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RJ York Development's Timetable for a 245 room Westin in Clayton, Missouri
 Pushed Back  - But Project Still A Go

By Margaret Gillerman, St. Louis Post-DispatchMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

February 6, 2009--CLAYTON -- While the economy has pushed back the timetable, a developer says a new luxury hotel for Clayton is going to happen.

It would be Clayton's sixth hotel and the first built there from the ground up since the Ritz-Carlton opened in 1990.

The new hotel would be a 20- to 23-story luxury Westin under plans by RJ York Development of Clayton and approved by the city of Clayton, says Robert Kramer, an owner of RJ York.

The hotel is unnamed but is now called the Central Maryland Hotel for its location at the crossroads of two important Clayton avenues. The site is planned as part of a larger mixed-use development.

It would offer 245 rooms, upscale retail shops and restaurants on the lower floors.

York has told Clayton officials that the company has obtained a license agreement to operate a hotel from Starwood Hotels, which owns Westin and several brands, including W Hotels.

Tyler Stephens, principal architect on the project and a principal of CORE10 Architecture in Clayton, is working with Marcus Hotels, a Milwaukee-based hotel management company that would manage the hotel.

"This project promises to give Clayton a new punctuation in the skyline, providing the kind of hip, vibrant hotel scene that the area is currently lacking," Stephens said.

"The design will be modern in every way, from the energy saving technology underneath, to the amenity spaces inside, to the streamlined, bold nature of the facade outside."

The hotel tower would rise on the southwestern corner of Maryland and Central across the intersection from the Clayton branch of the County Library. It's a block north of the St. Louis County government offices, on streets filled with shops and restaurants and close to the Old Town residential neighborhood.

An integral part of the development would lie across Maryland to the north: a public parking garage and an additional 17,000 square feet of retail space facing Maryland.

The garage would provide 377 spaces on six levels (three below ground, two above with a rooftop), with reserved spaces for the hotel and for nearby St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Original plans called for about 40 condominiums at the top of the tower, but the troubled economy has made that something of a question mark.

"It depends on the market at the time whether we'll do the condos or not," Kramer said.

The economy has also made financing more difficult to find, and has pushed back the construction timetable. But Kramer says the project is still a go.

"Because of the economy, we have a little delay, but not too much," Kramer said. "We are expecting to have a commitment on the financing this year."

In some ways, he said, it will be a good time to build. "We think we will get a little better pricing for the construction," he said.

Kramer owns York with his father, Ron Kramer. This is the first commercial project for the company, which has specialized in upscale residential construction.

York also will get some assistance from Clayton, including a Transportation Development District to build the parking garage.

OPPOSITION MOUNTS

From the beginning, the Central Maryland Hotel project has sparked intense conversation. Some praised it as just what Clayton needs: a sophisticated new and bustling place for families and businesses.

But it also has faced opposition -- from a well-organized group of residential neighbors in Old Town Clayton and from a Fortune 500 corporate neighbor.

Old Town Clayton opponents had concerns the project would block sunlight and generate excessive traffic.

The main flash point was the parking garage, which would be right outside the windows and terraces of some of their costly homes and condominiums.

Residents mostly worried about a rezoning that allows commercial next to their residential neighborhood. That zoning will expire if the project does not go through.

Other critics didn't want to see yet another Clayton block of small shops and businesses with loyal followings forced out. And some parishioners of St. Joseph's didn't want the garage to block sunlight into their historic stained glass windows.

Graybar Electric, immediately west of the planned hotel, helped lead the charge. It had waged the same fight successfully two decades ago against another hotel and garage plan.

But 20 years after Clayton city officials scuttled the earlier plan, aldermen in July gave RJ York unanimous support.

Stephens, the architect, had worked with the city to make modifications they hoped would be more palatable to neighbors, city officials said.

"We modified the garage design to accommodate some of the requests and took a story off of the garage," Kramer said. "We pushed back the garage and put in some green space."

mgillerman@post-dispatch.com

314-725-6758

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Copyright (c) 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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