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BUILDING A LEGACY

By Bob Schaper

When Maryland Plaza is reborn as the regal shopping destination of its bygone heyday, the Koplar family will have renewed its legacy in the Central West End—perhaps equaling the accomplishment of their Russian-immigrant ancestor, who built the venerable Park Plaza Hotel immediately next door.

“Chase Park Plaza certainly has an emotional attachment,” says Edward (Ted) J. Koplar, president and CEO of Koplar Properties. “But the whole idea of that neighborhood, knowing what it was and what it could be, was very intriguing.”

Koplar has recently closed on the former Greenberg Van Doren Gallery Building and the Medical Arts Building, which line up neatly with the former Saks Building he inherited in the 1970s. The properties are located on the south side of Maryland Avenue, between Kingshighway Boulevard and York Street. Koplar envisions trendy, street-level retail in all three properties, topped with two stories of high-tech office space.

Before solidifying the $20 million redevelopment plans, Koplar visited similar developments in other cities. He discovered that developers and builders across the nation were trying to recreate the feel that already existed in the Central West End.

“The beauty about the Central West End is that we already have what they’re trying to build,” Koplar says. “It’s just a matter of reshaping and recreating an ambience that was once there in the past. We’ve just got to bring it back again.”


Edward (TED) J. Koplar, president and CEO,
Koplar Properties, in front of the former
Saks Building

David Levine, a consultant from Dallas who has worked on upscale and pedestrian-oriented retail projects his entire career—including major successes such as Country Club Plaza in Kansas City and Larimer Square in Denver—agrees. “Not only would (retailers) like the atmosphere that exists, they’d like to have the building stock, the residential, that’s around (the Central West End),” he says. “It’s very close to high income. It also has a very eclectic urban nature, through its residents. There are a lot of really good drawing cards to this.”

According to Levine, potential clients include trendsetting fashion and home accessories retailers like Ted Baker, Oliver Spencer and Avalon. “We’re going to take this to another level,” Levine says. “It has to be a very concerted effort to get these types of deals done.”

Sam Koplar, Ted Koplar’s son, is vice president of business development for Koplar Properties. It was his great-grandfather, another Sam, who built the Park Plaza Hotel in 1930. His grandfather, Harold Koplar, developed the Lodge of the Four Seasons at the Lake of the Ozarks, which the Koplar family still controls. Now 23, Sam Koplar has taken the lead on the Maryland Plaza project.

“I have a strong sense of pride, as well as appreciation to be able to start my career in such a large project,” he writes in an e-mail. “But if you really look into it as a team effort, it really is not that big of an obstacle to overcome.”

Plans call for a European-style backstreet running behind the west end of the development. In that way, the retail space will be
carried from the front of the property to the back. Café-style seating will surround the new fountain, and a rooftop bistro will look out onto the street. Flower boxes (a central characteristic of the Central West End), will line the sidewalk, and a second fountain will flow from the back wall.

All three buildings are currently empty, except for The Grind Coffee Shop, located in the Medical Arts Building, which will stay open during renovation and remain as a tenant.

A $5.3 million tax increment financing (TIF) plan has been approved by the City, and the money will be used for street, sidewalk and lighting improvements. “If this street is in its current condition, it’s going to be awfully hard to (create the kind of conditions we need),” Ted Koplar says.

The street’s trademark fountain will be torn down and replaced with a new, grander one, closer to the sidewalk. The uneven and virtually undrivable cobblestones of the street will be replaced by colored granite pavers.

“This is going to be a community street,” Koplar continues. “There will be somebody who is totally devoted to promotions and happenings. Whether we bring in choral groups, or ice carving championships, street entertainment...there will always be something happening.”

Koplar has attempted to develop the property for years, but was held back by a dearth of parking. All that changed in 2001, however, when the new Argyle Parking Garage was developed by City Treasurer Larry Williams at the corner of Euclid and Lindell boulevards.

“We went through a period of time when it didn’t make a lot of sense in rehabbing the building because there was no parking,” he says. “I think we’ve finally got everything in line, and we have a master plan, to make this one of the most premier, unique areas—not only in the City, but something that’s going to attract national retailers.”

On the north side of Maryland Avenue, developer Peter Rothschild, owner of Rothschild Development, is converting historic townhouses into high-end condominiums. In Koplar’s mind, both his project and Rothschild’s will only add to the existing attractiveness of the neighborhood.

“You have beautiful turn-of-the-century homes along Maryland Plaza,” he says. “There are going to be trendy, higher-end type stores —stores that are unique to the City—as well as a mix of established St. Louis-type stores that are going to combine to make it a very unique retail experience.”

Koplar also has his sights set on developing housing in the neighborhood, as well. Phase II of his plan involves the properties on the west side of York Street—which he has already purchased. Additionally, he recently reacquired the Lindell Boulevard building in which his former television station, KPLR-TV (Channel 11), was located, along with the apartment building next door.

Maryland Plaza is scheduled to open for tenants in late summer 2005. Levine says shoppers can look for stores that “push the envelope.”

“St. Louis is a market that has very predictable shopping options,” Levine says. “There’s very little in the way of pushing the envelope, or the more innovative (stores).”

The new Maryland Plaza will change that, Koplar thinks, and he says people from the entire region will take note.

“We hope it will be a destination,” he says.
 

 

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Ted Koplar
Edward (Ted) Koplar is recreating the Central West End.

Robert Guillaume

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