The public finally gets its first look this week at Ballpark Village, the much-delayed development next to Busch Stadium. But even before it opens, St. Louisans are asking, “What’s next?”
No doubt the project’s first phase — a $100 million sports bar complex — will make a splash downtown. Bars and restaurants surround a big central court with a glass roof that will open when the weather is nice. Rooftop bleachers provide views into the ballpark. The Cardinals and their Ballpark Village co-developer, Cordish Cos. of Baltimore, expect first-year attendance to top 7 million.
And although that’s an impressive addition to downtown, it doesn’t include all the things promised when plans for Ballpark Village surfaced more than a decade ago.
Bill DeWitt III, the Cardinals’ president, has in his Busch Stadium office an easel displaying a site plan for further Ballpark Village development. So when might more buildings pop out of the ground on the six-block site? DeWitt can’t say.
“We’re just trying to get open Phase I,” he said.
But once the first part of Ballpark Village is up and running, he said, the developers will look closely at how to achieve something like their original plan, announced in 2000, to fill the 10-acre site with office buildings and a residential tower.
“In our minds, we have ideas about what would work best,” said DeWitt, adding that demand will determine what gets built and when. He said he believed the wait “won’t be long.”
“I’ve never given up on the hope of a large, mixed-use project that would fill the whole site,” he said.
At a meeting this month with Cardinals brass, Cordish officials discussed “in great earnest” construction of a residential building, a meeting participant said.
Cordish already plans to construct an apartment tower at the Power & Light District, its entertainment development — similar to Ballpark Village — in downtown Kansas City. Groundbreaking for the $79.2 million, 25-story building is set for April 14, Cordish said.
DeWitt said in an interview that the Ballpark Village parcel at Clark Avenue and Broadway could be ideal for a tall, thin residential tower. How tall and whether the units would be for sale or rent has yet to be decided. He said the residents would have “spectacular views.”
Also important is the preservation of views of downtown from inside Busch Stadium, DeWitt said.
“For me, the view the fans have of the downtown skyline is critical,” he said. “If anything, we’d hope to enhance it.”
Doug Woodruff, president of the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, said a residential tower at Ballpark Village would probably set “new, higher rent levels” for downtown. Some renters would be diehard, out-of-state Cardinals fans who want a convenient place to stay when they come to St. Louis for games, Woodruff said. A few such fans already have pieds-à-terre at Cupples Station, he said.
The Cardinals say 40 percent of their annual 3 million in attendance comprises people who live more than 100 miles from Busch Stadium.
Woodruff said that if a residential tower was Ballpark Village’s next step, the Cardinals and Cordish would “figure out the right time, and that will help all of downtown,” he said.
Looking beyond a residential tower, DeWitt sees the three tracts on the Walnut Street side of Ballpark Village as suitable for office buildings. The area’s southwest corner might some day get a hotel, he said.
Of immediate concern to operators of bars and restaurants outside Ballpark Village is how the new competition will affect their business. Date the new person, then come back to your old flame, is the attitude of some bar operators.
Kim Heidger, manager of O’Kelleys at the Ball Park, three blocks from the stadium, said that Ballpark Village would be the new favorite, at least for a while.
“My honest opinion is that when it first opens a lot of people will go there and check it out,” she said.
Heidger said she hoped that when the novelty wore off, customers would drift back to the area bars they knew.
“To me, Ballpark Village is a corporate thing, and they have plenty of money,” she said.
Some veteran bar owners said they believed that those most hurt by Ballpark Village would be the baseball-season only bars scattered among the parking lots and elevated rail lines south of Busch Stadium. Also taking some chin music could be the Soulard bars that cater to the baseball crowd by running shuttle vans to and from the ballpark.
Cory Hammerstone, an owner of Hammerstone’s, said her 17-year-old Soulard bar might expand its shuttle service to try to hang onto the fans who arrive hours before first pitch and don’t want to pay to park near the stadium. She hopes that after Ballpark Village’s “first blush” wears off, her regulars return. Hammerstone added that she doubted Ballpark Village would deepen the pool of bar customers.
