ST. LOUIS — Architects for the new Major League Soccer stadium under construction downtown have added more public space and retail to their plans, aiming to keep the Gateway Mall active even on days without a soccer match.
St. Louis City SC’s construction team unveiled designs on Wednesday for a new pavilion and team store on the southwest corner of 21st and Market streets, which architects say could include a coffee shop or other gathering place near practice fields and team offices planned south of the 22,500-seat stadium. The plaza is one of several spaces designed to enliven and define the west end of the Gateway Mall — a key goal of the ownership group led by the Taylor family of rental car giant Enterprise Holdings.
“There’s a lot of activities we’re seeding the site with that we hope will bring new activity,” Minneapolis-based Snow Kreilich Architects CEO Julie Snow, who is working with St. Louis-based architecture firm HOK, said in a video released by the team. “That works so well with Union Station and the Ferris wheel and the aquarium and all of the things that are being planned in St. Louis. We’re really hoping the stadium provides that critical mass to really unite and create a vibrant end for the Mall.”
The release of extra details comes amid high interest among St. Louisans eagerly awaiting their new professional sports franchise: The team broke MLS records in September with 50,000 season ticket deposits within the first 24 hours. But the emphasis on year-round, pedestrian-friendly activity also follows a move that angered some urbanists — the demolition of several brick buildings along Olive Street to build a parking structure for neighboring office workers, replacing a surface lot inside the stadium’s footprint.
MLS expansion team says it got requests for 50,000 season tickets in the first 24 hours it was taking deposits. Stadium will seat about 22,500.
Architects maintained that the stadium’s and district’s design will make the area far more vibrant than it has been. Other year-round design elements include a plaza on the eastern edge of the stadium — complete with a pub or other amenity to draw pedestrians — and the “South Bar,” an event space on the stadium’s southern edge along Market Street.
“A lot of stadiums are really focused on just those game events, and what we’ve done from the pavilion to the east side plaza to the South Bar … we’ve tried to deliver on the promise that this is not just a stadium,” HOK Design and Senior Principal Eli Hoisington said Wednesday. “I think ownership’s vision and the club’s vision has been clear.”
Entrances on all four corners of the stadium will welcome fans so there’s no “back door,” Snow said. Many fans will enjoy views of the Gateway Arch and Union Station and the St. Louis Wheel from inside the stadium. And even those without a ticket won’t be excluded from the game as they walk along Olive or Market streets.
“We’re designing a very open stadium, and by that we mean you’ll be able to see into the stadium on game day,” Snow said Wednesday. “Even if you’re not attending the event, you’ll get some of the excitement and energy of the space as you pass by.”
Part of the reason fans will be able to see into the stadium is the field sits below street level, and the stadium itself is embedded in the street. Excavation on the stadium site north of Market Street is nearly three stories deep on the western edge.
“We’re going to drive semi-tractor trailer trucks underneath there to a subterranean loading dock, so we need three stories of height to get it done,” Hoisington said.
Sources close to the ownership group say designers hope to keep Downtown West activated with stadium restaurants and commercial space accessible to pedestrians beyond game day.
There’s also been plenty of care paid to the game experience for fans — namely making sure the acoustics keep it loud.
“That was one of the outstanding goals of the design team was to really intensify the fan experience, which really, I would say, rests largely on creating noise within the stadium,” Snow said.
Construction has been underway for much of the year, perhaps most visible to motorists along Highway 40 (Interstate 64) due to the removal of highway overpasses and the closure of exit ramps into Downtown West.
Much of the site clearing and preparation work is complete, and steel will be going up in about two weeks, said Sarah Narjes, a project executive with construction firm Mortensen, part of a joint venture with Alberici Corp. and L. Keeley Construction building the almost $400 million project. Matt Sebek, the team’s chief experience officer, said it will soon allow fans to register for a chance to be one of 11 chosen to autograph the first piece of steel that goes up on the site.
Already, construction crews have finished an underground tunnel linking the stadium on the north side of Market Street to planned practice fields and offices to the south of the street. Plans originally called for work to be complete by March 2022 in time for the start of the MLS season. But the coronavirus pandemic pushed back St. Louis City SC’s inaugural season to 2023, giving the construction team more breathing room.
Still, they plan to be finished sometime in 2022, in time for March 2023.