By Eric Dundon
On March 16, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra announced its plans to renovate and expand its home at Powell Hall—the first major renovation of the building since it became the SLSO’s permanent home in 1968. The renovation and 65,000-square-foot expansion—estimated at more than $100 million—will transform the 1925 building into a vibrant and accessible music center for the entire community. Primary project goals include fostering innovation and greater community connections through the creation of a music center, enhancing the audience and artist experience, and modernizing the venue while preserving its historic character.
“This is an exciting chapter in the SLSO’s history,” said Marie-Hélène Bernard, SLSO President and CEO.
We will preserve the history of Powell Hall while also creating a hub for community, innovation, and powerful music experiences.”
The project aims to reflect how the concert experience has evolved and how the SLSO envisions better serving the people of the region through its mission: enriching lives through the power of music.
The cornerstone of the project is a 65,000-square-foot expansion that includes:
A new 3,400-square foot education and learning center that will serve as a rehearsal venue for the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, IN UNISON Chorus, and St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, and provide a space for education programs, lectures, and events. The center will serve as a platform for partnerships and collaborations to flourish—engaging, inspiring, and uniting the region’s residents as part of the SLSO’s vibrant community and education programs that include more than 300 performances and events a year.
A new lobby with accessible, welcoming, and updated amenities, including the addition of concession areas, coat check, elevators, and restrooms, connecting Powell Hall to the new backstage area and education and learning center.
A backstage space with expanded amenities for artists including new lounges, dressing rooms, practice spaces, instrument storage, a new music library, and media and recording suites. The backstage expansion will help ensure that Powell Hall remains a destination for the SLSO’s many celebrated artistic collaborators.
Powell Hall is one of America’s most acoustically remarkable and visually stunning concert halls. The renovation will improve safety, accessibility, and comfort, and will help ensure that it remains a treasured civic icon for generations to come by:
Improving existing entrances and adding new ones, making Powell Hall more welcoming for all Grand Center neighbors and visitors.
Establishing and nurturing beautiful outdoor green spaces.
Enhancing the listening experience in orchestra level seating and reducing external noise through soundproofing and isolation measures, as well as protecting and preserving the acoustics throughout the venue.
Reducing the auditorium’s capacity from 2,683 to 2,150 seats, creating a more intimate audience experience, featuring larger seats and additional leg room to increase comfort and improve accessibility.
Creating an ADA-accessible venue with additional seating, and improving the safety of the auditorium by adding handrails and three elevators.
Adding amenities including restrooms, concessions, and open gathering spaces, and improving parking areas and adding safer and accessible drop-off locations.
Installing a state-of-the-art lighting system, improving building infrastructure and the efficiency of existing building systems.
Construction is expected to begin in January 2023, with expected completion in early 2025, the 100th anniversary of the building’s opening. More details about the SLSO’s performance plans during the construction period will be shared at a later date.
The project is anchored in creating greater access to music—Powell Hall will become a true center for music and community. An expansion composed of more flexible, efficient, and accessible spaces will also allow the SLSO to realize a higher level of operational efficiency and business impact, while also broadening and deepening community collaborations.
“Ever since I first collaborated with our fabulous orchestra almost 20 years ago, I have been amazed by Powell Hall’s incredibly warm acoustics, its distinct sound depth,” said SLSO Music Director Stéphane Denève. “This great venue has a unique character and I always feel its beautiful soul while rehearsing or performing on stage. I am so excited by the renovation and expansion of our home. It will enhance all we love about Powell Hall, and I can’t wait to engage with our wonderful community in a space that is even more welcoming for all.”
Powell Hall, originally named the St. Louis Theatre, was erected as a movie theater in 1925 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Powell Hall has been a cornerstone of the Grand Center Arts District Redevelopment Project. The renovation and expansion of Powell Hall is part of decades-long urban development in housing; hotels; schools; and visual, media, and performing arts facilities. Other significant projects in the community include the construction of a new stadium for the St. Louis CITY SC soccer team, the opening and ongoing expansion of City Foundry STL, the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency campus, the Arch to Park coalition, the Brickline Greenway, and more.
“St. Louis is experiencing a renaissance of investment and innovation, and the SLSO is delighted to be a part of this trajectory, supporting St. Louis’ reputation as an extraordinary place to live with one of our nation’s richest arts scenes,” said Steve Finerty, Chair of the SLSO Board of Trustees. “The renovation and expansion of Powell Hall will strengthen the SLSO’s role as a community connector and artistic focal point of St. Louis.”
The project is guided by a Task Force of SLSO trustees, musicians, staff, and advisors under the leadership of SLSO Trustee Emily Rauh Pulitzer.
Snøhetta, the internationally acclaimed architecture firm, is the project lead and design architect. The firm’s portfolio includes the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Shanghai Grand Opera House, and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet.
In addition to lead architecture firm Snøhetta, the prime project team includes a number of industry-leading companies:
St. Louis-based Christner Architects, a woman-owned architecture design firm will serve as the architect of record.
Chicago-based Schuler Shook serves as the theatre planning consultant.
St. Louis-based BSI Constructors is the project’s construction manager.
Chicago-based Kirkegaard is the project’s acoustics design firm.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Manager.