HBD Construction

The city of St. Louis may be the Gateway to the West, but it’s older than many of its counterparts in the East — its founding as a French colony predates even that of the United States as a country. 

The city’s magnificent Forest Park — bigger than New York City’s Central Park — is a relic of the 1904 World’s Fair that marked St. Louis’ zenith as an urban center.

In a city rich with so much historic architecture but hurt by decades of urban sprawl, there hasn’t been a residential high-rise built downtown since 1965 — until the Roberts Tower went up in 2010, a modern glass-and-concrete structure along the Mississippi River.

Intended to be built-out as condos, the tower has sat empty ever since — a victim of the real estate bust — but not for long.

“We’re putting on the finishing touches,” says Mike Perry, president of St. Louis-based HBD Construction, which was hired by new owners to finally complete the interior — but as apartments, not condos. The first occupants will move in as soon as May.

The general contracting and construction management firm —in business since 1922 — does new construction but specializes in historic renovation, and this type of project was a learning experience. “This was the first time we took over work on a building that was brand new and that we didn’t construct,” Perry says. “We had an aggressive schedule and we found we could meet it. We confirmed it was possible to do what we set out to do from a cost standpoint.”

The 25-story tower was originally intended to house 55 luxury condominiums; the new plan called for 132 rental apartments. The lobby had already been finished, along with the second-floor banquet facilities, which are used by the adjoining Mayfair Hotel. The rest was a shell. Interior work started last July.

“We had to increase the density. The condos were supposed to be larger, and now we were putting more units on each floor,” Perry says. “Because we were changing the layout, none of the pipe chases lined up. We had to figure out what they had planned with utility pathways and then create new ones.”

Perry says the apartment interiors match the modern exterior of the building. “We put in quartz countertops, sleek cabinets and plank wood flooring,” he says.

Revitalizing City 

Downtown St. Louis is enjoying a renaissance as the economy improves and interest in downtown living has become trendy — and HBD Construction is a beneficiary, particularly since one developer has snapped up historic buildings there.

Chicago-based UrbanStreet Group bought Roberts Tower from the original owners Mike and Steve Roberts of St. Louis, along with several other downtown buildings owned by the Roberts brothers. The Roberts Tower has been renamed The Tower at OPOP, which stands for Old Post Office Plaza. The Old Post Office, which houses retail, food service and office space, is a gorgeous architectural landmark from the late 1800s.

Also on the plaza is the former Board of Education Building, constructed in the 1890s, which was turned into 47 luxury loft apartments more than a decade ago. Now called The Lofts at OPOP, it was also owned by the Roberts brothers, rehabbed by HBD and later purchased by UrbanStreet.

UrbanStreet recently sold a Roberts property it had acquired, the Mayfair Hotel — built in 1925 and on the National Register of Historic Places — to Magnolia Hotels, a boutique hotel chain based in Denver. HBD began interior renovation of the 182-room hotel in December and will be finished this summer.

UrbanStreet also picked up the Orpheum Theater – a 1917 Beaux Arts gem — from the Roberts brothers. “We don’t know what they’re going to do with it yet — likely it will remain a theater – and we sure hope to be involved,” Perry says.

Other projects on deck include Freedom Place, a 1920s vintage hotel. HBD was hired to convert the abandoned, five-story structure into 68 apartments for low-income veterans. The firm is three months into the eight-month project.

HBD is also working on an expansion of the St. Louis Zoo – demolishing an old hospital and renovating a seven-story parking garage – to be completed this summer.

Meeting Demands

The firm may be experts at bringing the past back to life, but Perry prides himself on forward-thinking where sustainability is concerned. “We are increasingly becoming more involved with LEED projects,” he says. Most recently, it converted an old paper distribution facility into a second brewing facility for St. Louis’ Urban Chestnut Brewery. The entirely LEED project was completed in February. “Even if clients don’t want the official certification, we still employ a lot of the techniques. From an energy standpoint, it’s common sense, but it’s also good stewardship.”

Quality control is paramount, Perry says, especially when working on irreplaceable architectural treasures. “Our superintendents do frequent spot checks and we only work with subs who we know deliver,” Perry says.

“When you’ve been in business in the same city since 1922, you have some very long relationships,” Perry says of clients and subcontractors. “Everyone has high expectations and strong accountability.” 

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