Matters of size

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Southeast Missouri State University is reconsidering the size of the performance hall that will be the centerpiece of the River Campus School of Visual and Performing Arts on the banks of the Mississippi. A consultant hired by the university has questioned whether the proposed 950-seat hall will enable the university to bring in top entertainment at an affordable price. A larger hall, concert promoter Steve Litman told the board of regents last week, would hold ticket prices down.

Litman is the executive producer of concerts at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.

Adding as many as 450 seats would cost the university an extra $4.5 million. Regent Edward Matthews III thinks the money is better spent on education. Regent John Tlapek wonders whether enough area residents will flock to arts events on the campus to fill even the 950-seat hall.

But board president Don Dickerson is concerned that the university won't be able to attract top entertainers with a smaller hall. A fact of life the Show Me Center has struggled to overcome is that given a choice, performers will choose to play the larger venue in a region.

Paducah, Ky.'s new $40 million Luther F. Carson Four River Center has 1,806 seats and has sold out a number of performances since opening at the beginning of the year. All of its Broadway shows have sold out.

The Paducah performance hall was designed to draw patrons from four states, which is the intention for Southeast's hall as well. The $36 million River Campus will include two theaters, a museum and renovation of the former Old St. Vincent's Seminary as faculty offices and classroom space.

The state's share is $17 million. The rest will come from the city's motel and restaurant tax and from private donations. The state already has contributed $4.6 million the university is using in the design phase. The remaining state funds for the project must be appropriated by the legislature before the local money will become available.

With construction plans about to be finalized in anticipation of beginning construction in the spring, the decision about the size of the River Campus performance hall must be made soon. The decision is an important one that could determine whether the hall becomes an asset to the community or a white elephant.

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