Rick Graefe

Here’s a scene that was witnessed recently outside Busch Stadium following a huge Cardinals win: A father and his two young daughters are leaving the game on a hot summer night. They are still talking about all the food they had eaten— hot dogs, sodas, cotton candy—and also gushing about the big home run by David Freese.

They’re all smiles as they cross Clark Street and head up 7th Street, but the scene changes as they walk past an all-too-familiar chain-link fence. The older girl says to her little sister, “That’s where the old stadium used to be.” The younger girl follows by asking, “What is it now?” Their dad had a quick answer: “That’s where they’re going to build the new Ballpark Village,” he says optimistically.

As the younger daughter gives her father a look of confusion, her sister rolls her eyes and asks, “Haven’t they been talking about that all my life?” The girl is about 12 years old; and yes, we have indeed been talking about Ballpark Village for her entire life. The conversation she had with her family is typical of the perceptions for many citizens of Cardinal Nation when it comes to ‘BPV.’

The latest incarnation of BPV was unveiled in June. But after years of delays and several big development deals that came unhinged, many St. Louisans are understandably skeptical. If ever there has been an appropriate time to say, Show me, this is one of those times.

Cardinals team president Bill DeWitt III has heard it all and says he recognizes the frustration. “You’re never going to get people to believe it until they see it. That is our goal: to get started and get trucks out there working.”

The updated development plan for the village is far more understated than earlier ones. In years past, plans called for office towers, high-rise hotels, retail space on a very large scale—even an aquarium. This plan is much simpler and focuses directly on Phase One: a Cardinal Nation entertainment venue, stores, a team Hall of Fame and restaurants. DeWitt insists the overall grand plan is still on the table, but it will have to come in phases in the years to come.

Right now, along with co-developer Cordish Company, DeWitt is confident that the Cardinals will soon start to build the $100-million dollar project on the long-beleaguered northern footprint of the old Busch Stadium. “It’s just such a great site, in the heart of the central business district between the stadium and downtown’s urban core. So I’ve always known that the location was perfect for something of this kind,” he says.

DeWitt adds the biggest difference between this plan and the previous ones is that there is no heavy reliance on public financing. “What we (the Cardinals and Cordish) have agreed to do is, we are going to buy the bonds so there’s no risk of the bonds not being placed because of the market or any other issues,” he explains. “If the project doesn’t do well, it’s on us; and if it does well, then the bonds pay off and the city and state get all the revenue.” The current plan does include $17 million in tax increment financing but that part of the funding will be used for infrastructure like public streets and sidewalks, sewers and other utilities.

Another big difference is the presence of Anheuser-Busch as an anchor tenant. The brewery will build a large Budweiser and German-themed restaurant and beer garden that will serve more than 100 different kinds of beer. DeWitt says having the iconic A-B eagle at the front door of Ballpark Village is a huge plus. “They’ve remained a great partner of the Cardinals, and they’ve stepped up and invested in downtown again.” DeWitt and others feel this move by A-B Inbev sends a lot of positive signals. “People have seen plenty of change based on the Inbev purchase, so for them to recommit to downtown is not only good for us and the project, but for all of St. Louis.”

In addition, supporters hope that the brewery’s involvement will send a message to other prospective investors and businesses that this time, the project is finally getting off the ground. DeWitt’s belief is that once the infrastructure is in place, more privately funded developments will follow. “Once utilities and street work and traffic signals are done, then future phases are much more likely to occur,” he says.

Make no mistake, this project is DeWitt’s baby: He is focusing on every detail, making sure, as best he can, that nothing is left to chance. He’s even well aware that some fans are concerned that the construction of a ‘village’ on the now-vacant site might block the spectacular view of downtown, especially the dome of the Old Courthouse. “It wasn’t until that last piece of old Busch Stadium was demolished that we realized, Oh my gosh, we’ve got a great view of the courthouse!’ he recalls. “It’s funny that it was accidental and it’s become a neat feature of the stadium. So we’ve gone to great lengths to insure that the view will be largely preserved.”

Dewitt says the day Ballpark Village opens will be a ‘top five’ day in his life. Until that moment, he’s prepared to keep answering the questions of seasoned skeptics and 12-year-olds alike. And of course, the response he’ll be expecting to his answers is, Show me.

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