City Foundry STL: Breathing New Life, Character into Old Manufacturing Hub

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By KERRY SMITH, Editor

(Sep-Oct 2019 Issue of St. Louis Construction News & Review Magazine)

Transforming an old manufacturing site into an urban mixed-use mecca while preserving as much of its original character as possible is the objective of City Foundry STL, a $230 million redevelopment project coming to life in Midtown St. Louis.

City Foundry STL is but one facet of $8 billion of development-related investment occurring within a five-mile stretch from the Gateway Arch to Washington University in St. Louis.

Steve Smith, CEO of Lawrence Group, is principal owner and developer of City Foundry STL.  Located on 14 acres, the site is bounded by Forest Park Avenue on the north, Highway 40 (Interstate 64) on the south, Spring Avenue on the east and Vandeventer Avenue on the west.

Smith developed City Foundry STL’s master plan in close collaboration with the neighboring Cortex Innovation District, directly west of the project site, to propel and sustain the synergy that both share in terms of innovative minds and their brightest ideas. “This building (City Foundry), in many ways, represents our past and our future,” Smith said. “On this former manufacturing property, they made things. Now we’re making ideas,” he added, referring to the site’s segue from the manufacturing era of old to today’s innovation era.

City Foundry STL sits on property once belonging to one of the largest electrical manufacturers in the nation. The original foundry opened in 1929 and for the first 40 years, the site was known as Century Electric Foundry, where a vast variety of electric motors, castings and automotive parts were produced. After the final property owner, Federal-Mogul Automotive, closed its doors in 2007, the property stood vacant until Smith and team began preliminary work to develop City Foundry STL. The decade-long dormancy presented challenges and opportunities, Smith said.

“This property was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places for its significance to local industry,” he said. “And although the site endured the effects of neglect from standing vacant for 10 years, it also offered opportunities to retain historical features – such as large pieces of manufacturing equipment and building infrastructure – to preserve the character of the space. We’re doing just that.”

Large-scale remnants, evidence of the foundry operations that occurred there for more than 70 years, include a 100-foot-long gantry crane, adjacent to what will soon be City Foundry STL’s food hall. Discoveries such as the crane continued during the early phases of remediation, site work and when construction commenced in early 2017. Another find was a perfectly shaped ball formed from molten steel, four feet in diameter. A host of 1930s-era steel rail trestles are also being cleaned up and retained in place. Large steel riveted beams and columns provide the original foundry structure; these are also being left in place. “We’re not painting over any of the original steel,” said Smith. “We’ll coat it to protect it, but visitors and workers will still see its rusty appearance. We call it ‘the patina of age.’”

A cadre of 50 designers, according to Smith, have worked on the schematics of the project, including how to reclaim a sizable collection of smaller gantry cranes discovered in tunnels underneath the original building. “We continue to find more and more amazing remnants dating back to the beginnings of foundry operations here,” said Smith. The limited number of remaining foundry workers, he said, have been invited to visit the job site to see the progress and shed light on more details of what life was like in the former manufacturing epicenter.

Long before any ground was broken on the mega-project, master planning and substantial environmental due diligence and remediation occurred. SCI Engineering, Inc. performed site feasibility and subsurface evaluations. The firm then built a strategy for tackling the environmental liabilities inherent in an old industrial site and began to remediate them.

Trey Coad III, SCI Engineering VP, said services performed included a variety of environmental evaluations such as sitewide assessments, hazardous materials testing, remediation planning, cost estimating and abatement observation, testing and documentation. Geotechnical engineering and design were also key in identifying options for bringing new life to the property.

“Securing Brownfield Remediation Tax Credits was critical in order to help offset development costs associated with site remediation,” said Coad. “It’s particularly important when you have a number of environmental liabilities to address and the costs are incurred early in the construction phase.” According to Coad, City Foundry STL qualified for nearly $6 million in credits as issued by the Missouri Dept. of Economic Development. “We were able to assist the development team in the application process and provide the remediation observation and documentation required to verify compliance with both the DED and the Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources. The remediation design and construction phase went extremely smoothly, especially considering the uniqueness, size and complexity of the project,” he added.

S. M. Wilson & Co. is construction manager of phase one of the project, which involves more than $100 million and more than 300,000 square feet of construction work.

Developing a solution for restoring original steel beams marred by their encounters with heavy equipment through the decades has been another creative challenge for S. M. Wilson and team.

“Our approach continues to be that if it’s salvageable, we’re going to save it and preserve it,” said Kerry Lorts, S. M. Wilson project manager. “Throughout the construction process, we’ve held to the mantra, ‘What would the plant manager do?’ to keep us in the proper mindset. We’ve left as much of the character of the original foundry as possible with the perspective that it’s more important to preserve relics than to make things look new and precise.”

In addition to the oversized crane, original masonry lining the interior walls of what will be part of the food hall has been left in place, cleaned but not modified. Smith said construction teams intentionally left walls as is rather than replacing it with a modern brick façade to retain character and comply with historic preservation standards.

According to Lorts, making sure that required window replacements meet current energy standards for sound and light transmittance while achieving a look to retain historic integrity to retain the building’s overall character presented a surmountable procurement challenge. York, PA-based Graham Architectural Products assisted in this capacity. In addition to windows, acoustical treatments have also been a priority. “Because this building is situated close to Highway 40 (Interstate 64), acoustical considerations are essential,” said Lorts.

Speaking of building a project within a stone’s throw of the interstate, S. M. Wilson orchestrated detailed logistical coordination with multiple entities including Missouri Dept. of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, Ameren Missouri and Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District.

