The next time you’re in downtown Clayton on Forsyth Boulevard, you may see the side of a building that looks like it’s moving, wafting or rolling in a gentle breeze. What you are seeing actually is a giant work of art that covers a huge section of the new headquarters for the Centene Corporation.
Centene Plaza is now almost fully occupied and operational; and surprisingly, the building went up without a lot of fanfare or attention. That was in stark contrast to the way plans for the company’s new headquarters started out.
About 10 years ago, it was becoming apparent that Centene was outgrowing its office space in Clayton. In 2006, the company announced plans to build in Ballpark Village. But when the economy took a horrendous turn, the Centene project fell through, along with most of the early plans for the Village. The company looked at its options and decided to focus on expanding its footprint in Clayton. Initially, there was controversy involving eminent domain, preservationists and others; but ultimately, the issues were resolved and the stormy winds died down.
Today, the 18-story Centene Plaza is one of the most graceful features dotting the Clayton skyline. Bob Hardy, Centene’s director of construction, believes the company and the approximately 1,400 people who work in the building have good reason to be proud of the finished product. “The building looks like a jewel with its reflective all-glass façade--it's a very sleek design," he boasts. "It is easily one of the top-tier office buildings in St. Louis.”
The building contains almost a half-million square feet of class A office and retail space and has been certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as a LEED Gold Building. The LEED designation means the building is extremely energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. It has a 'green roof,' literally: There are 30,000 square feet of plants and grass growing in special soil containers on the roof. The plants absorb heat rather than reflect it back into the atmosphere, while also controlling water runoff.
Inside, one of the features is a 'smart' elevator system. Hardy says it’s the most technologically advanced elevator ever installed in St. Louis. “It’s called a destination dispatch elevatoring system. There are no buttons in the cars,' he explains. "The employees all have pre-selected floors. When they walk through the security turnstiles in the lobby, their badges are scanned, so the elevator knows where their desk is and sets up a priority dispatch for a car to get them there quickly.”
The airy outdoor plaza includes a waterfall, a park-like lawn area and a multicolored canopy that looks like it could be part of a disco floor. Soon to open is Gerard Craft restaurant that is likely to become an after-hours hot-spot in Clayton.
Centene has become a landmark company not only because of its new skyscraper, but also because of its status in the local business community and as a major player in health care management for Medicaid patients. Centene senior VP Bob Sanders says it was important for the company to be able to reflect its growth and success. “When I started here 10 years ago, there were only about 125 employees at our corporate headquarters in Clayton," he notes. "Now, we are a Fortune 500 company with more than a thousand employees in St. Louis--that speaks volumes of how proud we are to put up that kind of a building and still do what we do best: provide health care to people who otherwise can’t afford it.”
Perhaps the most intriguing feature is that enormous piece of artwork on the building that was brought to life by renowned artist Ned Kahn. It’s called Wind Veil, and it's seven stories tall and about 300 feet wide. "It’s like a moving work of art with 93,000 individual aluminum flags or flappers. They blow in the wind, giving a look of clouds or smoke across the whole wall,” Hardy explains. “It’s part of Centene’s gift to Clayton, to bring this huge art piece here--it's the biggest piece of art in the Midwest.”
So the next time you find yourself on Forsyth, Centene Plaza's moving piece of art may give you an impression of serenity. But it also may indicate that the once-stormy winds surrounding the project have quietly passed; and in their place, a new landmark for the city Centene calls home.