Amrit and Amy Gill started their careers in construction, but along the way, they became what Amy Gill calls “building huggers,” fascinated with architecture and the historic spaces around them. In 2001, the husband-and-wife team founded their own development company called Restoration St. Louis, with the mission of strengthening and enhancing communities by redeveloping neglected neighborhoods and making them great places to live, work and play.
“We get very entrenched in every neighborhood we renovate,” Amrit Gill says. In the years since the company’s founding, the Restoration St. Louis team has braved historic undertakings like restoring The Moolah and The Coronado in midtown St. Louis and dozens of projects in The Grove business district of St. Louis’ Forest Park South East neighborhood.
“We’ve renovated over 400 historic properties in the Midwest,” Amrit Gill says. Along with the St. Louis area, the Gills have also done a variety of projects in Davenport, Iowa. Of those 400-plus projects, all have a common theme: They have soul. And they have to because historic renovations often cost at least twice as much as new builds.
“In a new build, you don’t have to get rid of lead and asbestos,” Amrit Gill says. “You don’t have to worry about how the column grids are. You do it the way you want it. But [historic projects] take a lot more day-to-day attention.”
One of the Gills’ recent labors of love is the brand-new Hotel St. Louis, which opened just before Christmas in downtown St. Louis. Originally built between 1891 and 1893 by Adler and Sullivan, Architects, the Union Trust Building underwent a $68 million facelift from the Gills and their team. It’s now a Marriott Autograph hotel – St. Louis’ first – and features 140 rooms, 14 apartments, one penthouse, two restaurants, a pool and a spa. It also features meeting rooms and a grand ballroom.
The building had been in the same family for 122 years and went up for sale quietly. The broker called the Gills and asked them to come look at it, and they jumped at the chance to lovingly restore the piece of St. Louis history. The Gills put in a bid, and though they weren’t the highest bidder, they were selected in April 2015 because the Cella family “wanted to keep it in the hands of a St. Louis family,” according to Amrit Gill. Although it took a while to get the financing and tax abatements together, Restoration St. Louis was able to start construction on what would become Hotel St. Louis in July 2017. Eighteen months later, it’s now open to the public. But during those 18 months, the team integrated as much St. Louis history, architecture, art and visuals as they possibly could into the space – while paying homage to its designer, the father of the high-rise.
“[Louis] Sullivan made tall buildings tall – those are Frank Lloyd Wright’s words, not my words,” Amrit Gill says. “He was doing things on the cutting edge. He didn’t know how everything was going to work out, so he overbuilt everything. Even the basement [of Hotel St. Louis] is crisscrossed with 30-inch steel I-beams. We had to cut through the steel to do things like put the elevator in.”
The original building already contained several aspects honoring the city of St. Louis, like the fleur-de-lis cutouts in the staircases. The Gills made it their mission to move what Sullivan had already done forward and give the entire hotel as much of a St. Louis feel as possible – down to the minibars stocked with local favorites like Billy Goat Chip Co. chips – just one of the 165 local companies represented in the hotel.
On entering, visitors to the hotel view a lobby that’s equally luxurious and welcoming. Deep blue hues serve as the accent colors throughout the hotel, and arch-shaped patterns can be found scattered all around. Stained glass is currently being installed in the lobby ceiling that paints a colorful canvas for all who enter. Upstairs, the rooms’ custom wallpaper pattern is taken directly from the architecture of the outside of the building, and windows look out to stunning views of Busch Stadium and other historic downtown St. Louis landmarks.
“I think it’s just beautiful,” Amy Gill says, looking out over the hotel lobby. “To me right now, it’s a moving piece of art. It’s changing every day.”
Although the hotel has been open for a little more than a month, features are still being finished and added every day. In addition to the lobby restaurant, Union 30, the Restoration St. Louis team is preparing a restaurant that will open on the rooftop at the end of February. They’re also finishing work on the hotel’s spa and ballroom.
But it’s not just the hotel keeping the Gills and the Restoration St. Louis team busy. Amrit Gill says they have 26 projects open right now, including working on the Seven Gables Inn in Clayton, as well as residential projects. No matter what they’re working on, though, the goal remains the same: Stay true to the mission.
“Most communities need strengthening and enhancing forever, so we want to stay true to that goal,” Amrit Gill says. “The young people within our organization are our future, so we want to make sure they believe in the mission as much as we do and are as passionate as we are.”
Restoration St. Louis, 4240 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314-446-4578, restorationstl.com