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St Louis Hotel Developer Donald Breckenridge Dies;
Once Owned 22 Ramada Hotels
By Tim O'Neil, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Dec. 1--Donald E. Breckenridge Sr., who developed landmark hotels in the St. Louis area and was working to revive the Kiel Opera House, died Wednesday night (Nov. 30, 2005) of lung cancer in his downtown condominium. He was 73.

Mr. Breckenridge, who was not a smoker, was diagnosed with the disease one year ago. He was active, both with his projects and exercise, until he suffered a relapse last month.

Over the years, he developed and put his name on several hotels that helped revive neighborhoods and area nightlife.

He made his Ramada Inn in Fenton a club-music draw in the 1960s, turned the moribund Spanish Pavilion into a thriving hotel in 1976 and, in 2001, reopened the old Edison Brothers warehouse downtown with a Sheraton Hotel and luxury condominiums, including the one he lived in.

Two years later, he announced he would seek to renovate and reopen Kiel Opera House, which closed in 1991. For decades after its opening in 1934, it had been one of the city's showplaces.

Jim Cloar, president of the Downtown St. Louis Partnership, called Mr. Breckenridge "a visionary who had a passion for downtown. He had a grand vision, he was always thinking and he never gave up."

Mr. Breckenridge grew up in Webster Groves and graduated from the University of Arizona, where he played third base on a baseball scholarship. He served in the Air Force in Europe.

The son of a concrete maker, Mr. Breckenridge began his career in 1958 as a salesman for the Brach Candy Co. He got into developing three years later with the Thornhill Estates subdivision in Town and Country.

His late father's business, Breckenridge Material Co., is owned by relatives on his late mother's side.

Mr. Breckenridge once ran 22 Ramada hotels, including his first -- the Ramada Inn motel in Jefferson City, which he built in 1964. His inspiration was the poor accommodation at the old Hotel Governor, one block from the State Capitol. Soon, his motel's Library Lounge was the hot night spot for people in -- and interested in -- state government.

"I want to do it better," he said in an interview in 1974. "Very few of us want to settle for second best."

Mr. Breckenridge's other high-profile hotel projects were the Breckenridge Airport Inn, now the Renaissance Airport Hotel; and the Breckenridge Hotel and Conference Center in Chesterfield, now the Doubletree. He was the founding developer of The Legends Country Club in Eureka and had hotels in Kansas City and the Lake of the Ozarks, Naples, Fla., and other cities.

Mayor Francis Slay said Mr. Breckenridge "knows how to turn vision into reality, and he's been at it downtown since the Spanish Pavilion. What he did with the Edison is beautiful."

City Comptroller Darlene Green called him "a true blessing to St. Louis."

His widow, Diane E. Breckenridge, said the family pledged during his final days to continue working to reopen Kiel Opera House. The project has been delayed by a lawsuit over the former federal building next door and the efforts of the St. Louis Blues' owners to sell the team and their lease of the Savvis Center, including the Opera House.

Mr. Breckenridge served on numerous civic and charitable boards. He served 19 years, four of them as president, on the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, and was a national vice president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association at the time of his death.

Dave Welborn, regional director of the MDA of St. Louis, said comedian Jerry Lewis got Mr. Breckenridge involved in 1974, when Lewis was playing some of his hotels.

"Don Breckenridge had a huge heart," Welborn said.

For the past three years, he had been chairman of the Breckenridge/Muscle Bash, a fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which is to be held Feb. 17 at his Sheraton downtown.

Mr. Breckenridge's first marriage ended in divorce. He and the former Diane Emmenegger were married in 1970.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Karen Fortune and Linda Emmenegger, both of Webster Groves, and Jennifer Ryan of Scottsdale, Ariz.; a son, Donald Breckenridge Jr. of Webster Groves; two step-children, Brick P. Storts IV of Webster Groves and Holly Morriss of Ladue; and 13 grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Ambruster-Donnelly Mortuary, 6633 Clayton Road. A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church, 9450 Clayton Road, followed by burial in Sunset Memorial Park in Affton.

Memorials may be made to the Muscle Bash, c/o the Muscular Dystrophy Association of St. Louis, 345 Marshall Avenue, Suite 101, Webster Groves, Mo. 63119.

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To see more of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.stltoday.com.

Copyright (c) 2005, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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