Three-Study Opera

No one wants to talk about what it will cost to reopen Kiel Opera House and who should pay for it. But now comes yet another consultant -- paid $100,000 by St. Louis 2004 -- saying Kiel should not be reopened.

The two separate recommendations -- to not reuse the Opera House for performances and to build a new theater in Grand Center -- were made without any cost analysis of either proposition, admits Gotesman.

"We didn't do specific cost analysis, no -- we're not cost consultants," Gotesman says, but he defends his conclusion: "We're not only talking about financial feasibility, we're talking about market feasibility; we're also talking a bit about conceptual feasibility and philosophical feasibility, because we think -- this is our opinion -- that by renovating Kiel as a performing-arts center you're really turning your back on Grand Center."

Gotesman stresses that by concentrating facilities and efforts on Grand Center, the leadership problem that exists in the local arts scene might be solved.

"Because the arts community is fragmented, fractionalized, without a lot of unity," he says. "All the recommendations we made need strong leadership, so the leadership issue is probably the key issue. We didn't find that leadership in any of the usual places -- the public sector, the corporate sector, in the cultural landscape or the private sector."

Those beating the bushes to save thecontinued on page 28OPERAcontinued from page 26Opera House have long suspected that the powers that be (Kiel Center Partners, Civic Progress, St. Louis 2004, you name it) are out to protect Grand Center at any cost and don't want to complicate life for those who own Kiel Center. "The serious opposition is to protect the Fox Theatre monopoly," says Ed Golterman, the man leading the effort to reuse the Opera House as a performing-arts center. "The pressure on that end -- you wouldn't believe it."

Competition is a sticking point: The 4,500-seat Fox Theater is thought to be too close in size to the 3,500-seat Opera House for comfort. One option floated was to downsize the Opera House, but Golterman -- who is the head of Kiel for Performing Arts Inc. -- isn't in favor of that, saying that a 3,000-seat venue at Kiel would have a bigger impact on downtown.

Besides, Golterman contends, Cleveland supports four theaters with about 3,000 seats each, and St. Louis could do the same.

"When there's a show at the Fox for any length of time, all the producers are shut out, and they look at St. Louis as a one-theater town," he says. "Cleveland has four of comparable size, and they're all busy."

One of the flaws of the new study, Golterman says, is that it didn't consider the new convention hotel coming to downtown, or the planned renovation of the old Edison Bros. warehouse at 14th Street and I-64 into condominiums and a hotel. "They didn't know there was going to be 4,000 hotel rooms downtown, which easily can support performing arts at Kiel. People like to go within walking distance or a short taxi ride over," says Golterman.

And as for competition, the new performing-arts theater at the University of Missouri-St. Louis will provide a facility with 1,800 seats. Gotesman, who happens to have been the consultant on that project as well, claims that a new 1,800-seat facility at UM-St. Louis can thrive along with a new 1,800-seat facility at Grand Center.

"We think it's complementary. The focus in St. Louis needs to be in Grand Center," he says. "Again, in concept, we're trying to promote the full development of an arts district and make a recommendation for a facility there. Academic facilities tend to become very full of academic uses and are not totally available to outside users."

Golterman doesn't see it that way. He doesn't think it's consistent to claim that a reopened Opera House would hurt Fox but that a theater space of identical size opened in Grand Center wouldn't hurt the UM-St. Louis center. The fact that Gotesman approves of the two projects he's consulted on concerns Golterman.

"That's a direct conflict of interest, to have someone consulting on the Opera House for forces who oppose the Opera House who also is consulting on the UMSL facility," Golterman says. "It's a total conflict of interest."

The UM-St. Louis performing-arts center is expected to cost about $49 million. Goltermann's group has estimated that a complete renovation of the Opera House that would enable the main stage to be used, along with the six assembly rooms and the Kiel Club downstairs, would cost somewhere between $50 million-$60 million.

Kiel Center Partners, having pointed to the $2.5 million they say they have spent to re-do some of the Opera House's heating and air conditioning, claim it has completed its part of the deal struck when the city was told Kiel Center Partners would renovate the Opera House in exchange for $35 million in public assistance for the Kiel Center project. Amazingly, the partners received a "certificate of completion" on the Opera House, though some contend that that work, and that document, is not sufficient.

"We think Kiel Partners will be with us if they see a good business plan," says Golterman. "We would hope that Kiel Center Partners would assist with some of the basic work."

Golterman says he expects to have details soon. Mark Sauer, head of Kiel Partners, is a tad skeptical when he hears that Golterman expects to have a proposal, a "business plan," by Jan. 15.

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