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Build-A Bear turns 20

Addie Mayberry of Fenton hugs her new bear in 2017 at a Build-A-Bear Workshop.

The St. Louis Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved an agreement Monday that could provide up to $4 million for Build-A-Bear Workshop to move its headquarters and about 200 jobs to downtown St. Louis from Overland.

Under the agreement, which would require final approval from the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, up to half of the city earnings and payroll taxes from employees of Build-A-Bear would be set aside to fund improvements to the building the company is eyeing at 415 South 18th Street, with the incentive capped at $4 million. The company would need a workforce of at least 171 people receiving an average salary of $85,000 to qualify for the full incentive.

Vacant since the Missouri Foundation for Health moved its headquarters to the Grove area, the building is next to Union Station, which is being redeveloped into an aquarium and other entertainment amenities. Build-A-Bear said last month that the area’s development as a tourist and entertainment area was a strategic fit with its business. It is currently in a suburban office park, and the company has said a new downtown office would include a retail store and “other experiential offerings.”

The St. Louis Enhanced Enterprise Zone board last month recommended tax abatement worth 75 percent of any building improvements. Aldermen also have to approve that incentive. The building is owned by Woodcrest Capital of Fort Worth, Texas.

St. Louis Development Corporation Director Otis Williams said Monday he hopes to finalize an incentive package with aldermen and the company within the next couple of weeks.

“Right now we think we have a good deal negotiated,” he said.

Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, who represents the area of downtown west where the company would move, on Friday introduced the payroll and earnings tax incentive bill for the potential Build-A-Bear move. Only about 30 of the employees at the company’s headquarters currently live in the city and pay the 1 percent earnings tax, she said.

“It’s definitely going to be a net positive for the city,” Ingrassia said.

Ingrassia said she’s still working on final details of the incentive package and wants to make sure adequate taxpayer protections are included.

Provisions in the agreement reduce the earnings and payroll taxes withheld to 25 percent if the company’s employee count drops below 171 jobs. The incentives terminate if the employee count goes below 140 jobs for two years.

“SLDC would like to see this deal finalized and approved as much as the alderwoman would, and we would like to continue to work with her to make this deal come to fruition,” Williams said.

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Jacob Barker is a business reporter for the Post-Dispatch. 314-340-8291