Learning center

Powell Hall’s $100 Million Renovation Will Add a Lobby, Learning Center – and Legroom | Music

By Daniel Durchholz | Special for Post-Shipment

A major $100 million renovation and expansion is underway for Powell Hall, home to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

It will be the first major project at Powell since 1968, when the SLSO purchased and renovated the Grand Center site for its permanent home. Plans for the project were announced on Wednesday.

SLSO President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard said work is expected to be completed by 2025. It will be the 100th anniversary of the building, originally the St. Louis Theatre, a movie theater and a vaudeville hall.

Powell Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

The St. Louis Theatre, now Powell Hall, in the 1960s

Courtesy of SLSO

The main feature of the project is a 65,000 square foot addition that will wrap around the south and east sides of the building and house a new learning center, lobby and expanded backstage area.

The Learning Center will provide dedicated rehearsal space for the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, In Unison Chorus and St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. It will also host the orchestra’s educational programs, lectures and performances, which total more than 300 events per year.

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“Our workshops with the teachers, the classes with the students and all the educational activities that we have to do in person will take place there,” said Bernard. “It will serve as a venue for master classes or for a reading of new works with a small ensemble and will also have a recording facility to capture performances from the main stage or this space.”

Backstage will include a new music library, a lounge for musicians and guest artists, dressing rooms and storage for large instruments.


A 65,000 square foot addition to the south and east sides of Powell Hall will include space for a new lobby, education center, expanded backstage and rehearsal space. Green spaces and additional parking will be added outside.

Courtesy of SLSO

Powell’s east side learning center will be connected to a new south side hall. Facilities will include concession areas, cloakroom, elevators and restrooms.

Bernard stressed that the additions “will not change the appearance or nature of the building inside and out, but will only improve the appearance and quality of the building”.

In terms of renovations, the objective is to preserve the character of the building while ensuring that it meets the needs of the 21st century.

Powell Hall - Interior 2020.jpg

An interior view of Powell Hall during a 2020 performance of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

Courtesy of SLSO

“With older buildings, there comes a time when your outlets have to match,” Bernard said. “If you change a light bulb, you don’t want to suddenly realize that they don’t make that part anymore. You have to start asking yourself, “What will this look like in 10, 20, 50 years?”

Inside the concert hall, known for its excellent acoustics and excellent sight lines, improvements will also be made.

The seats, which date from 1967, will be replaced by larger and more comfortable ones. Significantly, the number of seats will be reduced from 2,683 to 2,150, allowing for additional legroom.

“We’ve done several studies, and we feel comfortable with that number,” Bernard said. “We always felt the venue, the current size (in terms of seating), was slightly too big.”

By comparison, the nearby Fox Theater seats 4,500; The downtown Stifel Theater seats 3,100 people.

RENDER - Auditorium 2.jpg

As part of a $100 million renovation project, Powell Hall will get new comfortable seating and more legroom. The number of seats will increase from 2,683 to 2,150.

Rendered courtesy of SLSO

She adds that there will be more accessible seating at the ADA, along with handrails and other safety and convenience measures.

A state-of-the-art lighting system will be installed and additional soundproofing will be added to prevent street noise from disrupting performance. Some of the building’s mechanical systems will be moved below the stage to prevent other types of noise from intruding as well.

“The goal is to preserve Powell Hall’s great acoustics and fix a few weak spots,” Bernard said. The sound design of the new spaces is also in the spotlight, he added. “We want to make sure the lobby is conducive to conversation and in the education and learning center that the acoustics support the activities we want to hold there.”

Outside, the project provides for the creation of green spaces and additional car parks.

In a statement, Steve Finerty, chairman of the SLSO board, said the renovation and expansion will “strengthen SLSO’s position as the region’s economic engine, which is already generating $100 million in economic activity each year. Saint-Louis is experiencing a renaissance in investment and innovation, and the SLSO is thrilled to be part of this trajectory.

Among the firms engaged for consultation, design and construction are Snøhetta, the project manager and design architect; Christner Architects and BSI Constructors, based in Saint-Louis; Schuler shook; and Kirkegaard. Care was paid, Bernard said, to include minority and women-owned businesses.

RENDER - Auditorium 1.jpg

As part of a $100 million renovation project, Powell Hall will get new comfortable seating and more legroom. The number of seats will increase from 2,683 to 2,150.

Rendered courtesy of SLSO

The plan is up for review later this month by the city’s Preservation Board. It’s unclear if the orchestra will be moved from Powell at any time during construction, but Bernard expects no performance disruptions.

The project, she said, will be privately funded by “individuals, foundations, corporations. This is the kind of project that is usually financed by the friends of the symphony orchestra. It’s similar to what the Muny did, similar to what the (Missouri) Botanical Garden did.

Like other major construction and renovation projects in the city, Bernard said, the renovation of Powell Hall is “an investment in the community.”

“I am thrilled that we can preserve a historic monument and also invest in a building that is really at the center of a very important urban development in Saint-Louis,” she said. “North to south, from Arch to (Forest) Park, Powell Hall is right in the middle. So it’s not just a symphonic project, it’s a project that will have a positive impact on the economic development of the city.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Wednesday, June 29, 2022