Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fireman's Fund - Why Not Downtown?

According to Joe Whittington's column in the Post-Dispatch, Fireman's Fund Insurance has dropped its plans to relocate its offices from Earth City to a new 100,000 sf building in Winghaven. The company is looking to renew its lease in its current location.

My question is, why not downtown? (I'm a broken record, I know.)

500 N. Broadway ($14.50 psf) would be a great choice if Lewis Rice decides to move. As would the former United Way building at 1111 Olive. And if Fireman's Fund is looking for Class A space, One City Centre has plenty of it at only $18.50 psf.

The Sherwood Medical Building at 1915 Olive would be another great option - Over 100,000 sf available at just $15.50 psf, and in a more "campus-like" building if Fireman's Fund thinks it absolutely has to have a suburban-style office building.

And with Metro about to drastically cut service outside of 270, places like Earth City and O'Fallon are about to become a lot less accessible.

Give downtown a chance!


Anonymous said...

I like the city but enough. Nobody wants to live there. Cramped, dirty, for some reason every housing project is there. On and on and on....

Brian said...


Having lived in the city myself, I would disagree with your assessments; the city is a great place in which to live.

But the focus of this blog is to tout downtown as a place in which to do business, and a company like Fireman's Fund would be a good fit for downtown.

Anonymous said...

The problem for Fireman's Fund is that so many of their employees live in the St. Charles County area. I'm friends with one of the people who was on the relocation committee and they said that the city was not an option because of the increased commute. Even the business park going up across 70 from UMSL was deemed too much of a stretch.

While I do wish that more employers would consider the city, I think sensitivity to an employee's commute is a nice thing to see in an employer.

Brian said...

Thanks - I appreciate that info. It seems a little ridiculous that they would consider the UMSL business park to be too far, but oh well.

I agree with your take on sensitivity to employees' commutes. At the same time though, perhaps by choosing a location in the northwestern section of the metro area as opposed to a central location, they're alienating themselves to potential employees in the southern and eastern sections. That's the beauty of downtown - it's accessible to pretty much everyone.

JMedwick said...

The question of the hour for anonymous:

While it is important to be sensitive to where employees live, do the employees live in St. Charles County because they want to or whether they live in St. Charles because it is the area they find the best in close proximity to the current offices?

Would employees choose to live elsewhere in the metro if the offices were located elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

This is 2nd Anonymous -- obviously not first anonymous -- (I don't really want to use my normal name or online alias, in case this gets back to Fireman's Fund and people deem I am talking out of turn).

@Brian: That's very true, but there are reasons for them being in Earth City. That particular location for Fireman's Fund has been there in Earth City since the mid-late 90's, when it was their direct-insurance group (think competitor to Progressive and Geico). It grew from about 15 people to over 300 when that group folded. FF then reorganized and placed a big chunk of the commercial insurance business there, bringing back many of the employees who were with the original Direct group. I'm pretty sure there are > 500 people in that office now.

The other thing to consider is that when they were opening that original office and making an effort to staff it up rapidly, many of their competitors (and hence, places where they could hire away people with relevant experience) were in the Earth City and Westport areas. Getting a person to jump ship from one job to another has more to do than just providing more money and better benefits. If they can make that move and see a minimal change in their commute, then that's one less barrier.

@JMedwick: Now, I can't speak for everyone, but the people that I know who worked there (and still do, in most cases) live in St. Charles, St. Peters, and some in North County. Traditional movement patterns for the area (especially in the time frame we are talking about here) are for people moving from North County to St. Charles. There are a variety of reasons for this, some savory, some less so, but (and not to put words in your mouth, but...) what you seem to be proposing is that they go ahead and move downtown and people who don't want to commute that far can either move closer to the city or find another job.

A new employer, or one who is opening a new office has many luxuries that ones with existing workforces don't. The people who work at Fireman's Fund may very well have settled in St. Charles County and North / West St. Louis County because their employer is there, or maybe they settled their for their own reasons. But now that you have them, you are going to have a harder time keeping them happy if you drop an hourlong plus commute on them.

Anonymous said...

Im not sure how downtown, and area with Metrolink access would be inconsiderate to employees. I would rather park and ride than sit in traffic just to ride into St.Charles county. Just because other people live out there. In additon those tax dollars could be used in the St. Louis City versus the St. Charles County which is doing just fine on its own.. - from a current employee!

Liberty Bell said...

It isn't feasible, Brian to hire new employees simply because you want FFIC to relocate downtown. There are many employees tenured with FFIC who would not relocate and FFIC would have out of pocket expenses to cover the turnover and rehire. It is senseless not to listen to employee in their surveys, etc. It seems to be a large majority of the FFIC personnel I know who wish to stay proximity of where we are now.