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‘Entertainment District’ Replaces ‘Festival Marketplace’ as Latest Trend

In the 1970s and 80s the “Festival Marketplace” was all the rage. This development concept was seen as the savior for many areas, including St. Louis’ Union Station. The Festival Markeplace was seen as a destination spot with entertainment and retail. The retail was often a clever adaptation of an existing building to form a mall space. Grand train stations were eagerly converted to this great new concept:

The fine 1888 headhouse became the grand entrance to the complex, housing an upscale restaurant on the former concourse floor. The eastern half of the shed became a festival marketplace, with specialty stores, bars, and a food court, while the western half was converted into a hotel, with new room modules built in the area occupied by most of the old tracks. Four tracks at the north and south ends were retained, and stocked with old heavyweight Pullmans, which were gutted to the shell and rebuilt with completely new interiors containing two rooms each.

This description is not about St. Louis’ Union Station although many similarities exist, including financial trouble of late. No, the above is about the Union Station in Indianapolis (source).

But after a couple of decades this concept is showing its age.

As city after city experienced trouble with their festival marketplaces, all suffering too little festivities and not enough commerce to pay the debts, something had to be done. Sadly, the solution was to only tweak the concept slightly and give it a new name. So today overblown development projects are called “mixed-use retail/entertainment districts.” Not quite as catchy as festival marketplace but that will give this new name greater longevity. The MUR/ED, as I will call it here, has little difference from failed festival marketplaces.

One primary difference we see, and it is a good one, is the embrace of the street. Gone are the days of multi-level indoor mall configurations of the festival marketplace. These have been replaced with overdone streets. Overdone in the sense of a cheap whore rather than a regal lady in a classic outfit.

The other main difference between the Festival Marketplace and the MUR/ED is the addition of housing. Again, this is a major improvement. With Festival Marketplaces such as our Union Station it was only after the locals and tourists stopped flocking to the attraction that people woke up and realized that if we had some housing there we’d have a built-in base of customers. Wow, these guys are brilliant that they’ve figured out that having residents creates retail customers!

The St. Louis Cardinals & The Cordish Company are planning one of these tarted up districts:

Ballpark Village is a $450 million mixed-use retail/entertainment and residential district being developed in partnership by The St. Louis Cardinals and The Cordish Company. Ballpark Village will cover six city blocks that will directly connect to the new Busch Stadium, which will be unveiled Opening Day of the Spring, 2006 season. Ballpark Village will feature approximately 450,000 square feet of retail/entertainment, 1,200 residential units, 400,000 square feet of office and 2,000 parking spaces. Located in the heart of downtown St. Louis, MO, Ballpark Village will be a world class district that will redefine the Gateway to the West.

World class? What makes it world class, an ESPN Zone sports bar? And it will “redefine the Gateway to the West” even though the Arch does a pretty good job of that right now. What they really should say is the district will be over-hyped with every chain business that will sign a lease. The developers will make their money in the first 20 years and could care less about creating a sustainable model for development beyond that. Furthermore, I see them creating, like the Bottle District North of the Dome, an internally focused area with little relationship to the surrounding area.

Ballpark Village will be hugely popular when it opens. It will lease the bulk of its retail & commercial space and the residential units will sell quickly. Getting a table at one of the new restaurants in the first year will be a challenge. But, in time what once seemed so new and exciting will age and no longer be the new hot spot. Some of the chains will simply close the location while other chains will go out of business nation-wide. In about 25 years the Cardinal’s owners, whomever that will be at the time, will begin talks with the city about building a new stadium. I’m just not confident in the long-term prospects of the adjacent “village.”

So what would I do differently?

Well, I’d drop the whole “Ballpark Village” name. A village, in my view, is self reliant. Yes, I know it is just a marketing ploy but in the long term such a fixed identity will hurt the area once it becomes passé. Counter to current trends, I would not give the area too distinct a visual look. Instead, I’d do my best to integrate the area with adjacent blocks so as to blend rather than stick out. Having 12 acres controlled and designed by one developer is apt to look too contrived. I’d suggest they create the street grid and then allow other developers/owners to take on various pieces of the total site. This would get closer to how things used to be and with multiple owners we would have great variety.

