So, I've been riding the fence on Ballpark Village (BPV) over the 12 or so years since it was announced. We've waited patiently for the area just north of Busch Stadium-III to become more than a Ballpark-ing Surface Lot and a series of suburban mall-like bars/restaurants.
That was the only pitch the alderman, et al would need to comply and usher in the portfolio of public incentives. But think about their position, what politician can buck the Cardinals from a career/campaign perspective? Tough place to be. We don't have a critical culture in our city offices just yet. They all got in line and subsidized the construction of this particular project, while others are on their own.
From an October, 2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch report, the public money given to these private companies is staggering:
"Secured by decades of future taxes from Cardinals fans, investors clamored last week for the bonds that would help to finally put the “village” in Ballpark Village.
About $105 million in St. Louis Industrial Development Authority bonds had been expected to be issued publicly, part of a financing package a year in the making for the entertainment venue next to Busch Stadium.
The public’s contribution to the project is significant. If Cordish and the Cardinals hit development targets outlined in their agreement with the city, nearly $72.7 million from bond proceeds backed by tax dollars could go to the $261 million second phase, almost 30 percent of the costs.
That’s up from the $65 million figure cited last year during debate to amend the city’s development agreement with the Cardinals and Cordish, when the project was projected to cost only $220 million." Jacob Barker - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Ouch. But, here we sit still rooting for the Cards/Cordish to do the right thing and help make this part of downtown activated all year...with people who live here and work 9-5 professional jobs right here.
I want this development to succeed in a more meaningful way than just the food court/mall entertainment and massive surface parking lots completed so far. Who doesn't? What we need is something a bit more for the people of St. Louis vs. for the visitor/tourist. Residents and living wage jobs could provide that medicine.
The Cards/Cordish have rolled out the latest version of Phase-2 development which is finally reported to help flesh out the mixed-use promise of years ago. Per the St. Louis Cardinals, this latest version includes a hotel, residential tower and office space:
"The St. Louis Cardinals announced plans for a $260 million, 550,000 square foot second phase of Ballpark Village which will include the construction of a 29-story luxury high-rise residential tower, the first new Class-A office building built in downtown St. Louis in nearly thirty years, and additional retail, restaurant and entertainment space."
"Loews Hotels & Co, announced plans to build its first ever St. Louis hotel. The hotel will debut as Live! by Loews - St. Louis, MO, a partnership between Loews Hotels & Co., The Cordish Companies and the St. Louis Cardinals."
The following renderings are the most up-to-date from Cordish.com:
How about these views?
The office building (to the right in the image below), per the Cardinals, is the first Class A office space in St. Louis since 1989:
The office building will be directly north of the hotel.
The "market" in the image above, per the Cardinals:
"Also in Phase II will be a signature two-story retail marketplace and entertainment venue overlooking the existing Busch II Field, the signature "open space" of Ballpark Village. The marketplace will include diverse food options and other amenities to support the new office and residential tenants in the project."
Here's a quick video from Cordish to help visualize the full block north of the ballpark:
There are still a lot of surface parking lots lining the entire stretch of Walnut Street between S. Broadway and 8th Street. There is a small walkway divider call One Cardinal Way (lit up in the image below):
So while the views of surface parking lots along Walnut are nothing to celebrate, one can hope that a Phase 3 could include future residential towers or office or retail space (I'm still hoping for a CVS/Walgreens downtown). Remember, the first set of announcements had 3 towers.
Ok, lets pivot to hope and potential to critical thinking about the tenants announced thus far. Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"As has been rumored, Cordish confirmed that PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the “Big Four” accounting firms, has a letter of intent to move into the new office building planned for the corner of Clark and Eighth streets. It currently operates its St. Louis office out of the Bank of America Plaza, also downtown.
Other potential tenants, Cordish has told prospective investors, include a huge fitness facility, Onelife Fitness, that would take up the majority of a new retail building just east of the office structure. Wahlburgers, the burger chain owned by actor Mark Wahlberg and his family, is in negotiations to fill space in the existing Ballpark Village structure that opened in 2014, according to bond documents." Jacob Barker - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Wahlburgers and Onelife Fitness will be new to St. Louis, so those are nice additions. But, these are not living-wage jobs, so I'm not overly excited.
