A grand ambition realized: Building puts UMSL in media, entertainment district

UMSL at Grand Center

UMSL at Grand Center houses new university classrooms, faculty offices and St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU, UMSL's award-winning NPR station. (Photo by August Jennewein)

A celebration weekend with more than 800 students, alumni, faculty and friends marked the grand opening of the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ newest building – UMSL at Grand Center.

The three-story, $12 million project features a saw-tooth facade and large, plentiful exterior windows (9,000 square feet of glass in all). The building is located at 3651 Olive St. in the heart of Grand Center, a burgeoning entertainment and media district in St. Louis’ Midtown neighborhood. UMSL at Grand Center houses new university classrooms, faculty offices and St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU, the university’s award-winning NPR station.

The celebration began with a reception Sept. 14 to thank donors, and a public open house was held the following day. St. Louis Public Radio aired a live broadcast of the open house festivities, which featured tours and a guest appearance by Renee Montagne, co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Live music included the premiere of an original fanfare by composer and UMSL Professor of Music Barbara Harbach and performances by national recording artists Brian Owens, BM 2008, and Erin Bode.

Montagne, St. Louis Public Radio General Manager Tim Eby and UMSL Chancellor Tom George cut the ribbon and welcomed guests to the building.

“I couldn’t be more excited about what we have here,” George says. “Classes have started. St. Louis Public Radio is on the air, and we are thrilled to have the St. Louis community see the exciting things the University of Missouri–St. Louis is doing in Grand Center.”

A blend of austere simplicity and modern comfort, the building’s interior spaces are largely clad in white and designed to foster engagement. The lobby includes interactive electronic boards that display a building donor list with photos, facility directory and other information.

The Monsanto Community Education Center was funded by a $1 million gift from Monsanto. The center occupies the entire first floor and features three multimedia editing rooms for UMSL students and two classrooms. (See related story: New building, new scholar, new media.)

The center includes a community room that seats more than 100 people and enables the university and St. Louis Public Radio to offer public programs, such as educational lectures, town hall meetings and live radio productions.

“UMSL at Grand Center is a special place, not only for our staff and the students who attend class here, but for the entire St. Louis community,” says Eby, the St. Louis Public Radio manager.

The station broadcast much of the building’s celebration weekend from the community room, and NPR aired its midday news-talk program, “Talk of the Nation,” there on Oct. 3. A live studio audience was on hand as host Neal Conan and guests previewed and discussed the first of three presidential debates.

After broadcasting for more than 40 years from the university’s North Campus, St. Louis Public Radio aired its first broadcast from the new space on June 18. Administrative, underwriting and membership staff moved from the station’s previous location in Lucas Hall to the new digs in the weeks that followed.

The station, which reaches nearly 235,000 listeners a week, occupies about two-thirds of the 27,000-square-foot UMSL at Grand Center. The building includes nine broadcast studios and expanded office space. Eby says the new working spaces “accommodate St. Louis Public Radio’s increased investment in reporters and producers to cover the St. Louis area.”

Another key attribute of the building is its location in Grand Center. The university and St. Louis Public Radio now have a presence in a flourishing part of St. Louis. Within a few blocks are the Fox Theatre, The Sheldon Concert Hall, Grandel Theatre, Powell HallContemporary Art Museum St. Louis and The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.

Next door to UMSL at Grand Center at 3655 Olive St. are: Nine Network of Public Media, the home of PBS station KETC (Channel 9); HEC-TV, a producer of St. Louis-area education, arts and cultural television programming; and the St. Louis Beacon, a nonprofit online news provider.

St. Louis Public Radio has partnered with the three organizations on a number of projects, and the station and St. Louis Beacon signed a letter of intent in October to explore the formation of an alliance to better serve the St. Louis area through journalism.

“We see the digital revolution as a historic opportunity to further establish St. Louis as a leader in journalism innovation,” Eby says. “As we plan together, the core idea that will guide us is the question: Will this help us better serve the community?”

UMSL at Grand Center was designed by architects Heather Woofter and Sung Ho Kim of Axi:Ome of St. Louis. Chiodini Associates served as the architect of record. S.M. Wilson was the general contractor. CBC Real Estate Group, formerly BC Development, is the developer. The university has a lease-purchase agreement with the Kansas City, Mo.-based company.


This story was originally published in the fall 2012 issue of UMSL Magazine.

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