The life sciences district known as Cortex has gotten initial approval for the first phase of its $2.1 billion expansion plan.
The city's Tax Increment Financing commission voted today to authorize about $35 million in incentives for the first phase, which totals about $160 million.
The phase includes new office and laboratory space, a new Shriners' Hospital, and a streetscape known as Cortex Commons. Here's how it breaks down:
- Wexford Science and Technology, which developed the BRDG Park in Creve Coeur, will rehab the old Western Electric/Southwestern Bell building at the corner of Duncan and Boyle into new laboratory space. It will be renamed the Heritage building. Wexford will also purchase the original Cortex building, and is making a $7 million contribution to a new interchange at Interstate 64 and Tower Grove/Boyle. Wexford's $106 million total investment is the largest by the company in St. Louis.
- Washington University will move its Office of Technology and Management into the Heritage building, and is guaranteeing the lease on about 40 percent of the space there.
- BJC HealthCare is building a $45 million office building just south of the Heritage building, plus making a $7 million donation to upgrade the infrastructure, and a $5 million contribution toward the new interchange.
- Shriners Hospital will build its new facility on a property at 4400 Clayton that is now a parking lot. A spokeswoman would not say how much the center will cost.
- The state of Missouri has issued $10 million in tax credits to help leverage donations, and the Missouri Department of Transportation will pay for the remaining $16 million of the interchange.
"We do this right, and we're lucky, we're going to have something equivalent to the size of Clayton being built in the heart of St. Louis, and it's going to solve some of the world's problems," said Ald. Joseph Roddy. "It's going to be just remarkable."
The CEO of Cortex, Dennis Lower, emphasized to the commission several times that most of the TIF money would be directed to infrastructure projects like accessible sidewalks and burying utilities. And, he said, Cortex will have to come back each and every time it wants to secure public financing for a new phase of the expansion. He says talks are under way to secure tenants for another parcel.
And that's not all...
The unanimous approval of the financing was nearly overshadowed by the news that Mayor Francis Slay had signed an executive order requiring private development projects requesting more than $1 million in TIF financing to abide by the city's minority workforce rules. Cortex will be the first project to fall under that order.
(The campaign manager for mayoral challenger Lewis Reed, Matt Teter, was quick on Twitter to dismiss the order as an election year ploy).
The executive order convinced leaders of the activist groups Metropolitan Congregations United and the Metropolitan Clergy Coalition to lend their support to the Cortex TIF. And Yaphett El-Amin with MOKAN hinted that that was the case for her organization as well.
"Let's just say that we had been negotiating for three months, and there was a failure on the part of the private entities to put pen to paper on the [minority participation] goals," El-Amin said. "There was commitment to verbiage for inclusion without the number."
Lower, the Cortex CEO, says the district was part of the discussion of the executive order. Regardless, he said, his company was committed to maximizing inclusion, pointing to a 10-part plan that includes programs designed to help minorities enter the biosciences field.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann