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Thursday, December 2, 2004

Mexican Hat Factory Redux

A good thing that I've been seeing around Saint Louis lately is the updating of historic buildings that underwent earlier renovations that weren't very respectful of architectural features. People are taking out dropped ceilings and carpeting and re-opening large, hemmed-in windows and doors. This is far from the norm, regretfully, but it seems that a significant number of people are amending past mistakes. Certainly, Missouri's 1997 historic rehab tax credit provides an incentive to remodel previously-updated buildings in a manner more sympathetic to their unique architectural features.

One of the biggest of these projects is happening right now at the "Allen Market Lane Apartments," better known as the Mexican-American Hat Factory, in Soulard. This 100-year-old block-sized factory sits at Russell and Tucker. McCormick-Baron spent $4.8 million to renovate it in 1980, for elderly apartments. Under their new moniker, McCormick Baron Salazar, the firm is renovating it again, this time for $11.8 million. They are removing dropped ceilings that obscure the 470 10-foot-high windows, replacing all of the windows and fixtures and... keeping all of the residents! The work progresses around the residents, who will stay in the building. The building will remain in use for moderate-priced elderly apartments.

This is a great example of how developers nowadays can restore apartment buildings without having to sell out units as condos and force out residents to finance renovation and make a huge profit. Of course, this project benefits from $7.7 million in state and federal historic and low-income housing tax credits. Andy Trivers, designer of the new MetroLofts, Hi-Pointe Lofts and other housing projects in the city, is the architect.

The project coincides with the current renovation of nearby building also designed by the firm of Weber and Groves, the former City Hospital at 1515 Lafayette. That project, however, will not create any affordable rental housing.

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