Phantom of the Opera House

The Cardinals' promises are worth as much as the Kiel Partners'

A few aldermen got pissed off enough to look into the legality of all this. In 1995, former Alderman Dan McGuire called on the city counselor's office to read through the stacks of documents. Associate City Counselor Francis Oates came up with this assessment: "In response to your inquiry, I believe LCRA and Kiel Center have present obligations to the city to cause the renovation of the opera house to be completed.... Nothing in the master lease authorized LCRA to excuse Kiel Center from completion of the renovation of the opera house."

The Board of Aldermen called on Comptroller Darlene Green to press Kiel Partners into action, demanding a report from her every six months "until said restoration and opening is completed..."

Those reports haven't been filed in quite a while. Neither Green nor the Bosley and Harmon administrations were up for a legal battle -- certainly not against the city's most formidable corporate powers. In 1997, Green reported to the Board of Alderman about a chat she had with Maureen McAvey, who succeeded Bushong as SLDC executive director. In her memo Green writes that she and McAvey "believe that if restored, the opera house could become a wonderful venue for nonprofit performing arts groups and other community activities," and she proposes a commission look into "the highest and best use of this priceless community asset."

Green might as well have announced, "Bring on the consultants." The disease of consultancy brings about lethargy, inaction, despair and, ultimately, forgetfulness. Who owns Kiel Opera House? Beats me. What opera house?

A year ago, SFX Entertainment (now Clear Channel Entertainment), a subsidiary of the corporate giant Clear Channel Communications Inc., made it known that it was doing an analysis on the possible renovation of the opera house. Geisman says "We're still hopeful that they'll do it, but we haven't nailed anything down yet. They're still around. I owe them a phone call."

Schankman, who went to work for SFX in 1997 but left last year after the Clear Channel sale, is skeptical about the Texas-based company bringing back the opera house. "St. Louis doesn't mean much to them," says Schankman. Clear Channel Entertainment manages UMB Bank Pavilion (formerly Riverport) and the Pageant, as well as the American Theatre and Westport. "They're not going to open up an opera house. They don't do any shows at the American Theatre to speak of. They have a lease until 2004 and I don't see very much going on there. Westport, they let that lease run out, so that place is gone. I don't see them jumping into this deal."

So the opera house remains, an eyesore in the light of promise that is Ballpark Village. Cardinal owners get millions to build a new stadium, and in return? They already know they have to do only as much as the city is willing to force them to do.

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