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Strong St. Peters economic growth shows little sign of ebbing

Construction on the Amazon fulfillment center at Premier 370 Business Park. [City of St. Peters photo]

Economic growth in St. Peters has taken a variety of forms – one being larger developments like an Amazon fulfillment center that means big buildings and thousands of jobs, another being Dogtopia, a doggy daycare facility with designs to provide shelter for as many of the estimated 18,000 or more dogs in the city.

The economic growth St. Peters has seen in recent years shows no signs that it might be ebbing. Some examples of that were apparent at the city’s Board of Aldermen meeting on Dec 20.

The board approved the issuance of $100 million and $140 million in taxable industrial revenue bonds to pay for the construction of an 855,800-square-foot center at 4000 Premier Parkway to house the Amazon fulfillment facility, which is expected to result in 1,500 new jobs.

“The city of St. Peters has shown its professionalism and its business acumen in keeping up with us,” said Ryan Wilson, Amazon’s director of economic development, who spoke at the board meeting. The construction progress at the plant is a result of that, he said.

Meanwhile, aldermen also approved a conditional use permit for Dogtopia, a franchised doggy day-care facility proposed at 6140 Mid Rivers Drive.

Zachary Weikel, owner and operator for Dogtopia, said the business would be the first for St. Charles County and one of about 80 nationwide. He said estimates are that 68 percent of homeowners have at least one dog and 28 percent have at least two dogs. Weikel said those numbers mean there may be 18,500 dogs in the city and that potential market attracted him. Like Wilson, he commended the city for working with him.

“They [the city] have been very supportive,” he said.

St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano said one of the reasons why the city has been successful in drawing new business is its “FasTrac” system for working with developers. The city offers a one-stop permitting process with staff working to expedite development proposals.

“It’s really important because any developer that comes to our city, the bottom line is that every day costs them,” Pagano said. “So when you can streamline things, it’s good for them, good for the city [and] it’s good for other businesses coming here.”

Julie Powers, St. Peters’ director of planning, community and economic development, said, “It’s part of our branding and what we’ve been doing for some time.”
Pagano said Amazon and other developers are finding that their experience with St. Peters is unique.

“There is nothing that can compare to St. Peters,” he said in an interview after the board meeting. “Wherever they [Amazon] go, we’re going to be the example for them for any other city they ever go to.”

Inside the new Grove Collaborative warehouse in St. Peters. [City of St. Peters photo]

A long list of developments
Major fulfillment centers and storage buildings like Amazon, Grove Collaborative, a 250,000-square-foot Best-Buy warehouse and a 51,000-square-foot Saia LTL Freight Terminal are among a long list of developments at 370 Premier Business Park. Nearly 2 million square feet of space – office, retail and light industrial – opened in 2017.

There also is ongoing redevelopment in the city. Some of those businesses include:
• The Fresh Thyme market on Route 364 at Woodstone Drive, a 27,709-square-foot grocery store.
• Regions Bank, with locations on the east side of Mid Rivers Mall Drive, north of Route 364; the west side of Jungermann Road, north of North St. Peters Parkway; Veterans Memorial Parkway and east of Cave Springs Boulevard.
• Freddy’s Steakburgers on Veterans Memorial Parkway, east of Cave Springs Road.
• Five Stars Granite, a 9,600-square-foot building for processing and storing granite on the south side of Didion Drive, east of Mid Rivers Industrial Drive.
• The Shoppes of St. Peters, located at Mid Rivers Mall Drive and the I-70 Service Road North, which continues to add businesses. The center now has 250,000 square feet of retail space.

Residential proposals include:
• Meadowridge Apartments on the south side of Route 364, east of Rockridge Drive, which is now under construction and will include 180 units.
• St. Peters Apartments, now under construction on Mexico Road, east of St. Peters Centre Boulevard, and which will include 265 units in two four-story buildings with parking garages.
• 10 new single-family lots in a new phase of the Townes of Belleau Creek, located north of Mexico Road and west of Belleau Creek Road. The lots will be known as the Park at Belleau Creek.
• 57 single-family, maintenance-free home lots and one commercial lot planned by Payne Family Homes on Mid Rivers Mall Drive, south of Mexico Road.
Additional developments being planned include:
• Home2 Suites by Hilton that will include 106 rooms and be built on Veterans Memorial Parkway, adjacent to the KIA auto dealer.
• St. Peters Medical, a 7,800-square-foot facility that will provide urgent care and is planned for the northwest corner of Sutter’s Mill and Jungermann roads.
• Dudas Fitness, a 9,450-square-foot building to be located on Harvester Road, east of Jungermann Road.
• Pure Apartments, now under construction on Cloverleaf Drive and which includes 137 units in multiple three-story buildings with amenities.

“In the heart of St. Peters, right here, we are the largest economic synergy center in the county because of the cars, because of the shopping available and because of the places to work,” Pagano said.

