Brick by Brick: Austin Barzantny’s Redevelopment of the Central Corridor

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At a time when St. Louisans associate empty buildings with empty promises, Austin Barzantny is making a statement. The president of Grove Properties, Barzantny is turning the dilapidated into development by helping to transform the city’s central corridor into bustling localities where residents can live, work and play.

A St. Louis native, Barzantny caught the real estate and development bug as a child after becoming fascinated with St. Louis’s local architecture. With preservation in his pedigree, Barzantny was driven to develop, preserve and modernize forgotten building spaces for generations to come. Since its inception over a decade ago, his development and property management company has been responsible for reviving over 50 buildings in the central corridor, neighborhoods he calls home.

As he points out, this connection to his stomping grounds guides him both professionally and spiritually. “This is where I live; these are the neighborhoods I know and love. From a real estate perspective, I know the market there and like to stick with the areas I’m most familiar with: the Central West End, the Grove, the area near the medical complexes and Cortex. For me, developing this region also makes smart business sense because Forest Park Southeast is a newer historic district, which makes its properties eligible for tax incentives for restoration.”

Despite the voices of naysayers, Barzantny has amassed a career developing properties in the central corridor, enabling him to become a prolific figure in the area, both as a working professional and a resident. The realtor reflected on his success. “With development, you learn by doing it. It’s very tough to earn or study this business with a textbook. Friends thought I was crazy buying property in Forest Park Southeast and the Grove 10 years ago, but I saw the opportunity of location being close to the park, the medical center and on the central 40/64 corridor. Others thought there was no way I could get a new condominium project out of the ground in St. Louis when everyone else is doing apartments, but living here, I saw a need for new, modern, contemporary housing for people to be able to own, not just rent.”

Barzantny’s passion for building community is another aspect of his success. “I love seeing people move into a home or apartment that, just a few years before, may have been falling down,” he says. “It’s exciting to see the economic impact of your projects on the individual as well as the area surrounding it. Development and preservation create jobs in the short term and offer long-term economic benefits to the city.”

Grove Properties is currently in the midst of its most ambitious project to date, the 4101 Laclede Building, which is being built in partnership with Atrium Development.

With an illustrious career marked with continued progress, the forward-thinking developer commented on his passion for transforming derelict spaces. “There’s no better feeling than seeing the transformation of a distressed building or vacant land into a functional and productive piece of property. Real estate development is about taking calculated risk and minimizing it and that risk and adventure it creates along the way.”

In a city where it is always construction season, Barzantny commented on the challenges and benefits he’s dealt with throughout his career. “I think the first obstacle in any type of development is financing both with the banker and on the investor side. It’s also important to find good contractors. For me, I’ve been lucky that the city, the aldermen and the communities that I work in have not been an obstacle at all; they’ve been great to work with.”

Although Barzantny has spent time living in other cities, his civic pride for his birthplace has never waned. His love and appreciation for St. Louis’s architectural legacy and the potential for future development excites him. “St. Louis has so much to offer as a city. I am driven by the opportunity it affords me to put those qualities in the best light and bring new and exciting components to current residents and new transplants. As a resident of the Central West End, I saw the need for sleek, modern residences that spoke to a modern population that is moving back into the city after years of retreating to the county.”

Despite his enthusiasm, Barzantny is aware of the abundance of abandoned buildings in the city; however, he believes St. Louis is in a good position to better itself for development. “After many years of people preferring suburban living, interest in a more urban environment that offers walkability and convenience is on the rise. We have to continue to attract more people to our urban environment by focusing on our strengths, beautiful parks, public institutions and the vibrancy and diversity of our city and its booming technology district.” M