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Planning continues for Creve Coeur innovation district

St. Louis has the highest concentration of plant scientists in the world. But the places where they conduct their experiments aren't necessarily the most inviting.

To attract more biotech industries and talent to the area, St. Louis County officials want to remake the areas where researchers work, especially in Creve Coeur, home to Monsanto and many promising startup companies.

That's the idea behind a proposed plant science innovation district that would connect the Danforth Science Center, BRDG Park, the Helix Center Biotech Incubator and Monsanto. The effort also aims to solidify St. Louis' reputation as a plant-science hub. But detailed plans for the area likely won't come until the end of the year.

Representatives from the urban planning firm Ayers Saint Gross told an audience of interested parties on Tuesday that they'd like make the area more pedestrian friendly, which involves reconfiguring traffic patterns and converting old railroad paths into roads.

"The idea is to take the existing roads and rail spurs and have an interconnected set of streets that people can walk, bike and drive on," Kevin Petersen, a principal of the firm, said at a forum to provide updates on the district.

Petersen said a major focus would be on bringing more amenities to the area, such as coffee shops, brew pubs, satellites of local museums and the Missouri Botanical Garden. He said having spaces where employees of different incubators can run into each other would be an important part of the Cortex innovation district, which Ayers Saint Gross also developed. 

"We provided spaces [at Cortex] for these collisions and right now those components don't exist here [in Creve Coeur]," Peterson said. "So we're trying to create those opportunities for folks here to connect."

Although planners expected to release a master plan this month, they have pushed back the timeline for several reasons, including the need to develop a branding strategy. Planners recently hired St. Louis-based advertising firm Rodgers Townsend to take on that effort and help name the innovation district.

While the district would increase the incubators' access to Monsanto, it's unknown what the agribusiness giant's fate will be if the company is acquired by the German drugs and chemicals company Bayer AG.  The plant science district's value does not rest entirely on Monsanto's presence, said Janet Wildling, vice president of major projects at the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

"Businesses are going to do what they're going to do," Wildling said. "They're going to buy, they're going to sell, they're going to expand. I think the master plan wants to fly above that a bit and say we really want a vibrant constellation of businesses in this district. Let's create an area that people want to work in." 

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