“It’s just taking the same business and spreading it around,” she said. “But people who like our place will always like a place like ours.”
Closer to Busch Stadium is Cupples Station, the warehouse district of condos, apartments, bars and the Westin Hotel.
At Joe Buck’s restaurant, general manager Allison Hughey is paying close attention to Ballpark Village, just a two-block walk on Spruce Street. She said her place’s more upscale menu would help protect it from the new competition.
“People may go see the shiny, new toy but they’re going to come back to the things that they know,” she said.
A block from Buck’s is Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, a craft beer-focused restaurant that opened last March. Manager Colt Miller said he believed his place, the 16th Flying Saucer in the Texas-based chain, would continue to do well. He noted that ownership knew of Ballpark Village when it decided to expand to downtown St. Louis. Miller said he believed Ballpark Village would grow everyone’s business.
“I think it’s going to attract more people,” he said. “I think it’s going to spread out some of the baseball craziness downtown.”
Another Flying Saucer is at the Power & Light District, in Kansas City. Like Ballpark Village, Power & Light has a central court ringed by restaurants, some owned by Cordish. Unlike Power & Light, Ballpark Village lacks its host city’s financial security blanket.
St. Louis officials refused to guarantee the debt from Ballpark Village bonds. Kansas City accepted that obligation and is now burdened by millions of dollars in payments.
Last month, a city council committee backed a plan to refinance the city’s Power & Light District debt to help pay municipal employee pension costs, the Kansas City Star reported. The plan adds seven years to the district’s debt payments, to 2040. It lowers payments from 2015 through 2019 to free up cash to help pay pension costs but bumps up the payments between 2020 and 2040 for a net increase in overall debt of $36 million, the newspaper reported.
The Cardinals and Cordish secured Ballpark Village bonds themselves, a key step, DeWitt said, in pushing the project forward. But it’s not as if the developers are building Ballpark Village completely on their own dime. State and local incentives of $17 million for the first phase could eventually reach $183.5 million if the project meets benchmarks on retail, office, residential and other offerings.
CITY’S ‘LIVING ROOM’
DeWitt said Ballpark Village would succeed and grow downtown business by prompting Cardinals fans to come earlier to games and stay later. The development’s first phase includes a Cardinals hall of fame and the Fox Sports Midwest television studio. Family-friendly offerings will be among Ballpark Village’s 200 yearly events, he said.
Super Bowl, March Madness and even Oscars watch parties could be held before the 40-foot television at Ballpark Village’s central court, DeWitt said. “This can be the city’s living room for these events,” he said.
When announced nearly 14 years ago, Ballpark Village was to have 400,000 square feet of new office space, a 21-story condo tower, stores, a museum and even an aquarium, with half the project to be finished by 2011.
Work couldn’t start until Busch Stadium opened in 2006. Then came the recession, which flattened the markets for credit and high-end condos. In 2007, Centene Corp. announced plans to put its headquarters there but pulled out six months later to remain in Clayton. Two years ago, the Cardinals announced a plan for a 13-story office building widely believed to be a new headquarters for Stifel Financial Corp. But Stifel decided to buy its current downtown headquarters rather than move.
The Cardinals still envision hundreds of millions of dollars in development. DeWitt said new buildings and parking garages would eventually replace the 400 parking spaces that cover most of the old stadium site.
Yet even now, a feature no Ballpark Village rival can equal is the patch of green on the site of the old stadium’s infield. New base paths match the alignments of the long-gone infield, where Mike Shannon snared one-hoppers to begin double plays with Julian Javier and Orlando Cepeda.
Big images of the old stadium’s distinctively arched canopy are displayed on the adjacent Ballpark Village wall. DeWitt said the intent was to give visitors to the replica infield a view reminiscent of old Busch.
“It was my idea,” he said.