Perspectives: Seeing the Future

I recently had dinner with my younger sister who has been a proud resident of Philadelphia for the last few decades. She was back in St. Louis for the weekend to attend a reunion of former employees of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. She has spent life as a journalist. As dictated by geography, we only get a chance to see each other once or twice a year.

During dinner, my sister mentioned that she thinks about our father, who passed on in 2007, every day. That struck me. I think of my father and mother, who died in 2017, often but not every day. It also made me think about the long list of both terrible and wonderful things that our country and the world has experienced in the last decade or so. And how each of us get to see just a few minor threads of the long rope of history.

As a person gets older, you start to notice things that are planned or already happening that you might not get a chance to see completed. Things like calculating the payback of adding solar panels to your home or planting new trees. Or large-scale community building projects like bridges and highways. Or something as fundamentally important as the future of our country.

People sometimes ask, if you could go back in time, which famous person or persons would you like to meet with and have a chat. It’s an intriguing question, and I am a big history buff. For me, though I would rather go forward in future and see how things turned out.

I often find myself on a golf course wondering how someone tromped through densely-wooded hills and valleys and had the vision to see how a beautiful golf course might be coaxed from that landscape. I have the same admiration for those who have that same vision for the built world.

Last month, CNR editor, Kerry Smith and I had a chance to visit and interview a small roomful of people who are bringing the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s $1.7 billion campus to completion in near north city St. Louis. The 97-acre footprint of the site at the intersection of Jefferson and Cass avenues is a literal phoenix rising from the ashes of urban decay. The site itself is an amazing facility that will accommodate some 3,000 plus people who now work in a near-windowless facility near the AB brewery in the Soulard area. When complete, the site will be a jewel of a project with a 713,000-square-foot, four-story main office building, two parking garages, a visitor center, delivery inspection facility and central utility plant.

Looking at the beautiful new facility, outfitted with all of the fittings and security of a small military base, I can’t help but think of the massive new development of the surrounding area which is sure to come. And that surrounding area is still in dire need of a massive face lift.

The nearby, new Homer G. Phillips healthcare facility is already in operation and we know that big plans, some already revealed, some not, are on the drawing board. These kinds of projects provide comfort and optimism for the future of our society.

The Cost Today. The Cost Tomorrow.

Mike Chollet

Think about the last time you bought new tires for your car. Unless you are really into cars, that event was probably preceded by a length of time where you knew the purchase was necessary but, due to the cost and inconvenience, was postponed for a too-long period where you knew you were maybe in some danger but still put off the inevitable. (In Congress, this period of time before actually doing something is called, “Admiring the problem”.)

Once the new tire purchase project was complete, you were most of a thousand dollars less well-off and, aside from vanquishing the nagging feeling of needing to do something you didn’t really want to do, you didn’t really get the pleasure of having spent the money on something more fun. Money spent on maintenance; things like new tires, roofs, HVAC systems are equal parts important and unsexy. But we do these things to avoid even more cost and inconvenience down the road. Being able to plan and save up for such expenditures always trumps unpleasant surprises.

It’s easy to see why maintenance and infrastructure are so easily deferred by elected officials. Such expenditures are rarely popular with the tax paying electorate and the practical gains are generally hidden. No one ever arrives at home thinking, “Awesome, my car did not disappear into a giant pothole today!”

Unlike the rest of us, politicians have the luxury – the imperative actually – of deferring necessary expenditures in exchange for another term or two in office. Who else is rewarded for such short sightedness?

Love him or hate him, our current president is pushing forward the boldest infrastructure plan since the 1930’s. Regardless of the final price tag this will greatly benefit the construction industry. Not only will the country be able to address long neglected matters of maintenance and safety, the vast bulk of expenditures will directly benefit the building community.

Hopefully, we will have the workforce required to get the big jobs ahead done. Baby boomers aging out of the workforce are not being replaced in sufficient numbers. Estimates are that companies will have to double the number of workers now being hired to address the tidal wave of work coming our way. A recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey found that 88 percent of commercial construction contractors reported moderate-to-high levels of difficulty finding skilled workers, and more than a third had to turn down work because of labor deficiencies.

