Nothin' Could Be Fina Than to Be in the Medinah

Grand Center dishes out some not-so-grand treatment to local arts groups

Briccetti is even more amused to learn that not only did Grand Center Inc. offer two floors of the Medinah to RAC, it offered to pay for the renovation. Apparently Grand Center Inc., when it looked as if the organization was going to lose one of its higher-profile tenants, was ready to offer more than a dilapidated building for $1.

They weren't exactly swift off the mark with this offer, either. According to RAC executive director Jill McGuire, RAC has been looking for space since March of 1999. With RAC suffering growing pains because of additional staff, and with their five-year lease ending in June 2000, McGuire didn't make it a secret that the agency needed to move. Grand Center Inc. actually gave them a tour of possibilities within the district, says McGuire, including the Beaux Arts Building, the Humboldt Building, the old Woolworths and the Continental.

It's hard to figure what Grand Center Inc. actually thought they were offering RAC, because none of those buildings is even close to being ready for a tenant and, says McGuire, there was "no movement on development and no guarantee on being done by the summer of 2000."

Grand Center Inc. offers to pay for the renovation of two floors of the Medinah Temple to provide the Regional Arts Commission with office space. It offers performing-arts groups a headache.
Grand Center Inc. offers to pay for the renovation of two floors of the Medinah Temple to provide the Regional Arts Commission with office space. It offers performing-arts groups a headache.

But when RAC narrowed its search to two locations on Washington Avenue and one on Laclede's Landing, all outside the Grand Center district, in came Turner and Grand Center Inc.'s director of real estate, Jim Holtzman, with another plan: the first two floors of the Medinah.

Grand Center Inc., says McGuire, offered to pay for the complete renovation of the first two floors of the building, which RAC would be allowed to completely spec out with regard to how many offices and conference rooms were needed. Unfortunately, it would take at least 12 months for the renovation to be done, and RAC absolutely must be out of its space by the end of 2000.

McGuire, being exceedingly politic, says that Grand Center Inc.'s offer is an example that "a real sense of urgency" exists in the organization now: "I sense that from Tom Turner and Jim Holtzman both."

Yet Turner and Holtzman knew of RAC's search for space in March '99, wasted everybody's time with tours of buildings everybody knew were a long way from finished redevelopment, then, as RAC was getting ready to pack, suddenly remembered the Medinah, a building Grand Center Inc. has owned since coming into existence more than a decade ago.

A real sense of delinquency, rather than urgency, is a more appropriate judgment of Turner and Holtzman.

When asked about RAC and the Medinah, Holtzman offers no comment. Turner does not return calls.

Briccetti -- who, until she read the Post-Dispatch, thought she still had an option on the Medinah as a performing-arts space -- has a few words to say, though. More than a year after St. Louis 2004's pronouncement and Grand Center Inc.'s dithering, she says, "I personally would like to know, once and for all, is the Medinah going to be suitable or is it not going to be suitable for our needs? I would like to know, and I would like to know from people who really know about theaters.

"We need to know fundamental issues about access for load-in of sets, capacity for rehearsals, as well as performances, storage space, accessibility for audiences.

"We're looking for focus. We're looking for some real-estate venture capital, because we need to reassess to see if it's appropriate. We know that comes first. If it's appropriate, it's a great spot. If it's not appropriate to our needs, and to most groups who need a midsize-capacity theater, we will look for something else, whether it be in Grand Center or in the Loop, or another place that fits our criteria. It's not rocket science."

And yet, now that TNT has folded and the St. Marcus Theatre has closed, performing-arts companies still find themselves scrambling for homes. "Why is this so damn hard?" Briccetti asks. "Artists need good facilities; they need good tools. I know -- it's too logical, too simple."

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