Clayton Board of Aldermen moves forward with Centene expansion | St. Louis Public Radio

Clayton Board of Aldermen moves forward with Centene expansion

Sep 28, 2016

Updated 12:05 p.m., Sept. 28 with Board of Aldermen approvals - Members of the Clayton Board of Aldermen have approved elements of a massive expansion plan by Centene.  Rezoning and a special development plan for the multi-million dollar project were passed Wednesday night. Individual phases of the project still need to go through an approval process.

The Medicaid managed care company is planning a multi-phased expansion that could attract another 2,000 jobs to the area. That's despite the concern of nearby residents who are worried about the size of the initiative.

Centene currently  has about 1,000 workers currently in Clayton.

Updated 7:45 a.m., Sept. 7 with committee approval - The plan commission for the City of Clayton have voted unanimously in favor of a more than $750 million expansion plan by Medicaid managed care company, Centene.

Members have attached conditions to the proposal, including a reduction in the number of elevated walkways. Only one remains and plans call for it to go over Hanley Road to connect an existing Centene building to a proposed new structure.

A date for the Board of Aldermen to consider the expansion has not been set.

Original story posted July 26, 2016

There is hope for common ground in the debate over expansion plans by one of the region's largest employers. The city of Clayton, developers of Centene's proposed $770 million project, and opponents of the proposal have held talks that might lead to a compromise. At least one person with concerns about the plan is optimistic a deal can be worked out.

The city's Plan Commission and Architectural Review Board will discuss the expansion during a meeting Monday evening at Clayton High School. Barbara Abbett says she will be there.

Abbett is a resident of The Crescent Condominiums, which would be surrounded by the health care management company's new development.

The overall project would expand Centene's global headquarters in Clayton.
Credit Provided by Centene

"It's far too big, far too large, far too dense," she told St. Louis Public Radio.

Abbett said residents of The Crescent are not opposed to growth in the city, as long as it follows regulations and is respectful of the surrounding areas.

"This proposed project, as currently designed, does not meet that requirement."

This is  is a big deal for Centene, which became the country's largest Medicaid insurer after the acquisition of California-based Health Net.

According to Centene's website, the expansion would bring 2,000 jobs to Clayton, half of which would be new to the state and all the positions would have an average salary of $73,000.

The company's growth is cited as the main reason for needing more space at the Clayton campus. Centene's proposal calls for construction in several parts:

  • Phase One would be a 20-story office building that would include parking and retail space.
  • Phase Two would include office and retail space, an auditorium and a 120-room hotel.
  • There are also plans to replace some existing buildings with new office space and parking.

Centene's website says the proposal fits Clayton's Downtown Master Plan, but Abbett and others at The Crescent are not convinced. Along with the enormity of the project, there are concerns about additional traffic in an area that is already heavily congested during rush hour.

Parking would be underneath the Hanley Tower and Garage on Forsyth Boulevard.
Credit Provided by Centene

"That can be a very slow process on many evenings during the week," Abbett says.

She added that additional traffic will likely spill over to other streets surrounding downtown Clayton.

"We all know that we don't like sitting in long lines of traffic. And so the first chance we get to make a left or a right turn and see if we can't find a little quicker route, that's what we do."

The city has contracted with consulting firm CBB to conduct a traffic impact study. Abbett said the initial findings reflect summer traffic volumes, which are usually lighter than the rest of the year. That prompted residents at The Crescent to hire their own consultant who responded with questions and concerns. Work is now underway on an addendum to the study.

Despite the issues about traffic and overall scope, Abbett said she is hoping a compromise can be reached.

The proposed auditorium would include more than 1,000 seats and conference training space for up to 750.
Credit Provided by Centene

"So that there'll be a win-win in this for Centene, for the citizens of Clayton and the city of Clayton as a government entity."

"I always am probably a glass half-full, as opposed to a glass half-empty kind of person," Abbett said. "I am mildly optimistic that, yes, we will be able to see some things that will work for everybody."

Messages to Centene have not been returned, but when asked about the project in April, Chief Executive Officer Michael Niedorff said it would probably employ, over three years, 1,500 to 2,000 at a minimum.

He made the comment on the same day Centene marked the opening of a $25 million claims processing facility in Ferguson.

"We’re a growing company. We grew 32 percent last year,” Niedorff said.

Follow Wayne Pratt on Twitter: @WayneRadio