Opera house revival calls on foreign cash

Opera house revival calls on foreign cash

Part 4 of the history of Fayette’s “New Opera House” series is titled “Historic Fayette Priority LLC.”

For the past week in this space, you have read about the past of the three-story brick building that sits abandoned on the southeast corner of the Fayette square, a relic of failure overshadowed by the resplendent Howard County Courthouse, just a few yards to the northwest.

If Fayette native Rick Alexander and his wife, Shelby, are successful with their Historic Fayette Priority LLC, the cadaverous structure will join the courthouse as a destination — a hotel and events center designed to recall the splendor of the original 1889 opera house that burned in 1902. The current “new” opera house rose from the ashes of the original in 1904.

Robert Frederick Alexander II was born in Fayette in 1974, the only son among four children of Fred and Barbara Alexander.

Dad ran a construction company, and Rick grew up in the construction world. He graduated from Fayette High School in 1993, attended the University of Kansas for a year and another year at Central Methodist College, then moved to St. Louis to become a land surveyor, marrying Shelby Michael of Charleston in 1999 and eventually landing in Columbia in 2001.

He returned to Central Methodist to earn a degree in economics in 2003, joined his dad in Alexander and Associates and moved back to Fayette in 2008.

During this time of transition in Rick’s life, the old brick brick building on the corner of the square, which serves as the anchor for the South Main Street National Register of Historic Places designation, was also in transition, no longer a performance site. It had become a place for business that seemed to change with the passing seasons. In 2011, the last business closed and the 111-year-old building was abandoned. The wrecking ball seemed destined to follow. Then came Rick Alexander.

Rick and Shelby see Fayette’s future in this once magnificent structure. It qualifies for historic site tax credits; as Central Methodist University has grown, Fayette’s need for a major hotel also has grown; the town can use an events center to join oft-crowded CMU facilities. The old building fills that bill.

Now all Rick needs is about $3 million. That is a huge sum in a town of 2,500 without a billionaire citizen. Rick Alexander, with two kids under age 13, can’t gamble his family’s future on his dream without a plan.

At this point, he has turned to a federal investment program titled EB-5, which has the potential to produce at least $1.5 million. EB-5 allows major foreign investors to invest at least $500,000 for U.S. projects that create or preserve at least 10 jobs; the investors gain green card eligibility.

Rick is currently doing the econometrics involving the possibility of adding 30 jobs to the Fayette economy, but time is not on his side.

The EB-5 program has a sunset clause, and that sunset is Dec. 31. To continue, the program requires congressional approval, but current sentiment of Congress makes renewal questionable.

All the current paperwork will be in the proper hands by early September. Rick and those who have helped him guide this project through the maze of paperwork are quite optimistic.

So what will the old red-brick building be when it is completed? The top two floors will offer 27 modern hotel rooms; the basement will be a bar-lounge; the main floor will include the hotel registration and a large banquet area, including a large kitchen.

At this time, Rick has no plans to operate a restaurant on a daily basis.

“If that demand is there, it will be a consideration,” he says. “But we are not in need for a place to find lunch in Fayette at this time.”

And if Rick fails in his EB-5 campaign?

“Fayette will still need the hotel and events center. We would need to find private investors with deep pockets, and that’s a tough task.”

Dreams don’t die an easy death, and magnificent old buildings deserve a better fate than the wrecking ball. The dream is alive, and the old building has a firm foundation.

Rick summed up his dream and his labors: “We’ll see what the future holds.”



  • New York

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