Home » Books » Recent Articles:

Miklasz asks “is it too late to put the old Busch back together again?”

Local sports writer Bernie Miklasz had a great column in yesterday’s St. Louis Post Dispatch.

I don’t normally reprint full columns but the Post-Dispatch’s links expire in a couple of weeks. So, to keep a permanent record, here is his must-read column:

The old Busch Stadium is down. All that remains are scattered debris and a circular outline of where a ballpark used to stand. And that’s unfortunate. We should have stopped the wrecking ball, if for no other reason than to help the team’s owners.

I say this because I had no idea the new Busch stadium would create such financial hardship for team chairman Bill DeWitt and his partners. Actually, for years the media and fans were told the opposite: that the owners needed a new ballpark to increase revenue and payroll. And the new ballpark will open in 2006, so this should be a happy time, yes?

Well, one of DeWitt’s associates called me last week to talk on background and he politely made the point that the team can’t increase payroll for 2006 for a simple reason: The owners have reached into their own pockets to pick up much of the cost for building the new ballpark, and resources are limited.

Thursday I wrote a column criticizing the owners for holding the line on payroll, a position that may force general manager Walt Jocketty to search under sofa cushions and car seats for loose change if he wants to hire some new relief pitchers.

And just to make one point perfectly clear, I’m not asking the owners to go berserk and spend irresponsibly. I just would like to see Jocketty have some reasonable payroll flexibility to find what he needs to keep the 2006 roster up to standard, because the goal is to win the World Series.

Imagine what Jocketty could do with an extra $10 million in payroll. I’m not asking DeWitt to be George Steinbrenner, OK? But with the cost of baseball salaries on the rise this off-season, Jocketty could use some wiggle room on the payroll. It’s a reasonable request.

Anyway, back to the owners’ plight. DeWitt and associates are responsible for funding about 77 percent of the cost on the $388 million project, and they’ll be paying about $15 million annually for the next 22 years to retire the stadium bonds. But public money, including a $30 million tax break, is part of the deal. And fans contributed $40 million in the owners’ seat-license program.

To frame this in the proper context we have to go back to the beginning, to the sweet deal that Anheuser-Busch gave DeWitt and partners in selling the team in 1995.

For a sale price of $150 million, the new owners got one of baseball’s most storied franchises, Busch Stadium, four parking garages and land beneath two nearby hotels. In less than a year, the new owners sold the garages for $91 million and received an additional $9 million for the land. After this benevolence from the brewery, the new owners entered the baseball business with a terrific head start.

DeWitt and the partners have been good for baseball in St. Louis, and baseball in St. Louis has been good for them. The value of the franchise has increased every year, and the Cardinals were valued at $370 million by Forbes magazine before the 2005 season. With a new ballpark in play, the franchise value will undoubtedly jump again in 2006.

The owners are paying for a substantial part of the new Busch for a reason: They believed it was a positive and necessary investment that would pay off handsomely for them.

As team president Mark Lamping said of the new stadium two years ago, “We’re going to have premium seats and luxury boxes generating significantly more money.”

Right. And the owners and management said repeatedly that they needed the revenue boost from the stadium, and the new radio deal, in order to field the kind of team the fans have come to expect.

“We’d have a lot more money to put into the payroll,” DeWitt said of a new stadium back in 2002. “We’ve made some projections on payroll in a new ballpark and payroll here (at the old Busch), and it’s significantly different. It means a lot.”

These words pleased Jocketty, who at the time said: “The biggest challenge I have this off-season is trying to rebuild a pitching staff with very limited resources. And if we were in the new stadium right now, I guarantee you we’d be in a position to raise our payroll significantly to the point where we probably could re-sign all the guys we have as free agents.”

Uh, not so fast there, Walt …

Jocketty might be confused these days. Because in 2004 DeWitt said: “The new stadium will provide us with increased revenues and the ability to have a higher payroll. We should be in a more competitive position.”

Wasn’t the OLD Busch Stadium a money pit, and a drain on the owners’ finances? Oddly enough, while competing at the old Busch from 1996-2005, these owners consistently raised payroll.

But now that the new Busch is just about here – complete with higher ticket prices, more premium seats, and all the revenue-enhancing amenities – the payroll is staying the same.

I’m sorry to ask, but is it too late to put the old Busch back together again?

