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Local View: St. Louis County Depot offers exciting new changes

You may have noticed we’ve been making exciting changes — to the building, the operations and the programs offered.

Mary Tennis
Mary Tennis
Photo by Jeff Frey
We are part of The Trust Project.

Were you among the 110,000-plus people who visited the St. Louis County Depot last year? If so, you probably already noticed we’ve been making exciting changes — to the building, the operations and the programs offered.

Now we’re ready for the next phase, ensuring the best mix of tenants and use of space to promote the arts, history and culture of the region. And doing so through an open and transparent process. All is necessary to be certain we are serving as a community resource, engaging a diverse audience, and bringing vitality and sustainability to the building.

In short, we want to make sure the Depot fulfills its mission as “… a landmark cornerstone of arts and cultural organizations that entertains, educates, inspires and provides space for a diverse group of guests. The St. Louis County Depot provides new, engaging experiences; is a destination and a community center; and fosters community through a diversity of education and entertainment that enhances the quality of life for visitors.”

We adopted this mission statement earlier this year, drawing on input from the organizations currently within the Depot.

We value these tenants and their missions. But we also must ask — are there other arts and cultural organizations out there that also would be a good fit at the Depot? There’s an emphasis on “must” because not only is it the fair and transparent way to operate, but as a county-owned building providing what is taxpayer-subsidized space for these tenants, we are required to by state statute. And so we’ve issued a Request for Proposals for organizations wanting to operate within the Depot.

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We’ve encouraged all existing tenants to apply and are also encouraging others in our community whose missions fit with ours. We welcome proposals for creative use of space. Nonprofit rates start at just under $5 per square foot — an incredibly generous rate courtesy of taxpayers and St. Louis County’s efforts to pay for capital improvements via bond funding and grant opportunities. For-profit opportunities may also be available for a slightly higher minimum rate if they fit with the mission and vision of the building.

The RFP is open, with a deadline to apply by June 14, 2022. We plan to host tours for prospective tenants later in May and make decisions this summer for 2023 leases.

With its 130-year history, the Depot is a community treasure. The vision is for both the building and its tenants to welcome the community in creative and innovative ways, and to be full of activities, events, exhibits and amenities.

Although the Depot, like the rest of the world, took a hard turn in early 2020, opportunities emerged. While the building was closed to the public, several major improvements took place. The 2020 state bonding bill funded much-needed relief for our beloved historic building. The Sheetrock and rooftiles were flying (not literally, of course). We added long-term drainage solutions in the basement and new carpeting on the floors. Our boardroom, still adorned with a historic 25-seat oak conference table, now has an 80-inch monitor and full remote meeting/presentation capabilities.

A few tenants worked with us and made improvements, too, including the new gate in the railroad museum, ballet rehearsal space, and spiffy new offices in the basement.

The Great Hall got a facelift, and new electronic signage is sprinkled throughout, helping visitors navigate all the building’s offerings and showing previews of programming.

So we are excited for the future, even as we recognize that change can be hard. St. Louis County is working every day to be transparent, enthusiastic, positive and fair to our tenants, prospective tenants, and to the taxpayers who will continue to help pay for the building and organizations housed there. We are thrilled to go forward with enthusiastic partners who believe in the power of collaboration as much as we do.

Mary Tennis is the director of the St. Louis County Depot.

Related Topics: THE DEPOTTOURISM
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