Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Whatever Happened To the Planned Exhibition Hall?

Back in the late 90s, the Civic Entrepreneurs Organization - a local association of mid-sized companies - floated the idea of constructing an exhibition hall in downtown St. Louis. The facility would be used to showcase the large traveling exhibits that apparently pass St. Louis by because we do not have an appropriate venue.

In January 1999, the group set up a not-for-profit organization - Gateway Exhibits - commissioned a feasibility study and even pledged $1 million to get the project started. The feasibility study by Economic Research Associates in Chicago concluded that a typical five-month-long show at the proposed exhibit hall would attract nearly 430,000 people from St. Louis and within a 600-mile radius.

The group proposed "an 80,000 to 100,000 square foot building that would contain a high-ceilinged, 25,000 square foot exhibit gallery, 200 seat theater, banquet hall, gift shop and an area for receiving and setting up exhibits." The total projected cost would be $10 million.

Sounds great, right?

They then went to select a site, initially ruling out the Old Post Office, 555 Washington/Union Market and St. Louis Centre from the running, and eventually settling on three options in April 1999:

- The Merchandise Mart - then vacant, since converted to loft apartments

- A vacant lot on Laclede's Landing - now the site of the Lumiere Place casino

- Using air rights owned by Bi-State Development Agency over a block bounded by 15th, 16th, and Spruce streets and Clark Avenue to build over MetroLink’s tracks and include a tunnel for the trains. The lot next to the tracks is the site of the Missouri Valley Conference's proposed headquarters.

It sounded like an exciting project that would give dowtown a much-needed cultural venue. However, despite the feasibility study and the money committed, the plans apparently never got off the ground.

So what happened? How did this idea die? Is this still a viable concept? It would be great as part of a mixed-use development, and there are still plenty of good sites available downtown (Ballpark Village, anyone?).

I'd be interested to know the circumstances surrounding its demise.

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