By Tony Carosella
Your inner geek will appear when you step into the Saint Louis Science Center complex. It’s been noted as one of the top five science centers in the United States, and named by Forbes Traveler as one of the nation’s Top 25 Most Visited Museums – the only Missouri institution to make the list.
Visitors’ imaginations run wild with visual overload of interactive exhibits and projected media throughout the 260,000-square-foot facility. The James S. McDonnell Planetarium, the OMNIMAX® Theater in the main building, the Montgomery Bank Exploradome, and the Taylor Community Science Resource Center make up the four-building complex that straddles both sides of Interstate 40/64, and that is connected by a unique lighted bridge and underground flight gallery. Events can be held “under the stars” in the planetarium or literally over the highway on the bridge spanning Interstate 40/64.
“Meetings and science mix well in the open environments of the different exhibit levels,” explains Chris Files, Marketing Director at the Center. The main building consists of four levels. The Earth Science gallery is located on the lower level along with meeting rooms, party rooms and May Hall, used as a banquet room and for special exhibits and talks. There is also a stage used to demonstrate science experiments and host live performances. Above the expansive lower level are the first floor and main entrance to the museum. Exhibits include life science areas, including ecology and environmental exhibits; the Amazing Science Demonstration Lab; the gift shop; food court; Energizer human hamster wheel; and Exploradome entrance. The second floor houses Cyberville, a computer gallery; Structures gallery; Discovery Room for young children and their parents; the bridge and tunnel connection to the planetarium; and OMNIMAX movie theater. OMNIMAX wheelchair access and offices are located on the third level. All three floors are connected with the entertaining, three-story high kinetic sculpture known as the Energizer Ball Machine. Director Files says, “With all the space and exhibits, the Science Center is a non-stop meeting venue. Everyday, there are on average 2 to 4 private meetings or events occurring. Not only do we host small parties and meetings, we also have capacity to showcase giant events up to 700 people. For even bigger events, the crowds can be pulsed through at timed intervals.”
A Little History Lesson
The Saint Louis Science Center was founded by an organization called the Academy of Science of Saint Louis as the Museum of Science and Natural History in 1959 at a facility in Clayton’s Oak Knoll Park. In 1983, the museum chose to expand its facilities to the James S. McDonnell Planetarium, then owned by the city. After more than a year of remodeling, on July 20, 1985, the planetarium reopened as the Saint Louis Science Center.
The planetarium was named after James Smith McDonnell, an aviation pioneer and co-founder of the St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas aerospace manufacturer. The planetarium was designed by Gyo Obata of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum and first opened in 1963. A digital star projector show always fascinated audiences and now the addition of the StarPort space station adds the element of astronomy from space.
As part of a $34 million expansion, the main building opened across from the planetarium south of Interstate 40/64 on November 2, 1991. The building, designed by E. Verner Johnson and Associates, includes the OMNIMAX Theater. The pedestrian overpass connects the two buildings and offers scientific insight into bridges, highways and radar guns.
On February 8, 1997, the Exploradome was added primarily for traveling exhibitions such as the current Body Worlds 3 exhibit and for hosting large group events.
Just west of the main building is the Taylor Community Science Resource Center, opened in 2003. The building was donated by Jack Taylor, founder of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and houses a mentoring program for urban teens. The TCSRC also houses administrative offices for several departments at the science center.
Like its fellow museums in Forest Park, the Science Center offers free admission, a distinction held by only two science museums in the country. The center is open every day except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It’s Show Time
Because of the excitement generated by all the popular exhibits, the Saint Louis Science Center has a full-time staff of event planners to help coordinate meetings and events that take full advantage of the center. Private events and those hosted by the center expose attendees to popular exhibits such as Body Worlds 3 in addition to their own events. Files mentions a Hurricane Relief Benefit in February 2007 for Katrina victims. “We had 700 people at the benefit with a waiting list of 200 more. The Bash on the Bayou was a big success and raised much-needed funds for the St. Patrick’s Center and the Katrina victims in St. Louis.”
In November, a very popular series sponsored by the Science Center known as Science Uncorked will feature wine tasting and food pairing and how it relates to science. It will be held in the Exploradome with Body Worlds 3 as the backdrop. Many events can be custom-tailored to complement the theme of an event. For instance, Files relates how a recent event in the Planetarium was memorable because “you can have an evening under the stars with all the comforts of temperature control and amazing ambiance projected by the digital star projector.” During the recent Titanic show, the exhibit itself became the setting for many private meetings and events.
The Saint Louis Science Center is located on the western edge of the city, which makes it easily accessible with plenty of parking at the main building and the planetarium. The Central West End restaurant and shopping districts are just a few blocks away, as is “The Hill,” St. Louis’ famous Italian community. MetroLink light rail connects in Forest Park and the Central West End and is convenient to the Science Center. There are also many fine hotels within easy reach of the Center.
Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About
Event planners and guests are very pleased with the unique and inspiring Science Center as a place to host an unforgettable event. Rita Frazier, Group Sales Manager, says, “Our clients are very happy with the value of the space, the excitement of the exhibits and the variety of catering options.”
Planners at Northern Trust had this to say about their recent event:
“Our overall experience at the Saint Louis Science Center was terrific. Our guests had a wonderful time. The value of the event was excellent and we would definitely consider returning to the Science Center for future events. The food was great. Very satisfied with the rental sales staff and catering.”
Commerce Bank staff said, “The Science Center was a great venue and guests had lots of fun. Very satisfied with the catering choices, and event service staff were available and accessible during the event. They demonstrated that they valued our business and we’re satisfied.”
If you are an event planner or coordinator and haven’t been to the Saint Louis Science Center, you will be amazed by the “wow factor” that the Center can contribute to your event. Small meetings, parties and conferences are easily handled along with medium to mammoth events. Glasses of wine and gourmet food are more evident than calculators and pocket protectors at gala events. Mixing science and fun will produce an enthusiastic reaction from your participants and fuel a supercharged meeting or event. MM&E
(Tony Carosella is a contributor from New Haven, Mo.)
Saint Louis Science Center
5050 Oakland Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110
Rita Frazier, Group Sales Manager
314-533-8481 • [email protected]