By TIM ROWDEN
Union pension funds are once again at work at Encore at Forest Park, the $51 million apartment project marking the final phase of the Highlands, that had its formal groundbreaking June 28 amid promises of hundreds of union construction jobs and thousands of hours of work.
The project off Oakland Avenue just south of Forest Park is the final phase of the $250 Million Highlands at Forest Park, developed by Balke Brown Transwestern. Encore will be a five-story building of 247 apartments. After completion, it will be staffed with union maintenance personnel.
Encore’s funding is coming from the AFL-CIO’s Building Investment Trust (BIT), which invests union pension dollars in the creation of union jobs.
Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, said the project will produce about 450,000 construction hours for union workers.
“It’s just another project showing the value of Taft-Hartley pension funds and the good they do in our community, putting people to work and giving good returns on investment,” Aboussie said. “The re-investment part is huge. No where else does that happen.”
The Encore phase of the development will be located next to the $42 million Cortona apartments, which opened in 2014, and a medical office building at the southern end of the 26-acre Highlands. Encore’s completion is scheduled for late next year.
Balke Brown Transwestern has spent more than 15 years developing the Highlands on the site of The Arena, which was imploded in February 1999. When Encore is completed, the Highlands will have 725 apartments, 126 hotel rooms, 300,000 square feet of office space and 20,000 square feet of retail space.
The BIT has been behind the entire development and is currently looking at other investment opportunities in this region, as is the AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust (HIT), which recently provided a letter of intent to St. Louis developer Paul McKee to help fund a 500-unit housing development hugging the north and east boundaries of the new National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) site slated for development in north St. Louis. The housing development will include 300 market-rate rental apartments and lofts and 200 single-family homes as part of McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project.
Encore is the latest investment in Missouri for the BIT. Since the fund was created in 1988, the BIT has invested more than $618 million of union pension funds in Missouri on nine protects, including 525 housing units and 1.48 million square feet of commercial real estate.
“There’s a reason they do business here,” Aboussie said. “It just shows you that our developers and contractors and labor force have a very good product, otherwise they wouldn’t’ be looking at this area to make investments. We don’t make them do these things, they come to us. I think it speaks very well for our workforce and for our region that we have the best trained workforce and the best product for the buck. That’s why they do business here.”
The results speak for themselves.
Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council, noted that the adjacent Cortona complex was 100 percent rented before it opened. “They’re certainly getting their investment back,” White said.