City, schools could do more to redevelop Cleveland High, Cohn says

City, schools could do more to redevelop Cleveland High, Cohn says

DUTCHTOWN – In the hearts of its alums, Cleveland High School and its Flying Dutchmen will always soar. But the building where generations of Cleveland students spent four years of their lives stands empty, vandalized and forlorn.

Twenty-Fifth Ward Alderman Shane Cohn, who represents the area that contains Cleveland High, thinks a major chunk of southeastern St. Louis could benefit greatly from a redevelopment of the building. He faults the St. Louis Development Corp. and the St. Louis Public Schools for not doing more. And he says the lack of maintenance has made the property both an eyesore and a danger.

The St. Louis Public Schools is offering to sell the 235,285-square-foot school and 10.8 acres at 4352 Louisiana Avenue for $2,352,850. It’s by far the most expensive of 16 surplus school buildings the district is selling, and the only one on the south side.

“Cleveland High School could be a huge community asset, not just for Dutchtown but for Gravois Park, Mount Pleasant, Bevo, Carondelet, Holly Hills, Tower Grove South and Tower Grove East,” Cohn said in an email. “Over 130,000 people live within a three-mile radius of Cleveland High School.”

Cohn said the St. Louis Public Schools did little to follow through on commitments to maintain the property.

“It’s absolutely awful. They’ve done the bare minimum to help facilitate a sale,” he wrote.

There have been a few offers to redevelop the property, Cohn said.

“They’ve been met with resistance from St. Louis Development Corp., who seem to refuse to acknowledge that incentives should be deployed to help neighborhoods in north city and southeast city versus the central corridor,” Cohn wrote. “The conversation around incentive reform seems to continue to make them hesitant to offer incentives in any area outside the central corridor, which is the exact opposite of what the public has been demanding.”

Walker Gaffney thinks the property could be perfect for the right buyer. As director of real estate for the St. Louis Public Schools, he’s charged with selling the property. He estimates that redeveloping the property for apartments would cost about 10 times the purchase price.

But Cohn said estimates had been between $100 million and $200 million because of its size and the need to develop it for another purpose.

Gaffney sees the property as a potential south side Moolah Temple. The temple, at 3821 Lindell Boulevard in Grand Center, was home to the Moolah Shriners, a Masonic organization founded in East St. Louis. The building has been redeveloped into luxury apartments, a movie theater and a bowling alley. Something similar could potentially be done with the Cleveland High building.

“I see it as a mixed-use opportunity,” Gaffney said. But there are complications. “It’s the magnitude of the project that’s an obstacle.”

The property also includes a football field that fronts on South Grand Boulevard. Strip stores might be built there, but Gaffney’s not interested in selling separately.

“Anybody who wants the football field, they not only have to buy the football field, they have to buy the school,” he said.

Named for President Grover Cleveland, the school was built in 1915 using a design by W.B. Ittner, the architect for many city schools of its time. It closed in 2006.

A major problem now is deterioration, Gaffney said.

“As time goes on, I feel like the project becomes more daunting,” Gaffney said.
“The roof has been compromised by, frankly, people stealing the metal flashing on the flat roofing.”  Vandals have gotten inside through broken windows to damage the interior.

But Gaffney doesn’t think the vandalism would matter with a gut rehab. That would fix any problems caused by vandalism.

Developing the property in pieces might be a possibility, such as its theater and a bowling alley, Gaffney said.

Gaffney said he had had conversations about the project with Otis Williams, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corp., and Cohn.

Jaymes Dearing, a nearby resident, real estate developer and broker and community leader, said there should be a mix of uses on the football field, with commercial uses facing Grand. Then a developer should work on fixing the environmental issues with the old building and gutting it.

“Nobody’s going to tear down that school,” Dearing said. “It’s got to have some adaptive reuse that pertains to historic integrity.”

A gym just north of the building could be used by the public, he said.

Nathan Lindsey, the volunteer president of the Downtown Dutchtown Business Association, said Cohn had been working hard on getting a developer. But Lindsey said the school district and the mayor’s office appeared to not be working as hard. They haven’t responded to letters from Dutchtown residents asking for information on how they can get the property developed.

Cohn said the Alliance to Save Cleveland initially tried to have St. Louis Public Schools re-open the facility as multiple schools.

There is a vision for a community center, along with an emphasis on housing, education and employment, Cohn said. One proposal was to have a data center and hydroponic farm. Another was for a movie theater, bowling alley, microbrewery, urban winery, and hotel with apartments.