I don’t want to see DeWitt and his partners suffer through the incredible hardship of having to compete in a new ballpark.

Miklasz raises some very good points about the arguments used to get the new stadium — the old stadium was a money pit and we need to compete with other teams. Now that it is too late it is beginning to look like St. Louis may have been snookered.

I enjoy watching baseball games in person. I’m not a devoted fan but on the times I’ve gone to the game I had a great time and paid close attention to what was happening on the field. While we like a winning team I think St. Louis fans have proven they’ll support the Cardinals win or lose. Sure, they’ll bitch about players or management making bad decisions but they will still line up to buy tickets. Only now they’ll pay more for the right to watch a game and with salaries not increasing as expected, maybe we won’t be so competitive after all. But the team owners will have more money in their pockets and their investment will be worth substantially more. Seems par for the course…

On a somewhat related note, my State Representative, Jeanette Mott Oxford, and Fred Lindeke will be in court on Wednesday December 14th at 9am:

The attorney for Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums will be pleading our appeal related to the lawsuit involving the St. Louis County bonds toward building of the new Cardinals stadium.

If you can attend to show support for Mott Oxford and Lindeke go to the Wainwright Building, Division One.

I don’t always agree with the view of the economists at the St. Louis Federal reserve but I found an interesting article on public funding of stadiums from 2001:

Cities go to great lengths to lure a new team to town or to keep the home team home. They feel compelled to compete with other cities that offer new or updated facilities; otherwise, the home team might make good on its threat to leave. The weight of economic evidence, however, shows that taxpayers spend a lot of money and ultimately don’t get much back.

I highly recommend reading the full article. Please remember, just because you love baseball and the Cardinals doesn’t mean you must love the team’s owners or that we must give them what they ask for. As responsible citizens it is our duty to educate ourselves, question leadership and challenge assumptions.

– Steve


Targeting Changes in Big Box Stores

The October/November issue of New Urban News has a nice article on Target stores:

Until recently, all Target stores were the typical single-story boxes with surface parking. But in the last half-decade, Target has built or acquired 35 multilevel stores with structured parking and another 8 stores with parking underneath. In all, about 3 percent of Target’s 1,350 stores nationwide have unusual urban formats that Target calls “unique.”

The full article is brief but highly recommended.

One of the key messages from this article is Target and other retailers change from their standard big box and big parking when forced to. But the stores are also a success with higher sales to offset their higher development and operating costs. While the new Target at Hampton & Chippewa is okay it is not the urban model we should have downtown.

As much as I want to support local retailers I do think a single Target in the downtown area would be good for both the retailer and the downtown residents. Some may suggest the ever changing St. Louis Centre shopping mall but I was thinking further West — somewhere between Tucker (12th) and Jefferson, North of Market and South of Dr. ML King Drive. We’ve got a number of vacant city blocks that would be excellent for such a store.

One of the main problems with newer stores is the lack of windows along the sidewalk either to the sales floor or window displays. Some solutions mentioned in the story is newer versions of displays that might include media but what I like most are called “liner stores” — smaller stores that line the sidewalk to create interest.

We are thankfully witnessing the beginning of the end of the big box store in a sea of parking. Yet not far from me the already obsolete Loughborough Commons is being built — complete with two big boxes, more parking than required by code, and several outparcels. The whole site faces the all mighty interstate and backs to the adjacent residential. We need more enlightened developers, or just more enlightened elected officials to force developers to give us good design over sprawl.

– Steve


West End Word Column Available Online

November 10, 2005 Books, Central West End Comments Off on West End Word Column Available Online

If you missed my column in last week’s West End Word don’t worry, it is now available online. Here is a quote:

The debate over the size of the new fountain for Maryland Plaza was heated, but it pales in comparison to the emotions raised by the proposition of more residential high-rise towers in the Central West End. At the heart of the controversy is the proposed Lindell Condominiums at 4643 Lindell Blvd. at Euclid.

Check it out here and post your thoughts below and/or send your comments to the editor of the West End Word.

