Bull Moose and What Grand Center Could, Should, and Might Become

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In February of 1962, Don Beattie, a mechanical engineer, founded Bull Moose Tube Company. The company began with one tube mill and was originally located on 1822 Cherry Street in Wellston, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. – This is the opening history of Bull Moose, which recently announced it will move 80 jobs from the outer-ring suburb of Chesterfield, MO to the City of St. Louis’ Grand Center arts district.

The Missouri Theatre building will soon be the new home of Bull Moose. The company plans to occupy 25,000 sf, sharing the building with a 145-room boutique hotel, restaurant, banquet rooms, coffee shop, bakery, and yogurt store, according to reports.

Missouri Theatre Building before_after

Today, Bull Moose has close to $500M in revenue across eight locations in the U.S. and $1.5B and 60 locations worldwide. Caparo Group, a British company founded by Swaraj Paul, an Indian-born entrepreneur, has owned Bull Moose since 1989. Caparo supplies steel to various industries including automotive, aerospace, agriculture, and medical.

Grand Center is home to the Fox Theatre, the St. Louis Symphony, Jazz at the Bistro, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Sheldon Music Hall…you get the idea, but other than adjacent, but separate Saint Louis University, the area hasn’t been known an employment center. It’s also been rather devoid of new residential development.

Capro Group, the British parent company of Bull Moose will be co-owners of the renovated building. The $51M renovation may prove to be just the beginning of Bull Moose’s impact on the district. While long vacant historic buildings have been brought back to life, new construction has been elusive. A vision drawn up by the Lawrence Group shows just how big ambitions for this development partnership may be.

To-date, revitalizing Grand Center has focused on cultural institutions and entertainment. To a large extent this has been successful. However, a long stalled over-designed, and decorative infrastructure heavy $70M capital campaign still hasn’t launched, and the multi-million dollar ArtWalk has always been an overly expensive solution to basic infrastructure needs. The greenway planned for Spring Street is still years away, and should run on Grand to bring people to the heart of the district anyway (think Indy’s Cultural Trail). And there’s still one significant historic building to renovate as well.

{image from remake of Washington Boulevard at Grand}

Art Walk_Grand Center{Art Walk is designed to connect various cultural institutions}

What’s been missing is job and residence density. An aerial rendering (top) shows mid-rise mixed-use development on existing surface parkings lots east of the Missouri Theatre building and KDHX along Washington Boulevard. At least in this early vision, Nuelle Auto Services, Sunrise Chinese, and a small building on the northwest corner of Theresa and Washington, could be removed. Residential and office space above street-level retail, wrapping structured parking cover surface lots west of Theresa.

Bull Moose CEO Michael Blatz told the Post-Dispatch in June the company “wanted to be in a more vibrant business center, closer to technology centers – T-REX and Cortex, and the academic universities…The move should “broaden our employees’ world view.” (Bull Moose owns the building it occupies in Chesterfield.)

That’s really an amazing statement. And it’s not to trash any locale, but rather recognize the diversity and energy of the one of the City’s most vibrant districts. The reality is that Chesterfield and Grand Center are quite different. And yet, Grand Center is not yet T-REX or Cortex (though is obviously closer to both).

St. Louis is missing the “Why Companies are Moving Downtown” trend, or at least rhetoric, of late. Many companies, from Scottrade, to Edward Jones, Monsanto, and Reinsurance Group of America, have been happy to make big investments near existing locations in more suburban settings.

But with more than a $1B of investment at the city’s largest medical campus, a $500M new hospital coming to its nearby second largest campus, a couple thousand housing units under construction, retail, and moves like Bull Moose, maybe St. Louis is charting a different course. Hubs of development focused on neighborhoods and innovation communities may become the city’s strength.

The further development of Grand Center requires more than additional performance venues, museums, new street lights, or signage. Jobs and residents are needed to create a community. An anchor and developer are needed to do something on the scale shown here. With Bull Moose and the Lawrence Group Grand Center may finally be ready for it’s long awaited transformation.

Grand Center aerial rendering before_after

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  • Andy
    • Ted Yemm

      I think its a good sign that the new director is coming from Cortex. Connecting all of these pockets of development will help them all be more sustainable.

