Cape Girardeau breaks ground on $1.3 million Arena Building project

Thursday, May 14, 2009
A rendering of the A.C. Brase Arena Building exterior after planned renovations, provided by the City of Cape Girardeau.

As Cape Girardeau begins a $20 million program of park facilities work, city leaders decided the most fitting place to start a summer of construction was the A.C. Brase Arena Building.

The oldest of 10 major parks buildings, the Arena Building was built in 1939 as the largest Works Projects Administration effort of its type and the largest architectural concrete building in the Midwest. While the city invested $250,000 in the building about a decade ago, major issues remained and will be corrected in a $1.3 million renovation project that will be completed by Aug. 15.

City leaders gathered for a groundbreaking Wednesday morning. Over the coming months, the building will get a new roof, new heating and cooling system, a generator, better power supplies and expanded offices and meeting rooms. The roof replacement will be a welcome change, said Scott Williams, manager of the city recreation division. "Our bucket days are over," he said.

A.C. Brase Arena Building in Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

The exterior of the building will also get some work as new stucco and paint gives it a fresh look. The architects, Williams said, "have assured me that my Dallas Cowboys color scheme for the Arena Building is history."

Cape Girardeau voters approved a sales tax in April 2008 to fund park improvements, support park operations and pay for storm-water controls. The major parks projects that will begin this year include new irrigation systems and other work at the Jaycee Municipal Golf course, a new community center near the Shawnee Sports Complex and a new water park at the Osage Community Centre. The Osage Centre will also be expanded.

The contractor for the Arena Building project will be Zoellner Construction Inc. of Perryville, Mo. As work progresses, the building will remain open and host scheduled events, parks director Dan Muser said. There will be a period of about one week while the electrical system upgrades are being installed that the building will be dark and unusable, Muser said.

The parks department has limited the schedule for the building, Muser said, but the department did not want to disrupt any long-planned events.

"Many events are booked a year ahead," Muser said. "We knew what the plan was but we also wanted to get as much revenue as we can during construction."

With an estimate of $1.3 million for the project, Zoellner's bid came in at $1.29 million, Muser said. But that was after decisions on which optional items would be added to the work list. Office expansions and the new exterior coating are two items that were included that may not have been if the basic bid had been higher, he noted.

"In this building we are just trying to get the basics done," Muser said.

After the groundbreaking, parks advisory board member and former chairman Mike Keefe said he's proud voters approved money for the Arena Building renovation and the entire parks construction program. His only regret, he said, is that most of the tax that will pay for parks projects expires in 10 years when bonds are repaid.

The projects will help families save money in a struggling economy, he noted. "People can stay close to home because we will offer better facilities and more things to do in the community at a reasonable cost."

In an interview after the ceremony, Mayor Jay Knudtson said that city leaders sometimes get caught up in the excitement of new businesses locating here or annexation of key locations for future growth. "Sometimes we forget about our core neighborhoods and our core projects," he said.

The last major renovation of the Arena Building took place in 1974. Before the opening of the Show Me Center, it was a venue for large traveling events including performances by Elvis Presley in 1955, Jerry Lee Lewis in 1958 and Metallica in 1986, according to a new release from the city.

The Arena Building is still used almost ever week of the year, Knudtson said. It is an inexpensive alternative for large groups to meet or hold an event, he said. "It is our blue-collar facility. It is the working man's facility meeting important needs in the community," Knudtson said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

410 Kiwanis Drive, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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