Grand Center Performance Green Would Transform Acres of Asphalt Into Home for Circus Flora and More

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Circus Flora is raising its tent in Grand Center. Opening night is just 15 days away. When spectators enter the big top, they will be celebrating the 30th year of the production that aims to meld the traditional European circus with elements of contemporary entertainment.

The tent sits in the middle of a couple acres of asphalt. If all goes according to design, the annual production will soon have a permanent custom designed home. The Grand Center Performance Green by Forum Studio of St. Louis and LAND COLLECTIVE in Philadelphia would transform the surface parking lot into an outdoor home for arts and community events.

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Specifically designed with providing infrastructure and a world-class setting for Circus Flora’s big top, the Performance Green will also accommodate other community and arts activities. It is conceived as a space for a farmer’s market, ice skating, a cafe, art festivals, and other creative endeavors.

The central green is measured to accommodate the big top for the one-ring circus. The tent holds seating 1,150 people, all seated less than 50 feet from the performance. Terraced seating, sweeping walkways, and sculpted entry paths create a true world-class setting for Circus Flora.

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The details look great, but the one design element that is really brilliant and must make the final project cut is the repurposing of the garish, tired, and great Grand Center “PARK” signs. The repurposing and redefinition of these signs, long artfully highlighting where to put your car, is just perfect.

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While some festivals and events will able use Strauss Park and other locations around Grand Center, or close streets, or occupy parking lots, the Performance Green will provide the purpose-built and design infrastructure to support more regular events. Perhaps the most analogous investment in the city’s seasonal art scene was the recent investment in permanent infrastructure to support the annual Shakespeare Festival at the Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park.

The Performance Green would add significantly to the planned investment in green space in Grand Center. Strauss Park, facing the Fox Theatre, was recently remade, and the Tilted Plane at Grand and Grandel will soon be transformed into Arts Academy Plaza. The investments set the stage for the area to support significant development and increased density.

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As with all spaces seeking to achieve the trendy goal of “activated green space”, the success of the park will be determined by programming. The space will provide Grand Center the opportunity to turn outward in a way that’s been attempted with only some success. Projects like the Pulitzer Foundation’s PXSTL have made use of outdoor space, but the venues and museums of Grand Center are quite cloistered.

Circus Flora hopes to attract 35,000 people to its production in Grand Center this year, but the organization is engaged year round in a variety of outreach and educational programs. In addition to its long-standing partnership with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Circus Flora’s Clowns on Call program has visited more than 3,000 children at SSM Cardinal Glennon and Mercy Children’s hospitals.

The circus tent footprint can clearly be seen in aerial images. The second image was posted by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra:

Grand Center performance green aerialCircus Flora via SLSO (1)Performance Green_Grand Center

From the Circus Flora website:

Commissioned by famed Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti for the Spoleto Festival in 1986, Circus Flora immediately set about creating productions unlike most Americans had seen before – productions that melded the best elements of traditional European circus with modern theater techniques and sensibilities. From the very beginning, every Circus Flora production has been an original performance, its storyline often rooted in history or literature. Through the narrative, individual acts are woven into a cohesive story, further developed and enhanced by live music composed specifically for the productions. With its 30th anniversary around the corner, Circus Flora has become part of the cultural fabric of St. Louis—an anticipated event and harbinger of summer in the city.

Owing to its leading role in revitalizing circus as a professional performing art, Circus Flora has garnered national and international recognition, receiving many special performance invitations over its nearly three-decade history. In 1997, Circus Flora’s big top tent was the first ever to be erected at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; and in 2002, the tent was raised at The Lincoln Center Festival in New York City. Additionally, the Circus has made an unprecedented six appearances at the prestigious Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, and five appearances on the Island of Nantucket.

Circus Flora showcases world-class talent by both new artists and venerable talent. Their performances represent the continuation and evolution of circus arts and ensure its future for generations to come.

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  • Framer
  • Luftmentsch

    “As with all spaces seeking to achieve the trendy goal of “activated green space”, the success of the park will be determined by programming.”

    That’s a puzzling comment. Wouldn’t you say that truly successful green spaces are achieved through context and inherent appeal? Even in the most ambitious plans, you never going to program more than 50 events per year. Is it a successful space if it’s empty for the other 315 days?

