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Former AT&T tower's nomination for historic status could pave the way for tax credits, redevelopment

The St. Louis Preservation Board will consider Monday whether to recommend nominating the 46-story building to the National Register of Historic Places.
Credit: St. Louis Business Journal
One AT&T Center, also known as One Bell Center, at 909 Chestnut St. in downtown St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — State and local officials could pave the way for historic tax credits to help fund the redevelopment of the state’s largest office building, the former AT&T tower in downtown St. Louis, if a bid to place it on the National Register of Historic Places is successful.

The St. Louis Preservation Board will consider Monday whether to recommend nominating the 46-story building at 909 Chestnut St. to the National Register of Historic Places. The request came from the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office, city officials said. The building, also known as One Bell Center, was built in 1985 and designed by St. Louis-based architectural firm HOK.

Buildings less than 50 years old typically aren’t considered for the National Register, according to the official criteria. But a younger property could be listed if it is “of exceptional importance,” according to the guidelines.

Gaining historic status for the tower would allow the building’s new owner, New York developer SomeraRoad, to apply for state and federal historic tax credits as a tool to fund the costly redevelopment of the massive 1.4 million-square-foot building, which the firm bought from bondholders April 25 for $4.05 million, a fraction of the building’s previous 2006 sale price of $204.5 million.

Before SomeraRoad purchased the tower, a series of other buyers had walked away from contracts to buy it. Developers who looked into buying the building told the Business Journal last year that the building was a challenge to redevelop because of its massive size and lack of parking, which would make the cost of overhauling the building much higher than the low initial price tag.

Other vacant buildings in downtown St. Louis that are targeted for redevelopment are already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Butler Brothers building, the Railway Exchange and Jefferson Arms.

Rosin Preservation LLC, a historic preservation consulting firm in Kansas City, wrote in a nomination form that One Bell Center meets historic guidelines because its principal designer, HOK co-founder Gyo Obata, who died in March, designed the tower as a “precedent in innovative ways, creating a design that clearly related to the context of its surroundings while it rose to new heights in downtown St. Louis.”

The tower’s design is an “exceptionally significant local example of the work of master architects HOK” that “exemplifies the architects’ early exploration of the Postmodern style,” according to the nomination.

SomeraRoad declined to discuss the National Register nomination and has not talked publicly about its plans for One Bell Center. But the developer has a history of pursuing historic tax credits for its redevelopment projects. Earlier this year, the firm sold another former AT&T office building, the Ohio Bell Building in Cleveland, to an investor after landing historic tax credits that will help convert the former office tower into apartments. That building, constructed in 1983, was listed on the National Register as part of a broader historic district that was granted official status last year.

Read the rest of the story on the St. Louis Business Journal website.

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