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It takes a village, or does it?

December 14, 2009 Downtown, Planning & Design 19 Comments

Ballpark Village was going to be a dynamic entertainment center adjacent to the 2006 Busch Stadium.

The project stalled along with the economy.

April 2006
April 2006

The site was the location of the previous Busch Stadium (1966-2006).  A hundred years ago the three block area bounded by Broadway (5th), Clark, 8th and Walnut Street (map) would have contained hundreds of individual buildings under different ownership.  The village was a collection of many.  It was not built and financed as one big package.

Land used to be subdivided into individual narrow and deep parcels.  Buildings were then built one at a time.  Larger buildings were built by combining more than one parcel.  Over time the three blocks were filled in and then they would evolve as older buildings would be selectively removed and taller buildings would take their place.  As decades passed these three blocks gradually changed.

In the 1960s this changed.  The three blocks and many others were completely razed.  Evolutionary change was out and the age of the big project was in.  I think our 50 year experiment with the massive clearance project needs to come to an end.  The fact Ballpark Village was delayed presents a great opportunity to move forward to looking back to the earlier small scale model.

I’m talking about a fundamental shift in the current standards for real estate development.  As big multi-block projects gets harder to finance and build as a single package we need to break it up into smaller pieces.  Legal mechanisms exist to ensure the total vision will be realized once all the parcels have been built out.  It might take 10-15 years by the time it is fully built out but great spaces and great spaces seldom happen at once.

We are close to four years of the site being vacant and we don’t know how many more years it will remain so.  Had the site been platted as individual building sites we may have already seen a new structure or two in the area.

St. Louis has other sites where then plan it to develop a multi-block area where the option is all or nothing.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. matthewmourning says:

    Agreed, Steve.

    I cannot believe they're discussing making Ballpark “Village” a set of office towers. Residential and mixed use can definitely work on this site. Blue Urban has had no trouble getting rid of their Ballpark Loft units nearby.

  2. anon says:

    The Post Dispatch should review the penalty provisions on this deal. Better yet, elected officials in St. Louis should be demanding enforcement of the penalties, including possible return of taxpayer subsidies to build the new stadium. The Cardinals are getting ready to pay Albert Pujols $30,000,000 per year. They need to make good on their commitments at BV, or face the consequences. It's not right that the Cardinals carry on with their baseball affairs business as usual and meanwhile leave a big vacant lot in the middle of downtown St. Louis.

  3. Fenian says:

    I don't want to threadjack, but the hole in the ground that was supposed to be Ballpark Village (I know it was filled in) reminds me of the hole in the ground that is at West Pine and Euclid. What are they going to do with that?

    Sorry for threadjacking, I just hate looking at it!

    In regard to Ballpark Village, this is just another example of how sports teams take advantage of public financing. They accept subsidies for their private ventures, yet we as a community will never realize those foregone revenues unless we can measure the prestige of having a team.

  4. JZ71 says:

    The size of the available lots at BPV, combined with single ownership, are the least of the reasons why nothing is happening here. “It's the economy, stupid!” You may see, in an ideal world, that “the three blocks would [continue to] evolve as older buildings would be selectively removed and taller buildings would take their place. . . [that this] presents a great opportunity to move forward to looking back to the earlier small scale model.” Unfortunately, I only halfway agree, only that if we do allow that to occur, the small-scale model won't be dense, mixed-use urban, it'll be what is already evident on the other side of the stadium – a mixture of sports bars and surface parking lots! It all boils down to supply and demand, and the two big demands here, much like in other cities, are for beer and parking . . .

    • Form-based codes or strict development guidelines attached to the land would ensure that as buildings are built they would create urban space. Finding 3-5 companies to build buildings on portions of the three blocks can still happen at a time when financing a massive project is impossible. The current way is like trying to eat an elephant in a single bite rather than one bite at a time.

      • JZ71 says:

        Strict development guidelines attached to the land ARE already in place – it's called the contract between, the city, the Cardinals and Cordish. If Cordish had a tenant or tenants for one or more buildings, and the necessary financing, don't you think they'd already be building something, anything?! This ain't no enclosed shoping mall, it's always been a group of urban buildings, albeit under common ownership and management, that can and likely will be built one at a time. The “problem” is pretty simple, supply (too much) and demand (too little). Better/more restrictive zoning nor rearranging the parcels nor having high expectations can't change the underlying financial reality – if the numbers don't work, it simply ain't gonna happen!

        • anon says:

          It's not enough to say it's not gonna happen. The city/state made good on their end of the deal with public financing for the new ballpark. That deal came with strings. What are those strings? DeWallet, I mean, DeWitt, is a multimillionaire ball team owner. His ownership group got a sweetheart dealing when buying the Cardinals. Now they don't want to take risk building the promised Ballpark Village? That's not good enough. It's time to enforce the terms of the contract. What are the penalties for default? Where are the investigative reporters? This is a hellava lot more important than Jeff Smith going to jail or Tiger Woods' extramarital affairs.

