By Kitryn Marie and Stephen Lindsley
As you ascend the stairs of this magnificent building you are literally walking in the footsteps of history and culture. The Peabody Opera House, formerly known as the Kiel Auditorium, is a full event facility located adjacent to the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis. This arts and community center has hosted some of the biggest names in entertainment, from Rudolf Nureyev to the Rolling Stones. Now, after a major renovation and modernization that has revealed and restored its architectural wonders, the Opera House begins a new chapter in its long history as a place to gather in St. Louis.
A TOWN HALL FOR A GROWING CITY
In 1919 a planning commission was formed to begin work on a Municipal Auditorium for the city of St. Louis. Its design was inspired by the ideals of the City Beautiful Movement, an urban planning and development philosophy that was gaining nationwide prominence at the time. The goal was to raise the standard of civic life by creating a cityscape of monumental buildings and grand boulevards. The design of the auditorium was directly modeled after the architectural marvels of Louis LaBeaume and Eugene S. Klein that had recently been showcased at the 1904 World’s Fair. In 1923, St. Louis voters passed an $87.4 million bond issue for the redevelopment project that included $5 million for construction of the Municipal auditorium. The city began purchasing land for the project in 1927, a process that would not be completed until 1932, when construction finally began. The auditorium was officially dedicated in 1934, with an inaugural performance of Verdi’s Aida by the traveling company of the New York Metropolitan Opera. While the Opera House and theater was completed at this time, work would continue on the larger Convention Hall (later known as Keil Auditorium) until 1936.
Former St. Louis mayor Henry W. Kiel had been a strong proponent of the bond issue that had made the Municipal Auditorium possible. After his death in 1943 the auditorium complex was re-named in his honor. The list of popular entertainers and shows at the Opera House during the next 48 years reflects the constantly evolving tastes of concert-goers during this period of rapid change and innovation. The progression leads from jazz-age greats like the Ziegfeld Follies and the Count Basie Orchestra to the celebrated Rat Pack benefit concert in 1965, and from the likes of Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley to The Doors, Bruce Springsteen and The Eagles.
As the number of concert venues grew and the population of St. Louis continued its flight to the West, the Keil complex fell into decline in its later years, finally closing permanently on May 7, 1991. Over the next two decades, many attempts were made to gather financing to renovate the facility. After many false starts and failed initiatives, financing for the project was finally assembled in June of 2010. The final cost of the meticulous renovation was $78 million. A portion of this sum was achieved through selling the naming rights to Peabody Energy. The grand opening of the Peabody Opera House was held in October 2011, with performances by Aretha Franklin and Jay Leno. Levy Corporation, which handles food and beverage management for the Scottrade Center, America’s Center and a wide range of other convention centers, arenas an stadiums, was chosen as food service manager for the venue.
SPECIAL EVENTS COORDINATOR
Angie Carr, special events coordinator at the Peabody Opera House, says that client satisfaction is her primary objective. “We are here to make sure that the client receives the highest level of service possible, and that their individual requirements are met.” Carr notes that the event packages offered at the Peabody are used as templates to begin working with the meeting planner to customize the experience.
The Peabody features seven distinct event spaces, along with an exquisite, 3,500-seat main theatre. No longer simply an entertainment venue, the Opera House now functions as a multi-purpose meeting and event venue, with each area customized for specific types and sizes of events.
As guests arrive at the main entrance to the Peabody they pass the iconic limestone bears that flank the steps leading to the lobby. It is not unusual for first-time visitors, even those who remember the Kiel years, to gasp in amazement at the grandeur and elegance of the Grand Lobby, the first evidence of the sweeping renovations to the entire facility. The Grand Lobby area is one of the many options available to meeting and event planners. Groups using this space also have access to the mezzanine and an in-house dance floor. Tables, chairs, flatware, tableware, and linens are all available in-house as well. The Grand Lobby can accommodate up to 400 guests for a 4-hour event, priced at $4,950.
The Ballroom features the same inhouse amenities for up to 300 guests, plus a full sound system and state-ofthe- art video equipment are also available. A 4-hour rental of the Ballroom is $3,200. There is also a Deluxe Ballroom option that includes a 1-hour cocktail reception in the Midland States Bank Ballroom, before moving to the main event in the Side Theater Ballroom. This option is offered at $3,500
The Side Theater is ideal for presentations, awards banquets or events that include a live performance element. It is equipped with a proscenium ministage and offers two dressing rooms for performers. The fee of $3,200 includes a two-hour setup before the event and four hours of use.
