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St. Louis Symphony plans $100 million renovation and expansion of Powell Hall

A chamber ensemble from the St. Louis Symphonic Orchestra performs on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at Powell Hall in St. Louis, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Symphony's expansion plan calls for new, larger seats in Powell Hall, which would reduce its capacity by about 500 people. Its size would remain comparable to that of venues for orchestras of similar size across the country.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra plans to renovate and expand its home, Powell Hall, in a project the organization’s leaders expect to cost about $100 million.

The 65,000-square-foot expansion will include a new entrance lobby, dedicated space for education programs and a new backstage area for musicians.

Orchestra leaders will announce a fundraising campaign to pay for the project, looking to individual donors, foundations and local companies for support. They have not established a firm timeline for the capital campaign and construction but hope to announce that next year and complete the project in 2025. The building was opened to the public in 1925.

“Comes a time where we must nurture our core asset, which is our home, in better service to artists who are performing here and also to the community,” said President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard.

Bernard said the St. Louis Cultural Resource Office’s Preservation Board will review the plans at its March 28 meeting.

The project includes plans to replace all of the seats in the concert hall, the bulk of which date to 1967. The move will reduce audience capacity by about 500, to 2,150. That would keep Powell Hall’s size comparable to the venues of similarly sized orchestras around the country, Bernard said.

A new feature will be a 3,400-square-foot addition to be built on part of a parking lot on the south side of the building. It will include rehearsal space for the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, IN UNISON Chorus and St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Rehearsal space is currently limited to the stage of Powell Hall, leaving choruses with nowhere to warm up prior to appearances with the orchestra. The new space will also include a dedicated home for the organization’s expanding education programs designed for remote participation and provide a venue for lectures and other events.

Powell Hall, originally named the St. Louis Theatre, was initially home to vaudeville performances and film screenings. St. Louis Symphony Orchestra first played the hall in 1965 and moved in permanently in January 1968. The organization has made only minor upgrades since then, including installing new windows, changing out aging bricks and replacing entrance doors that were original to the building.

“We can say that the expansion is very respectful, both architecturally as well as just in size and scale,” said project manager Takeshi Tornier of the international architecture firm Snøhetta, which is leading the project. “The challenge is really to improve it where we can without changing it drastically, and really treating it very respectful.”

The plan would also add restrooms, elevators and concession stands. Insulation and soundproofing also will be installed in Powell Hall. “If a siren and a firetruck goes by, you can actually hear that in the inside of the hall,” Tornier said.

The soundproofing issue prevents the organization from staging multiple events at once.

“Right now it's very difficult to have events happening concurrently while there's music happening on the main stage. So our goal is to be able to have a concert on our main stage while the education center is being used and while someone might be in the lobby hosting a reception,” Bernard said. “So really insulating the building in such a way that we can have concurrent activities will be, for us, a game-changer.”

Two St. Louis firms, architect of record Christner Architects and construction manager BSI Constructors, are on the project team. Also involved are two Chicago firms: planning consultant Shuler Shook and acoustic designer Kirkegaard.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.