MoDOT and S. M. Wilson worked closely to ensure that demolition and rebuilding of the south wall of the original1930s foundry occurred without incident. The wall, not structurally sound enough to remain, was taken down and rebuilt to match the original masonry details.

Making the most of very limited time, new windows to enclose the building along Highway 40 were critical, according to Lorts. Coordination of access and ongoing traffic along Forest Park Avenue on the tract’s northern boundary was also critical. Smith said the project site’s proximity to Highway 40 (I-64) and the fact that there are well-traveled thoroughfares on three of the site’s four sides added to the complexity.

“Our team worked closely with MoDOT on how we planned to protect the traffic along Highway 40 as we closed a 260-foot (one-eighth mile) stretch of the interstate and tore down the south wall,” Smith said. “We closed down that section of the interstate on a Friday night so we could take down the wall. We worked steadily over the next 48 hours to remove and reclaim each original brick for reuse. By Monday morning, Highway 40 was back open to traffic.” Lorts and Smith said the new south-facing masonry wall was rebuilt according to historical preservation standards. “The masons rebuilt many walls exactly as they had been since the 1930s,” Lorts said. “They’ve cleaned off the bricks but we’re leaving the original paint and graffiti on them and relaying them as is. Being able to integrate modern construction methods within the framework of the quality craftsmanship that built the original foundry is a really cool component of this construction project,” Lorts added. “These masonry structures are one example of that integration.”

S. M. Wilson’s scope of work includes the core and shell of the foundry building (on schedule to reach substantial completion in early 2020), the core and shell of the 124,000-square-foot, office space, 133,000 square feet of retail space (Q2 2020) and a two-level, 500-space parking garage (late 2019 completion). The parking garage alone was comprised of 304 precast concrete pieces, according to Lorts.

Some of City Foundry STL’s amenities, he noted, will include a bike share, electric recharge stations and a ride-sharing drop-off area. The site will connect to the planned Great Rivers Greenway Choteau Greenway for easy access to Saint Louis University, Cortex, Metro stations and a pathway to Forest Park and a route to the Gateway Arch.

As an illustration of the magnitude of labor personnel working on this job, Lorts said more than 1,000 people have gone through orientation to prepare to work on the City Foundry STL site. “On any given day, we’ve got in excess of 150 workers on site,” he said.

In addition to providing site feasibility, Lawrence Group is performing $30 million worth of construction work during phase one, including the build-out of the 54,000-square-foot Alamo Drafthouse building and tenant spaces for Orion Genomics’ office and lab spaces, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, Tulsa-based McNellie’s Group Fassler Hall (with an outdoor beer garden) and all the tenants in the food hall, according to Scott Zola, Lawrence Group director of construction services.

Another formidable project task was hauling in 70,000 cubic yards of soil in order to build an extensive earth retention system – a temporary retention system built of steel and wood with a permanent system made of concrete, built directly behind it – to support the parking garage. The system’s function is to support both the adjacent Byco Building (30,000 square feet of retail space plus 30,000 square feet of offices) and the parking garage on the northeast corner of the site. Extensive underground stormwater retention infrastructure has also been built with rows and rows of storage tanks to divert stormwater runoff from the eastern portion of the site, Lorts said. Ameren Missouri installed new lines and a new electrical grid at the site with the capability of integrating City Foundry STL’s grid into a future Ameren substation nearby, just south across Highway 40.

Cutting five large one-foot-thick underground concrete bays into the existing south wall foundation and removal of the abandoned viaduct along Spring Avenue was another notable construction component. A series of large, rectangular steel hoppers remain atop the foundry building as another reminder their original purpose of loading and storing bulk manufacturing materials, Lorts said.

Underground work on the site included contending with more than 100 overflow and roof drains that comprise the main and emergency piping systems. Dan Laughlin, president of O.J. Laughlin Plumbing Co., said his firm is working on the shell plumbing for City Foundry STL’s new main building and the parking garage. “Installing these drains on the roof that features a variety of unique structures and shapes made this work interesting and unusual,” said Laughlin. “Our team is very excited to be part of this cool urban development,” he added, noting that his company is also a specialty subcontractor on two nearby jobs, Rockwell Brewery at 1320 South Vandeventer in The Grove and the old Armory building in Midtown St. Louis.

Other material quantities used in building the project’s phase one that point to the enormity of what’s taking shape are: 10,591 cubic yards of concrete poured (enough to fill The Blues ice rink 16.8 feet high); 145,000 linear feet (equivalent to 27.5 miles) of conduit; 475,000 linear feet of wire (enough to stretch from St. Louis to Springfield, MO); and 250 tons of steel (enough to manufacture 193 automobiles).

The timing of City Foundry STL’s emergence couldn’t be more ideal, according to Smith, as the city’s downtown-to-midtown corridor continues to synergize as a true innovation nucleus.

“We are at a time in St. Louis when we are becoming a vibrant knowledge economy city,” Smith said. “The concept of City Foundry STL – what we are really trying to do, and why projects like this even happen – is because we believe that if we’re going to compete in a global economy, and if our kids and their kids are going to compete as well on the international stage, our companies are going to need to be knowledge-based with growth potential. The epicenter for what we see as a knowledge-based future exists around St. Louis’ universities, its medical centers, the innovation community and businesses that currently exist in that stretch of land between downtown and Saint Louis University. All different types of projects with all types of developers and investors are making it happen. At the end of the day, City Foundry STL is seen as an amenity to the innovation that surrounds us.”

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