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Old Posted Nov 3, 2005, 6:34 AM
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Suburban Lou Suburban Lou is offline
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Location: Inner Exerbia
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Lofts aren't the only housing being built downtown
By Tavia Evans

The Ely Walker Lofts on Washington Boulevard.

The market for housing in downtown St. Louis is becoming more diverse, offering high-end condominiums, townhouses and finished lofts along with traditional open loft spaces.

Pent-up demand is driving the market, said Jim Cloar, president of Downtown St. Louis Partnership, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving downtown.

About 9,700 residents live downtown now, he said, and by 2008 that number is expected to bloom to almost 15,000. And they're not just young and single urban dwellers anymore.

Downtown developers are building varied products to meet demand - especially from a growing segment of empty nesters who want less house and upkeep and are interested in a more finished look.

That's part of the idea behind the loft corridor's newest entry, the Ely Walker Lofts at 1520 Washington Avenue. The 365,000-square-foot building is to have 173 lofts with carpeting in some rooms and more plastered and painted interior walls.

All units would include hardwood floors and more finished spaces, a trend away from the concrete floors and open ductwork in lofts built just five years ago along the same block.

The Ely Walker lofts would range from 1,000 to 1,700 square feet. Prices could start at $140,000 and go up to $275,000.

Retail space and a restaurant could occupy 40,000 square feet on the first floor.

"Our product adds to the range of lofts and locations you can now get downtown, and these are more on the softer side," said Paul Giacoletto, director of operations for Orchard Development Group. "That range has helped the market stay stable, with something for everyone who wants to move back to the city."

The absence of high, warehouse-style ceilings and columns made finished condominiums a better choice for the Marquette building, said Steve Smith, president of the Lawrence Group, which is developing that building at Broadway and Olive.

At the 93-year-old Marquette, 82 condominiums and 40 apartments are planned for the former office building, along with about 25,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor. Carpeting and some hardwood floors, along with finished walls and luxury amenities, are part of the $53 million renovation.

A YMCA will continue to occupy two floors, and first-year residents will receive a free, year-long membership.

"We felt there are a lot of people in the metro area who think downtown would be fun, but aren't ready for a loft lifestyle and want a more finished product," Smith said. "This eases them into it."

The Arcade building, under development by Pyramid Construction, is also being marketed as a luxury condominium development, with 140 units under construction at 800 Olive Street.

The differences between housing styles often depends on the building's function in its former life. Washington Avenue had its beginnings as a garment district; later, the area played a major role in dry goods manufacturing. So, many of its building have large floor plates and more depth than standard office buildings.

"Washington Avenue's buildings lend themselves toward lofts, and that's what the market has been interested in," said Matt O'Leary, vice president for commercial development for Pyramid.

"Now we've gotten to a point where we have lofts and more finished spaces. ... People in the suburbs moving downtown want something dramatically different than what they had in Chesterfield, and that means having different finishes and textures to choose from."

But the traditional loft spaces aren't going away. As the market for downtown housing matures, varied home products are likely to be in demand as more residents gravitate to downtown, along with the amenities and services that prospective residents expect.

"The market is nowhere near tapped; we're in a second stage of development now," O'Leary said. "We now meet a broader group who see it as less risky, with more support services and more to offer, and they're ready to come in and be a part of what's becoming a neighborhood."
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