Regional leaders came together Tuesday in downtown St. Louis to celebrate the groundbreaking of the America’s Center expansion project known as AC Next Gen.
The groundbreaking kicks off the much-awaited expansion and facelift for the America’s Center Convention Complex, which was last updated in 1995. Speakers at the groundbreaking discussed the first phase of the multi-million dollar project, including a 72,000 SF exhibit space with natural lighting and a new entrance at Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and 9th Street; more than twice the number of loading docks for access to the exhibit space; a food farm; and other improvements to meet the needs of today’s events.
The design for the AC Next Gen project was guided by the Explore St. Louis National Customer Advisory Board (NCAB), a select group of meeting and event professionals. This board was instrumental in providing feedback, which resulted in innovative enhancements to the project.
Architectural design and engineering for the project is being led by Fentress Architects with many specialized consultants including St. Louis based firms KAI Enterprises, David Mason Associates, Patterhn Ives LLC, Kiku Obata & Company, and Arbolope Studio. Program management is being led by Kwame Building Group, with subcontractors including Burns & McDonnell, Etegra, Lion CSG, and Webb Engineering Services.
Support for the project came from area utilities including Ameren, Spire, AT&T, and others, which relocated utilities from the portions of 9th street to be closed.
Speakers included Tishaura O. Jones, Mayor of the City of St. Louis; Dr. Sam Page, St. Louis County Executive; Deputy Comptroller LaTaunia Kenner representing Darlene Green, Comptroller of the City of St. Louis; Tony Thompson, Chairman/CEO, Kwame Building Group; and Kathleen Ratcliffe, President of Explore St. Louis.
“The last few years have been very challenging for the industry, and that makes today even more important: we are back and building something new that will benefit St. Louis and event planners for many years to come,” said Kathleen “Kitty” Ratcliffe, President of Explore St. Louis.
“This expansion to America’s Center will help secure its place as a beacon for travel and tourism in the Midwest, creating good jobs for working families across our region,” said Mayor Jones. “Attracting more conventions and attractions will strengthen our city’s urban core and make Downtown an even better place to live, work, and play.”
“Our geographic location makes St. Louis a perfect place to host national events,” said County Executive Page. “AC Next Gen ensures we’ll have the infrastructure to support those who want to gather here.”
Comptroller Darlene Green added, “With the economy rebounding, that means over 90,000 jobs depend on our capability to bring events to our hometown. This expansion solidifies us as a competitor in the national market.”
The AC Next Gen Project will be funded by existing hotel tax payments and expects to increase direct spending of meeting and events at America’s Center to $394 million annually, generate 491,000 in room-night demand, and support 4,950 FTE jobs post-expansion. The project’s cost of $210 million will be paid without a tax on local residents. The City of St. Louis and St. Louis County have each approved $105 million in new bonds, backed by a regional hotel tax paid only by guests staying in area hotels.
The first phase of the project includes the following elements.
– A new 72,000 SF exhibit hall expanding the existing hall 4 westward onto the block between MLK, Cole St., 9th, and 10th. This will replace the old unattractive C-9 parking garage. The new hall roof has a 210-foot clear span for ultimate exhibit flexibility. It features natural daylight from windows located above the level that exhibit booths occupy. Natural daylight in an exhibit hall makes it much more inviting for visitors and is a significant new trend in the industry. Black out shades will be fitted to ensure the space can be darkened for audio-visual presentations.
– The new hall is set back from 10th street approximately 75 feet to provide for a food farm that will supply fresh produce for the center’s kitchen.
– The new hall is accessed from the new 9th street concourse and a new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & 9th Streets entrance, infused with daylight, featuring tall ceilings and networking lounges.
– Last is an expanded, enclosed loading dock directly serving the three north exhibit halls. It more than doubles the existing loading dock capacity and is configured so that trucks no longer need to back into the dock blocking Cole Street as they do today. Cole Street will be reduced to 3 lanes, more conducive to the residential neighborhood to the north, and is provided with a new sidewalk and landscaping where there was none on the south side of the street. The opaque façade screens the docks and trash dumpsters from view and features an iconic “Super St. Louis” sign to help brand the center and provide that #Instagrammable image that tourist venues aspire to have.