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By Jim Baer

On July 12, 2007 Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri and McCormack Baron Salazar Inc. jointly announced the construction of a new 60,000-square-foot, four-story rehab of the building that once headquartered the Woolworth operation on the corner of Grand and Olive in the historic Grand Center district.

Becky James-Hatter, president and CEO of BB/BS of Eastern Missouri proudly announced the project to be completed and opened to the public on June 24, 2008 to coincide with the start of the national Big Brothers/ Big Sisters convention to be held in St. Louis.

James-Hatter explained in simple terms, the organization needs more classroom space, more office space, better visibility and in a location to better serve its constituency. The entrance to Grand Center served these needs perfectly. “We have at least 100,000 children who need a big brother or big sister,” she says.

“When you see a big brother or big sister with his or her little brother or sister, you don’t know they are part of our organization. They don’t wear uniforms and they don’t stand out. We need more visibility,” she reasons. A street-front location with brilliant signage allows the organization to re-brand itself and make a commanding statement to the community.

The building is 60,000 square feet in size, and BB/BS will occupy one-third of the overall space on all floors including basement storage. A bistro and office space will be located in the building and the board of directors of Craft Alliance announced they will open a satellite location in the Kranzberg Cultural Arts Center in Grand Center. Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, passionate supporters of culture and the arts in St. Louis, have carved out space for a 128-seat black box theatre and an 80-seat cabaret, both to be located on the main floor of the rehabilitated building.

Big Brothers and Big Sisters have a strong working relationship with Saint Louis University and Harris Stowe State University. More than 200 mentors come from SLU. Field trips are taken to the Saint Louis Science Center, the Botanical Garden and other highly visible St. Louis attractions. Now, the youngsters will experience the culture and art at the Fabulous Fox, the Saint Louis Symphony at Powell Hall, and musical productions at the Sheldon Theatre, the Black Rep, the Pulitzer Art Center and other attractions in the Grand Center district. Mentors and children alike will experience art and culture in their very own building.

Craft Alliance is in the midst of raising $800,000 to build out its space, creating its first expansion from the headquarters location on Delmar in University City in 37 years. Generous donations from Nancy and Ken Kranzberg; from local philanthropist Lawrence Cohen, from Emerson Electric, Mont and Karen Levy, Emily Rauh Pulitzer and the Whitaker Foundation will make this move possible.

Finished art on display will be prominent behind four very large street level windows. Budding artists in residents will work on the lower level inside glass booths so youngsters and adults alike will be able to observe their creations.

The overall rebuild of the Woolworth Building is a shade under $14 million. The project is a complexity of partnerships including loans and grants from U.S. Bancorp, CDC, National Trust Community Investment Corp., Grand Center Inc. and several private investors. Hatter-James says this is one of the most complex financial projects in recent years.

“At closing, we had more than 300 documents to sign,” she recalls. Jonathan Goldstein was the rainmaker on the McCormack Baron Salazar team. “The financing work began in March and we closed in July,” reveals Goldstein. “We are thrilled to create all of this new theatre space for the community.” Goldstein recounts that the plan calls for a mix of new markets tax credits, TIF financing, and historic preservation tax credits. The State Historic Preservation Office will have to sign off at the closing of the project.

Surprisingly, the building from the 1930s was in fairly tidy shape, considering it had been abandoned for decades, according to project manager Julie DeGraaf-Velazgues, another member of the McCormack Baron Salazar team.

“There is a great feeling to this building and it is an architectural gem and our job is to restore it to its original splendor,” she says.

What she calls an Art-Deco structure will feature the original terrazzo floors on the main level. “We are creating a bright and esthetic and tasteful interior.  There will be many mix uses for the building and we want this building to feel vibrant day and night.”

Trivers Associates, an urban planning firm, is the architect and S.M. Wilson is the general contractor for the project.

The building will be complete with a roof top deck for private events and skylights and atriums will bathe the building with an abundance of natural light. Creative design work will nullify a lot of black hole effect because of narrowness and depth to the core structure. Portions of the building either has very little natural light, faces an alley or are adjacent to the Continental Building.

Grand Center Inc. has the welcome mat out for the new neighbors. Ken Christian, Grand Center’s events’ director says this project fits a void beautifully. “This is absolutely an important project for the entrance to our community. The corner is so visible,” he reports. The building will be a mere 10 steps from the Fabulous Fox and the structure butts up to the historically restored Continental Building, also on Olive, and around the corner is the recently established Centene Center for the Arts in the renovated Medinah Temple.

“This is very exciting. This will bring new people to the building and add to the cultural offering of the Center,” says Christian.

James-Hatter, who focuses on mentoring and training for her program, credits her board for making this project a reality. She arrived in St. Louis some 13 years ago to run BBBS. “I never had a great vision to do this. This was driven by our board and particular by Todd Epsten, CEO of National Brands. “There was a time when we thought this was not going to happen and we would walk away and develop a new building on a vacant piece of ground elsewhere. Todd (Epsten) encouraged us to stay with the project. The board gave us 24 hours to go or not go. And Epsten says, “Don’t go.”

The budgets are tight and the time frame is even tighter. Those who are directly involved with the rehab vow the project will come out right on time, on budget and will sparkle for all the community to see.

At the same time, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri will serve many more underprivileged and underserved children with vastly increased space.



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