Behind the construction fence, the scaffolding and her sturdy brick exterior, the former M.L. Parker Building in downtown Davenport is being revived back into a grand old dame.
A 1920s department store turned office building, it is the first construction project in Restoration St. Louis' latest historic redevelopment, City Square. For months, the building has been a flurry of activity as area construction workers from across the trades work inside and out to renovate the seven-story building into Class A office space and 20 luxury apartments.
Located at 2nd and Brady streets, the building is one of the anchors to the half-city block that will become the $60 million City Square. The Putnam Building, which sits like a bookend at 2nd and Main streets, remains an active office building as it waits for crews to complete the Parker building. The Putnam office building will then be converted into Blackhawk Suites, which will be a sister to Restoration St. Louis' Hotel Blackhawk with hotel suites and luxury apartments.
"There's no more Parker, Putnam buildings. Now, we're just calling it City Square," said Amy Gill, who owns the property with husband Amrit Gill.
City Square, which also will include renovations to the connecting Center Building, marks the fifth historic renovation in downtown Davenport for their development company.
"We are high-end (apartments), so they have to be perfect," Gill said as she toured the construction's progress. "Every closet will be a walk-in or huge. Every bedroom has a bathroom. It makes a difference to the clientele we are serving. Almost all (the units) will have amazing views."
With 11-foot ceilings and windows as large as 8-feet by 18-feet for the some of sixth floor tenants, Jim Horner, superintendent for BSI Constructors, the general contractor, said "When this is done, it will be a showplace."
On a walk-through of an apartment floor, where framed walls began to outline the different rooms, Gill talked excitedly about the amenities the residents will share with the office tenants and future Blackhawk Suites guests.
The Center Building will be a second floor connection between the Parker and Putnam buildings with 12 apartments, executive conference facilities, a fitness center, and some retail. Blackhawk Suites will house 61 suites, a bistro, bar and 14 luxury residential units. A Sky Bar will be built on top of the building. Also included is the former First Midwest Bank building, to the north of the Parker building, where Restoration St. Louis has proposed building a new urban campus for Scott Community College.
The collection of buildings in the downtown core is where the Gills had proposed building Davenport's land-based casino. After their proposal was not selected, the idea for City Square emerged reincorporating many of the ideas proposed in their casino bid.
The office building will be anchored by Wells Fargo, which announced plans in April to relocate its downtown bank to City Square. It will occupy the first floor of the former M.L. Parker Building, which has sat vacant for decades. The bank also will have offices on the mezzanine level and part of the second floor. A full-service branch, Wells Fargo will have a drive-thru on the north side of the building in what is now an alley and nearby parking lot.
Ruhl Insurance and Butler Insurance, now tenants in the Putnam, also each will occupy nearly a floor in the office building. The third floor still is available for lease. Horner said work in the Wells Fargo space is moving toward a goal of turning the space over to the bank in March.
The project actually began in February with demolition of all the interior office walls and removal of all the infrastructure. Since then, workers have been installing new mechanicals — including electric and plumbing, framing and drywalling apartments and offices.
From the outside with the main floor storefront windows removed, passers-by have seen the work progressing. Cranes have routinely lifted mechanicals and materials to the upper floors. Other workers have been cutting out the holes for additional windows and busily tuckpointing, cleaning and waterproofing the brick exterior in a race against the weather.
"Structurally, it's a very good building," Horner said. "Cosmetically, when we get done it will shine."
Presently, he estimated about 60 construction workers are on site, but that could climb to 120 at one time as the finish work moves forward.
He added the unseasonably warmer weather has been a help, but they are prepared to bring in temporary heaters to keep the space warm for workers and their handiwork. Once the building is enclosed, the building's actual heating system can be put to work.
"Every window gets replaced," he said, estimating that amounts to more than 200 windows, including 40 new windows being cut out on the rear of the building alone. "The first windows should go in the first of December, the last one at the end of December on the northwest side. So we're hoping for east winds."
Marge Stratton, a commercial real estate agent with Mel Foster Co., has been hired as the leasing agent for the commercial space. "We want to find a couple more tenants and then we'll be done," Gill said.
Stratton has represented the building for many years through its various office tenants and a redevelopment plan pursued in 2007 by a Baltimore developer that ultimately did not succeed.
"The greatest advantage we have is the location. It's in the center of downtown, has great views and availability to occupy next year," Stratton said. The buildings have great history, great bones, great architecture. This is one of the few pieces of what our original downtown was. It's bringing history back to life."