Baseball and beer have always gone together in this town.
Now they'll be going together in Ballpark Village.
The Cardinals Tuesday announced the first tenant in their long-awaited development alongside Busch Stadium. Its name: Anheuser-Busch.
The ballclub and the big brewer have reached a licensing and sponsorship agreement for a restaurant and beer garden as part of the project's $100 million first phase. The restaurant, one of three anchor tenants around an event plaza, will be owned by the Cardinals and their development partners Cordish Co., but will bear the Budweiser name, have a German theme and offer more than 100 beers on tap.
“Anheuser-Busch has always been a great partner of the Cardinals and their commitment to this project will strengthen an already-great corporate relationship,” said Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III.
Anheuser-Busch's involvement with the Cardinals, of course, goes back to the '50s, when it bought the team. It sold them in 1996, but has maintained close relations, for instance buying the naming rights to Busch Stadium. The Cardinals have been talking for some time with the brewer about a role in Ballpark Village, said DeWitt.
Alcohol laws prevent big breweries from owning restaurants and bars, but A-B has in the past licensed its name and brands to themed bars. The brewer licensed a string of Budweiser Brew House bars in airports and stadiums in the early 2000s, and still has one in the Edward Jones Dome.
It's not clear how much A-B will contribute financially to the Ballpark Village project, but DeWitt said their investment is “substantial.” A brewery spokesman had little information on the deal late Tuesday, but in a statement, A-B InBev's North American President Luiz Edmond called it “the next chapter in a long and storied history” between the brewer, the team and their shared hometown.
“Not only will Ballpark Village enhance the way St. Louisans enjoy their city, but it will be the first impression many visitors get of downtown,” he said. “We're proud to help bring this vision to life.”
Ballpark Village has been a sore spot downtown for five years now. The Cardinals have floated multiple development plans, only to see financing and tenants fall through, and the 10-acre site is still an empty field. What was first pitched as a glitzy mix of office towers, condos and shopping, maybe even an aquarium, is now two blocks of “entertainment concepts” that will be surrounded by parking lots, where the Cardinals hope to build more in the future.
Still, those two blocks are now 80 percent leased, says DeWitt. That includes the Budweiser restaurant and two more as-yet unnamed tenants in one building, plus a 30,000-square-foot “Cardinals Nation” restaurant, museum and Hall of Fame, with rooftop seating looking into Busch Stadium, all arrayed around a “St. Louis Live!” event space.
After working on the project for so long, said DeWitt, it's nice to have actual tenants to discuss.
“This is going to be helpful to people recognizing that this is for real,” he said. “There's real tenants here.”
And the timing is no accident. The Cardinals are set to pitch their plan to a committee of St. Louis Aldermen this morning. The Board must amend the redevelopment plan and bless $18 million worth of tax-backed bonds for the project to go forward.
If that happens, and state approvals follow, DeWitt said he hopes to finally start construction on Ballpark Village this fall, with a goal to open the Cardinals Nation, Budweiser restaurant and other tenants by Opening Day in 2014, putting beer and baseball together again.