A number of local and national companies and organizations are developing programs to attract and retain young people to the construction industry. These efforts are to be lauded. The importance of assisting these efforts cannot be overstated. 

A recent New York Times article tells us that “Community colleges, which offer a variety of vocational training programs, have suffered steep declines in enrollment. A recent estimate from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that community colleges were the hardest hit among all colleges, with enrollment declining by 9.5 percent this spring. More than 65 percent of the total undergraduate enrollment losses this spring occurred at community colleges, according to the report.” Remember this when considering things like the propriety of money for colleges in the upcoming infrastructure bill.

Our lead article this issue highlights work done on the Blanchette Bridge which connects St. Charles and St. Louis Counties. This 43-year old bridge handles an average of 165,000 vehicles per day and is arguably the area’s busiest bridge. Its longest span is 480 feet. Its westbound width is 60 feet with an eastbound width of 68 feet. The last major repairs to the eastbound bridge were joint replacements done in 2006, according to MoDOT. Projected to take two years to complete renovations, the job was completed in just nine months. The total cost was $33M.

Yes, thirty-three million dollars is a sizeable sum of money but, for scale, just one trillion dollars would fund the similar renovation of more than 33,000 other bridges.

There is a growing sentiment in the country that, now that we will not spending $300 million dollars per day in Afghanistan, that money can be put to better use at home attending to needs that have been long neglected. Everyone who knows what Washington is capable of, understands that a new tornado of cash will always be subject to the money grab of special interests. Hopefully cooler heads may be able to focus spending on actual needs.

I am in my late sixties now and have a lot of discomfort about how my generation has governed the country and conducted big business. Ours has been a privileged generation which has focused too much on the “what’s in it for me”. Hopefully we can pivot to a position which addresses current needs with greater emphasis on the future. Dealing with those needs while being appropriately fiscally responsible will benefit our industry and the country on the whole.

The work can be done now while the federal government is committed to do what is necessary and the cost of money is cheap or we can put it off until neither of these is true.

Perspectives: Building Safety


The tragic building collapse in Surfside, Florida, hit the news as we were in the middle of putting together this issue of CNR. It was sheer coincidence that our 2021 editorial calendar, determined many months ago, included this issue’s feature about building security and safety systems and a feature story on Resilient Buildings that will appear in our upcoming September-October 2021 issue.

When coverage of the Surfside incident began to unfold, we reached out to some of our trusted sources in engineering, architecture and other related disciplines to ask for their thoughts on the Surfside collapse and what cause or causes might have precipitated that horrific event. Even though these companies had no connection to the tragedy, we found no one who was ready to dip their toes into the unfolding story due to the massive loss of life and what undoubtedly will be years and years of litigation.

Early reports about the Surfside collapse uncovered warnings from earlier inspections that the building was in need of massive, expensive repairs. This building was reportedly a middle-class residence, and it seems the cost of repairs would have been overwhelming – tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per family. While it is too soon to know for certain, early stages of the investigation suggest this tragedy was entirely preventable and we will be following the story closely as more is revealed. American building standards are among the best in the world. There is clearly an ongoing need to review, update and, in some cases, improve enforcement, but I think we are most fortunate that catastrophic building collapse of this magnitude is incredibly rare in our country.

 Owners and occupants of commercial structures have a vested interest in attending to the more common safety and security matters that affect everyday life. The attention those issues receive is driven largely by insurance companies who strongly prefer prevention over remuneration. Fire protection has long held a position at the top of the building security pyramid. Over the last decade, other ascendant concerns have come to the forefront such as how to prevent people with malicious intent from entering spaces to which they should never have access, protect business software and computer data systems from a world full of hackers, and provide protections that keep building occupants as safe as possible in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

While our team loves reporting on exciting new projects and product innovations (and we hope you enjoy reading those stories) safety is and always will be an aspect of the construction industry that we take very seriously. We consider it a privilege to serve as an information source for our readers, especially when the subject matter is so very important.

