Grand Center advertises itself as the intersection of the arts and life in St. Louis. Home to Powell Hall, the Fox Theatre, the Sheldon, and several other cultural institutions, Grand Center has the ‘arts’ half of that label taken care of. Now, Karin Hagaman, Grand Center, Inc.’s new president and CEO, wants to develop the ‘life’ half.
Hagaman is no stranger to Grand Center, nor to economic and commercial development; she spent the past three years as Cortex Innovation Community’s Director of Project Management. Hagaman, who made the move to Grand Center, Inc. on September 14, said that while she appreciates the area development initiated by Cortex, her heart has “always been in the arts.”
“I actually feel a little bit like I’m coming home,” Hagaman said. She told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh that she has always had strong connections to St. Louis’ dynamic arts community—including a stint with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus.
True to the connections she has struck in her St. Louis career, Hagaman sees parallels between Cortex and Grand Center. “Both organizations are really small non-profits…focused on setting the stage for the development of some activity,” she said. “So, Cortex is looking at that innovation community; Grand Center is creating that place to help the arts and cultural organizations thrive.”
Hagaman has tracked St. Louis’ growth, which she said has been consistent since she took her first job in the city in the mid-nineties. Her work with Cortex and, previously, the St. Louis Development Corporation, has felt meaningful in that respect. “It’s been an opportunity to work on urban redevelopment projects and really feel like there’s a place I could have an impact.”
Hagaman said that Grand Center hosts many opportunities for investment and development. Although the area’s infrastructure is aging, there is plenty of room for commercial and residential space. “We’ve got room to grow,” she said.
This potential for growth is perhaps exemplified, and certainly long-awaited, in St. Louis’ first Ikea, set to open near Cortex on September 30. Cortex played an active role in selling the idea, getting the site ready, and navigating the “inevitable roadblocks” that followed its approval, Hagaman said, calling the project “a huge success.”
The introduction of Ikea to Midtown is an example of the kind of project that will make Grand Center an ‘everyday’ destination, Hagaman said, as opposed to simply an arts and entertainment district. At Cortex, Hagaman led the planning implementation of a 3.5 acre park and streetscape redevelopment project; now, she wants to work on similar public spaces in Grand Center with the aim of making the area a destination in itself—and not just for the theatres and galleries it holds. Housing construction and parking expansion will likely come next.
Hagaman inherits a good first step in the “Growing Grand Plan,” which brought together the heads of district institutions and community organizations for planning improvements to Grand Center streets. The street lighting, sidewalks, and planters they commissioned are coming next year, Hagaman said, thanks to public-private partnerships, government support, and contributions from supporters.
Hagaman said that community support and input has been critical to improving Grand Center—and will continue to be important as the district expands. “Filling in that everyday activity—of workspaces, and places to live, is really what’s going to help us get Grand Center to the next level.”
"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.