” said Patrick Holleran, vice president with HDA Architects. “We’re seeing more hotels popping up, more flags coming into St. Louis. Apartment development has not slowed down at all. We are even seeing office development here. That had been non-existent for well over a decade.”
What’s behind this activity? Holleran points to the overall national economy. As he says, the shock of the Great Recession has worn off. This has inspired more people to get into commercial real estate. And these new entrants in the business are ready to take on big CRE projects.
“I see a lot of people of my age, in their 40s, who are getting into real estate development,” Holleran said. “They want to make a name for themselves.”
Many of these newer CRE professionals have opened boutique development companies that specialize in historic rehabs. Others are taking on multifamily projects.
This is a change, one that Holleran said is a positive one. In the not-so-distant past, many of the family-owned real estate companies left the business, Holleran said. Big, national REITs and international companies replaced them.
Today, though, Holleran is seeing a return of smaller, local developers.
“There is a different mindset with these companies,” he said. “We are starting to see more home-grown St. Louis developers who were born and raised here. They really know the city and what it is lacking. We hadn’t seen that in quite some time.”
HDA is a good example of a company that is reaping the benefits of the increasing commercial activity in the St. Louis region. The architecture firm has worked recently on several major projects in the area.
There’s the corporate headquarters for ADB in Pacific, Missouri, about 34 miles from St. Louis. This two-story, 36,852-square-foot office building was completed in January of 2019. The project features exposed ceilings, concrete floors and wood accent walls. Highlights of the project include a two-story lobby entrance and a lounge space.
HDA also worked on the Frontenac Office Building in Frontenac, Missouri. This project, which was completed in August of 2019, is a 36,000-square-foot, three-story office building. The cost of the project was $5 million for the office building and $2 million for an underground parking garage.
Another important project on which HDA is now working is the AC Hotel, which will open in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis. The seven-story, 195-room hotel will be located within walking distance of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Washington University Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Forest Park and more than 100 restaurants, bars, retail shops and entertainment venues.
What’s especially significant here is that the AC Hotel St. Louis will be the first hospitality project completed in the Central West End neighborhood in nearly 20 years.
Construction is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2019. The developers of this project are Sam Koplar, Concord Hospitality Enterprises and Homebase Partner. JNS and HDA are the architects, while MC Hotel Construction is the builder. The project is expected to cost $45 million.
Holleran said that he expects construction activity to continue to increase in the St. Louis region. He pointed to the office sector, which for so long had been dormant. Today, though, the Midtown and Cortex Innovation Community areas of St. Louis are seeing a steady stream of new office construction.
Many of the companies moving into these spaces are start-ups or tech firms, something that is helping to attract younger workers to the area, Holleran said.
Finding the right office space has always been important for companies. But today, those companies that want to attract and retain the best workers need to offer space that has the right amenities. That includes everything from walking trails to rooftop lounges and terrace views of the city.
“It makes all the sense in the world. We design apartment communities that offer luxury and areas for people to relax. We’ve done that all these years. That is starting to translate into the work environment now,” Holleran said. “Class-A office buildings need areas in which people can be working but not in their individual workspace or suite. They need that lounge space that has flat-screen TVs, couches, WiFi and maybe a terrace view.”
It’s all about making employees more productive. As Holleran said, when these employees have amenities that make the workday more pleasant, they tend to produce more.
“To get the most out of your employees, you have to make them as comfortable as possible,” Holleran said. “They can’t just be looking at the same desk and same computer eight hours a day. As our work staff gets younger, their wants and needs are much different than mine. They want to be comfortable and acknowledged. That has changed drastically in the last 10 years. What drives people today is different.”
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