– Steve


Results of Some Issues I Had Been Following

November 9, 2005 Books, Environment 1 Comment

Besides paying attention to urban issues locally I like to keep tabs on similar battles in other regions. Yesterday had some interesting outcomes:

  • Voters in Washington State approved the most restrictive smoking ban in the country. Not only is smoking prohibited in public buildings but also within 25 feet of an entrance. Oh the joy of not dealing with stray cigarette smoke…
  • Washington State voters also upheld a recent law that would raise gasoline taxes by as much as 9.5 cents per gallon. This was a rural vs urban vote with rural voters opposed to paying the increased taxes for projects in mostly urban areas. However it was noted during the referendum that Washington’s urban areas pay more in such taxes than they receive in benefits. From the Seattle Post-Intellegencer:

    If it had passed, I-912 would have stripped $5.5 billion from the $8.5 billion highway plan. It would have sent transportation planners, who are counting on $2 billion earmarked for repairing the earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct, back to square one and lawmakers who supported the plan back to Olympia with a major defeat as they head into an election year.

  • In a much different turn of events, Seattle area residents voted for a 5th time since 1997 on extending their Monorail 10 miles. The four previous votes approved the extension but recent cost increases and questions of management doomed the project. The current monorail is basically a tourist thing since it is so short in distance but adding 10 miles would have served transportation needs of locals. Much like when you buy your house you try not to think about what you paid in interest at the end of the 30 years, the $1.8 billion monorail project was seen as costing $11 billion if you added up all the financing charges. Seattle is also in the process of building a separate light rail system which should be open in a couple of years. Good thing because the drive from the core of Seattle to their airport is brutal.
    Get the latest scope on the monorail here.
  • Yesterday New York State voters approved a $2.9 billion dollar bond act to fund transportation projects, including a new 2nd Avenue subway in Manhattan. NYC is full of subway lines yet they are willing to fund another for areas not well served by mass transit beyond the bus. Good job New York! Like Washington State, rural voters voted against the measure while urban voters supported it.Full story from the New York Times.
  • The lesson here is that transportation interests in urban areas is quite different from rural areas. Yeah, I know — duh! Maybe we in the St. Louis region need to team up with folks in Kansas City, Columbia and Springfield to push for measures protecting our interests and our tax dollars. Strengthening our state’s major urban areas by making them more sustainable in the future will benefit the entire state.

    – Steve


    “A Good Old Building Is Better Than A Bad New One”

    I ran across an interesting commentary on St. Louis:


    Except for the arch and the old courthouse, which form some genuinely provocative urban views, downtown St. Louis is a monument to chamber of commerce planning and design. It is a businessman’s dream of redevelopment come true.There are all the faceless, characterless, scaleless symbols of economic regeneration — luxury apartments, hotels, a 50,000 seat stadium and multiple parking garages for 7,400 cars. Sleek, new, prosperous, stolid and dull, well served by superhighways, the buildings are a collection of familiar profit formulas, uninspired in concept, unvarying in scale, unrelated by any standards, principals or subtleties of planning or urban design. They just stand there. They come round, rectangular, singly and in pairs. Pick your standard commercial cliche.

    The new St. Louis is a success economically and a failure urbanistically. It has the impersonal gloss of a promotional brochure. A prime example of the modern landscape of urban alienation, it has gained a lot of real estate and lost a historic city.


    Wow, pretty harsh words. Tragically they are nearly as true today as the day they were first published — February 4, 1968. Yes, the words above are from nearly forty years ago.
    Ada Louise Huxtable, Architecture Critic for the New York Times from 1963 – 1982, had plenty to say about Architecture and planning. I read a compilation of articles called Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger: An Anthology of Architectural Delights and Disasters while I was in architecture school in the late 80’s. Today while boxing up some stuff I ran across the book, long since forgotten. I recall enjoying her writing when I was in college so I look forward to re-reading the book to see how her views have stood up to the test of time and my own personal experiences in the last 15 years.

    I’ll leave you with another quote from Huxtable. Remember that in 1968 our symphony hall, Powell Hall, had just opened:


    The success of Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis is probably going to lead a lot of people to a lot of wrong conclusions. In a kind of architectural Gresham’s law, the right thing wrongly interpreted usually has more bad than good results.

    The first wrong conclusion is that Powell Hall represents the triumph of traditional over modern architecture. False. The correct conclusion here is that a good old building is better than a bad new one. Powell Hall represents the triumph simply of suitable preservation. And, one might add, of rare good sense.


    Ms Huxtable was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism in 1970.

    – Steve