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As America's Center expansion kicks off, its leaders take on cost concerns

Leaders celebrated the start of the $210 million project despite setbacks including a soaring cost for the project’s first phase and lack of bidders for the second.
Credit: St. Louis Business Journal
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones (center, in yellow) and St. Louis County Executive Same Page (to the right of Jones) lead a group of local dignitaries at the America's Center expansion groundbreaking on Tuesday, May 17.

ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. — The long-delayed expansion of St. Louis' downtown convention center is officially underway, with city and county officials on Tuesday celebrating the start of the $210 million project despite setbacks that have included a soaring cost for the project’s first phase and lack of bidders for the second.

“We're taking a 45-year-old convention center and making it competitive with the cities that have much newer and much bigger buildings,” Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis, the regional tourism agency that runs the convention center complex, said at a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday. “And that is a good thing for St. Louis.”

After delays, first from the pandemic and then over a dispute with the St. Louis County Council over related funding for a separate project, construction on the first major phase of the America's Center Convention Complex expansion begins next week. From the time construction starts, St. Louis-based general contractor Ben-Hur Construction will have 635 days to finish that phase, which includes building new loading docks along Cole Street and expanding an existing exhibition hall across Ninth Street, Ratcliffe said.

Ben-Hur submitted a bid $40 million over the estimated budget for the first phase, while the second phase of the project did not receive any bids. That phase would add a new kitchen and convert two exhibition halls into a ballroom and lobby that could expand into an outdoor park area.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, who shoveled ceremonial dirt for the groundbreaking with Ratcliffe, County Executive Sam Page and other elected officials, said the project to expand and renovate what she called “our city’s front door” was needed to attract larger conventions and conferences at the same time the tourism industry is rebounding from the pandemic.

The mayor said she was confident in the ability of the project management team in place, led by Kwame Building Group, to control increased construction costs.

Click here for the full story from the St. Louis Business Journal.


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