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Federal stimulus dollars to help turn Grand Center landmark into charter school

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis

St. Louis – A redevelopment project in Grand Center will be going ahead with the help of federal stimulus money.

Governor Jay Nixon on Monday awarded the developer of the Beaux Arts building $8 million in Recovery Zone Facility Bonds to turn 115,000 square feet into classrooms and performance space for the Grand Center Arts Academy. The new charter school, which will American Quality Schools will operate for the Confluence Academy, is the first charter in the region to have a performing arts curriculum.

"The performing arts are a vibrant part of St. Louis's cultural heritage, and the Arts Academy will add another jewel to the Grand Center crown," Nixon said. "This school in this location has the potential to be Missouri's answer to Julliard."

The Beaux Arts was part of the real estate portfolio owned by John Steffen's Pyramid Companies, which went bankrupt almost two years ago. But according to Grand Center Inc. president Vince Schoemehl, it's needed a new life for much longer than that.

"I think the 1950s was the last time there was an occupancy permit for the upstairs," he said. "So this has been a big hole in the middle of an important part of this community for a very long time."

Stephen Smith's development company The Lawrence Group will develop the building; an entity of the company owns the property. The federal dollars, he said, are a crucial piece of the $21.4 million makeover.

"Prior to two weeks ago, we still had a gap between what it was going to cost and the money we had available," Smith said." When the state of Missouri made the commitment to provide the Recovery Zone bonds, that filled the last financing component of the project to allow us to move forward."

The new facility should be ready by September. Students will start the year in temporary space at a nearby church.


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