St. Louis Board of Aldermen approves public subsidy to reopen Kiel Opera House
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 5, 2009 - The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has cleared the way for the latest proposal to reopen Kiel Opera House, with plans to have it present the musical "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" in November 2010.
Now, as one principal in the project put it, it's time to test whether the financial markets have become "un-Grinched."
With only one dissenting vote -- Alderwoman Marlene Davis -- the board passed a package of bills Friday morning that will refurbish the long-shuttered space on Market Street just west of City Hall. It has been closed since 1991, when the adjoining Kiel Auditorium was razed to make way for what is now Scottrade Center. (You can read the legislation here.)
Alderwoman Phyllis Young, who pushed the plan through, listed a long line of unsuccessful attempts to resurrect the opera house; this time, she told her colleagues before the vote, the $74 million project will succeed in enhancing downtown and sparking further development.
"It's a wonderful building," she said. "It's a throwback, maybe, but it's our heritage, just as these chambers are our heritage."
Under the plan, nearly $60 million of the cost would be a public subsidy. Almost $30 million would come from bonds issued by the city that would be paid off with amusement tax revenue from ticket sales from the hockey Blues. A similar amount would come from federal and state tax credits -- primarily historic tax credits.
Sports Capital Partners, which owns the Blues and Scottrade Center, will make up the difference. Tom Stillman, a minority partner in the ownership group of the hockey team and Scottrade that is led by Dave Checketts, said after Friday's vote that leadership from City Hall made the difference in getting the project passed.
He also tried to play down a disagreement with operators of the Fox Theatre over the effect of opening another entertainment venue in the city. He noted that as a compromise with the Fox, Kiel would limit the number of Broadway shows it would offer during the first five years of operation. He also said that competition should be helpful to both locations, but he added that the shows at Kiel would be different from those at the Fox.
"We are comfortable that St. Louis can support a number of venues," he said, "including the Fox and Kiel Opera House.
"Our focus is not just Broadway shows. That's one of the things we'll do there. But we will book concerts, comedy, family shows, holiday shows -- that's a pretty wide swath of entertainment."
Alderwoman Young noted that while the board approval was necessary to get the process started, everything will be contingent on Sports Capital Partners securing the necessary financing. It's not the best time to go looking for money, she acknowledged, but "you've got to do it when they're ready."
"I think they have the financial capability and the knowledge of the market," she added. "I think they can put all the component parts together."
As far as competition with the Fox and other venues such as the Touhill Center on the UMSL campus, which is just a MetroLink ride away from downtown, Young said:
"I would hope that St. Louis as a region would grow and expand its capacity for shows and entertainment as the opportunities expand."
One interested and delighted spectator at Friday morning's board meeting was Ed Golterman, who has long championed what seemed to be an impossible dream of a refurbished opera house.
After the vote, he exulted, "What a journey it's going to be!"
Noting the economic benefits that a reopened Kiel would bring, not only in terms of the jobs created for the physical work but also the additional businesses that would open in the general area, Golterman expressed confidence that this time around, his long-deferred dream would come true.
"It is going to happen because No. 1, it has to, and No. 2, Checketts is strong enough to do it."
And does he have his Grinch tickets yet? "I'll have to ask how I can order those," he said with a smile.