University of Missouri–St. Louis breaks ground on new Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center

A group of people don hard hats and shovel dirt during a ceremonial groundbreaking

From left, Vice Chancellor Lisa Capone, UMSL Alumni Association President John Hixson, student Meredith Stroud, Vice Chancellor Reggie Hill, Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, Maureen Richter, Laura Richter, Dan Richter and Senator Brian Williams don hard hats as they shovel dirt as part of a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center on Tuesday afternoon at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Faculty, staff, alumni, students and supporters of the University of Missouri–St. Louis gathered in Alumni Circle Tuesday afternoon to mark the start of construction on the new Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center.

The new 31,000-square-foot center will connect to the J.C. Penney Conference Center and is intended to serve as the gateway to UMSL for prospective students and their families while also providing a permanent home for the university’s more than 112,000 alumni.

A crowd gathers under the shade of a tent to listen as Vice Chancellor Lisa Capone speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center

Louie the Triton (at left) watches as a crowd of about 100 people gathers under the shade of a tent to listen as Vice Chancellor Lisa Capone speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center. (Photo by Joe Cavato)

“The Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center will be a place to welcome students into the often-confusing world of higher education while simultaneously giving those who’ve already experienced its transformative power a place to return to and give back,” Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said as she addressed a crowd of about 100 people, some of them spilling out from under the shade of a tent on a warm summer afternoon.

The idea for the dual-purpose center excited alumnus Kirk Richter nearly two years ago when he and wife Maureen joined Sobolik on another warm summer afternoon for a golf cart tour of the UMSL campus. They discussed several projects to which the alumni couple might lend their financial support.

“We stood in front of that brick wall right here and talked about an idea, a vision for the future that embodies so many aspects of what Kirk sought to achieve for this institution and the many lives touched,” Sobolik recalled. “It was in front of that brick wall that Kirk’s eyes lit up. They lit up because he could see the vision.”

Richter, who earned his degree in accounting as a member of UMSL’s second graduating class in 1968, was a proud supporter of the university throughout his life and was eager to give back to honor the role it played in setting him up for professional success. He served as president of the UMSL Alumni Association and was a member of the Chancellor’s Council during his retirement after a more than 30-year career at Sigma-Aldrich. He and Maureen provided a lead gift for the proposed Welcome and Alumni Center shortly before his death in January 2022.

Laura Richter and her daughters stand with Louie

Laura Richter and her daughters, Abby and Bella Schamel, take a photo with Louie the Triton before the groundbreaking for the Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center. They joined her brother, Dan Richter, and Maureen Richter, the widow of the late Kirk Richter, at the groundbreaking ceremony. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

His presence was missed at Tuesday’s celebration, but Maureen was on hand along with his son, Dan, daughter, Laura, and two of his grandchildren. They each donned hard hats and picked up shovels to take part in the ceremonial groundbreaking.

“The groundbreaking was quite meaningful for our family,” Laura Richter said. “It was a poignant way to celebrate our dad and his commitment to UMSL, which has always meant so much to him.”

“We also appreciated connecting with colleagues and friends who shared how he had touched their lives and how grateful they were for his generosity and support of the university,” Dan Richter added. “Hearing the comments offered at the ceremony reminded us that this gift not only strengthens the university but also the surrounding neighborhood and larger St. Louis community.”

Architects from the Lamar Johnson Collaborative provided the design for the new center, which has a $16.5 million fundraising goal. To date, UMSL alumni and donors – including the Richters and Terry and Stan Freerks – have contributed $9.1 million toward the project. The university is also directing $4.3 million from the $40 million in appropriations it received through the American Rescue Plan Act for its construction.

UMSL is continuing to raise donations to for the remainder of the project. The new center will serve a critical role in helping attract future students to the university.

“The campus visit experience is the most important component of our student recruitment efforts,” said Reggie Hill, UMSL’s vice chancellor for strategic enrollment. “Having a modern and dynamic Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center strongly demonstrates to the prospective students and their families that both the university and the alumni are committed to their academic success and their professional future. Bottom line, like many things, first impression matters. Winning the hearts and minds of prospective students begins with a positive first experience.”

The center will be a place to launch campus tours for prospective students and will be home to the Office of Admissions. It will also house the UMSL Alumni Association and Office of Alumni Engagement, providing space for alumni to network with each other and also interact with students eager to join their ranks.

Chancellor Kristin Sobolik talks to alumni Stan and Terry Freerks at the Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center groundbreaking

Alumni Stan and Terry Freerks chat with Chancellor Kristin Sobolik during the groundbreaking event for the Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center. The Freerks are among the alumni and donors who have lent their financial support to the project. So far, UMSL has raised more $9.1 million in private donations as fundraising continues. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

The Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center is only one of the many projects getting underway this year as part of the Transform UMSL initiative, which includes more than $100 million in investments to centralize the university’s academic core on North Campus, make improvements to University Libraries and renovate classroom and laboratory spaces to better serve the needs of students now and into the future.

It will also be demolishing several aging buildings on South Campus in the next three years to clear space for the proposed North St. Louis County Business and Workforce District, a mixed-use commercial and residential development including apartments, condominiums, restaurants, grocery and office spaces and expanded healthcare services, as well as workforce, business and research incubators.

Federal ARPA funding, directed by the state of Missouri, is supporting the work, along with private donations.

Missouri Senator Brian Williams played a pivotal role in advocating for the funds, which Gov. Mike Parson included in the state budget last year. Williams was on hand for Tuesday’s groundbreaking.

“There has not been any investment in this corridor since the ’60s,” Williams said. “Because of the leadership of Kristin Sobolik, because of the leadership of St. Louis County Councilwoman Rita Days, because of the leadership of countless other people in this region, this university is going to be known for what it has done for a very long time – create opportunities for people that go directly into our workforce day one. That’s a big deal. That is a tremendous deal.

“At the state level, one thing that I talk about all the time is that the St. Louis region makes up 40% of the economy, meaning you all drive the economy for the entire state of Missouri. We should invest in it as such, and it starts right here at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.”

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