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St. Louis: What’s new in St. Lou’?

Courtesy St. Louis CVC

St. Louis is undergoing a major facelift, and in 2011, travelers can begin to enjoy a whole raft of improvements and updates taking place throughout the city.

Hotel construction projects in the range of $352 million have taken place in the city’s downtown convention district, with a historic Union Pacific rail depot and other old buildings being repurposed as accommodations and shops for downtown visitors. Additional hotel renovations near the riverfront and other popular tourist areas give visitors an array of lodging options that are close to their favorite attractions.

Some complete neighborhoods are in the midst of sprucing up.

“We’re building on Washington Avenue,” said Donna Andrews, director of public relations for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. “An old abandoned mall, St. Louis Center, is being totally gutted, and ugly bridges over Washington Avenue have been torn down so you have a beautiful view right down to the river.”

The area around the Gateway Arch will also begin a renovation project in 2011 designed to more closely link the national park area and downtown St. Louis. That project is scheduled for completion in 2015.

The St. Louis Science Center this year announced a $9.5 million expansion of its exhibit hall, which is scheduled to be completed next summer. The new hall will add 12,000 square feet of permanent exhibit space to the museum, allowing it to host major traveling exhibitions such as “Body Worlds” and “Real Pirates.”

Beyond exhibitions, the expansion brings a sustainability component to the museum — the new structure is on track to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, and will include a green roof with an outdoor terrace for educational programs and special events.

Another highly anticipated development coming next year is the reopening of the Peabody Opera House, which was known as the Kiel Opera House until it closed in 1991.

“It’s a gorgeous art-deco venue that dates back to the early ’30s,” said John Urban, executive vice president of events for the opera house and the adjacent Scottrade Center. “All of the well-known acts of the day performed there, everyone from Ray Charles to the Rat Pack, and wonderful symphonic performances.

“So, the restoration we’re doing is a $75 million turning back of the clock. There’s so much in the venue that’s wonderful and traditional and that will be maintained and restored authentically.”

After a 20-year dormancy, the opera house will open again next fall with 3,100 seats. The same ownership group that renovated Radio City Music Hall in New York is spearheading the project.

Organizers plan to host a lineup of musical and comedy performances, as well as touring Broadway productions and family-oriented shows. These events will be mixed with fare created by an in-house team.

“We’re going to do a holiday production,” Urban said. “We feel like it’s really important for us to embrace the holidays and create something unique. So for Christmas 2011, we’re going to be presenting our version of ‘The Grinch.’ We’ll be turning the whole block into a Christmas environment.”

Researching your trip:
St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission

For more about St. Louis:

This is the year to come back to St. Louis
Civil War Commemoration
Behind the scenes
What’s new in St. Lou’?
WEB EXCLUSIVE! St. Louis Photo Slideshow

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.