Another company with global reach is anchoring itself in St. Louis’ Cortex innovation district.

Professional services firm Aon will move into a 30,000-square-foot space in Wexford Science and Technology’s newest office building later this year. With the new tenant comes 200 workers, adding to the thousands of employees that already work in the Cortex district.

Aon will move its operations from downtown Clayton, the region’s strongest office submarket, to Cortex, which is emerging as an attractive location for office tenants in the city of St. Louis.

Aon, which has its global headquarters in the Chicago area, will be one of the largest tenants in the recently opened $55 million, 180,000-square-foot office and lab facility at 4220 Duncan Avenue.

That’s the same building that houses Microsoft’s regional headquarters. Other tenants in the building include the Cambridge Innovation Center, BJC Healthcare’s WellAware fitness center, Accenture, an Innovation Hall powered by Venture Café St. Louis and the Chocolate Pig, a restaurant and catering service from the same operators of the Caramel Room at Bissinger’s.

Chip Lerwick, managing director of Aon’s St. Louis office, said the move was prompted by the company’s desire to tap into Cortex’s status as an innovation hub and its ability to recruit and retain top-level talent.

“We believe that with future generations, it’s an attractive location for which people will want to work,” he said.

Aon helps reduce risk or volatility for clients across a broad range of industries. The St. Louis office specializes in the construction, health care, energy and agribusiness sectors.

“We underpin some of the biggest innovations in the world with our ability to help bring those innovations to life by helping to reduce the risk those companies may have,” Lerwick said. “Sometimes our innovation isn’t a widget, but it’s allowing the widget to be able to come to life because we’ve taken away the risk factor that allows it to exist.”

For example, Lerwick said, Aon helped Uber offer driver injury protection, a first of its kind insurance program. Locally, Aon works with companies such as BJC, Centene and multiple construction firms.

Mark Gorski, Wexford’s director of development, said tenants such as Aon and Microsoft serve as a magnet for smaller companies looking to do business with such large companies.

“We’ve had discussions with other companies that just want proximity to those types of firms, so it definitely works synergistically to have a presence like Microsoft or Aon to attract,” he said.

With the Aon deal, the 4220 Duncan building is approaching capacity. Gorski said a couple of deals now under negotiation that could be finalized in the next few weeks could make the building 95 percent occupied.

Meanwhile, Wexford is already working toward more development in Cortex.

“We continue to make progress in master plan and design work for the new building and, if anything, this (Aon) deal accelerates those plans,” Gorski said. “I think given how quickly we’ll lease up 4220 (Duncan), what we need is to get more space teed up. Clearly, the demand is there and we need to be ready.”

Aon and Wexford’s future plans are among the latest in a string of announcements in the Cortex area.

In early-May, mobile payments company Square, which already has about 300 employees in Cortex, announced plans to double its workforce in the district.

Two weeks later, the Lawrence Group, the developer behind the $187 million CityFoundry STL development just east of Cortex, announced it signed two lead office tenants: digital publishing and technology firm Multiply, which will move approximately 50 employees from its current headquarters in the Delmar Loop, and DNA tech company Orion Genomics, which will relocate its employees from its nearby Cortex office in the [email protected] building.

To help alleviate some congestion in the district, Cortex President and CEO Dennis Lower said previously the crews will start developing a 650-car parking garage just east of the 4220 Duncan building over the summer.

Washington University and Cortex are spending $44 million to redevelop the 96,000-square-foot Crescent building at 4340 Duncan into affordable lab space.

And most recently, the Koman Group started marketing a space in a 90,000-square-foot office building to be built on a 3 acre plot it acquired in 2016. The property could also see residential and more office space built on it in the future.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Brian Feldt  |  June 8, 2018