Cotton Belt demo permit application unauthorized, building owner says

Katie ArnoldJP In The News, News, Other News

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Collaborate News Archives | UMSL

Feb 16, 2022

Riverfront development

The old Cotton Belt building, on First Street along the riverfront, on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, belongs to the Justine Petersen organization. Photo by Hillary Levin,


ST. LOUIS — The red, blue, yellow and orange eastern wall of the Cotton Belt building adds a rare splash of color to the otherwise gray North Riverfront, making the historic structure easy to spot for motorists entering Missouri on the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.

A demolition permit filed Monday would seem to indicate time has finally run out for the long-vacant, historic rail depot constructed in 1911.

Or maybe not.

The building’s owner, a company affiliated with nonprofit community development lender Justine Petersen, said it did not authorize the demolition permit application.

“Justine Petersen has no interest or intent to demo the Cotton Belt Building,” Galen Gondolfi, Justine Petersen’s chief strategy officer, said in a statement.

The permit to demolish the Cotton Belt says the application was filed by Justine Petersen Properties LLC, care of Brandon Costello.

Justine Petersen Housing and Reinvestment Corp. late last year transferred the building, at 1400 North First Street, to Justine Petersen Properties LLC, of which the nonprofit is the sole member.

But Gondolfi said “Costello is in no way associated with Justine Petersen Properties LLC — or Justine Petersen in any fashion.”

Costello’s LinkedIn page says he is the director of finance and development at Ashley Energy, the company that operates the downtown steam loop and, just a few hundred feet south of the Cotton Belt, the energy plant that powers the steam loop. He previously worked at several area real estate companies, according to his LinkedIn page.

Costello did not immediately respond to a message left at his extension at Ashley Energy, and the company didn’t immediately respond to an email.

Justine Petersen has owned the Cotton Belt for more than four years, one of several properties the nonprofit has acquired in the area after interest in the neighborhood faded following the ill-fated attempt to build a new NFL stadium in the area.

Past owners have been unable to finance a rehab of the structure, which in recent years has served as a graffiti canvas, unauthorized homeless shelter and postindustrial photography backdrop. No development plans for the Cotton Belt are imminent, Gondolfi said, though the organization has reviewed development proposals from time to time.

The city’s Building Division is still reviewing the application. And the Cotton Belt is on the National Register of Historic Places, so it would also need to be reviewed by the St. Louis Preservation Board before a demolition permit could be issued.

Still, Gondolfi questioned how someone could “get that far” in the demolition permit process without showing legal authorization from a property’s owner, calling it “cause for concern.”

Originally posted at 5:40 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15.