Chain restaurants & retail stores are typically only interested in a long-term lease whereas a locally owned business might be interested in purchasing a storefront condo. Trying to get local businesses as part of the mix will help with local people having a vested interest in the long range future of the area. Corporate offices of chains simply do not care. Of course, rental rates are often astronomical in these mega projects so chains are the only ones that can afford to locate in them. They become outdoor malls without the charm of Kansas City’s Countryclub Plaza.

Much is happening in other parts of downtown north of Market Street as well as in the Cupples Station area just to the West of the new stadium. It will be very important that residents and visitors all seamlessly walk from area to area but I have concerns the Ballpark Village will attempt to corral people simply to make its numbers work. To be successful, it will need thousands of visitors which is an easy task on game day. Hype will get the area visitors on non-game days as well but I’m concerned it will be at the expense of other parts of downtown. I hope I’m wrong. The rest of downtown needs the village to draw new people downtown, not just steal current ones.

The mixed-use retail/entertainment district is a revamp of the mostly failed Festival Marketplace which was twist on the failed downtown mall idea. The big developers and the city officials they sponsor simply do not understand neighborhood basics. If they do, they don’t feel like they can sell it to the general public or the bankers. In the 1950s cities began tearing apart their cities to accommodate the car and in the process ruined downtowns. Sure, downtowns were tired and dirty before all the demolition and highway construction began but champions of “progress” argued for more parking and wider streets to move traffic. All these efforts over the last 50+ years accelerated the demise of downtowns and aided in the growth of suburbia.

Civic groups have been trying every bloated scheme since to change things. The 50’s saw the first wave with beautiful buildings being razed for parking. The ones that were not razed were stripped of their detailing and modernized in an attempt to look like a new building. This was the first failed trend for downtowns and it has been an expensive downhill ride since.

In the 60’s and 70’s came the pedestrian malls, again trying to compete with the new suburban outdoor mall. The new suburban mall was not much more than a couple of strip centers facing each other but downtown folks had to do it. St. Louis didn’t close off streets, instead we torn down blocks of buildings to create the Gateway Mall. When suburbia moved to enclosed malls cities followed suit. It is really a sad history of failing to understand what makes an urban core special.

Along the way cities decided that every major venue should be located in their downtown. Sports arenas and convention centers were going to revive downtowns. St. Louis’ convention center, despite numerous expansions, is failing to live up to expectations. The dome is less than 20 years old and is already costing millions to stay competitive with others stadiums. The convention hotel is still on the verge of bankruptcy due to lower than expected occupancy.

Forgive me if I am cynical about these new “entertainment districts” but I see too many eggs in one basket for long term sustainability.

– Steve


Currently there are "17 comments" on this Article:

  1. tom says:

    What is the difference between an entertainment district and a lifestyle center? I suppose the Boulevard in a lifestyle center.

    Some of the lifestyle centers I have seen do connect nicely to transit, but often do not connect with anything else. On a recent trip to DC it was interesting to see on the riot ravaged area of U Street has bounced back, supported by the Washington Metro, but certainly connected to the rest of the city.

    [REPLY – Lifestyle Centers are related. These seem to be similar to the Retail/Commercial Entertainment District except they are not so big on the entertainment piece. The “street” doesn’t have large events like you might see in an entertainment district. But, they are large projects controlled by one developer but with attemps of varying success to look like a real city with multiple buildings & owners. – SLP]

  2. Jim Zavist says:

    Are you saying that sports venues and convention centers shouldn’t be downtown?! Logically and logistically, it makes sense to put these facilities where they can utilize the existing transportation infrastructure, and downtown is usually the focus of these systems. What makes no sense is everybody “trying to keep up with the Jones”. St. Louis will never be an Orlando or a Las Vegas or a Chicago in the world of conventions. Heck, we may not be in the same league as Louisville, Indianapolis or Kansas City. We need to build on our strengths, not just blindly copy someone else’s “bright idea”. (At least we haven’t built the obligatory aquarium . . . yet.)

