New plan for River Campus set to get approval

Friday, December 13, 2002

Southeast Missouri State University's new River Campus arts school would include a visitors center that would house Cape Girardeau's Convention and Visitors Bureau under a revised conceptual design that focuses on a new downtown street entrance. The plan will be presented to the university's board of regents today.

If the regents approve it, the design would go to the city council for its review.

The visitors center would be attached to the River Campus Museum, which has been relocated in the latest design and now adjoins the proposed 1,000-seat performance hall and a central lobby.

School officials said the design shows off the old brick, former Catholic seminary buildings that would be incorporated into the project. The change would make the museum and visitors center more visible to motorists approaching the west side of the campus from a new Fountain Street exit from Highway 74, the new Mississippi River bridge route.

Fountain Street entrance

The reason for the redesign is that most of the visitors to the campus are expected to enter from a new Fountain Street rather than from Morgan Oak Street, the current entrance to the site, school officials said.

"We believe the main entrance to the River Campus for many people will be from Fountain Street," said Dr. Pauline Fox, vice president of administration and enrollment management.

The museum originally was proposed for the northeast side of the property near Morgan Oak Street.

Rather than a separate structure, it will be connected to the theater and arts school building. The new construction will connect to the L-shaped, four-story brick seminary whose oldest section dates back to 1843.

In all, there will be six levels, but the new construction will be south and west of the old seminary. The sloping ground allows for multiple levels without towering over the old brick building, school officials said.

Dr. Ken Dobbins, university president, likes the new design. "This is going to highlight the historic structure more," he said.

The historic building will be converted into space for faculty offices, a dining area, piano and computer labs and lecture halls. The former seminary chapel would be turned into a space for choir rehearsals and a lecture hall.

The new construction would include art and dance studios, a recital hall and rehearsal rooms and classrooms.

Two lawsuits by Cape Girardeau businessman Jim Drury held up the project for a time. Drury objected to the use of city tax dollars for the project. But court rulings have cleared the way for the project to proceed, although Drury has suggested he might file another lawsuit.

The delays allowed time to draw up a better plan for the arts campus, said Jerry Ford of the River Campus Board of Managers -- which will manage the museum, theater and historic grounds.

"The whole key is the visitors center," said Ford, who believes it will boost attendance at the museum.

Under the plan, the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau -- now operated by the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce -- would have a more visible location than its current place, a former bank building at the corner of Main and Broadway in the city's downtown.

It would be a state visitors center operated by the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, and funded by the city's motel and restaurant tax, Ford said.

Fox said the university will ask the Missouri Division of Tourism to designate the center as a state visitors center. School officials then hope to secure federal money through the Missouri Department of Transportation to construct the visitors center, which is expected to cover 5,000 square feet. The adjoining museum would be about 20,000 square feet.

School officials said Thursday they are ready to proceed with the $36.5 million project to turn a former Catholic seminary on the banks of the Mississippi River into a visual and performing arts school. The area covers 16.6 acres of what was once St. Vincent's Seminary.

The regents are expected to approve revised contracts with Jacobs Facilities Inc. of St. Louis to proceed with final architectural and engineering work for the project and BSI Inc. of St. Louis for construction management services.

Jacobs Facilities -- which drew up the conceptual design -- would be paid $3.65 million for the final architectural and design work. BSI would receive about $1.33 million for managing the construction project.

The university inked contracts with both firms two years ago before Drury lawsuits held up the project. The latest contracts have been revised slightly, school officials said.

The university was able to proceed with the conceptual design for the entire River Campus after securing federal funding to plan for the art and regional history museum.

Dobbins said the university in January may ask the Missouri Development Finance Board, a state-created entity, to issue as much as $30 million in bonds to fund the project.

The Southeast Missouri University Foundation has raised $6.7 million toward the project, Dobbins said. The fund-raising foundation's goal has been to raise over $10 million for the project.

Ultimately, state and Cape Girardeau city tax dollars and private donations would be used to pay off the bonds, school officials said.

The state has earmarked $16.55 million for the project. The city of Cape Girardeau is expected to provide $8.9 million in motel and restaurant tax money.

If all goes well, the first construction work could begin in the spring with work on a new Fountain Street exit off the Highway 74 bridge route. That has to happen before any building work can proceed, Dobbins said.

335-6611, extension 123

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