Downtown Cape welcomes revitalized venues

Monday, December 31, 2007
The Shaolin Warriors perform on the stage of Bedell Performance Hall at the River Campus, Southeast Missouri State University's new performing arts school.

By Rudi Keller

Business Today

Entertaining business clients and prospective executives took on a new look this year in Southeast Missouri.

The region already had award-winning wineries, as well as locally owned restaurants offering a range of choices from authentic barbecue and ethnic foods to fine dining in elegant surroundings.

With the opening of the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus, the region now offers a top-tier venue that can showcase both the talents of student and faculty performers as well as attract traveling shows that once would have bypassed the area.

"It is just a phenomenal additional piece for what makes up a community," Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO John Mehner said recently.

In the past, Mehner said, his pitch for businesses and professionals he was trying to attract to Cape Girardeau included discreet mentions of how close the city is to both Memphis and St. Louis and their big-city attractions. But now, he said he'll play up the variety of entertainment that the River Campus will provide -- it is the shows that will travel, not the people.

The River Campus is the long-awaited culmination of a three-sided public and private partnership. The $50 million cost of renovating the former St. Vincent's Seminary property will be borne by the state, local taxpayers through restaurant and hotel taxes and private donors.

And along with being a source of entertainment and a valuable recruitment tool, the River Campus seems ready to become an anchor for revitalization of an entire section of Cape Girardeau that was once a thriving commercial district.

Set between the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge and the recently completed river overlook that was once the western approach to Cape Girardeau's old Mississippi River bridge, the neighborhood is one of three sections of the city that is the focus of the Downtown Revitalization and Economic Development for Missouri, or DREAM, initiative.

Fountain Street, which set the western boundary of the campus, will be extended from Morgan Oak Street to William Street, making sections of now-empty or underused land available for development.

Cape Girardeau's city government doesn't give direct financial support to the arts. Mayor Jay Knudtson said the issue brings up a debate on the role of government: whether to provide basic services and infrastructure only or to promote things like arts, culture and recreational opportunities.

Knudtson calls himself a sports jock whose eyes have been opened in recent years to the importance of such things to communities.

"You've got to have your house in order first, and we really do today," he said. "That's why you see us really looking at things like parks and recreation issues and arts and culture issues -- all quality-of-life drivers."

Surveys are underway now as part of the DREAM Initiative to ask residents, business owners and visitors what brings them to Cape Girardeau.

This year also saw several other additions to the Cape Girardeau nightlife as entrepreneurs sought to craft new experiences to attract customers. At Club Moxy, 107 N. Main St., owners Will Otto and Josh Penfield play on a 1920s theme by putting their bartenders and wait staff in vintage clothing to create a nightclub atmosphere that combines a modern bar with a second-story dance floor and lounge. Club Moxy opened in August.

And Pat and James Allen, already owners of a successful catering business and restaurant known as Celebrations, opened a new venture, the Marquette Restaurant & Bar in the Marquette Tower that combines a martini bar with an upscale casual restaurant serving a variety of steaks, pasta and fish dishes.

With seating for 65 in the bar and room for up to 125 more in adjoining room, the Allens are using the skills honed at Celebrations to bring new flavors to Broadway.

"We're looking forward to coming to downtown and giving people another option," James Allen said when he announced plans for the restaurant.

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