  • Chicagoan

    Isn’t the Urban Chesnut biergarten in this area as well? Really cool place.

    That’s a whole lot of parking, as it stands.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I don’t believe there would be a net loss of parking. Actually parking will be added so as to not lessen supply for existing venues, and providing more for new residents and workers.

      • Chicagoan

        Perhaps they could at least construct a nice brick parking garage, or something. Anything but the dreaded surface lot!

        • Alex Ihnen

          I believe first proposals had concrete garages with exposed facades to the street. Those should be a non-starter. The plan was to have any new garages wrapped with retail and residential (per the master plan), but that’s easier said than paid for.

  • Presbyterian

    No neighborhood in the region has embodied such unfulfilled potential as Grand Center. It has the best bones of any place in St. Louis… and amazing architecture, respected institutions plus a major university next door. But district leadership has never seemed to prioritize adding residents.

    No neighborhood without neighbors.

    I hope this plan comes to realization!

    • John R

      It also is nice to see North Sarah Phase III making progress, with part of it crossing over Vandeventer to help reactivate the NW portion of the neighborhood.

      Grand Center is sort of a key crossroads for the city where quality infill can help stitch up some significant vacant space in the Central Corridor and hopefully provide some momentum for north city.

  • Andy

    Bull Moose is looking towards the future. They know Millennials will soon be a huge part of the workforce and that many do not want to commute from The City or inner more ring of St. Louis County to Chesterfield, Creve Coeur, Saint Charles, or Des Peres. Soon Scottrade, Edward Jones, Monsanto, Reinsurance Group of America, Express Scripts, CitiGroup, and others will realize they are losing talent to companies located in downtown, CWE, Clayton, Midtown and other areas with better access to transit and bike paths. Boeing is even dipping its toe into Cortex to feel the water. I hope more follow suit.

    • Chicagoan

      ConAgra Foods more or less left Omaha for Chicago because they felt it offered them better access to “talent”. By “talent” they meant millennials who they feel can help steer the company in the right direction again.

      A lot of young working professionals don’t want to live in the suburbs and drive to work. They want bike lanes, great transit options, and an urban lifestyle.

      What’s it going to take to coax Monsanto downtown?

      • matimal

        Cortex shows that the answer is a supportive framework of infrastructure, tax, and regulation. Single projects don’t change the balance of investment. Investment comes from a broad set of supports that investors believe will continue.

        • Chicagoan

          So, are you a proponent of light rail? That would seem to be a great start, in terms of infrastructure investment.

          • matimal

            I am. The secret is creating a sustainable funding source and leveraging it to maximize increases in property values and property tax income. Still, Silicon Valley has no streetcars and it’s the center of the world.

        • RealityCheck

          You may not be too aware of this, but it was the “old boys club” that funded and continue to fund not only Cortex, but also many if not most of the companies that use the surrounding incubators and accelerators. I know it is popular to bash the old boys club in St. Louis (and most big cities), but you might want to do some research before you make inaccurate statements.

          • matimal

            Who specifically? You and I may not mean the same thing when we write “old boys club.” And why don’t the old boys put their businesses where they’ve supposedly invested their money? I’m unconvinced.

  • Thomas Laufersweiler

    An integrated transit system is key to making this a reality that is sustainable. A sea of parking lots is not a thing of beauty. Also those lots need to be covered with solar collectors.

  • Adam

    Alex, should we be concerned about the mansion at the SW corner of Theresa and Sam Shepard? The drawings suggest that it’ll be accommodated but I haven’t heard anything one way or the other, and you didn’t mention it above.

    • STLNative

      It will remain. The parking garage and mixed use structures will surround it in a U shape.

      • Adam

        That’s great news. Thanks!

  • gmichaud

    I think Bull Moose used to have a little tubing plant out near Dutzow. Its exciting to see things happening and Bull Moose realizing the value of the city is a good sign that St. Louis is on the way back over the long haul.

    I know this area fairly well at this point, my daughter has been a student at Grand Center Arts Academy since it opened, and she is a senior now, so about 5 years I believe.

    To me a major problem is not fully embracing or utilizing the potential for transit. The Plan above does not mention it and if you look at the original Grand District Master Plan done a few years ago, little mention is made of transit, in fact that plan goes to great lengths discussing how to divert traffic around Grand Ave because of expected congestion.

