Plaza Sweat

From the heat surrounding his proposed documentary on the Chase, you'd think Paul Henroid was making Citizen Kane

Paul Henroid thought he'd landed a reel big fish.

On October 20, the 31-year-old Central West End filmmaker received $10,000 from a University City grant program to help fund a historical documentary on the fabled Chase Park Plaza. For months, Henroid, who produces wedding videos to finance his arts-ier endeavors, had been poring through news clippings, culling historical photos and meeting with the likes of developer Bill Stallings Jr. and the Chase's current managing general partner, Jim Smith -- the two men considered primarily responsible for resurrecting the historic property from a decade of dilapidation.

From a past haunted by an invasion-of-privacy conviction involving a hidden camera and intimate acts with several unwitting co-stars, Henroid has emerged as an accomplished filmmaker, producing the hilarious Hoosiers trilogy of film shorts and garnering a national Telly Award for a 2002 documentary on the Lemp brewing dynasty. Henroid felt the 30-minute Chase piece, which would premiere on U. City's cable-access station per the terms of his grant, would merit a wider audience. Persistent correspondence with Patrick Murphy, executive producer of local PBS affiliate KETC-TV (Channel 9), yielded assurances that the station would consider his completed work for a screening.

Paul Henroid arms himself for the battle over Citizen Chase
Jennifer Silverberg
Paul Henroid arms himself for the battle over Citizen Chase

But on November 28, barely a month after he received his first check, Henroid got a letter from the grant program informing him that his funding had been pulled -- and ordering him to return the $2,500 he'd already been given.

Attached to the November 28 letter was a copy of another missive. This one, dated November 24, was addressed to the grant program from Chase managing partner Jim Smith. "The Chase Park Plaza has in no way entered into any agreements or authorized Paul Henroid to act on our behalf with reference [sic] a documentary on the rebirth of this property," the letter reads in part. "Furthermore, if he attempts to enter this property for the purpose of filming, he will be escorted off the premises by our security personnel."

The grant program, known as CALOP (shorthand for Committee for Access and Local Origination Programming), is funded by University City's cable provider and doles out $125,000 annually to the St. Louis film community to fund documentary productions at $5,000 to $10,000 a pop. (For more about CALOP, see "Grant Farm," in the August 6 Riverfront Times.) Over the program's fourteen-year existence, a handful of recipients have voluntarily returned funds mid-project. But Henroid's case marks the first time University City has demanded that a grant recipient return CALOP funds.

The filmmaker says he has no intention of returning the money -- or, for that matter, of halting production.

In U. City's letter to Henroid, CALOP chairwoman Stefany Brot claims the filmmaker misled the grant committee: "CALOP asked if you had the permission and cooperation of the owner of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel to do this documentary. You said 'yes.'"

No such dialogue occurred, Henroid insists. Rather, he claims, he was asked only whether he had secured the cooperation of "bigwigs." Having already secured an interview with Stallings, he replied in the affirmative.

And indeed, a copy of Henroid's application provided by CALOP contains a committee member's scribbled notes referring to "bigwigs" but not specifically to Smith or anyone else connected with the Chase.

"They magically transform interviewing 'bigwigs' into 'gaining the owners' full cooperation, permission and access?'" marvels Henroid, a graduate of Washington University's law school and a licensed attorney in California. "Maybe I need Smith to do a great piece, but what about a good piece?"

But good isn't necessarily good enough for CALOP, according to U. City's city attorney, John Mulligan.

"The standard [CALOP] employs is not, 'Can it be done without that?'" asserts Mulligan. "The question is, 'Is it the kind of project that is worthy of the award of a grant?' And that's the issue. Wouldn't you agree that if the manager says, 'We're not going to be cooperative and provide access to property,' that could affect the quality of the project? It would seem to me that you would want current access instead of access to one of the developers."

"It's a historical piece," Henroid counters. "I don't need the Chase's authorization, because they don't own the fucking history. I've always categorized Smith's involvement as nice but not necessary."

Henroid says he has interviewed Barbara Hemphill, a longtime aide to the Koplar family, which owned the property from 1947 until 1981 and whose patriarch, Sam Koplar, was the original owner of the 28-story Park Plaza Hotel, opened in 1929 as a separate entity from the Chase. Furthermore, the filmmaker argues that Stallings was a more crucial player than Smith in the long-dormant Chase's majestic redevelopment. Stallings, who now operates the WS Hotel downtown, sold his interest in the Chase in 2000 and shortly thereafter was convicted of bank fraud. Sentenced to a brief jail term, he paid restitution of $435,301, plus an additional $10,000 in fines, and received two years' probation.

But city attorney Mulligan is quick to point out that regardless of U. City's stated reasons for terminating the grant, CALOP's standard contract allows the municipality to terminate any agreement, requiring only that the filmmaker be given 30 days to return any money -- in Henroid's case the $2,500 he'd already received.

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