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City aldermen approve Opera House redevelopment

The Kiel Opera House in downtown St. Louis
(KWMU photo)
The Kiel Opera House in downtown St. Louis

By Rachel Lippmann, KWMU

St. Louis, MO – Legislation that could re-open the Kiel Opera House got a stamp of approval Friday from the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

A group led by St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts plans to spend $74 million to renovate the performing arts venue at the corner of 14th and Market streets, with a goal of re-opening the theater for a 2010 Christmas show. Construction would have to start in August to meet that date.

The first step is the sale of $30 million in bonds - a prospect that St. Louis Blues minority owner Tim Stillman acknowledged is daunting.

"It's not the best time to sell bonds," Stillman said. "This is a difficult deal, especially in these economic times, but we'll be working hard at it."

Bonds will be paid off using set-aside revenue from the amusement tax dollars on the sale of Blues tickets. That will cost the city's budget about $1.5 million or more per year.

Nineteenth Ward alderwoman Marlene Davis cast the lone no vote against the proposals.

"I thought we rushed on a deal," she said. "I don't think everybody really understood it, I think there were a lot of favors. We could have taken our time. Why were we in such a hurry, it's been sitting there empty all this time." Davis's ward includes the Fox Theatre, which is worried about potential competition.

The deal actually took about two and a half years to complete, said developer Chris McKee, whose McEagle Properties is a partner in the redevelopment. Mayor Francis Slay introduced McKee to Checketts in the winter of 2007, and McKee said Checketts asked him almost immediately to participate in the re-opening.

It took almost two years for McEagle to be certain the project could work financially and logistically, and McKee said the developers did not feel comfortable presenting a proposal to the aldermen until that happened.

Davis was also concerned with what she saw as a lack of financial risk on the part of the developers. Stillman, the minority owner, said the legislation makes the developers responsible for the bonds if amusement tax revenue falls short, or if the Blues leave St. Louis.

Mayor Francis Slay will sign the legislation at the first possible chance, a spokesman said.