The Cardinals have announced that they will finally begin construction of the fabled Ballpark Village complex next week.
A lot of people have had a chuckle at the expense of the home team because of a seemingly never-ending list of delays that have prevented Ballpark Village from becoming a reality. Part of the original plans for Busch Stadium III, which opened in 2006, the site the Redbirds called home from 1966-2005 has been a makeshift parking lot for six years.
Unfortunately, while the work is finally expected to start Friday with a groundbreaking, the planned office park, residential area and entertainment district has been deeply scaled back.
All that's set in stone so far are the new Cardinals Hall of Fame building and the Budweiser Brew House which will take up roughly a quarter of the total available area. The rest of the site will remain, for the time being, a parking lot and an "outdoor entertainment area." (That means it will be a parking lot except on special occasions like opening day when a flatbed will be hauled in for a local cover band to use as a stage.)
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Don't get me wrong, I think an entertainment area where fans can hang out before and after ballgames sounds like a lot of fun. But for me, going to the ballgame is still all about the baseball.
It worries me that the Cardinals have been so cautious about this project. If the club was confident it was going to be a money maker, I'd think that they would have moved ahead long before now. If the deep pocketed businessmen and bankers who own the Cardinals aren't willing to put up their own money for the development -- or had to struggle for so long to find someone who will loan it to them -- that has to raise some eyebrows.
I would rather have a solvent, competitive team with an empty field on the north side of Busch Stadium III rather than a loser of a development that sucks money out of the Cardinals and makes it tougher to put a decent product on the field.
We were told when current ballpark was built that it was needed to help the team remain financially competitive on the field. In the last year at Busch Stadium II the Redbirds had a payroll of $93.3 million which ranked sixth in Major League Baseball. In the first year of the new ballpark, the Cardinals actually cut the payroll by $5 million and fell to 1th in the big leagues in spending. The excuse for the sudden penny pinching was, contrary to the original argument that the new stadium would create more cash flow with more premium seats and luxury boxes, the team had less financial resources to spend on players thanks to the debt service on its new roost.
In 2010, the fifth year of the new stadium, the Cardinals payroll was nearly identical to what it was the last season in the old ballpark at $93.54 million. But instead of ranking in the top 20 percent of MLB teams, thanks to inflation, the same amount of money was good enough for 13th -- or the middle of the pack -- in 2010.
In short, the new ballpark didn't created a significant difference in the way the team operates. Unless the Ballpark Village project helps to erase some of the competitive advantage the teams with the giant new television deals and $150 million payrolls currently enjoy, it doesn't really mean much to me. And I suspect most die hard Cardinals fans feel the same way.
And if there is a possibility that the project is going to tie ownership's hands financially, I'd rather see the land north of the stadium remain a parking lot. At least we know a parking lot that charges $20 a space for three hours is a money-making operation.