There He Goes Again

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

"What is so impressive is his energy level. He's incredibly productive and hard working. Because he's been shrewd, he now has the means to do things. He's in front of things. He got a hold of the International Shoe Building, a million square feet, when it was give-away stuff."

When it comes to properties, Cassilly is no novice. For the two buildings that make up the International Building Co. on 15th Street between Washington Avenue and Delmar Boulevard, Gail and Bob Cassilly paid $525,000 in 1993 -- one set up for the offices and the other for a factory and warehouse for the International Shoe Co. With his band of "cowboys," a group of about 25 craftsmen and jacks-of-all-trades who have worked for him for close to 20 years, the two buildings were renovated for offices or studios, one space at a time. Many millions of dollars later, the City Museum occupies three floors and 115,000 square feet of the 10-story warehouse building.

Cassilly doesn't appear at ease with his apparent financial success, complaining that he's given in by getting a cell phone, but he's not allergic to having and using money for what he wants. When he showed up in the mayor's office in City Hall last year offering a $250,000 check in earnest money so he could save the Arena, he admitted that the money had come from some of the "unconscionable profits" he had made selling some of his properties. Despite Cassilly's offer to save the structure of the Arena by transforming it into open-air skating rink -- among other things -- Mayor Clarence Harmon ruled that the offer was too little, too late, and went ahead with the demolition.

On that proposal, he missed the boat, but who knows, the boat may have been the Titanic. A lot of times his ideas are just that, ideas. They wouldn't always work if they were tried. His drive to do the different, the spontaneous, the thing that just popped into his head is more "defiance in the face of mortality" than part of a master blueprint.

"If I tell you something tomorrow," Cassilly admits, "it might be something completely different."

It's like when he's at the cement plant, on a bulldozer:

"I drive on the bulldozer and push stuff. You get free association going. Things come up that are random chance -- you take advantage of that."

Free association, random chance, a bulldozer and Bob Cassilly.

"That's a very dangerous combination -- and potent."

But can a multimillion-dollar project built on random chance, free association and the remains of an abandoned cement plant actually work?

"Oh yeah," Cassilly blurts out. "I don't see how it cannot work."

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