The Main Theater of the Peabody is available for groups up to 3,100. It is a two-story theater equipped with a Masonite stage floor, dimmable house lights, theatrical lighting and a sound system. Rental of the Main Theater also includes use of the Main Lobby, and four dressing rooms are provided as part of the package. The Special Events Coordinator will determine pricing for this area depending on the complexity of the event.
The Kiel Club features a built-in bar, two wall-mounted televisions, and five 30-inch cocktail tables. It can accommodate up to 150 guests in a more informal setting, available at $2,500 for a 3-hour event, including two hours of setup.
The Peabody Lounge is another option for a more informal event, although every area of the Opera House has been renovated to a new level of décor and elegance. Similar to the Kiel Club but larger, the Peabody Lounge also centers on a full-service bar, but with built-in buffets and furniture instead of cocktail tables. A 3-hour rental for up to 300 guests is $3,500.
The final option is for an event utilizing the entire Opera House for up to eight hours. All areas of the facility are available, as well as in-house table settings for up to 600 guests. This option includes a four-hour setup prior to the event, and features 30 allotted parking spaces. (A smaller number of spaces can be allotted for events in each of thesmaller areas). Meeting planners can work with a Special Events Coordinator to determine pricing for events of this scope.
All events include standard opera house staffing and an in-house event manager. Room rentals are discounted 15% for non-profits.
The immaculate kitchen at the Peabody bustles with cooks in starched white coats and hats. Executive Sous Chef Heilmann is enthusiastic about the quality of his staff, who received their training in cooking schools across the country. “Each individual brings a unique talent to his team.” said Chef Heilmann. “The one thing about this group of there is very little staff turnover. They like what they do and they stay.”
Heilmann notes that the kitchen at the Peabody uses only the freshest, highest-quality foods from a wide range of vendors. The same care and attention is given to each meal, whether it is filet mignon and prawns for a formal dinner or the hotdogs and turkey clubs served in the concessions areas.
“The entire staff is encouraged to use their own creativity as they prepare meals for each event. This enhances the experience for everyone dining at the Peabody,” says Executive Chef Jeffery Seaborn, who manages both the Peabody Opera House and Scottrade Center kitchens.
Recalling the Peabody’s opening night in October of 2011, both Seaborn and Heilmann were impressed at how the staff worked tirelessly to stock and assemble the entire kitchen in just one week before the event. Says Chef Seaborn, “The actual opening night was all done in a timely fashion. Delivering meals to different parts of the building was a challenge, but our team executed in an efficient, professional manner. It was quite a rush to see the red carpets, and beams of light dancing across the sky. Hollywood came to St. Louis.”
Seaborn has noticed that a greater number of events are returning to a more formal approach, with more plated meals being served versus a buffet-style service. Yet both chefs say they are not opposed to preparing fun food either. When the Cardinals celebrated their World Series victory this past year, the kitchen at the Peabody assembled a menu of mini sliders, chili dogs, Memphis-style hotdogs and an elaborate Southwest nacho bar. Both chefs agree that, “If the customer wants it, we can do it.” The comments they have received from both event planners and guests have been outstanding.
One glowing endorsement came from Brian Gallagher, president and CEO of the United Way Worldwide. He wrote: “Being at the Peabody made it a very special evening for our generous donors. You and your team are to be commended for the excellent job you did in hosting the dinner. I have no doubt that you have helped us build relationships that will continue to come for years ahead. You helped make the evening exactly what we had hoped it would be.”
Event Planner Patricia Musgrave also recently organized a reception at the Peabody. “We can’t say enough about Peabody and Levy,” said Musgrave. “Their attention to detail is what made the reception so memorable. In regards to the Peabody staff, I don’t know who hired and trained these people, but they were the friendliest and helpful people I have ever encountered. The waiters, bartenders, elevator operators, security and even the young lady in the cloak room were not only friendly but genuinely cared, ensuring we had a good time.”
WHERE THE PAST MEETS THE FUTURE
The Peabody Opera House enjoys a long and fabled history in St. Louis. Now, new memories are being created in a facility that has never looked so good or worked so well. Looking ahead, Chefs Seaborn and Heilmann say they hope to eventually add a Mediterranean-themed dining room and wine bar, offering an all-inclusive evening out where guests would be treated to dinner and a show.
St. Louis once again has a worldclass music and entertainment venue in the heart of downtown, but now it has much more. With spaces large and small, formal and casual, and food service to satisfy every taste, the newly revitalized Peabody Opera house can add luster to an event of any size, and the attentive staff ensure that not only are the guests satisfied, but, importantly, so is the planner. MM&E
The Peabody Opera House
1400 Market Street
St. Louis, MO 63103
Special Events Coordinator
Phone: (314) 499-7619
Web Site: http://www.peabodyoperahouse.com