PwC is simply moving a block south. This is the fruit of our subsidies? A business moving from one block to another? This will do NOTHING to increase the tax base or vibrancy of Downtown. It just shifts jobs/people from one building to the next...the heavily subsidized one.
So far, I haven't read of a new living-wage company moving to St. Louis to occupy any of the office space.
We need new investment from other regions or at least get back or take away from the County who has waged war on St. Louis for 50 years. Remember Centene was supposed to be here, not Clayton, MO (small suburb of ~16K residents). That would have been a net gain for St. Louis.
Remember, the best scenario for St. Louis is a new company setting up shop/expanding from outside the region. The second best is a St. Louis company expanding downtown. Third is a regional company moving from the suburbs to St. Louis. Musical chairs within St. Louis is nothing to celebrate.
This PwC deal is the worse case scenario...losing vibrancy in one part of the city and moving it to another. Yawn.
Wouldn't it be a good move for a local company like Rawlings, a premier baseball brand, to move from the far flung west county burbs to St. Louis? Nah, to them they are already in St. Louis if you believe Google and their own version of the story:
Nope, not St. Louis. Any thinking person knows this is not true. Those employees don't pay our earnings tax and the business doesn't pay St. Louis property tax.
They eat up the St. Louis name but avoid us with jobs/vibrancy/investment/tax support:
I've walked/scootered/driven nearly every block of St. Louis and I can guaran-damn-tee that address is not a St. Louis address. These are indisputable facts, even if they don't feel good or match the local lore.
I'm not sure what city or unincorporated area of the suburbs they are in, but I say with 100% accuracy they are not in St. Louis. Map it, here's where they choose to settle down, far west of St. Louis:
Guess what, we will live and die by St. Louis' reputation, not the 90 or so cities in the suburbs that call themselves St. Louis but are not by any meaningful, realistic measure. Throw in St. Charles County and Jefferson County who others call "St. Louis".
St. Louis is the most important city in this fragmented region. It is the one that matters. The one that we all need to get behind and root for, not denigrate.
If our downtown can't be the living-wage jobs hub and population hub, then we won't be a strong region and the Chesterfields, Claytons, Maryland Heights, etc will continue to dilute our potential across miles and miles of suburban sprawl, vs. concentrating in St. Louis.
So, at the end of the day, I've been and remain extremely hopeful and supportive; yet, critical of the tax incentive development path and the underwhelming tenants announced so far.
But come on, who doesn't think a ~$220M project is good for St. Louis? Even when the Post-Dispatch reported that $105M of that will come from public financing. You know, our tax dollars, the ones we could use to get decent sports fields for our reviving high schools, trash trucks, 108 parks, paved roads, sidewalks, street lights, etc.
How can you not see the potential of having people living in this part of Downtown once again?
You know, we are blessed to have this most storied sports venue/franchise here and not in the burbs like Atlanta and other cities. They are part of us and always have been. Look at Kauffman Stadium, a beautiful work of art in Kansas City. But, it is so isolated from the city experience in KC (an equally great city). It feels like a mid-century dream that prioritized easy in/out and parking over being part of that amazing city. A recent trip to Denver and seeing the Rockies and Broncos stadiums just goes to show how well sports stadiums can fit in and allow a progressive, resident-focused city can be built around them.
BPV will fit in well and the new hotel and RESIDENTIAL will bring the thing this part of St. Louis is missing....people. Sure visitors are great, but real St. Louisans are always better. They spend money, invest in this place and bring vibrancy and life. And they will have the right to vote here. An educated and active electorate...my dream.
We're on the verge of getting this shot in the arm. And the cranes and construction are finally something to truly get excited about.
You know, most STL visitors see Downtown and will never get a taste for how cool our neighborhoods are (Tower Grove South/East, Forest Park Southeast, CWE, the Cherokee Street neighborhoods, etc). We are judged on our Downtown and Downtown West Neighborhoods more than any, maybe save for the East Loop.
The cranes are in full effect. I hope I'm not wrong, but writing about my gut feelings is what makes blogging fun. I can read this 10 years from now and see if I was off/on.
Until then, hope prevails for the success around the ballpark being an impetus to eat up some of the sprawling surface parking and build places for people vs. temporary car storage.
Go Cards. Go Downtown St. Louis.