As a must-see on the list of metro area attractions, the internationally acclaimed Missouri Botanical Garden features popular seasonal displays and special events that bring more than 1 million visitors to the 79-acre site each year, and those surging crowds need a more spacious, modern entrance than the 40-year-old Ridgway Visitor Center allows.
In 2022, they’ll get one.
“The new visitor center will offer an enhanced experience for all our visitors,” says Bob Woodruff, the garden’s chief operating officer. “The new entry garden will feature rare plants from around the world, a fountain, a sloped walkway and seating among an ascending, multilayered open woodland planting. Once inside, gardengoers will be immediately greeted with stunning views of some of the garden’s most iconic locations, as well as a new garden and fountain to the south.”
Garden president Peter Wyse Jackson and other officials recently announced plans to break ground in January for the new, privately funded, $92 million Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center, named for the Enterprise Rent-A-Car founder. The Taylor family provided the “very generous” lead gift, Woodruff says.
Peter Wyse Jackson, president of the garden, notes that the garden’s trustees and other stakeholders identified the need to enhance the visitor center several years ago. Officials first considered refitting the current visitor center, which was designed to accommodate about 250,000 visitors annually, but “we realized we would be investing a lot in a building that is no longer really fit for the purpose,” he says.
Instead, a committee began reimagining the visitor center. “We thought about what we really needed, how to connect it to the community and how to make it part of the heart of the garden,” Wyse Jackson says. Through an extensive request-for-proposal process, the committee chose architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross and Michael Vergason Landscape Architects to design the new structure.
“Ayers Saint Gross has a world-renowned reputation and has designed buildings for other St. Louis institutions, including the Danforth Plant Science Center, Washington University and Cortex,” Woodruff says. “St. Louis-based TAO + LEE Associates is part of the architectural team.”
The building will feature a new conservatory for a permanent collection of Mediterranean plants, a shop, a sit-down café with garden views, an integrated information/ticket sales desk and a large space for special events and educational sessions. Wyse Jackson characterizes the structure’s design as unique, unlike any other botanical garden’s visitor center. “We couldn’t take a plan off the shelf or copy an existing design because we needed a center ideally suited to our specific needs and purposes,” he says.
Although usability and accessibility were primary aspects of planning, the function will be enclosed with sustainable form in a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified structure. “The resulting green building and its components will be used as examples of sustainable solutions in educational classes, tours and interpretation,” Woodruff says.
The center also will highlight the garden’s research mission. “From the moment visitors pull into the parking lot, the Taylor Visitor Center will immerse them in our mission to connect people with plants and showcase the natural world,” Woodruff says. “Our new entry garden will specifically showcase rare and endangered plants for areas of the world where Missouri Botanical Garden researchers are hard at work.”
Construction will impact a limited number of parking spaces. Shuttles will operate from nearby overflow parking lots. However, visitors throughout 2020 will continue to enter the garden through the existing visitor center. “Once construction is finished on our new event space to the east of the existing visitor center, we will temporarily move everyday operations to the new building while we shift construction to the Taylor Visitor Center,” Woodruff says. “It will absolutely continue to be business as usual during the building process,” Wyse Jackson adds.
The garden’s president bubbles with enthusiasm as he describes the new center, and when asked what he’s most looking forward to, Wyse Jackson has difficulty pinpointing a single aspect.
“We’re really looking forward to receiving visitors in an efficient, accessible space with world-class services that showcase the garden’s mission to discover and share knowledge about plants,” he says. “We think people will love it, and we hope they’re just blown away when the Taylor Visitor Center opens in 2022.”
Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, 314-577 5100, missouribotanicalgarden.org