A View From the Top


By: Michael Chollet, Publisher – St. Louis CNR Magazine


Mike Chollet

A few weeks ago, my son and I set out on our annual trout fishing trip to the White River in Arkansas. The Fall weather and Ozark mountain scenery were beautiful and the fish were exceptionally cooperative. We’ve been making the trip for several years now and I always look forward to a stretch of river where there are a number of impressive homes – my favorite sits at the tip-top of the tallest hill in sight, 300 or more feet above the river. The house is easy to spot because of its distinctive red, metal roof. Over the years, it has become a fishing reference point that we nicknamed the Red Roof Inn. I’ve often wondered about how the world looks from way up there.

This year, on our first day out, my son laid his rod aside after a few hours of fishing and pulled a surprise from his knapsack – a small drone with high-def video capability which he launched from the front transom of the boat. He flew it low over the river a few hundred yards and then it rose and rose until it was flying a few hundred feet above the “Red Roof Inn.”  All the while he was controlling it with his phone and viewing the video footage as it recorded. The structure we could see from below was the largest of a few others surrounding a large concrete courtyard. The drone footage showed that this hill was indeed the highest for miles around and the view from the top, as I had guessed, was truly spectacular.

Seeing that little gizmo in action, I felt lucky to be living in a time of such magical technology. Winston Churchill’s life spanned the invention of the airplane and the moon landing, but folks of my generation have witnessed technological advancements that far surpass those experienced by old Sir Winston.

We’ve had the privilege of seeing impressive progress in a lot of other areas as well. As the eldest son of no-nonsense woman who ran her own company for as long as I can remember, it’s meaningful for me to see women gain an increased presence in leadership roles in a range of industries. They are outnumbering men in graduating into professional careers such as law and medicine and the number of women graduating from business schools is nearing 50 percent of all enrollees. Inroads have also been made in the traditionally male-dominated construction industry.

Those inroads and the remarkable people who are forging them were the inspiration for our 2020 Women in Construction Awards which are featured in this issue. An all-star selection committee made up of eight industry insiders took on the daunting task of choosing our winners from among the 60 nominations we received, and we are extremely grateful for their time and effort.

Reading through the submissions, it was clear that the nominees share a common characteristic of tenacity which is a requisite tool for a woman attempting to open doors in the construction industry. The high-achieving women highlighted in this issue scratched out their own futures through advanced education, serious mentorships, challenging work experience and careful cultivation of industry relationships. We salute our 2020 Women in Construction winners and applaud all the nominees on their success. Your contributions have made the industry and the region better for all who aspire to share your view from the top.

Much More Than a Fish Story


I have had the good fortune of experiencing some amazing things in my lifetime, and I can say without hesitation that snorkeling an ocean reef ranks at the top of the list. My first venture into the magical and almost incomprehensible world of undersea life is decades behind me now, but I was awe-struck then and the sense of wonder I felt left a lasting impression.

These days, my close encounters with marine life tend to involve bait and a boat, but I am still fascinated by the notion that fish live out their lives completely unaware of the world that exists beyond the water’s edge. On the rare occasion that a fish finds itself on the end of my line, I imagine that for the fish, the experience of being caught, reeled aboard a boat and released back to the water must be the equivalent of a human being abducted by aliens. I acknowledge the strong possibility that my fascination might not be reciprocal. Maybe the fish don’t care at all about the who, what, where and how of what happens on land, but I’m certain I am not alone in my very human curiosity about what goes on in the world below the sea.

Here in St. Louis, the idea of developing a premiere marine-life attraction has been floating around for long time. Some of the country’s first tank exhibits made their appearance at the 1904 World’s Fair, and those of us who have been around awhile probably remember a scheme to establish a major aquarium feature as part of a master plan for the St. Louis river front that surfaced in the early ‘90s.

Like other big concepts that require a great deal of vision and commitment, this one has taken some time to materialize, but St. Louis-based Lodging Hospitality Management has finally made the long-held local dream a reality. The St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station will open in December with 44 exhibits and 130,000 animals representing 257 different species.

