Large Gifts Put The Muny On Track To Complete Renovations By June | St. Louis Public Radio

Large Gifts Put The Muny On Track To Complete Renovations By June

Jan 16, 2019

The Muny is on track to finish most of its planned renovations in time for the start of the 2019 season in June.

The outdoor theater in Forest Park has so far announced $42.7 million in donations toward its $100 million goal, managing director Kwofe Coleman said.

The Muny acknowledged a gift of $20 million from James and Elizabeth McDonnell of JSM Charitable Trust in August, and 12 gifts of $1 million each in December.

“What was really great about this is it shows ... the power of philanthropy in this community,” Coleman said. “We’ve made it 101 years because people in this community have sustained us through ticket buying and general loyalty. This level of giving is another way that we show what this place means to people.”

The ongoing capital campaign is the first in the organization’s history. The 2018 performance season was its 100th.

Coleman said there is no target date to complete the campaign, but the theater is happy with its pace of progress. “From a bill-paying standpoint, everything is in great shape,” he said.

The money is targeted for major renovations to the theater’s facility, including a new stage and theatrical equipment, including lighting and sound gear. Funds will also go toward the theater’s endowment and general upkeep of its grounds.

The Muny grounds are owned by the City of St. Louis; the theater leases it for an annual fee of $1, with a commitment to keep the facility in good shape. Last year the lease with the city was extended to 2071.

A view of the backstage area at The Muny as construction continues.
Credit Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

Groundbreaking for the renovation took place in August, shortly after the end of the 2018 season. An aggressive schedule and double-shifts have put the theater in place to complete the major elements of construction by the end of January, according to Sean Smith, director of operations.

“Really everything that the audience would come to expect to see when they watch a show is gone and we’re in the process of rebuilding it,” Smith said. “We’ve dug out the orchestra pit, we’ve gotten down to dirt level and we are in the process of rebuilding the stage structure and the buildings.”

Most of the work will be done in time for the launch of the 2019 season, he said. The final touches won’t be added until the following year, including an ornamental covering over the sides of the stage that will resemble a seashell.

Muny regulars may notice another difference next season: The theater’s iconic canopy of trees overhanging the stage will be gone. A new canopy, formed by seven trees newly sourced from a tree farm outside Chicago, will be in place for the 2020 season.  Clones have been made from the old trees and will be planted somewhere on the grounds, Smith said.

The theater had hoped to save the original trees — even planning an irregularly shaped orchestra pit to allow for their root systems — but discovered during the planning process that they were ailing and ready to “retire” from show business.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.com

Correction:  There will be seven trees forming a canopy above the stage, in place for the 2020 season. A previous St. Louis Public Radio report misstated the number of trees and the timing of their installation.