Historic Charm, New Style: River City Casino

The rich history of St. Louis, Mo., is brought to new life with Pinnacle Entertainment’s newest casino, River City. Memorable elements of years past are put to use to create the feel of yesterday, today.

The casino is on the site of the old National Lead Co. Joseph D. Rothman, executive vice president for Bergman, Walls & Associates—the casino’s lead architect—explained how the team got to work on this vision. “The Missouri Gaming Commission required a project that captured the look and feel of the riverfront during the peak of the Steamboat era along the Mississippi,” he said. “A vision came to us and to the owner that creating a new project from the historical look of the riverfront town at the turn of the century would be appropriate.”

Appropriate—and beautiful—it became. Rothman said this was not an “urban renewal project” done by tearing down wonderfully distinctive structures to build something new and modern. This was creating wonderment. The team realized they had the advantage of using existing brick and stone structures. So they refurbished the exterior to its old elegance and created new and fresh interior spaces that would surprise and excite the guests.

“Designing and building River City was a team effort in every respect,” Todd George, vice president and general manager for River City Casino, said. “Our goal was to create a thoroughly modern, leading-edge property, but with a turn-of-the-20th century elegance and style. Our design and construction team threaded that needle beautifully, and the results are apparent from the first moment a visitor drives onto our site.”

An old photograph from the late 19th century provided inspiration for the design. “We wanted to bring in elements of the 1904 St. Louis Exposition by using detail elements and lighting concepts from amongst others, the Palace of Electricity,” Rothman said. He made several trips to St. Louis to photograph buildings and get a feel for what they’d use for the look, including the materials and details of the original buildings around the turn of the century along the riverfront. The nearby waters of the Mississippi and the River Des Peres (River of the Fathers) provided inspiration.

Part of the vision of the owner and architect was to include recognizable features in the project. The house used in the Meet Me in St. Louis movie with Judy Garland stands as Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse. Elements of the Lemp Brewery are found in the facade of the buffet. Other design items come from the Soulard area, Laclede’s Landing and the old railroad station. Even the casino’s beerhouse features River City’s own 1904 Brewhouse Ale.

“The experience as one arrives from the north parking area is like walking down Main Street,” Rothman commented. “A tree-lined street with enhanced paving, lamp posts, a small courtyard and fountain as part of the restaurant, pedestrian scale to the facades, even window treatment and lighting in the upper windows help create an illusion and comfort level for the guest.”

Some areas of the casino required exact detail. For instance, the globe chandeliers at Bar Central and Judy’s Velvet Lounge each feature 1,892 individually hand-strung crystal balls. And the Grand Court is covered by a soaring 42-foot high skylight graced by two eye-popping 25-foot-high custom crystal beaded chandeliers.
River City’s gaming floor boasts 45 table games, 10 poker tables and more than 2,100 slots. Ergonomic gaming chairs and extra-wide aisles make for easy access on the floor. While smoking is permitted, state-of-the-art “smoke curtains” use constant streams of air to quickly pull smoke away from guests and employees.

Working in an area with so much history presented some challenges for the design team. There were initial concerns of environmental remediation from National Paint Co.’s remaining portions of structure below grade, as well as relocation and expansion of existing outfalls across the site.

A bike path connects the casino to the greater St. Louis regional bikeway. But Rothman said they needed to provide safe access to the site. “With the railroad to the west, a new bridge was built to span the tracks and also provides a birds-eye view of the casino as one enters to site.”

“A boat in a basin some 25 feet above the water was [also a] challenge,” Rothman said. “It is required that the casino is designed as a barge floating in water. It was determined that a concrete basin would be utilized to create the containment for this barge. In this case, precast concrete panels create the cells for the base onto which the steel framing for the casino structure is supported. With proper hydraulic control, the guest will not notice any movement up or down.”

It took 1.5 million gallons of water to float the River City Casino barge within its concrete basin.

But despite the challenges, the end result was absolutely worth it for both Pinnacle and the architects. George said: “We see an opportunity to grow the market here and make St. Louis an even more significant revenue generator for Pinnacle. River City is close to a significant part of the metro population, both in Missouri and Illinois. It is a very different kind of property than our downtown Lumiere Place property, so we think the two complement each other nicely.” He added that, “Visually, our location overlooking the Mississippi River is stunning.

And for Rothman, he relishes seeing the faces and hearing the comments of the guests as they first see and feel the experience of the new facility. “From the first days visiting the site and slipping into the Mississippi mud, to tripping around St. Louis gathering ideas, details, textures, sights and smells, to the collaborative efforts of the entire design and construction team, that’s the reward for accomplishing a project that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

KEY PLAYERS
Owner/Operator:…………………………………….Pinnacle Entertainment Inc.
Architect:……………………………………………..Bergman, Walls and Associates
Interior Designer:…………………………………..Avery Brooks and Associates
Contractor:………………………………………………..Yates/Paric, A Joint Venture
Structural Engineer:……………………………………………M.A. Engineering Inc.
MEP Consultant:………………………………………CHPA Consulting Engineers
Naval Architect:………………………………………..Lay Pittman and Associates
Lighting:………………………………………………Randy Burkett Lighting Design
Civil Engineers:…………………Horner & Shifrin Inc., Dave Mason & Associates
Interior Graphics and Exterior Wayfinding:……………………David Carter
Exterior Signage:…………………………………………………………..YESCO