  • Bill Kranz

    I’m all in for this idea!!

  • StlMax

    Has Grand Center, Inc. announced this project as committed? Has it been funded? If not, is the design complete or conceptual? Has a general contractor been chosen? If funded, when is groundbreaking? I presume that it will not be until after the current season of Circus Flora is completed. Will completion be in time for the 2017 season? The answers to these questions will complete the piece…….from a nice story of a design concept……to a real project that one can invest emotional capital.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Couldn’t agree more.

  • Marcus

    Have the folks who came up with this plan or drew these pretty pictures ever seen what it takes to raise and lower a tent from start to finish? I’m no expert, but there are quite a few structural parts, trailers, heavy equipment work, and so on involved in the whole process. I hope that’s something being taken into account.

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  • STLEnginerd

    While i like and support the idea of a plaza that doubles as a permanent home for Circus Flora, a few things come to mind.

    First this plan will permanently insure Theresa is not restored as a through street. I would prefer to see a plan that included reopening Theresa.

    Second Grand Center is planning a ridiculous amount of Park space. A duel use space to accommodate Circus Flora but only about 1/2 of the total space planned is actually needed for that. Its not clear to me what purpose the Upper Green and Performance Pocket serve that isn’t already covered by the proposal for the Tilted Plane pocket park only steps away on Grand.

    Thirdly this does nothing to resolve the “issue” of the L.L.Culver House at 3514 Delmar. IMHO i think a concerted effort to relocate and consolidate the gilded age mansions of grand center, is an important step in the redevelopment of Grand Center. Other mansions that need similar treatment are the William Cuthbert Jones House at 3724 Olive, the Robert Henry Stockton House at 3508 Samuel Shepard, and the Halsey Cooley Ives residence at 3424 Samuel Shepard. Consolidating these historic structures to a core part of Grand Center would open up the parcels they are currently on to wider scale development, while preserving the architectural and cultural significance.

    IMO The plan would be much better IF it included relocating the Culver House to the other side of Grand, reopening Theresa to through traffic, and shrinking to overall park footprint to being only between Powell Hall and a newly restored Theresa Ave. I would wager relocating the house would add some expense but would be partially offset by a reduced scope for the plaza and the development of the rest of the parcels as Mixed use.

    • SnakePlissken

      Relocating and consolidating the remaining Grand Center mansions is a great idea.

  • TIm E

    Curious if this is going forward because Grand Center making progress on structured parking and possibly some infill projects nearby? Great project in itself but still highlights the fact that you got another project announcement that will mostly be green/park space for most of the year. Grand Center needs some announcements on infill adding structures, residents, workers!!

    • RJ

      I agree. The recent headline: “On the verge of something big,” Grand Center focuses on a small space at Arts Academy Plaza, if this is the something big then what a disappointment because adding residents, infill parking structures and workers is what this district needs more than anything else. This is a nice concept to get rid of some of the surface parking and find a permanent home for Circus Flora but something big needs to involve far more than this. I certainly hope there is more something big such as residential housing. If Grand Center is ever to succeed you need more residential housing! Vibrancy in an area requires people living there.

      • Adam

        Agreed. While I’m also happy that Circus Flora will have a proper home, between this new park, Strauss Park, and the remaking of the Grandel corner into yet another park, Grand Center is wasting space that should be developed for residential and retail. Strauss is a gem. One more small park about the size of Strauss is all that’s needed in such a small area.

        • tony

          It will be nice to have the Missouri Theater building / Bull Moose Tube headquarters finished next year – more similar projects would be great.

  • Dominic Ricciotti

    This Flora project is a great boon to Grand Center and St. Louis culture. Aside from the entertainment/cultural benefits of the programmatic aspects of the project and the high quality of the design, architecturally the project endows the entire Center with a new and long-needed environmental cohesion, especially when joined by the creation of the Arts Academy Plaza and the revamped Strauss Park across from the Fox. There have been too many architectural holes in the Center for too long and way too much asphalt. More can be done with the streetscape of the Center; for example, adding landscaping to the Powell parking lot, at least along Grand.

  • mc

    Fabulous news!