Key date for ceremonial start to River Campus set

Friday, May 2, 2003

Turning soil on the River Campus grounds means that Southeast Missouri State University and the city of Cape Girardeau aren't turning back on the visual and performing arts center.

Though the project has been stalled by lawsuits in the past, the city and university are ready to move ahead. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for 3 p.m. on May 27 at the River Campus off Morgan Oak Street. Invited guests include Gov. Bob Holden, Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, and state officials.

"This significance is that we are very serious about it, and the city is very serious about it," said Diane Sides, director of university relations. Sides is helping to plan the ceremony.

The university and the city are sending out the invitations in a joint effort.

"We're very pleased with all the cooperation on this project," said university president Dr. Ken Dobbins. "The whole process is finally coming together.

"This isn't just Southeast's project, this is community and state and federal money coming back. That's really important."

The groundbreaking will symbolize that the project is a cooperative and nonpartisan project for Cape Girardeau, Dobbins said.

Federal grants, state appropriations and local money are helping to fund the $36 million project, which includes a performance hall, regional museum and visitor's center. The city and university are each funding about 25 percent of the project and the state is funding the rest. Federal grants will be used for a hiking and biking trail overlooking the river.

Impact on Cape

Mayor Jay Knudtson supports the River Campus because of the economic impact it will have on the city. After the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge is complete, the campus area will be the first impression many people get of Cape Girardeau.

"The opportunity to develop that area is so contagious," he said. With work at the River Campus, construction of the new federal courthouse and renovations at the Marquette Hotel, the city's downtown is expected to thrive.

"It will give downtown the economic boost it needs," he said.

While the groundbreaking will turn some soil, a majority of the work on the buildings won't be completed just yet. Once construction begins, the work should be complete by 2006 or early in 2007.

The first major project is building the Fountain Street extension. The street will be the first exit into Cape Girardeau off the Emerson Bridge. The back edge of the campus gives a clear view of the dirt work already being done in preparation for the street construction and the work on the bridge.

Earlier this year, the Cape Girardeau City Council approved the conceptual design for the River Campus museum. The city's convention and visitors bureau also would be attached to the museum.

It likely will be six or seven months before drawings and blueprints for building renovation begins. The buildings will be 150,000 square-feet, which is about 1 1/2 times the size of Dempster Hall on the Southeast campus.

Many of the buildings at the River Campus are more than 100 years old, and the new design is trying to keep the historic integrity of the structures, Dobbins said.

It has been almost five years since the River Campus project was proposed. The site of the River Campus is a former Catholic seminary purchased by the university from funds donated by B.W. Harrison, whose home is just across the street from the property.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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