The story of Good Developments Group, the New York-based firm behind a $1.2 billion plan to overhaul part of the St. Louis riverfront, started with an internet auction.
While searching for development projects a few years ago, Greg Gleicher, 31, the company’s founder and CEO and a 2013 graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, came across an online auction for the long-vacant AT&T tower in St. Louis. Held by a group of bondholders, the structure had been marketed for sale several times in the past four years, but remains empty. Gleicher toured that building, the largest in the region, as well as the Railway Exchange, another of St. Louis’ largest and emptiest office buildings.
While he didn’t pursue those projects at the time, a seed had been planted. He wanted to invest in St. Louis.
“There’s somewhat of a jaded mindset about the downtown, but if you take an outside look at it, it’s got characteristics that are very unique and one of a kind,” Gleicher said. “You just don’t have it anywhere else in the country.”
About a year ago, Gleicher left a top position at New York-based firm JDS Development to launch Good Developments Group and build Gateway South, a mixed-use development just south of the Gateway Arch that would be anchored by what is envisioned as a one-of-a-kind design and construction innovation district that capitalizes on the site’s industrial history and transit links, combined with residential and entertainment.
The St. Louis Port Authority voted last month to sign a preliminary development agreement with GDG, which will provide $25,000 to pay for bond counsel to examine the project’s financial feasibility. The company has 50 of the 80 acres for the project under control and will start closing on properties this fall, said Dennis Lower, the former Cortex Innovation Community executive director who is working on the project as a consultant.
If that happens, it would mark the most significant progress to date on a site where multiple other proposed developments never got off the ground. Known as Chouteau’s Landing, the site borders the Arch and Busch Stadium on the north and Soulard toward the south, in an area St. Louis Development Corp. Executive Director Neal Richardson described as a “desolate and vacant area that has not offered value to the people and city of St. Louis for decades.”
Fixing that would be a daunting task even for the most seasoned of developers. On paper, Gleicher has nine years of experience, most of that with JDS in New York City, but this marks his first venture leading a company of his own. Yet he contends that his fast rise at JDS, where he led the financing and development of multiple billion-dollar projects, compares in scope with the development expertise needed to complete Gateway South.
Joining him as consultants in the development are Lower, the architect behind St. Louis’ Cortex Innovation Community, which is considered a national model for innovation districts, and Hank Webber, the former Cortex chairman and longtime head of strategic planning for Washington University. They see Gleicher as the prototypical developer St. Louis needs to turn around moribund properties like at Chouteau’s Landing: Someone with the combination of an outsider’s experience with an insider’s knowledge of the region.
“St. Louis’ future depends, as a region, on people with new ideas,” Webber said. “We need people who’ve operated in different cities in different contexts to come back here.”
Yet it won’t be easy, and Gleicher still has a lot of details he’s keeping close to the vest. One big one: how he’ll finance the project, which has a 10-year development timeline. He also has yet to disclose the tenants of two 200,000-square-foot factories that will anchor the project’s first phase.
What he has is confidence in his experience, which belies an otherwise humble persona that causes him to shy from the spotlight.
“I’m someone coming from outside of St. Louis, with really heavy ties to the area, but able to see the area from a different perspective,” said Gleicher.