Bill DeWitt III doesn’t have to call his contractor to get updates on what’s happening at the Ballpark Village construction site.
The St. Louis Cardinals president gazes down on it every day from his window-lined, third-floor office in Busch Stadium.
“It’s kind of like watching water boil,” he said, laughing. “You know it’s going to happen, but it’s too slow.”
In recent months, the 10-acre development in downtown St. Louis has started looking more like the urban “village” envisioned by the ball club and its partner, The Cordish Companies, a Maryland-based real-estate investor.
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It’s been five years since the project’s groundbreaking and four years since workers completed Phase I, a $100 million, 120,000-square-foot entertainment complex with restaurants, event spaces, a giant sports bar with a 40-foot LED screen, a Majestic gift shop and the Cardinals Hall of Fame & Museum.
Now Phase II is well underway with the $260 million construction of a 216-room Live! by Loews hotel, a 297-unit apartment tower, a 10-story office building and a three-story pavilion with a health club and market.
“I’m just thrilled,” DeWitt said last week. “I can’t wait. Every day I’m excited about what’s coming. It’s really changing downtown.”
The partners expect the office building to be completed by July of 2019, followed by the hotel and pavilion around September of 2019 and the apartment tower in the spring of 2020.
The Ballpark Village property is bordered by Walnut Street to the north, South Broadway to the east, Clark Avenue to the south and Eighth Street to the west. The land was vacated when the former Busch Stadium was demolished.
Phase I and II cover the southern two-thirds of the property. Phase III will cover the northern third, which is ready for development with infrastructure in place, DeWitt said. But the partners plan to keep it as a parking lot until someone comes forward with an idea for a corporate headquarters or other business concept.
“In the development world, it’s called a ‘pad-ready site,’” DeWitt said. “There isn’t a lot that needs to be done.”
Ballpark Village has many similarities to the Kansas City Power & Light District, another Cordish project. Company representatives emailed a fact sheet on Ballpark Village but declined to comment.
Offices, apartments and a hotel
Workers started building the new Busch Stadium in January of 2004 and demolishing the old Busch Stadium in November of 2005. Ballpark Village had a couple of false starts before the partners settled on a scaled-down version of the development, breaking ground in 2013.
Today, several of the plan’s components are expected to help with the goals of Downtown STL, a non-profit organization that promotes economic development in neighborhoods from Jefferson Avenue to the Mississippi riverfront, Cass Avenue to Chouteau Avenue.
President and CEO Missy Kelley said the new Class A office building, which is going up at Eighth Street and Cardinal Way, will help downtown compete with St. Charles County; Clayton, Missouri; and other outlying communities in attracting companies from out of state.
“It’s going to be the first new office building in downtown St. Louis since 1989,” she said.
The 117,000-square-foot building will be anchored by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is moving from Market Street. It also will include retail stores on the street level and a garage with 500 parking spaces.
Another goal of Downtown STL is getting more people to live downtown. Kelley applauds construction of One Cardinal Way, a $120 million, 29-story upscale apartment tower with views of the Busch Stadium field from many units. It’s about 30 percent leased, DeWitt said. Rents start at $1,400 a month.
“Residents are (in a neighborhood) seven days a week, and they’re here after business hours,” Kelley said. “If the only people are tourists and business people, it’s very difficult to maintain and support restaurants.”
The $65 million Live! by Loews luxury hotel is being built at the corner of Eighth and Clark, south of the new office building.
This follows eight straight years of growth in hotel occupancy and rates in the St. Louis metro area, according to Brian Hall, chief marketing officer for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, also known as Explore St. Louis. Thirteen hotels are under construction in Missouri and Illinois and another 13 are planned.
“There will be people who want to be right in the heart of the action in Cardinal Nation,” Hall said. “And some people will want to try out a Live! by Loews hotel. This is the first one in the region.”
Exercise, shopping and dining
The new pavilion at Ballpark Village is being built along Cardinal Way, north of the existing Busch II Infield, a turf-covered gathering place off Clark Avenue where the old Busch Stadium infield was located. There also will be a public plaza with a fountain in the vicinity.
The pavilion will be anchored by a 31,000-square-foot health club called OneLife Fitness. The company operated in Georgia, Maryland and Virginia before expanding to the Kansas City Power & Light District in 2014. Plans still are evolving for a market of some kind.
“It’s a really cool building,” DeWitt said. “It’s glass all around, and it’s really going to be a signature spot for people working out in the city. It has a view of the Busch II Infield.”
The 4-year-old Ballpark Village entertainment complex has several restaurants and bars, including Cardinals Nation, Budweiser Brewhouse, Drunken Fish, El Birdos Cantina, The Fudgery and PBR St. Louis, a country bar with a mechanical bull.
Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar, closed this summer. It’s being replaced next year with the beach-themed Shark Bar, which opened its first location 10 years ago in the Kansas City Power & Light District.
The complex’s centerpiece is the sports bar and concert venue FOX Sports Midwest Live! It has a 100-foot retractable glass roof, 200-seat restaurant and VIP lounge, in addition to the 40-foot LED screen.
It’s a great place to watch the Cardinals, St. Louis Blues and other sports teams play out-of-town games, Hall said. “What I really like is that we can bring together some 5,000 people to share their passion for sports. It’s become the living room of downtown St. Louis.”
Not everyone is thrilled with Ballpark Village. Some restaurant and bar owners in the historic Laclede’s Landing district reported a significant drop in business after the entertainment complex opened. The Landing also was hit hard by construction on the Gateway Arch grounds that now is completed.
Several downtown St. Louis restaurants, including 30-year-old Mike Shannon’s Steaks & Seafood near Busch Stadium, have closed in recent years. But Kelley said more restaurants have opened than closed, increasing the total number.
Kelley and Hall expect guests of the new hotel, residents of the new apartment tower, tenants of the new office building and other Ballpark Village visitors to expand the size of the economic pie and benefit all downtown businesses in the long run.
Perhaps most importantly, Kelley said, is that Ballpark Village is bringing year-round activity to the area around Busch Stadium, compared to the old days, when it cleared out after baseball season ended and didn’t rev back up again until the following spring.
“Have some restaurants and bars been impacted by BPV?” Hall asked. “I’m certain that they have. But does BPV help us attract more visitors to the overall community? I think the answer is ‘yes.’”