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Drury Development In Early Stages of Planning Two 345-room Hotel Towers That
 Would Overlook Forest Park in St. Louis; One Would be a Drury Inn & Suites
 and the Other a More Upscale Drury Plaza Hotel
By Elisa Crouch, St. Louis Post-DispatchMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 21, 2008 - ST. LOUIS -- Drury Development Corp. wants to build two 345-room hotel towers overlooking Forest Park, but the availability of some land needed for it is in question.

The Missouri Department of Transportation owns the 2.5 acres at the southeastern corner of Kingshighway and Highway 40 (Interstate 64). It no longer needs the land, given the new configuration of that interchange.

Drury hopes to buy that land and five houses for two 16-story hotels with three levels of underground parking.

Tim Drury, president of St. Louis-based Drury Development, presented his plans Tuesday night to about 100 residents packed inside Calvary Christian Church for the Gibson Heights Neighborhood Association meeting. The reaction was mixed. The project is in early development stages, Drury said, and he has not yet presented it to the city.

Before any work begins on the $100 million-plus project, the availability of the land must be determined.

Rebuilding Highway 40 is freeing up land from Kingshighway to Spoede Road, including the property Drury wants.

Transportation officials are researching how they acquired the surplus property, and the results will determine which parcels can be sold.

As for the land at Kingshighway and Highway 40, "We don't even know how we purchased this property to start with or what rights we have to sell it," said Lesley Hoffarth, project director for the New I-64.

If the land was once part of Forest Park, it must be returned to the city, Hoffarth said. And that would complicate Drury's efforts to buy it.

In 2007, city voters approved an initiative that requires a public vote before any city park land can be "sold, leased, given away or otherwise disposed of." The initiative was put on the ballot by opponents of a deal to lease 9.4 acres of Forest Park to Barnes-Jewish Hospital, though a deal between the city and the hospital was inked before voters approved the measure.

Park advocates are researching whether the property should be returned to the park, said Henry Robertson, a member of Citizens to Protect Forest Park. The group pressed for the ballot measure.

Last year, the department returned seven acres to Forest Park and took three acres mostly for new interchanges at Hampton Avenue and Kingshighway. The department would have returned more to the park, MoDOT officials said, but they needed to keep maintenance rights on the land. Keeping those rights, after deeding the property to the city, would have required a public vote, some in City Hall warned MoDOT.

Drury told residents on Tuesday night that about 25 percent of the property the development needs is under contract. The Kingshighway location is ideal, he said, given the proximity to hospitals, the St. Louis Zoo and other Forest Park attractions.

"We feel there's a need here to provide hotels to the homes and area businesses," he said.

Residents at the meeting expressed mixed feelings about the proposal. More than a dozen voiced concerns that their streets would become pass-throughs for delivery trucks and hotel guests. Others said they didn't want the shadows from 16-story buildings -- one of which would be a Drury Inn & Suites and the other a more upscale Drury Plaza Hotel.

Later, residents said they like that a corporation wants to invest a large sum of money in their neighborhood, which they've been working for years to revitalize.

"My initial reaction was negative," said Sean Collins, who lives nearby. "But then the more I thought about it the more I thought there was real potential for some sort of development at that end of the neighborhood."

ecrouch@post-dispatch.com -- 314-340-8119

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Copyright (c) 2008, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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