Washington University’s $80M Loop development moves forward

This rendering shows a view of two new buildings from the intersection of Delmar and Eastgate. Images provided by William Rawn Associates.

Washington University in St. Louis this week obtained final approval for the school’s $80 million student apartment and retail project in the Delmar Loop in University City and the city of St. Louis. The roughly 14-month construction phase is expected to begin next week as the project moves from plan to action.The venture is a strategic investment in the Loop and the surrounding communities through which the university aims to provide a model of sustainable urban living.

The 4.4-acre residential and retail development project will incorporate a number of “green” features, and the school aims to achieve at least a LEED gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the second-highest on the scale.

Both the city of St. Louis and University City have given final approval for the development, and construction fences soon will be erected around the site. Building demolition is to begin Feb. 4, with excavation for the underground garage immediately following. Construction of the buildings in Phase 1 of the project is expected to begin in the spring.

Building plans

In all, the development will include five new buildings, with apartments for about 600 undergraduate students and 22,000 square feet of new retail space. The mixed-use development, to be built on existing university-owned property, will be between Delmar and Enright to the north and flanked by Westgate and Eastgate avenues.

Housed between the buildings fronting Delmar Boulevard, the project will feature a wide pedestrian walkway to connect the development to the Parkview Gardens neighborhood on the north end and to the Loop dining and entertainment district on the south. The walkway also will include a public art installation, says Cheryl L. Adelstein, the university’s director of community relations and local government affairs.

The project architect is William Rawn Associates, of Boston, with Tao + Lee Associates Inc., of St. Louis, serving as the local firm. The general contractor is Paric Corp., and several other engineering and consulting firms are working on the project’s landscaping and sustainability features.

Art Ackermann, WUSTL associate vice chancellor of facilities, is overseeing the university’s facilities team.

Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration, and Provost Edward S. Macias, PhD, who co-chaired the Loop development executive committee, provided leadership to the WUSTL team as the project planning progressed.

The university also is strongly committed to the inclusion of minority- and women-owned contractors on the worksite.

The university is exploring the right mix of retailers for the project. Results of a recent retail study of the Loop demonstrate a solid demand for restaurants, groceries and other tenants to serve both students and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Merchants and business owners in the area are enthusiastic about the new project.

“Everyone is delighted and excited,” says Joe Edwards, president of the Loop Special Business District and owner of Blueberry Hill, among other Loop businesses. “It’s going to add so much to the Loop. It’s a huge step in extending the vitality of the Loop and connecting the eastern and western ends of Delmar even more.”

Community studies also identified the corner of Delmar and Eastgate as an important site for new retail to fill in a gap along the Loop and improve the pedestrian experience.

Green features

A key green feature of the development is the commitment to pedestrians and to bicycle use. Residents will have access to an underground parking garage, but there will be extensive bicycle parking both inside and outside the new buildings.

The university also will encourage pedestrian commuting with other features, such as widened sidewalks and improved lighting.

Early in the development’s planning, the university had a forestry consultant review the health of trees in the affected area, and many were found to be deteriorating and a risk to nearby neighbors and structures. The project will require removal of 58 trees, and Washington University is planting 125 new trees in their place.

The university’s forestry and landscaping consultants also developed a plan to use a bald cypress tree that must be removed in the new project. The tree will be carefully harvested and its logs milled into usable lumber. That lumber then will be used in a planned rooftop terrace deck and as part of a trellis located just about Delmar Boulevard.

This rendering shows the view from Enright looking into the pedestrian walkway.

Among other environmentally friendly project features are rooftop photovoltaic panels that will provide 10 percent of the buildings’ electricity and solar thermal panels to generate 25 percent of the hot water supply. Sensors also will determine when residents are in a room and turn down lights in an empty space. Outside the buildings, landscaping will feature rain gardens and nearly 5,000 native shrubs, grasses, grounds and ferns.In all, the project will boast about 250 apartments, from one- to three-bedroom units, some in a loft style. The WUSTL Office of Residential Life will manage the apartments. Residential advisers will live on site.

Matthew Re, a junior pre-med student and an RA, served on a working group that delved into the nuts and bolts of what works in current student housing and what improvements could be made. He says the buildings’ design and amenities should encourage students to live off-campus and give them an easier transition from dorm-style to independent living after graduation.

Justin X. Carroll, associate vice chancellor for students, says the development will offer students a housing option unlike any other available to WUSTL undergraduates today.

“The Loop is a wonderful amenity for Washington University students,” he says. “This exciting project will enable students to be more fully engaged in the local community.”

University leaders are working to name the project, meeting with community leaders as well as gathering student input.

Students, faculty and interested neighbors are encouraged to regularly check out the dedicated website, http://loopliving.wustl.edu, to stay up-to-date on the latest developments, including construction progress and details affecting daily life such as temporary sidewalk closures. Visitors also can review other site plan documents and drawings there.

Come together

University staff began meeting with city leaders in University City and St. Louis – as the project straddles city lines – in the fall of 2011 to describe the project and discuss the timeline for municipal approvals. City officials in both municipalities committed to working with the university to ensure the process moved forward in a timely manner.

This site plan shows the five new buildings’ location. Provided by WUSTL Facilities Planning and Management.

The university developed the project to meet the goals of significant community studies, such as the Parkview Gardens Sustainability Plan and the Delmar Loop Area Retail Plan & Development Strategy, which found that area along Delmar was a prime location for additional retail and higher-density housing.

“I am extremely pleased with Washington University’s commitment to University City and this neighborhood, as shown by this multimillion-dollar development,” University City Mayor Shelley Welsch says. “These new buildings will bring enhanced economic vitality to the area, and the addition of 22,000 square feet of commercial space. This project along Delmar is a big plus not only for this neighborhood but the whole city.”

St. Louis Alderwoman Lyda Krewson also looks forward to the project.

“The addition of both new businesses and additional students living in the Loop is a tremendous asset for the city of St. Louis,” Krewson says. “The Delmar Loop is such an interesting, eclectic part of both the city and University City, and Washington University’s investment will bring added benefit to this vibrant area.”

According to Adelstein and Rose Windmiller, assistant vice chancellor for government and community relations, the leadership provided by elected officials in University City and St. Louis, and the input from municipal staff members, were both critical in the design and approval phases of the project.

“We are indebted to many in the community for their support of this project, and grateful for their input,” Windmiller said.

WUSTL staff attended or held more than 60 meetings on the project during the past 14 months with both internal and outside organizations, and the end result, Adelstein says, “is a testament to what can be done when we all work together.”