    The Commons public space on Olive in Grand Center for instance is not really a Commons. It was touted as this great public space, but it is surrounded by parking lots and no, absolutely no transit feeds it. Hardly anyone casually crosses it.

    Creating a public space were transit is featured has great potential, if not a necessity for the long term success of Grand Center. Using Washington Ave and taking over some of the parking lots for a major transit stop near the Sheldon is a possibility. It would feed the Commons directly, giving at least some meaning to the word Commons. (Another space that may be a viable transit center is what is now the open space at Lindell and Grand and I would guess there are other locations as well that could work)

    The Lawrence Plan, from what I can see from the perspective drawing takes out a great many parking spaces, which is fine, But discussion of how transit is going to work should be a major part of any planning discussion.

    In contrast, in responding to a recent post on streetcars, I mentioned Helsinki, I wrote to Helsinki City Planning because it appeared that there was no parking to speak of for Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, a stadium the size of Busch Stadium.

    I asked the planner the percentage of transit users and number of parking spaces. I was told there is around 1800 parking spaces although not just for Olympic Stadium (there are other fields, a hockey stadium, a swimming pool in addition to an adjacent apartment district)

    What is important though is that Mr Tikkanen said “We have no idea what percentage of people that attend events at Olympic Stadium take transit. There is only few parking spaces so almost everyone uses transit or goes by walk or bike” He referred me to someone at Olympic Stadium if I needed percentages, but you get the idea, almost everyone uses transit, walks or bikes.

    And if you examine planning documents, not only from Helsinki, but other major cities where transit is successful, you find major discussions concerning the integration of development and transit. (ie David Pass and Vallingby and Farsta, MIT Press, a book about development of suburbs north and south of Stockholm and the inclusion of transit throughout the process)

    St Louis completely misses out on those opportunities. And ironically it is likely to be the catalyst that further encourages decisions like the Bull Moose Company who was looking for a more “vibrant” environment. Transit integrated with physical development helps provide that vibrant environment.

    Helsinki is the same metro size as St. Louis so it is a matter of approach, It is a major failure not including transit planning as part of city planning.

    Helsinki is not dominated by parking like St. Louis, in fact you cannot find the parking isolation zones that you see all over St. Louis City and which defines the St. Louis region. (The city planning of St. Louis contributes to crime by creating these many parking wastelands)

    Go to Google Maps if you want to see for yourself, Google Senate Square, Helsinki. (or Olympic Stadium)

    I find it exciting Bull Moose Tube is moving to Grand Center, but it would be nice to see approaches that build a new future that encourages other Bull Moose style moves.

    St. Louis is not going to have a decent transit system overnight, but when the opportunities presented by transit are ignored, even in major plans such as this, it can only hurt the long term redevelopment of St. Louis.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yes, it’s bad mistake to not make transit an integral part of Grand Center’s future. It’s one organization that should be pushing hard for BRT or a streetcar on Lindell/Olive and Grand – and a real transit station in the center of the district. It’s so disappointing to see the GRG greenway avoid Grand. We keep putting things in a place of least resistance…and so we get the least impact. The goal of avoiding traffic on Grand has been and will be accomplished, to the city’s and district’s detriment. Thanks for the comment.

      • Luftmentsch

        Excellent points. Just start with a double-decker bus or something similarly fun and attention-grabbing that runs on wheels from the symphony to SLU to the Metrolink to the medical complex to South Grand, and you would be doing a lot to enliven that corridor.

        • jhoff1257

          Metro is running expanded “slinky” buses on this exact corridor right now. May not be exciting, but the 70 Grand is the busiest bus route in the system…so people must be taking notice.

          • Brian

            The Grand line has been the busiest line for decades, long before the articulated buses were added. As a rider of the Grand line, I find the articulated buses to be disappointing. Due to the sideways facing seats, it is difficult to walk to the back of the bus without tripping over peoples’ feet.

        • gmichaud

          I agree, a double-decker bus, maybe a red line, or blue, anything but the unwieldy, unattractive design in the form of double slinky, extended buses, or whatever they are called, would be welcome.
          It would be far more valuable to have a double decker red line that stopped, rather than every bus stop, say every mile, two or who knows three miles. Maybe 4 to 6 main stops along Grand to move riders quickly, something like that.
          The addition of double decker buses on a different route schedule would be so much more fun, and far more useful than the albatross buses that plod up Grand Avenue now.

