Grand Guy

Vince Schoemehl is a politician, which is just what Grand Center needs

"I don't think the Medinah's going to work," he says straightforwardly, "because I think these arts groups have needs that are so special that they really need to be addressed." Grand Center Inc. has hired a consultant, Edgar "Ned" Lustig, to talk to various performing-arts groups to begin to conceptualize a multipurpose facility in the district. "Some of these groups need space that will seat 50 people, some of them need space to seat 250 people and on another night they need space that will seat 75. I see three or four different black boxes, really, basically in the same building, but they could have a common box office, a common lobby area, a common food service and share some rehearsal spaces and storage.

"You can't just say you're going to cram this all into the Medinah. By the time you get around to doing that, you might as well just build a building and do it right. That is my inclination. This is not going to be inexpensive. This is not something we're going to be able to put a couple of fundraisers together and finance. I'd love to see some use for the Medinah, but my mission is more to fulfill the needs of the arts groups than to find a way to repurpose the building."

Joe Edwards plans to build a theater in the Loop, too, and might lure the Regional Arts Commission out of Grand Center if the space and the numbers fit, but Schoemehl doesn't feel he's in competition with the Delmar entrepreneur. The arts are not static. Needs change and reconfigure -- and for now there are more needs than there are facilities (and audiences) to accommodate them.

So far, Schoemehl gets high marks from those in the St. Louis art scene who stomached years of Grand Center ineptitude. Lisa Suggs of the Mid-Size Arts Cooperative says, "He understands how everything works. His learning curve is very short. He knows how to put the pieces together. He's a very smart guy, and that's a real gift to Grand Center, it's a gift to the St. Louis community, it's a gift to arts organizations. We're really pleased."

Betsy Wright Millard of the Forum for Contemporary Art concurs. "He understands the role the arts can play in the economic development of Grand Center," she says. "He's not just throwing us a bone. He's very straightforward. He believes in this as an arts district, but he also believes that we've got to get commercial development. He's problem-solving, and the problems are big enough that they take some time to solve. We need to be patient, but also there's real activity with him."

Despite the brickbats thrown at him by Berger, those hungry for leadership in Grand Center are optimistic about Schoemehl. He wants to be the go-to guy, willing to risk failure and take the credit. These are the qualities of an ambitious politician, a man with seasons to come.

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