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

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