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
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
“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
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
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,”
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
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.