As you can imagine, building a two-story, 120,000-square-foot aquarium inside a National Historic Landmark structure dating back to 1894 presented some unique challenges. From demolition to site preparation to completion, St. Louis building companies large and small have contributed their expertise and creative genius to overcome those challenges and bring this project to fruition. We are pleased to bring you their story in this issue of St. Louis CNR.

When the doors open next month, visitors entering the aquarium lobby will be dazzled by a 14-foot-tall clock tank holding 10,500 gallons of water and a collection of colorful discus fish native to South America. Arched ceilings will add to guests’ sensation that they’re embarking on a train journey, especially as their ticket (which includes a specific “boarding” time) is called out and they enter simulated, life-size train cars to begin their tour of the aquarium.

The River Monster exhibit, designed and constructed to look like the ruins of a South American temple, will house enormous fish native to South American rivers and lakes. Not surprisingly, the Piranhas will be housed in their own separate exhibit.

No doubt one of the most talked-about experiences will be an exhibit known as Shark Canyon, which will house 60 sharks and rays. A walkway will lead visitors down below the 250,000-gallon tank, some 18 feet deep at its deepest point, for a close-encounter moment with schools of sharks swimming all around and directly over their heads. I can’t wait to check it out and I am excited to think that with the opening of the St. Louis Aquarium, I won’t have to don flippers and a snorkel to hang out with the fish on their own turf. I wonder if the aquarium’s residents will be as impressed as we are by the genius that went into creating their new home.

Mike Chollet

P.S. As we close out our 50th year of publication, I want to take a moment to thank our readers, our advertisers and the countless individuals whose professionalism and dedication have enriched and strengthened the St. Louis construction industry over the years. On behalf of the entire St. Louis CNR team, it is an honor to serve you and we’re grateful for your continued support of our endeavors.


A Legacy for Tomorrow


I was driving a winding back road in Eureka recently when a sign at the entrance to the Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family Conservation Area caught my eye. I knew the Glassbergs back in the 1970’s during my stint at the Washington University faculty club and they were a lovely couple. Seeing that sign sparked fond memories of the Glassbergs, and I was pleased to see that they had left a legacy that reminds folks like me that their family was here, and that they cared deeply about nature and their community.

Personally, I am not a person who feels compelled (or qualified) to leave my mark on the world in such a literal way. When my time comes, I will be satisfied to have simply lived the best life I possibly could, but as a native St. Louisan I have a deep respect for the heritage ingrained in our city. We have long track record of creating exciting new structures, and a wonderful propensity for paying tribute to the builders of the past by revitalizing older structures to be enjoyed by current and future generations. One such project, City Foundry STL, is featured in this issue of St. Louis CNR.

Driving through St. Louis, you don’t have to look very far to find buildings that were long-ago shuttered and slowly being absorbed into a decaying urban landscape. The sad truth is that without a lot of vision, determination and funding, many of these structures will eventually be beyond help. Thank goodness there are people in our community who are willing, able and passionate about making the investments required to bring them back to life.

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 an $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.

City Foundry STL sits on property that once belonged 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. As expected, the decade-long dormancy presented both challenges and opportunities.

An excerpt from a website chronicling the City Foundry STL project says it all:

If these walls could talk, they’d tell a story that’s uniquely St. Louis. They’d speak of more than a century of grit, hard work and determination. But most of all, of constant transformation. It’s a transformation driven by inspiration, creativity and collaboration – and the vision to create something new.

The project team has intentionally 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 an oversized crane that will remain inside the building, original masonry, cleaned but not modified, will line the interior walls of a food hall that will be a central attraction. Smith said construction teams chose to leave the walls as they were rather than replacing them with a modern brick façade, in part to comply with historic preservation standards, but more to the point, because they felt it was important to retain the building’s original character.


It’s an exciting time to be in the building industry and it’s wonderful to imagine how the builders of tomorrow will harness their vision to pay tribute to today’s work.