    I have mixed feelings about the Ballpark Village, aside from its name. It’s good that it’s not going to be just more parking and there will be an attempt at a connection with downtown. Yeah, it’s going to be “plastic” and “Disney-like”, but it will be creating human-scale structures, that can hopefully be reused easily by subsequent tenants. The big unknown is, as you point out, how it all will age and evolve. Given that it’s going to be smaller scale than the dome/convention monolith, I’m hoping for the best. And if it IS successful over the long haul (and the club is continuing to capture revenues from it), there may be less pressure to move on to Busch III until well past the middle of this century . . .

    [REPLY – My view on sports & convention facilities is they are not a save all for downtowns. Simply placing a facility that attracts large crowds occassionally does not create a 24/7 neighborhood. – SLP]

  3. don't forget says:

    Ballpark Village will bring an additional 1,000-2,000 housing units downtown. That’s like a new small town getting planted next to the ballpark.

    All those newbies will go a long way toward making the area a 24/7 neighborhood.

    Here’s a suggestion for the Ballpark Village developers: Open an upscale sports memorabilia store.

  4. thank tom says:

    Ballpark Village is surrounded by other new residential and hotel developments:

    Westin at Cupples
    The revamped Marriot now Hilton(?)
    Ballpark Lofts at Cupples
    Pet Building Condos
    Edison Brothers hotel and condos
    Thousands of other DT housing and hotel units coming on line.

    Downtown’s jumpin’. Steve, why not get on board?

    [REPLY – Oh, I’m on board with all the good things. I’m just not easily won over by really pretty renderings. Keep in mind we’ve always had hotels downtown yet that hasn’t keep the sidewalks happening. Having residents will help but that alone is not a guarantee we’ll have thriving sidewalks. It takes more than simply having so many units of housing and x-number of square feet of retail to make a neighborhood. – SLP]

  5. ironic marketeer says:

    “It takes more than simply having so many units of housing and x-number of square feet of retail to make a neighborhood.”

    Funny how that is exactly what so many struggling neighborhoods outside of downtown are seeking.

  6. Joe Frank says:

    None of the major athletic facilities in Chicago (United Center, US Cellular Park, Wrigley Field, Soldier Field) are located in downtown. They’re not far away, and most are close to CTA transit stops.

    I don’t know how well that works, or what the history of it is, but I would say that downtown Chicago (the “Loop” that is) has a bit more going on than downtown St. Louis does. Maybe they don’t care as much about sports in Chicago? (Yeah, right!)

    [REPLY – Yes, I think many downtowns are overwhelmed by too many high-use facilities. By spreading them out a bit it helps the downtown as well as those other areas. Maybe in 25 years when the Cardinals want to tear down this Busch stadium perhaps we’ll relocate it somewhere else? After all, they won’t be able to build it next door to the current stadium… – SLP]

  7. Dustin says:

    Funny thing, we always compare our vitality to Chicago yet have you been to downtown Chicago (the loop in particular) on a Sunday afternoon? It is deader than dead!! Just like here it is difficult to find even a coffee shop much less something to eat. It is a wonderful zoo weekdays but it suffers from the same issues as any other central business district. Sure there are lots of folks on Michagn Ave., at the Art Institute, and Millennium Park but not too many otherwise.

  8. Sam Snelling says:


    It’s not that simple in Chicago, they’ve got about three times the people living there. I think that having sports facilities downtown can help the downtown area, but like anything, you need people to live there. That’s one thing that gives me hope for BPV, the residents. Personally, I like the idea of breaking up the blocks and letting developers do their own thing from block to block (obviously with supervision to keep the crap out).

    I’m excited for BPV. As long as there are sustainable restaurants, a Cardinals HOF museum, and people living down there, I don’t care what the other retail is. But I’d like to see them consider it more of a neighborhood (grocers, book stores and such) rather than a destination (schticky family chain restaurants).

