Scaling the Mountain


Six years ago, when Pace Properties eyed a rising 74-acre site at what was probably the primary retail corridor in the St. Louis marketplace, the Brentwood, Mo.-based developer knew there was potentially a goldmine in that 100-ft. hill—situated at bustling Hwy. 141 and Manchester Road in the St. Louis suburb of Manchester.

Pace also knew it needed some solid advice before it attempted to build on such steep topography.

Enter Chesterfield, Mo.-based Brinkmann Constructors, who examined the site for Pace. “They had a pretty tall mountain there, literally and figuratively,” said Andy McDonell, project director for Brinkmann. “With the 100-ft. grade change over the 70-plus acres Pace wanted to develop, we knew that construction would involve a tremendous amount of grading and excavation and dirt movement, as well as significant retaining walls.”

Undaunted by the task that loomed, Pace—and Brinkmann—took on the power-center project that would be called Manchester Highlands, and with it, took on an entire neighborhood of concerned citizens.

“The site shares a property line with 24 residential properties, and it was imperative that we work very closely with the residents and the City of Manchester to create a strong buffer between the shopping center and the residential neighborhood,” explained Rick Randall, senior VP of development for Pace Properties.

The buffer was a 15-ft.-high, 800-ft.-long berm topped by an 8-ft. stone and wood fence and abutting a significant green space. Together with dense landscaping, the buffer “effectively sealed off the residential from the sight lines and noise from the shopping center,” said Randall. The residents have expressed their approval for the buffer—and are also applauding the municipal building and public plaza that have been incorporated into Manchester Highlands. The 60,000-sq.-ft. municipal building serves as the police headquarters and a meeting facility for the City of Manchester. The plaza features an amphitheatre and public space for events.

Most noteworthy, though, is the stair-stepping of the retail. Brinkmann built two retaining walls, about 1,200 ft. long and 25 ft. tall, to separate the site into three terraces. The lowest terrace, at 15 acres, features a junior-anchor shopping center with Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, PetSmart and Ulta. Twenty-five feet above is a 20-acre Wal-Mart Super-center pad, and 25 feet above that is a 15-acre Costco Wholesale pad.

To accomplish the three-tiered plan required a “choreographed dance of the excavators,” said McDonell. “We started in September of 2007, taking all the dirt from the low end, moving it up to the high end, all while we were constructing the retaining walls. It was very difficult, especially as we were racing to finish before winter.”

The finished product is a shopping center with an amazing view. “As you approach Manchester Highlands from either direction, you get front visibility on all the stores from the highway,” said McDonell. “That’s because the site is tiered up, not down, rather like risers for the choir. Everybody gets a front-row seat.”

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