          • Brian

            One other thing to do to improve bus service on Grand would be to install fare machine at the stops so riders would pay their fare before boarding the bus. There are long delays as riders try to feed dollar bills into the fare box. Having riders prepay would greatly speed up the loading process, and cut travel time. In NYC the M60 line at LaGuardia uses this system, and it works very well.

          • gmichaud

            Anything that speeds up the process will help, you are right. Still the double decker bus is an enormous aesthetic improvement. I looked at this a bit, it would probably take a bus line of 12 or more stops along Grand to speed up the movement far more than any prepay scheme. The current line (70) seems to be up around 50 stops or so.
            First of all there is the pizazz of double decker buses in Grand Center, not to mention in the South Grand business district. SLU students will also notice. And no doubt everyone along the line would enjoy the double decker buses
            So instead of fare collection improvements (which still can be done) the quickness of fewer stops creates a parallel line. It meets a public need of fast, efficient transit that the current bus system does not approach. Essentially it is a double layered transit system.

            We hear often how flexible buses are, yet there seems to be little innovation or experimentation. No question the motivation for the introduction of the articulated buses is to avoid the need to hire another driver, yet a more attractive transit system could be a game changer with little additional cost.
            Instead of new directions and a new art, St Louis gets the most mundane, uninspired solution possible, articulated, extended buses.
            Far better to strive to create a beautiful city while meeting transit and people needs. Articulated buses with improved fare collection does not achieve that goal.
            Double deck buses running up Grand is also what I would think Bull Moose would be looking for to justify their move and encourage others: exciting and people friendly urban solutions.

    • Great observation about the Commons. The same can be said about other plazas around town — they are located away from bus stops. Urbanism is not what we see in a city, it’s how people use a city. The placement of public spaces matters a lot more than how many units of housing are in the latest wannabe-modernist apartment box.

      • John R

        I’ve thought about that a lot with respect to downtown and its lack of a high-quality public space… it has a ton of public space but none really serves DT particularly well.

        • Alex Ihnen

          And yet every plan continues to tout x acres of new greenspace or public space. It’s a waste. We poorly use what we have and it’s hard to see a time in the next 20yrs when that space will become densely used. Downtown is over greenspaced.

          • Luftmentsch

            There’s a disturbing trend here (that I’ve seen even in my own relatively dense urban neighborhood), where people embrace the idea of a public, outdoor “event space” that is available for special gatherings six or eight times a year, yet otherwise completely dead. For example, a lot of people think the plaza behind the Old Post Office downtown is a great success simply because it gets used for special events every once in a while and people show up. The Commons in Grand Center seems to have the same justification.

  • tbatts666

    Love some of these ideas. Grand centre has so much potential.

    There must be some challenges. To name one, parking. There is the federally subsidized parking crater run by the VA to the north, and SLU maintained parking craters on the side streets.

    Those parking craters are formidable border vacuums.

    How can we help?

  • Tim E

    Alex, my gut feeling is that you know something that suggests the Lawrence Group and Bull Moose might be farther along for initial infill on this project/vision then what is happening on the site. A lot has to happen before a ground is broken from design, planning to land acquisition to tax credits (including New Market Tax Credits) to getting alderman on board to the biggie of securing financing from capital markets who want justification.
    .
    But it is sure nice to see a company want to take ownership of its surroundings instead of pursuing a campus. Better yet, glad that they brought Lawrence Group along instead of someone like, say Cordish.

  • John R

    And word on when work will begin? I don’t think I ever heard a project timeline when this was announced…. hopefully it’ll begin in earnest soon.

    • Charles

      I believe demo on the old Missouri Theater is completed. Construction documents are looking to be finished by the end of the year with new construction starting early 2016, completion sometime in mid 2017.

      • Tim E

        Heard any scuttle but on infill for this project? Second phase construction and planning.

      • John R

        Thanks for the info!

  • T-Leb

    Bull Moose *Tube*

  • Michael C.

    Wonderful developments! Go Saint Louis! I am so impressed at what has happened in the last 5 years alone.