ST. LOUIS • Over the next three years, a sleek, square soccer stadium may rise out of highway ramps and empty fields west of Union Station downtown. Architects imagine sharp corners, open ends, public plazas and a clear canopy that reaches over the seats and amplifies the deafening game day roar.
The ownership group working to land a Major League Soccer team here has designed an open-air stadium with a natural-grass field 50 feet below street level, ringed by 22,000 seats in two tiers, according to the first renderings of the stadium to be publicly released. A wide, long awning of clear plastic architectural sheeting shelters the seats, keeping out weather, letting in light and holding in noise.
“This is the real deal,” said Carolyn Kindle Betz, one of the owners and the face of the group. “The ownership group is absolutely committed to getting this team.”
The release of the renderings, which Betz called conceptual, comes just days after MLS owners voted to expand the league by three teams to 30 and enter exclusive negotiations with the top two bids, in St. Louis and Sacramento, Calif.
The decision ended weeks of speculation on which city’s bid would win. The league had long said it would expand no further than 28 this year.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Thursday invited both bids to make formal presentations within the next few weeks to the MLS expansion committee, which vets proposals before taking them to the whole board. The league soon will ask for “formal and final” plans regarding stadium design, corporate support, the makeup of the ownership group, fan development, player development, community programs and the “detailed economics” of team operations.
The St. Louis owners — World Wide Technology CEO Jim Kavanaugh and Enterprise Holdings’ Taylor family — announced their effort last fall. Since then, the St. Louis effort, called MLS4TheLou, has met with Garber multiple times, but otherwise kept its progress a secret, saying largely that it is engaged in the quiet, private work of securing corporate sponsors and locking down site and stadium designs.
The St. Louis ownership group vying for a Major League Soccer team has released renderings of its proposed stadium. Rendering by HOK and Snow …
Meanwhile, Sacramento’s group has publicized its progress: Local owners added a billionaire grocer, released downtown railyard stadium renderings and secured a $33 million incentive package from the city.
Garber noted on Thursday that the St. Louis effort has a lot of work to do.
The release of St. Louis stadium renderings now serves two functions for the ownership group: It demonstrates to MLS owners that the St. Louis bid isn’t taking Thursday’s good news for granted. And it generates fan excitement as MLS4TheLou moves into a few key months. Garber hopes to make formal expansion announcements before the league’s All-Star game in July.
The St. Louis ownership group visited six MLS team sites as it gathered data for its design. The Los Angeles Football Club and Minnesota United had brand-new fields to show off. The New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy taught them the lessons of more established venues: The Red Bulls had trouble growing grass under their canopy, which led MLS4TheLou to the clear roofing material.
The Galaxy’s Dignity Health Sports Park has grown a retail district around it. St. Louis owners also traveled to Kansas City, to understand how Sporting KC created “neighborhoods” within its stadium. And they visited FC Dallas, whose owners they know and with whom they see a potential team rivalry.
All of that information led St. Louis designers to create an open-air and intimate stadium in the spirit of modest, low-slung European club venues. No seat is farther than 120 feet from the field; the closest are just 20 feet away.
Designs for new MLS stadiums in Austin, Texas; Cincinnati; Columbus; and even Miami, to some extent, show remarkably similar concepts: two tiers of seats, overhead awnings and seat-less corners, to reduce visibility concerns.
St. Louis designers imagine public spaces around the stadium: stages, shops, cafes, restaurants and enough plaza space to raise tents for tailgating.
And the clear sheeting, made of 200,000 square feet of a plastic called ethylene tetraflouroethylene, or ETFE, can hold light and video, meaning owners could illuminate or project onto the new stadium’s roof and walls.
The space is sized for the St. Louis market, owners said, to keep general admission seats reasonably priced, but with enough premium seats, too. If there’s crushing demand, the owners can add 3,000 seats with minimal cost.
The ownership group is collaborating with the design team of HOK and Julie Snow, co-founder of Snow Kreilich Architects.
The ownership group will start hosting fan focus groups soon, to get feedback on stadium design and features — and not just food and beverages, but also team songs, supporter seating section locations, and storage for drums, banners and “those things that make it quintessentially dreadful for any team to come play against us,” said MLS4TheLou marketing lead Lee Broughton, a former Enterprise executive and the husband of ownership member Chrissy Taylor.
They are hoping fans will see the stadium as their own, Broughton said, instead of untouchable “hallowed ground.”
Owners want to start construction next year.
The preparation is going to be a ton of work, Kindle Betz said on Friday. But she’s ready.
“We have so much support,” she said. “It will get done.”
They are now closer than the closest seats.