Apartments being built across from the St. Peters Rec-Plex on Mexico Road. [City of St. Peters photo]

Becoming a mature city
Since the 1960s, St. Peters was known as a center for single-family development. The “Golden Triangle” that includes an area bounded by Interstate 70 to the north, Hwy. 94 to the east, and Hwy. 40/61 to the south and west, included a swath of vacant land that was a hotbed of new housing driven by a migration of people from St. Louis County.

As a result of that migration, St. Charles County’s population grew from over 144,000 in 1980 to near 300,000 in 2000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But as time went on the amount of suitable vacant land declined and places like St. Peters filled up. Through the recession in the mid-2000s, St. Peters’ development demographics began to change.

Powers said some of those changes might have stemmed from a reaction to the recession. Plans had been there for years to promote the development of large tracts protected by levees such as 370 Premier Business Park, she said, but no one had acted on them. A court fight with an environmental group and St. Charles County that stalled development in the business park also ended in 2012.

“Some of it was just post-recession,” Powers said. “Nobody had developed industrial ground for a long time. No one had done office warehouses for a while.”

She said the city had a big block of land that was appropriately zoned under single ownership, shovel-ready and the infrastructure was there. “A lot of it was, after all those years, we were in the right place at the right time, with the right available land,” she said.

With the smaller businesses, reasons for growth include increased awareness about St. Charles County and options available in St. Peters, Powers said. She points to the county’s population growth,  the strength of St. Peters’ population and the income levels among residents in places like the Route 364 corridor as being attractive to business developers. Dogtopia is one example. “When he quotes the number of dogs, I go, ‘wait, what?’” Powers said, with a bit of a laugh.

“Our infrastructure is in really good shape. We have a good road system. Our utility department is very well run,” Powers said. “The other thing is that we can respond quickly, so if somebody needs utility service and that’s going to make or break a development … our FasTrac process can make that happen.”

Apartments being built across from the St. Peters Rec-Plex on Mexico Road. [City of St. Peters photo]

Outside observer Greg Prestemon, president and chief operating officer for the St. Charles County Economic Development Council, which promotes economic development countywide, said the city’s large tract of land has been well publicized and is a selling point for the county overall.

“The hot spot for industrial land and smart warehousing is definitely in St. Peters,” Prestemon said. “It’s been a long time in the making.” The city began working on 370 Premier Business Park as much as 15 years ago. Prestemon said those efforts are starting to bear fruit. Two or three thousand workers will be working at 370 Premier Business Park at this time next year, he estimated.

Fill-in commercial and manufacturing may be the city’s next boom, along with apartments. “It’s part of the maturation of St. Peters as a city in that it is largely built out. Now you have to go up,” Prestemon said with a laugh.

Large tracts set aside for single-family homes aren’t available now. Prestemon, Powers and Pagano said instead the city has become a desirable site for apartment developments and some senior single-family housing. Those apartments may draw as many older adults and empty-nesters as millennials.

The future is change
Powers and Pagano expect more changes in St. Peters’ economic activity. Powers said there is still land in 370 Premier Business Park that’s available and there are possibilities for light manufacturing and pockets of commercial such as restaurants or gasoline stations to support workers at the business park.

Mid Rivers Mall is doing better than some comparable malls in the St. Louis area, Powers said.  Still, St. Peters officials are following the fate of Sears, which has a store in the mall. Like other municipalities, they’re watching the “recalibration of retail” and trying to read a future in which factors such e-commerce play a significant role. Some retail businesses simply have moved to newer areas. The “newest girl in town,” the Shoppes at St. Peters across Interstate 70 from Mid Rivers Mall, is one of those areas.

Even as retail relocates and shifts, Powers does not view local communities competing against each other.

“There are times when a restaurant goes to O’Fallon and we think, ‘Oh gee, we would love for them to go to the empty Bob Evans,’” Powers said. “But I don’t feel like it’s competition. Because I feel like the retailers do their homework, find their broker, find their location and land; and we usually are all happy because it helps the whole county.”

While Powers and Pagano feel apartments are becoming more popular, there is still some single-family housing activity. Single-family homes in the $125,000 to $175,000 range sell quickly. “Those are on the market and off the market in a day,” she said. “There is so much demand.”

Pagano said there are developers looking at the city’s older residential neighborhoods and wanting to buy maybe two or three houses and build a larger home.
“That’s something we never predicted,” he said. The city is looking again at its long-range planning.

Pagano, like other local officials, is worried about the impact of traffic flow on local interstates. For examples, a railroad overpass across I-70 and Wentzville that is causing traffic bottlenecks may discourage new developers is not corrected soon. Pagano said he hopes to improve the Cave Springs/I-70 interchange.

But along I-70 is not the only hub of development. Pagano said the city also is looking for development in an area protected by a levee near the Old Town part of St. Peters near Dardenne Creek and he sees the city looking at a new downtown area extending from Lindell Bank on Mexico Road to Menard’s that could feature a combination of businesses.

He said some of the changes come from the input of residents, employees and surrounding businesses.

“Change has got to improve the quality of life of St. Peters residents,” he said. He said he is optimistic about the city’s future.
“We’re finding that people making investments in our area are seeing that they are getting a good return on their investments,” he said. The city aims to keep it that way.

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