  9. three-one-four says:

    What remains to be addressed is that there’s no public transit that runs up to the closing time of most of the establishments downtown. Some of us don’t want to live downtown, but instead within walking distance of a MetroLink stop.

    How is someone to go downtown and spend a nice long evening if the last train out leaves at 11:30?

    I know that this is due to track sharing agreements with freight lines, but if we’re wanting to get people into downtown and leave the cars at home, this has got to stop.

  10. huh? says:

    Metro shares track with freight trains?

    [REPLY – Yeah, I wondered about that too. I think the point is part of the right-of-way is shared. I’m not sure what the agreements say as far as hours of operation. – SLP]

  11. Anthony Coffin says:

    Honestly I am more optomistic about Ballpark Village than I am about The Bottle District. Sam Snelling is exactly right about making the area more of a neighborhood. If they only attempt to bring in people from the county to eat and drink at dumb chain restaurants (Cabo Wabo anyone???) both areas will be doomed to be the next St Louis Center or at the very least end up to be tourist traps like Union Station. Just throwing a bunch of residential units in will not help if people no longer find it tollerable to live there 8 or 10 years down the line.

  12. Jim Zavist says:

    ^ The last comment is right on. The LoDo area in Denver grew up (pretty successfully) over the past ten years around Coors Field. However, as the residential loft units have appreciated in price and their residents have become older, greyer and more sedate, the tension between “residents” and the “visitors” (particularly the bar hoppers) has increased . . . it’ll be interesting to see how it gets “managed” here (think about Laclede’s Landing with 1,000 residents complaining about noise and traffic).

  13. Steve Kratky says:

    Bravo, Steve. I think this has been your most thoughtful and balanced essay to date.

    Yes, on paper Ballpark Village sounds like a dream come true, and in many respects I look forward to it. But you couldn’t be more right than to question its long-term sustainability, and the motives of the developers.

    The problem with these “master plan districts” is that they end up too much like Disneyland or Las Vegas. Nice places to visit (I guess), but who would want to live there?

    I’d take any one of the independently redeveloped buildings, or even a new project like the Roberts Brother’s tower, any day over a “planned community.”

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    However, in Cordish’s defense, they’ve managed to turn around a dead part of downtown Louisville. Would I want to live there? No. But as a place to visit, it’s interesting and kinda fun – sort of like a weekend in Las Vegas. But will it last? It all gets back to both management and the intangibles of what makes any area new / cool / in / hot. Much like a mall (through good management of the tenant mix) or a hot part of town (through serendipity, like parts of Washington, Manchester Road or Cherokee Street), you gotta have that “something” that attracts people to choose to shop, party and/or live there.

    And as much as Disney gets villified for what they do, they’ve mastered it, at least for certain segments of the population. Their successful 50-year track record shows that people will continue to come back, over and over, to the same place, for a “good”, evolving product. It doesn’t offer much to me, but it makes money and drives the local economy in both Anaheim and Orlando. Hopefully, Cordish will be as successful in managing BPV here. Game days are a no brainer. It’s those other 250+ days a year that will be the challenge.

    Much like the current Union Station radio ads touting 30 minutes of parking for “just a buck” (huh – is that supposed to be an attraction?), there are a lot of other great options around town. And like you say, I’d like to see BPV succeed, but not at the expense of other areas. My gut feeling, however, is that both Union Station and Laclede’s Landing are going to take big hits once this opens. They’re all chasing the same limited market, and BPV will be the new kid on the block, getting all the good press and word of mouth . . . which leads to the next question – what to do with both Union Station and Laclede’s Landing? (And no, a casino won’t “save” the Landing. My best guess is that an evolution into a river-focused high-rise residential district [think Vancouver] may be the best option.)

  15. Jeff says:

    I hope it kills the Landing as it currently is. St. Louis deserves better for its riverfront. Well, I hope Mississippi Nights sticks around.

  16. john says:

    Good points Steve. To bad the no one gives a shit. Sad but true.

    St. Louis Center II, coming right up with a side of Applebee’s riblets.

  17. Eric says:

    Hey, new housing/retail districts! Let’s Celebrate!


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