There He Goes Again

If you liked the City Museum, just look at what Bob Cassilly is doing now

Once at the top of the silos, there's a half-circle balcony with a metal railing at the edge. It doesn't take much imagination to think that if people were cavorting on these grounds anyway, this might be a good place to put a bar or restaurant. The view of the river and a distant downtown are first-rate.

"It's an incredible view," Cassilly beams as he looks to the south. "The river goes right up and it makes St. Louis look like the Emerald City from here because the river goes up and it turns, right in front of the city, so it looks like river just goes up and ends at the city. It goes down the other way, beyond the corner."

"But look at this, it's on the river, it's natural there," Cassilly says as he points across to the tree-lined banks of the Illinois side of the river. Then he looks down at the concrete wastes around him. "And it has an incredible infrastructure of useless objects that only I could love."

Jennifer Silverberg

There has to some use made of the inside of the silos, but that hasn't been decided yet. But then as Cassilly riffs on about what he may or may not do, it's becomes clear that nothing is decided yet, other than he wants the place, dump trucks are arriving daily with fill, it's got a great view and Cassilly has plenty of ideas. Let's face it, when asked what the price tag on the cement-plant bizarro world will be, Cassilly says, "somewhere between $5 million and $20 million."

After working on the site for the last four to six weeks, Cassilly finally made it to a neighborhood meeting last week of the village of Riverview. With the plant lying dormant for so long, the neighbors behind the complex were anxious about what all the commotion was about.

"They sort of just stared at me when I talked," Cassilly says about the meeting as he stands on top of the silo. "They asked, 'What about the buildings? You say you're going to save the buildings?' And I said, 'I'm only going to save the beautiful concrete ones.' And they said, 'What beautiful buildings?'"

At this Cassilly laughs and gestures to the houses behind the fence in back of the silo. "I guess it looks pretty bad from over there."

But then the host of the meeting got up and told the audience about the City Museum, Cassilly's giant turtles by Highway 40 near Hampton Avenue and his success with downtown real estate.

"They all cheered when I was done," Cassilly says. "They were all positive. They just weren't prepared for it."

Though plans for the cement plant haven't even reached the drawing board, on the other side of Riverview Drive, the process is further along for the combination observation deck/restaurant over the Mississippi. In this, Bob Cassilly is in cahoots with several state agencies, the trick being to find some common frequency for Cassilly and the governmental bureaucracies that are part of the mix. Cassilly guesses that the center could be finished by spring 2002, a timetable that would mesh with the plans of agency folks on both sides of the river who want the area spruced up for the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which was launched in 1704 a few miles up the river.

The riverfront site is tentatively being called the "Great Rivers Resource Center." The state departments of Conservation and Natural Resources are the lead sponsors of the project, with the state departments of tourism and transportation participating. Anne Rivers Mack of Trailnet Inc. is running interference for the project, as part of Confluence Greenway, the consortium of organizations promoting riverside recreation and conservation along the banks of the Mississippi, from downtown northward to the entry points of the Illinois and Missouri rivers. Mack says HOK Inc. was doing feasibility studies to find a site for the center when Cassilly surfaced offering the cement plant.

"The idea is to pull people off the highway and tell them they're in this incredible area of international significance, the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi. People in St. Louis, we just don't get it. People outside St. Louis seem to want to remind us that it's an incredibly important feature, both historically and with regard to our environment," says Mack. That the project also got an added boost from Cassilly, with his track record with the City Museum, was a bonus, according to Mack. "He not only gets things done, he has a perception of things that will be engaging. That's a talent, a real skill, an art form. It's a tremendous opportunity to work with someone like Bob."

What Cassilly wants to do is to enhance a steel gridwork trestle that goes 100 feet out into the river. Formerly used to support a pipeline that loaded barges with cement, the trestle will be used as the base of an observation deck and a glassed-in restaurant that will extend out over the river.

Cassilly's plan is to have a private-public partnership run a combination river center/ restaurant that would be a destination point for locals and tourists. He doesn't want to be in charge of either the restaurant or the center -- his years running Park Place Restaurant in Lafayette Square with his estranged wife, Gail, have cured him of that interest. He believes the view, the access to the river, the exhibits on the observation deck and the opportunity to wine and dine on the Mississippi will draw people. In addition to nearby I-270 and Riverview, the other means of reaching the center include the bike trail that extends to downtown and a ferry service that would be run connecting trips from downtown to the site and back.

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