          • JZ71 says:

            Agreed, the terms of the contract SHOULD be enforced. But what do you really want or expect? That DeWitt and/or Cordish should build some empty, speculative buildings? As a show of good faith? And hope that the “right” tenants will eventually show up? While adding to, and competing with, downtown's existing vacancies? Or, should they lower their (and our) standards, and just put up a few “temporary”, generic structures, with “needed tenants” (for downtown residents, workers and/or fans), businesses like Walgreens, Aldi's and/or Buffalo Wild Wings? Surrounded by surface parking? With or without a tasteful landscaping and screening plan? Or, can you envision them “putting a gun to the heads” of the Hard Rock Cafe, Nike Town, the Tilted Kilt and the Gordon Biersch Brewery chains and forcing all of them to sign leases and move in? In this market?! Personally, I'd rather wait for the market to improve and to, eventually, “get it right” than to just do something just to do something, to meet the letter of any contract – we'll end up with a much more sustainable and urban solution in the long run. . .

  5. Jeff says:

    I couldn't agree more. If Ballpark Village ever gets built it will have a lifespan of about 10-15 years. It will become the next Union Station and St. Louis Center. It will be a popular hub for a short time then slowly dwindle. I would not be surprised if a replacement for Busch Stadium comes about in the next 10-20 years either. The era of the faux vintage ballpark will soon be replaced with some new fad that all teams will want to jump on next. Just as the vintage ballparks replaced many of the doughnut hole style stadiums of the 60's and 70's.

  6. toby says:

    Follow the story of “we'll rehab Keil Opera if you tear down Keil Auditorium” to know that the Cards owners' never had any intention of following through on that Ballpark Village deal. Because they don't have to. Bad economy is just a convenient excuse.

    After Centenne jacked around City Hall for a downtown Clayton bait-and-switch, and the continuing embarrassment of an empty field, I hope City Hall has the smarts and the legal option to pursue breaking up that proeprty for multiple developers, as you suggest. It's the only smart option.

  7. stannate says:

    The Bottle District is yet another failed project that promised a lot, but has amounted to very little. I don't see both the Bottle District and Ballpark Village existing as planned, and truth be told, neither project looks like it will ever come to fruition. There are far too many empty buildings and plots of land near Busch to justify building more commercial or residential buildings, so I fear that within a couple years, we'll see a parking garage take the place of the softball field and the current surface lot become converted to VIP parking.

  8. anon says:

    Someone needs to review the legal documents. Given the lengthy delays, the Cardinals must be in default. What are the remedies? Someone needs to start action to enforce the contract. The Cardinals must be called to account. Where is the justice? Forget what we don't have at Ballpark Village. What we do have is an enforceable contract. It is time to unleash the legal dogs on DeWitt, et al.

    • Robert G. says:

      I believe the contract stipulates $3MM per year beginning in 2011, if at least 2 (out of 6) blocks haven't yet been developed.

      At this point, they are not (yet) contractually in breach… but I'm sure they will be by the time 2011 rolls around.

      • In the 1950s the site was divided into five blocks. Based on remaining streets it would be three. BPV called for six blocks. The total area remains the same no matter how many blocks you create internally. I do think six is better than three assuming the buildings work on a finer grid.

  9. I say we open an Opium den and invite married white suburban women.

  10. gmichaud says:

    It isn't about money, its about the system of government that continually works in conjunction with large corporations to pretend bigger is always better. I think dividing the site selling individual lots to developers is a good idea. Why on earth should a select group of people benefit exclusively from what should be a prosperous location that is in the situation it is because it is supported to a large extent with public investment.

    If a couple of office towers are built on this site the Mayors' Director of Development should be fired. It would be an absurd solution for this site.
    The site has tremendous potential. If it had a smaller scale of ownership the area would be protected against downturns as well as fostering diversity in financing, vision and execution of the projects.
    I also agree with Steve, a 10 to 15 year build out is fine, as long it is not held by a single entity just sitting on the property, but rather made available to small scale developers who will act. (It would also be a great site for an architectural competition)

  11. Robert G. says:

    Great post, but I have to disagree with one claim you make:

    A hundred years ago the three block area bounded by Broadway (5th), Clark, 8th and Walnut Street (map) would have contained hundreds of individual buildings under different ownership.

    Hundreds? Not sure about that. It's doubtful that you could even fit 100 buildings into that space, much less hundreds.

    Dozens and dozens might be a bit more accurate.

  12. Les says:

    agree completely with your general thesis…so can we come to the same conclusion about the McKee proposal? Maybe we should label these proposals as “too big to fail.”

  13. eileensamson says:

    The problem is, is that we keep spreading out instead of focusing on one area. Washington Ave. Lofts, (including the whole Pyramid thing), Bottle District, Midtown. We can't even get one area completed and we are moving onto something else. I was heavily involved in the sale of Real Estate in the Loft District. And incase you haven't noticed their plenty of empty buildings and all the “for sale” signs came down and “for rent” signs went up. Yes a lot of this may have to do with the economy, yet when you think about it more jobs move out of downtown than in.

    I agree that BBV would turn into a “Union Station”. Living spaces would be hard to sell. You really are not in close walking distance to anything other than the Stadium.

    The whole McKee thing is ridiculous.

    Hasn't enough of the taxes payers money gone out for “tax Credits”, “Developer fees”?


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