An iconic new home for one of St. Louis’s banking icons
Saint Louis Bank
9811 South 40 Drive, St. Louis, MO 63124
Saint Louis Bank is a local icon. Since 2005, it has been synonymous with banking and business in and around metro-St. Louis. So, it’s only fitting that St. Louis’s namesake bank has moved into one of the city’s most recognizable structures, the former L’Ecole Culinaire building, visible to everyone driving on Highway 40/Interstate 64, at 9811 S. 40 Drive in Ladue.
Saint Louis Bank is a community bank. That means more than just having a regional focus and doing business locally with small and mid-sized companies. It also means literally being part of the community. Clients are neighbors who come to deposit more than just their money—they are sharing their dreams and hopes for the future. In turn, the bank has more than just a financial stake in their customers’ success; it is also invested in the health of the community.
In 2019, Saint Louis Bank was looking for a new front door, through which to welcome its neighbors. Travis Liebig had acquired the bank the previous year with the goal of expanding the local institution from $450 million to $1 billion in assets. The bank had made a name for itself as a trail blazer in bringing banking to the consumer, both online and in-person, making house calls. Liebig wanted to keep that trademark innovation while also investing more physical brick and mortar locations, including proposed new branches in Maplewood and Edwardsville and a central location, a home, where the public could come and do business.
The 20,000-square-foot home office they were leasing in Town and Country at the time wasn’t big enough to accommodate both office space for an expanding staff and a retail space worthy of being the bank’s flagship. After an initial sweep of prospective properties in and around the metro area failed to uncover a match for both criteria, Saint Louis Bank was starting to concede that they might need two separate buildings.
A flagship branch, a headquarters and a billboard all in one
The foundation of community banking is relationships. By really getting to know your clients, you begin to have an instinct for what they want and need—even beyond what they ask for.
It’s the same with commercial real estate.
When Saint Louis Bank first reached out to Hilliker Corporation, brokers Rebecca Thessen and Jeff Altvater didn’t just start flipping through their listings of office and retail properties for lease. They sat down with Liebig and executive members of the bank and tried to get real sense of their objective. They didn’t just want to know what the bank’s plans for today and tomorrow were; they wanted to know where Saint Louis Bank saw itself years and even decades down the road. And when the brokers learned of the bank’s desire to grow its corporate offices and retail space under the same roof, they had the perfect location.
Anyone who has ever driven or ridden in a car in St. Louis knows the brick two-story building at 9811 S. 40 Drive in Ladue. Sitting a stone’s throw from the elevated highway at a bend in I-64/Highway 40, the side of structure is practically a billboard. Approximately 154,000 cars pass it every day. For years, that free advertisement was a metallic toque logo and signage of L’Ecole Culinaire, a culinary school that shuttered in 2017, after its owner filed for receivership.
Since then, the roadside landmark had sat vacant. But where motorists now saw a brick wall draped in a “NOW AVAILABLE” banner, Thessen and Altvater saw potential for a client with vision and resources. As listing brokers for the owners of the property, Thessen and Altvater knew the building inside and out. As representatives of Saint Louis Bank, the brokers felt they knew their clients well enough to know that they could turn this abandoned culinary school into something special. And when they eventually showed the place to Saint Louis Bank, Liebig and company agreed.
“It was the perfect solution for everyone involved,” says Thessen. “St. Louis Bank was able to utilize the maximum exposure the building offers with plenty of room for expansion the Landlord was pleased to have a well-established bank as a long-term credible tenant.”
Room for growth
With 28,000 total square feet, nearly 50 percent more than Saint Louis Bank’s previous location, 9811 S. 40 Drive offers the bank plenty of space in which to expand. They quickly set to removing the former tenant’s heavy-duty commercial kitchens and initiating a $2-million renovation.
The second floor will now be expansive office space for the corporate headquarters. Previously a shop of just 60 employees, Liebig says he expects that number to grow steadily by about 10 percent annually for the coming years. Downstairs, the formerly columned façade will be replaced by a modern retail space with broad windows and glass doorways.
Outside, the surroundings offer as much potential as inside, with easy accessibility from the highway, plenty of parking, and even room for a drive-thru ATM.
“Free parking is almost impossible to find anywhere near Clayton,” says Thessen, “so the fact that the building offers tremendous parking spaces free of charge is a big win for the Bank.”
But, of course, the biggest asset in the deal, as Thessen and Altvater knew from their conversations with the client, was having the naming rights to one of the best-known landmarks in metro St. Louis.
“Visibility was a key part of the appeal,” says Thessen. “Having such high level of exposure really helps the Bank establish its presence in St. Louis.”