ST. LOUIS — How much history can an office tower built in 1986 have?
The new owner of the former AT&T building in downtown St. Louis — a deserted skyscraper of glass and steel — wants it to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. That designation could net the owner enough subsidies to help secure the building’s future.
New York-based SomeraRoad Inc., which bought the 44-story building for $4.1 million in April, is arguing the tower is worth such a nomination, thanks to its post-modern design and globally renowned architect, St. Louis firm HOK.
Being in the National Register could allow SomeraRoad to receive state and federal historic tax credits that would help pay for its redevelopment.
The National Register of Historic Places is the country’s official list of buildings and sites the National Park Service says is worthy of preservation and protection. There are thousands in the register, from a dam and water-storage reservoir in California to the Wall Street Historic District in New York City. The designation is somewhat symbolic and doesn’t mean a property can’t be demolished or altered, unless local law dictates otherwise. But the register can be a windfall for developers: Tax credits can rise into the tens of millions of dollars for big projects.
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The St. Louis Preservation Board is expected to review SomeraRoad’s request for the building at its 4 p.m. meeting Monday. If approved, the board will direct the city’s Cultural Resources Office to endorse the property for the National Register.
The outdated office building, vacant since 2017, will likely require millions of dollars in order to be adapted for a new use in a struggling central business district that has fewer major companies than ever before.
SomeraRoad has not yet publicized its redevelopment plans for the property, which occupies an entire city block at 909 Chestnut Street, a few blocks north of Busch Stadium.
Somera founder Ian Ross referred questions to Rosin Preservation, the Kansas City-based firm SomeraRoad hired to lead its National Register nomination.
“The rule of thumb for the National Register is that the building should be 50 years of age,” Rachel Consolloy of Rosin Preservation said in an email. “However, you can nominate a property for achieving significance within the last 50 years if it is of exceptional importance.”
Rosin Preservation and SomeraRoad believe the building’s post-modernism architecture makes it a significant example of the work of HOK, previously known as Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum.
HOK designed the tower in the 1980s for AT&T, then known as Southwestern Bell. The stepped top of the building, Consolloy said, is a subtle reference to another Southwestern Bell building nearby that shows how HOK “expertly used the surroundings to inform design.”
The Cultural Resources Office is recommending the Preservation Board approve the recommendation. That would allow the city to prepare a report for Missouri’s State Historic Preservation Office in support of the nomination.
If approved Monday, then the nomination will be presented on July 15 to the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Jefferson City before heading to the National Park Service. The property is expected to be in the National Register by late September, Consolloy said.
Rosin Preservation has helped several properties under the age of 50 get listed in the National Register: the “Flashcube Building” and Kemper Arena — both erected in the 1970s in Kansas City.