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Missouri Botanical Garden to open new visitors center focused on plant diversity

Missouri Botanical Garden guests will soon be treated to a new $94 million visitors center inspired by native plants and foliage.

The Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center will open its doors to the public at a grand opening ceremony Saturday with free admission all weekend. The 94,000-square-foot center features a new lobby, an expanded gift shop, ticketing station, auditorium, meeting rooms and updated restaurant.

It's part of the garden’s mission to incorporate nature into indoor spaces, said Patty Arnold, the garden’s senior vice president for institutional advancement.

“Visitors will immediately know they're in a unique space when they walk through the doors here," Arnold said.

The environment is reflected in the center's terrazzo floors, which include embedded brass leaves of 18 species of Missouri trees. Arnold said garden officials wanted the center's design to incorporate the region's biodiversity.

The lobby includes a large metal structure that hangs from the ceilings designed to imitate large tree leaves and forest shades, modeled after the English Woodland Garden on the southern side of the park. Guests entering the new building will have a direct view of the park’s ginkgo tree, installed from China by Henry Shaw in the 1800s.

Garden leaders announced plans for the new center in 2019 to accommodate the growing number of visitors. The former visitors center, built in 1982, could handle 250,000 people a year. But garden leaders said the new design also was necessary to improve accessibility for disabled people.

“Now we greet over a million visitors a year,” Arnold said, adding that “also, the needs of our visitors have changed.”

Baltimore-based architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross, landscape architect Michael Vergason and St. Louis- based architecture firm Tao & Lee Associates helped design the center.

Specimens collected by garden researchers are affixed in between glass planes on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Specimens collected by garden researchers are affixed between glass planes on Thursday at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Tao & Lee focused on redesigning the Sassafras Restaurant and Cafe, which features a bench and tables built from a 50- to 70-year-old white Shumard oak tree grown on the property. The cafe also has 10-foot glass and acrylic panels highlighting the region’s plant life, said Peter Tao, president of the firm.

“There's a large, full-size panel about the lily, there's panels about seeds, grapes, food,” Tao said. “All of these are things that the garden is actively involved with in part of their research or teaching, so that was really quite wonderful to be able to integrate that into the design.”

The center is part of the garden’s $100 million capital campaign and multiphase expansion project. The Emerson Conservatory will open this fall and will house Mediterranean plants year-round. The garden also plans to add 30,500 plants to gardens across the campus.

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.